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Friday, November 28, 2014

Talking Pictures Once Again


I've been on my usual first months of school-year hiatus, but I'm back with a few thoughts on movies. Expect to see more of the blog as Oscar season hits full steam.

It's actually nice to have a little space with some of the movies, since I've noticed that some of these have lingered while others have faded a bit in retrospect.  Writing and grading right away is such a quick act, but I find the movies I really love are the ones that stick with me.

Boyhood

My deepest apologies for not writing about this earlier and imploring all of you to see it. If you didn't, see it as soon as you can! Richard Linklater's opus of an ordinary life is something quite unlike anything done in fiction film before. As he follows his character from age 6 to 18, we watch a child develop into a teen and into a young adult.  We also see all the adults who play a part in making this young man who he is. It's a remarkable movie, and I have a hard time believing I'll see anything to match it this year.  Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette are both amazing as his parents, allowing themselves to age and develop naturally on the screen as young Ellar Coltrane and Lorelai Linklater. Boyhood is a movie or ordinary transistions and events that considers the beauty and wonder of an ordinary life and all those who help us on our journey.  Incredible.

Grade: A


Birdman

Birdman is a thrilling mix of backstage drama and surrealist comedy reminiscent of a mix between All About Eve and Synecdoche, New York. I loved the film's energy, humor, and strange mix of the funny and tragic, real and imaginary.  Director Alejandro Gonzalez Innarittu has been accused of miserablism (I personally liked Babel and 21 Grams, but he lost even me with the dourness of Biutiful), but here the comedy seems to have set him free.  Michael Keaton gives a great big star performance in the center, and he's surrounded by the best supporting cast of the year. My personal favorites were Edward Norton and Naomi Watts as a erratic famous actor and his partner nervous and excited by her first big chance. Perhaps the best performance of all is cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezski, who films this all as one long take (with some hidden cuts thrown in).  Many elements of the story are familiar, but they're put together in such an ingenious way, I was energized and thrilled the whole way through.

Grade: A

Whiplash

What does it take to be good at something? What does it mean to teach a genius? How far can you go? These are all questions you'll surely be considering and thinking about long after you see Whiplash, this year's Sundance winner which certainly counts as a movie that lingers. Miles Teller plays a driven and very very good young jazz drummer who wants to be great. JK Simmons is absolutely terrifying as a tyrannical teacher who only accepts perfection. The two actors play off each other beautifully (I'll be surprised if Simmons doesn't win a Supporting Actor Oscar), and the movie has a propulsive dark rhythm that never lets up. The movie builds to what is surely one of the best climaxes of the year.

Grade: A-

Love is Strange

This is most definitely one of those lingerers, a movie that I enjoyed the first time out and have thought about a whole lot sense. Love is Strange begins with a gay wedding of an older couple (an excellent and moving John Lithgow and Alfred Molina), and takes off from there, as the couple's marriage has ramifications on their jobs, living situations, and relationship. It sounds sort of preachy but it's most certainly not. The two actors effortlessly portray a lifelong relationship and their surrounded by a great supporting cast. I especially loved Marisa Tomei as the niece of the Lithgow character. Who knew after her surprise Oscar win for My Cousin Vinny she would end up as one of the most natural and valuable actresses around? This movie also ends on a completely beautiful note.

Grade: A-

Gone Girl

The movie people can't seem to stop talking about.  Gone Girl is of course based on Gillian Flynn's hugely bestselling novel and brought to life by our modern-day master of chilly films, director David Fincher. Without spoiling the plot (for those who've kept away), I'll just say Gone Girl is about a marriage between Nick and Amy Dunne that begins seemingly happily and goes very astray. Gone Girl is a long movie that feels too short. In most ways that's a great compliment. Fincher keeps scenes moving and the audience always interested in what's coming next. There were times, however, when I wanted to give the movie more time to breathe and develop it's character.  The key "cool girl" speech, so crucial to the book and a balance to the narrative, ends up seeming a little rushed. Ben Affleck is made for the role of Nick and Rosamund Pike makes a convincing amazing Amy. As with the book, I'm not quite sold on the ending, but this is a solidly entertaining movie made by a great craftsman. After you see it, there's plenty to discuss, especially around gender issues.

Grade: B

The Skeleton Twins

SNL alums Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader both turn in excellent performances in this film of a troubled brother-sister pair figuring out their life.  Billed as a comedy, I was actually surprised at the darkness of the film. It begins with an attempted suicide (and almost two) and kind of keeps its dark tone from there. It's a really solid small movie that I couldn't quite love because it seemed way too reminiscent of You Can Count on Me (2000), one of the few movies I would are to call perfect.  Both are about a wayward brother visiting his seemingly more put-together sister in upstate New York, but The Skeleton Twins feels a little more contrived.

Grade: B

Nightcrawler

Speaking of dark films, this one is pitch black. It stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Lou Bloom, a loner who finds his niche in Los Angeles as a freelance videographers who sells footage of crime scenes and car accidents to network news teams. Gyllenhaal lost a lot of weight for this role, and his eyes seem to bug out of his head. His performance is strange and unnerving, yet at some point I wanted him to go deeper. The best performance in the movie is by Rene Russo, who plays a world-weary news producer who develops strange relationship with Lou. The movie starts strong and fascinating and becomes a little more strident and obvious along the way.  It's definitely worth a look for the performances and intensity, but I don't think the themes are particularly novel.

Grade: B-

The Theory of Everything

I can never get that excited about biopics.  While they can be well made and enjoyable to watch, they also tend to follow the same patterns as they rush through a famous person's life. The only ones I really love are those that turn the genre on its head (I'm Not There) or focus intently on one small portion of a person's life (Capote, Lincoln). The Theory of Everything falls somewhere in between, not following all of Stephen Hawking's life, but instead focusing mostly on his relationship with his wife Jane Hawking. The performances are very strong. Eddie Redmayne is able to capture the youthful exuberance of Stephen which helps us feel connected to him as he loses the ability to fully participate in his life and family. Less flashy but even more compelling to me was Felicity Jones, who goes through her own emotional journey throughout the film. I really liked this movie at the beginning, but towards the end it fell into the trap of rushing through events to take us through the "important events" in their lives. While this is not my type of movie, look for it to make a pretty big splash at the Oscars, with a possible win for Redmayne.

Grade: B-




Saturday, August 9, 2014

Best Films of the Filmspotting Era

I recently caught up with podcast Filmspotting (from Chicago Public Radio) and their 500th anniversary show.  I've been listening to Adam and Josh for a couple years now, and can't get enough of their thoughtful, funny, spirited, and original discussions. Check them out if you haven't!

For their 500th episode, they picked their 5 favorite films of the Filmspotting era (2005-present).  Being a list-maker myself, I had to find my own.  This proved a very tough task, but I finally whittled it down.
I notice that for every film in my top 5, there was at least one other film by the same director that was among my favorites of the decade.  We have some great directors working right now.  It's always tough to commit as movies grow and change as we age.  If you asked me this list in a year, I'm sure I would move around some things.  So as of now, here are my top 5 films of the past 9 years.

Runners-Up:

Junebug: A modest family drama that is just perfectly done.  It has a particularly wonderful breakout role for Amy Adams.

The New World: I almost put this Terrence Malick movie on rather than The Tree of Life.  This story of John Smith and Pocahontas is gorgeous, powerful, and haunting.

No Country for Old Men: The Coen Brothers' revisionist western is just about a perfect movie with a dark view of humanity.

There Will Be Blood: An imperfect movie with a messy ending, but so strange and disturbing and transfixing I couldn't leave it off.  Daniel Day Lewis gives the best performance of the decade.

WALL-E: Pixar had an phenomenal run for several years (I also particularly loved Ratatouille and Toy Story 3), but I think was their most visionary film.

My top 5....

5. Amour (2012)
Director Michael Haneke's story of love colliding with aging is one of the most wrenching portraits of life I've ever seen.  Haneke is known for being a very clinical director, but here a strong sense of warmth comes through in the midst of all the pain.
(Bonus Haneke points for Cache and The White Ribbon)



4. 12 Years a Slave (2013)
Almost a year later, I continue to be in awe that British director Steve McQueen was able to make a movie about slavery with no concessions to his stunning artistic vision. The movie is profoundly artistic, harrowing, amazingly acted and unforgettable.  It's sure to endure and move future generations.
(Bonus McQueen points for Shame)



3. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
I LOVE the Coen Brothers, and after seeing Llewyn Davis twice, I think I can safely call it my favorite of their movies. It's the perfect mix of cynicism and sentiment, humor and heartbreak. It has so much to say about the life of an artist and what it takes to follow your vision.
(Bonus Coen Brothers points for No Country for Old Men and A Serious Man)



2. The Tree of Life (2011)
Terrence Malick's epic story of a family in Texas in the 1950s is a beautiful interpretation of childhood's joys and (especially) painted as painted in moments in time.  Yes, it also covers the creation of the universe, dinosaurs, and the afterlife!  It all worked magically for me.  Monumental.
(Bonus Malick points for The New World)



1. Children of Men (2006)
Some movies you immediately love, while others sneak up on you.  When I first saw Children of Men, I liked it and admired its artistry and its message. When I saw it a second time a few years later, it simply blew me away. Director Alfonso Cuaron's dystopian movie about a world without children is thrilling, heart-wrenching, and technically astonishing.  Simply perfect.



And here were the picks from Filmspotting and their guests.  Lots of love for The Tree of Life and There Will Be Blood.

Adam Kempenaar (Filmspotting)
1. The Master
2. The Tree of Life
3. No Country for Old Men
4. There Will Be Blood
5. Inglorious Basterds

Josh Larsen (Filmpsotting)
1. The Tree of Life
2. No Country for Old Men
3. Where the Wild Things Are
4. Volver
5. Meek's Cutoff

Michael Phillips (Chicago Tribune)
1. There Will be Blood
2. Climates
3. Her
4. Last Train Home
5. Ratatouille

Dana Stevens (Slate)
1. There Will Be Blood
2. Grizzly Man
3. 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days
4. Children of Men
5. The Tree of Life

Rian Johnson (Director)
1. There Will Be Blood
2. The Master
3. No Country for Old Men
4. A Serious Man
5. Inglorious Bastards


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Under the Skin

I'm thrilled to be returning to The Film Experience for "Hit Me With Your Best Shot", especially with such a visual dazzler as director Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin.  Under the Skin is a totally singular movie, an intoxicating and strange hybrid of science-fiction, art film, and gender commentary.



The first reason I chose my shot was to highlight the amazing power of great filmmaking and cinematography. Looking at this shot, it looks more like a painting you would see in a museum than a frame in a movie.  There were dozens of others I could have chosen that would have been equally striking.  When an indie director can make such beauty on a limited budget, what's the excuse for the many visually boring movies coming out of Hollywood each year?

Except on rare occasions, beauty alone does not make a great movie.  This shot comes at an important moment in the film.  Up to this point, our otherworldly, unnamed main character (Scarlett Johansson) has been focused on men.  She prowls the streets of Glasgow, hunts for vulnerable men, and captures takes control of them.  Then there comes a point midway through the movie that's a montage of women; all types of women, doing all kinds of ordinary things.  As Johansson watches these women, it seems she is learning how to take on the female form and female persona.  The movie becomes a swirling montage of women from which Johansson's face emerges, almost as if being reborn. The movie switches after this point as well, with Johansson abandoning her mission and experimenting with how to be a female in this society. This theme will echo through the second half of the movie and end with one of the most striking endings I've seen in a long time.  In the end, I think the shot is a crucial turning point in the movie and perhaps a keys to at least some of its illusive meaning.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Catching Up on 2014: Ebert, apes, and more

My annual Oscar/best of the year hangover lasted even longer this year, but I'm ready to do a little more blogging with thoughts on some 2014 releases, in order of my recommendation.

Life Itself

Roger Ebert was one of my personal heroes, and this movie was a very emotional experience (Here are my thoughts directly after his death last year).  I loved seeing his career, his passion for movies, and his open-hearted regard for filmmakers young and old.  It's also a beautiful portrait of his marriage to Chaz, a strong woman who obviously changed his life in such positive ways. I also loved how this movie doesn't look away from his faults, especially his childish competitiveness with Gene Siskel.  The highlight of the movie is perhaps some old outtakes from Siskel and Ebert (a show I watched religiously-6:30 on Saturday nights-as a young teen). I would have liked a little more about the movies he championed, but it's an amazing documentary by director Steve James (Hoop Dreams, The Interrupters), one of the filmmakers her truly championed.

Grade: A-

The Immigrant

Director James Gray's The Immigrant is a meticulously beautiful movie that feels less like a period movie and more like you're stepping back into early 20th-century New York City.  Marion Cotillard is simply brilliant as a young Polish immigrant lost amidst the lower East Side of New York and forced to turn to unsavory work. Joaquin Phoenix is her match in another psychologically tortured performance. There are scenes in the movie that are some of the best acting I've seen in the past several years, and the last shot of the movie is incredible.  My one big quibble with the movie was in the performance of Jeremy Renner, an actor I normally really like. He seemed too big, broad, and modern, and I felt the movie was a bit derailed when he was in it. It's distinctive and beautiful, though, and certainly didn't find enough of an audience.

Grade: B+


Dawn of the Planet of the Apes


I'm honestly usually allergic to big summer blockbusters, which rarely fail in disappointing me, but this one has gotten great reviews, and I really enjoyed the previous Rise of the Planet of the Apes.  There's a lot I loved about Dawn, mostly having to do with the story of the apes. The combination of motion capture performance, special effects, and thoughtful story development helps the audience feel equally (Ok...much more) invested in the ape storyline than in the human's storyline. Caesar (captured by Andy Serkis) is a great protagonist, and we are deeply invested in the movie. The movie is also thoughtful in its development of themes, from tribalism to gun violence to jealousy and betrayal. Perhaps it's just because of current events, but I couldn't help reading flashes of the Israel-Palestine conflict in the movie. I also liked the way the movie mirrored themes across the apes and the humans.  The lead humans are played by Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty) and Keri Russell, and they do a solid job as well. The things I didn't like are my typical quibbles with summer blockbusters.  It's too long and ends with too many drawn out fight scenes.  As blockbusters go, though, this is a really good one!

Grade: B

Enemy

I rarely go into a movie as fresh as I did this one, and it was a really fun experience. All I knew is that this movie included two performances by Jake Gyllenhall and was by director Dennis Villeneuve, who made Incendies and Prisoners, two movies which showed a truly cinematic director at work. I'd recommend going in fresh as well, so I'll avoid spoilers.  Enemy is strange, hypnotic, and perhaps prepostorous. The last shot will lead to many head scratches and discussions after the movie is done. To me, it was like a good short story in movie form made with a lot of cinematic artistry.  It's probably just David Lynch-lite, but I'm glad I saw it.

Grade: B

Noah

Here's a movie that isn't fully successful, but I was engaged and interested just about the whole time. I love indie director Darren Arronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain, and Black Swan are some of the most engaging movies of this century), so I was interested to see how he would approach a biblical epic with an enormous budget.  It's a little awkward.  The movie has many elements, such as visionary dream sequences and philosophical ideas, that are fascinating.  I especially liked the way they turned Noah into an environmental parable.  At the same time, the hand of the studios felt a little heavy in some parts-especially in the rock creatures (biblical Transformers?) and the ending chase around the ark. Russell Crowe holds the movie together and Emma Watson (Hermione from Harry Potter) makes an excellent foil as his daughter-in-law.

Grade: B- (but A- for ambition)


Locke

About the opposite of Noah is Locke, a one-man movie about a man driving a car and answering calls as he travels and finds his marriage and job falling apart around him.  Tom Hardy (best known as Bane from The Dark Knight Rises) does a great job as the only actor we see on screen, and he is almost enough to make me recommend this movie.  In the end, though, I didn't think the stakes were quite high enough to justify a full movie about this man.

Grade: B-


Saturday, April 12, 2014

Top 10 of 2013



Rounding out my year in review, here (finally) are my picks for the top 10 of last year.

2013 was a really terrific year for movies, which made coming up with a 10-best list extremely difficult. There were a range of movies that entertained and moved me, and another day (or on a second watch) some of them might have cracked my top 10.  Pop in any of my runners-up in spots 8-10, and I'd be just as happy with my list.

Here are my #16-25, in alphabetical order. They are all well worth checking out: The amazing Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine; Tense docudrama Captain Phillips; Mumblecore comedy Drinking Buddies; Heartbreaking true-life drama Fruitvale Station; Fresh and funny urban indie Gimme the Loot; Cambodian experimental documentary The Missing Picture; Contemplative art movie Museum Hours; Stylish thriller Side Effects; Heartfelt high school drama The Spectacular Now; and the Egyptian documentary The Square.

Runners-Up: In most other years, these 5 would have had an easy spot on a top 10 list.

20 Feet From Stardom:
This Oscar winner for Best Documentary is probably the most crowd-pleasing movie I saw this year. It follows the stories of the (mostly) forgotten back-up singers of the past and present, showing us their immense talent and artistry.  You'll never listen to the Rolling Stones' Gimme Shelter the same way again!

The Act of Killing:
Watching this experimental documentary, its hard to believe that the events are really taking place. Director Joshua Oppenheimer gets Indonesian generals, who carried out a genocide in the 1960s, to recreate their atrocities as a movie. An intense, disturbing, and completely fascinating look at how evil deeds are (or aren't) dealt with. The final scene is unforgettable.

The Great Beauty:
This Italian film won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, and for good reason. The setting and cinematography are gorgeous (Great Beauty indeed), it's funny and entertaining, and it's also filled through with a sense of melancholy and loss.

Her:
While I have quibbles with small parts of Her, it's a movie I've thought about a lot, and feel may creep up my list upon more viewings. Writer/director Spike Jonze creates an amazingly believable world where our love for technology has taken the next step. Funny and thought-provoking, with great performances by Joaquin Phoneix, Amy Adams, and the voice of Scarlett Johannson.

Short Term 12:
Probably my number 11, and it kills me to leave this off the list. This drama about a young couple working at a youth treatment facility has so much heart and goodness in it, without ever feeling soft. Lead Brie Larson gives a passionate and committed performance, and I hope it leads to great things for her.

Now, on to the 10 that made it through!

10. Blue is the Warmest Color.
To get the most notorious part of the movie out of the way: Yes, the sex scenes are overly long and probably exploitative of the two lead actresses.   But.... they take up only a very small part of this 3-hour opus, which focuses on young Adele (Adele Exarchopolous) coming of age and discovering herself as a person.  Marketed as a love story, the movie is also concerned with class differences in modern France, finding meaning in life and work, and the ways in which we move successfully from being a teenager to becoming an adult.  Exarchopolous gives one of the very best performances of the year, and I've thought about her character and her journey many many times since seeing this movie.



9. Before Midnight.
Every 9 years since 1995, director Richard Linklater and stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy have come together to create a document of a changing relationship between an American man and a French woman.  If you haven't seen the first two (Before Sunrise and Before Midnight), please see them before checking this out!  While I don't love this chapter to quite the same degree as the other two (I miss some of the intellectual back-and-forth of their earlier conversations, while this one focuses more solely on the relationship), this is a great addition to the triology. The three show us the cracks that have developed in the central relationship as we question if their love can survive.  I can't wait for the next one....



8. Mud.
An old-fashioned movie in the very best sense. With great respect and little romanticizing, director Jeff Nichols sets this movie on the Mississippi Delta in Arkansas, where the lives of its inhabitants are changing forever. Young Tye Sheridan plays a young teen who finds an outlaw (Matthew McConaughey) on the river and does a lot of growing as he learns about the adult ways. With echoes of American literature (especially Huck Finn), this is a great story.



7. Enough Said.
Three years ago, Director Nicole Holofcener made my list with Please Give, and here she is again. She's a true talent, writing and directing prickly, funny, humane movies about people and their relationships. Enough Said is her most heartfelt movie yet, and she chronicles a middle-aged single mom riddled with doubts as she embarks on a relationship with a divorced dad. The casting of TV starts Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini was absolutely perfect.



6. Stories We Tell.
The best documentary of the year (in a year of great ones), is this very personal story by young director Sarah Polley. The movie is an inventive and far-reaching look into a secret from her family's past. In the process, Polley also raises essential questions about truth, storytelling, love, and what truly makes a family.



5. Nebraska. 
Having spent many a summer in rural Kansas with my grandparents, I quickly connected to this movie and its small town setting and characters. The amazing Bruce Dern plays Woody Grant, an alcoholic old man searching for some final success. With a light touch, director Payne shows how our past shapes us. Loved it.



4. Frances Ha.
This movie is so light, airy, and pleasurable, I almost don't want to damn it with my high praise. It's simply about a charming but sometimes clueless young woman (Greta Gerwig) finding a life for herself in modern New York. The black and white is gorgeous and Gerwig is beyond charming.  It's also the rare modern movie more interested in a young woman's friends and life than in her relationship with men.



3. Gravity.
Just stunning. Other directors would have used the budget and technology to make a sci-fi spectacle of battles and a cast of hundreds, but none of that for the amazing Alfonso Cuaron. What I remember most from Gravity is astronaut Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), floating in space and gazing at the beautiful Earth. Some found its story a tad trite, but I was deeply moved by its portrayal of a wounded person making the choice to fight for survival.



2. 12 Years a Slave.
Essential, breathtaking, stunning moviemaking from director Steve McQueen. I love so much about this movie, from the script to the performances to the cinematography to the score. What I remember most is its intense focus on Soloman Northrup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and his story, never flinching at the brutality and never giving us cheap uplift. One of the very best movies of the new millennium. I'm sure it will live as a testament for years to come. (Can't I make a tie for number 1?)



1. Inside Llewyn Davis.
When I walked out of this movie, I simply said "That was perfect." The more I think about it, I've become convinced it's my favorite Coen Brothers movie. Like many movies on my list, it walks a delicate line between humor and pathos, and in this movie the character of Llewyn is someone to both admire and criticize. This is a tough-eyed look at the life of an artist and the struggle to stay artistically pure, all filmed in beautiful washed-out cinematography and featuring one of the best soundtracks ever. I've heard there are some that actually hated this movie.  If you're one of them, it's probably best not to tell me...


Thursday, April 3, 2014

Ben's Talking Pictures Awards: Lead Performers

Continuing my rundown of my favorites of 2013, here are the best leading performances.  Both categories are ridiculously packed with great performances.  I can't believe I had to leave off performances as great as Greta Gerwig, Tom Hanks, Amy Adams, and Michael B. Jordan.  Here are the 10 that rose to the top!

BEST ACTRESS

Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Cate swept this awards season for a major reason-this is one of the all-time great performances.  Blanchett absolutely owns this movie as Jasmine, a delusional modern-day Blanche Dubois unaccustomed to an ordinary life. Blanchett fully commits to the role, and her slow breakdown is unforgettable.



Julie Delpy, Before Midnight
Over the course of this trilogy (Before Sunrise-Before Sunset-Before Midnight), Delpy has given a performance for the ages as a smart, prickly intellectual navigating love with an American man. Delpy lets us see how her Celine has grown and changed over the past 18 years, and this is the feistiest she's been.



Adele Exarchopolous, Blue is the Warmest Color
In French it's called "La Vie d'Adele," and it's the perfect title as the movie immerses us in every aspect of Adele's life.  Over this 3-hour movie, Adele almost never leaves the screen.  We see her grow form a gangly teen discovering herself to a young woman forging her own adult path in life.  Since I've seen the movie, I've often thought about her as if she was a real person I knew-the mark of a great naturalistic performance.



Brie Larson, Short Term 12
Larson plays Grace, a supervisor at a residential home for troubled teens.  Grace has an amazing empathy and touch with these teens, but also her own demons that get in the way of her growth. It's a soulful, bravura performance.



Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Enough Said
Louis-Dreyfuss brings her trademark sitcom brilliance into a performance and movie that achieves the perfect mix of comedy and heartfelt emotion. As a single mom embarking on a new relationship, Louis-Dreyfuss is completely believable and relatable.



My Pick: Cate Blanchett
Second Choice: Adele Exarchopolous

Runners-Up: Amy Adams (American Hustle), Sandra Bullock (Gravity), Judi Dench (Philomena), Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha), Rooney Mara (Side Effects)

Matches with Oscar: Just 1-Cate! Although I also loved Adams, Bullock, and Dench who all made my runners-up list and would have made it in another year. I also thought Meryl Streep was lots of fun and lots of scary in August: Osage County, but she didn't crack my list. A banner year for actresses.

BEST ACTOR

Bruce Dern, Nebraska
I saw echoes of both of my grandfathers in Dern's Woody Grant, an old man from a silent generation. We think Woody isn't watching or listening, but then we see a piece of his painful past come through, particularly in a heart-wrenching scene returning to his childhood come.  Dern combines the comedy and pathos perfectly throughout the film, and exists as the sole of Nebraska.



Leonardo DiCaprio, Wolf of Wall Street
An audience couldn't stand this 3-hours of excess without a charismatic anti-hero (or villain?) taking us through the whole thing.  I think this may be DiCaprio's most dynamic performance-showing the audience what drew people to Jordan Belfort, and the moral rot living inside of him.



Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
There wasn't a more expressive face this year, nor one used so well, as Ejiofor. Ejiofor inhabits the very soul of Solomon Northrup, skipping historical platitudes and going straight for emotional power as we see Solomon's harrowing journey as embodied by Ejiofor's voice, body, and eyes. Just watch how much he expresses in this scene with so few words.



Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis
It's tough playing a character with such contradictions, and Isaac pulls it off effortlessly. He's unafraid to show the dark (and sometimes nasty) side of Llewyn's artistic purity, yet he also shows us the strands of real beauty, particularly when he opens his mouth and sings. Perfect.



Joaquin Phoenix, Her
A perfect match of actor for role as the very odd Joaquin Phoenix plays the awkward Theodore Twombly, a man who can only have a fulfilling relationship with his OS. This performance is even more amazing when you think of how many scenes Phoenix had to play with just himself in the frame.



My Pick: Bruce Dern
Second Choice: Oscar Isaac

Runners-Up: Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips), Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station), Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club), Tye Sheridan (Mud), Miles Teller (The Spectacular Now)

Matches with Oscar: 3-Dern, DiCaprio, and Ejiofor. McConaughey (the winner), made my runner-up list, although I think he was even better in Mud. Christian Bale (American Hustle) was solid, but probably my least favorite of the four central performances in Hustle.



Saturday, March 29, 2014

BTP 2013 Awards: Supporting Performers

A few months into 2014, and I've finally ready to roll out my 2013 awards.  This week I'll be giving my awards, starting with the extremely talented and important supporting actors.

SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Amy Adams, Her
Adams does what a great supporting performance should do, suggesting her own full backstory while providing support for our main storyline.  Adams plays Amy, who has her own relationship with an OS (albeit a friendship), and helps us accept the reality that the film creates.  Adams is one of my favorite actresses, and I think this may be her most naturalistic performance. Bonus points for a great performance in American Hustle as well.



Lupita N'yongo, 12 Years a Slave
What can I add? N'yongo is absolutely incredible as Patsey, the slave living through a hellish existence serving a cruel man's desires and a cruel woman's jealousy. It's a fairly small role, but has such an enormous impact as she serves as the haunting conscience of the movie. Of the moments we remember most, most involve Patsey. Let's hope Hollywood can figure out how to make the most of this absolutely incredible actress.



Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Is she too young for this role as housewife Rosalyn? Probably. I didn't really care though, as  Lawrence effortlessly steals every moment she's on screen in the way only a true star can. Her charisma is something to behold, and she has several of the year's best lines of dialogue ("science oven," "thank God for me!").



Sarah Paulson, 12 Years a Slave
As the deeply troubled Mistress Epps, Paulson lays out a full spectrum of icy emotions as a slave mistress caught up in her jealousy, cruelty, and indignity. She simply seethes resentment in every scene.



Shailene Woodley, The Spectacular Now
Woodley is heartbreaking and believable as a smart, bookish high schooler falling in love with a popular boy. It's certainly one of the most realistic representations of a teen I've ever seen on film. Woodley was very good in 2011's The Descendants, and she's even better here.



My Pick: Lupita N'yongo
Second Choice: Shailene Woodley

Runners-Up: Melonie Diaz (Fruitvale Station), Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine), Octavia Spencer (Fruitvale Station), Lea Seydoux (Blue is the Warmest Color), June Squibb (Nebraska)

Matches with Oscar: I picked Lawrence and N'yongo as well, and Hawkins and Squibb were my runners-up. I thought Julia Roberts was very good in August: Osage County, but not enough to crack my list.

SUPPORTING ACTOR

Bradley Cooper, American Hustle
After this role as Richie DeMasio and his Pat Solitano in Silver Linings Playbook, it's safe to say that Bradley Cooper and director David O. Russell have a good thing going. Cooper thrives on the loose energy that courses through Russell's films.  For my money, Cooper is best in show, showing the desperation and ambition of a FBI agent feeling excited and important to be mixing it up with the crooks.



Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
Fassbender is a fearless and tremendous actor, and in 12 Years a Slave he goes to deep, dark places to show the evils of slavery. But it's not a simplistic portrait- Fassbender shows the insecurity, desperation, and sexual depravity of a truly evil man.



James Gandolfini, Enough Said
180 degrees removed from Tony Soprano, the late Gandolfini gives a funny, fragile, heartbreaking performance as Albert, a sloppy middle-aged man embarking on an sweet but pitfall-laden relationship with a middle-aged woman. A fitting swansong for a great actor we lost too early.



Matthew McConaughey, Mud
McConaughey plays the title character, an outlaw living on a Mississippi River island who encounters two young boys. He's a mix of charisma and danger, and he plays the part perfectly.  I liked him even better here than in his Oscar-winning lead role in Dallas Buyers Club.



Keith Stanfield, Short Term 12
Stanfield plays Marcus, a troubled and complex (although aren't they all?) resident at a youth group home. Of all the kids, Stanfield's Marcus is the one who makes the biggest impact, showing the pain that a ruptured childhood can cause.



My Pick: James Gandolini
Second Choice: Michael Fasbender

Runners Up: Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips), Andrew Dice Clay (Blue Jasmine), John Goodman (Inside Llewyn Davis), Ryan Gosling (The Place Beyond the Pines), Jared Leto (Dallas Abuyers Club)

Matches with Oscar: Oscar also chose Cooper and Fassbender, and Leto (who dominated the whole awards season) and Abdi were on my runners-up list. Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street) was funny as well, but his performance was a little too one-note to make my list. I'm still heartbroken that Gandolfini didn't make the nomination list.


Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel & The Complete Wes Anderson

The Grand Budapest Hotel

From the highly stylized mind of Wes Anderson comes his newest film, The Grand Budapest Hotel.  In many ways the usual signs of an Anderson movie are there, while in others it seems he is trying to expand his horizons and reach for something a little more historical and political.

Since plot isn't the most important part of any Wes Anderson movie, I'll only briefly mention it.  The movie is about Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes), a concierge at a lavish hotel in a fake Eastern European hotel in 1932.  He takes a new young lobby boy, Zero (Tony Revolori), under his wing.  As the film progresses, personal complications, capers, and fascist politics come into the scene.

I've come to know Wes Anderson so well that I just smile at all the usual touches-the symmetrical cinematography, the tracking shots packed with jokes, and the beautiful miniatures.  The hotel itself is simply a wonder to behold-both in the main story in 1932 and as a decrepit communist-era shell in the 1960s.  I also absolutely loved Ralph Fiennes in the title role.  He's mostly known for his weighty dramatic roles (Schindler's List, The English Patient), here Wes Anderson's clever dialogue fits him like a glove. In this movie, there's a deep note of melancholy, of a beautiful and delicate era lost, that pervades the film.  Without giving any spoilers away, there's also a lot more outright sadness that we usually see in Anderson's movies. The way he's putting historical significance onto his trademark style kind of reminds me of what Tarantino has attempted in Inglorious Bastards and Django Unchained.

I love what Anderson is attempting to do here, and for the most part it works.   There are times when the movie gets a little too caper-y, and I would actually have liked to spend more time getting to know the hotel and its denizens.  These are small quibbles, though, in a movie I'd gladly watch again, and that gives so many smiles, laughs, and melancholy moments.

Grade: A-/B+ (With Anderson, I always need to let them sink in a bit)

The Complete Wes Anderson

I am proud to be a completist of Wes Anderson, having seen all 8 of his movies.  Here they are, ranked.  The top 3 I just absolutely love.

1. Rushmore (1998).  Anderson will have to make a pretty amazing movie to ever topple this one.  Anderson's breakout movie, it's the hilarious story of Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman), a one-of-a-kind prep school kid in love with a teacher and put on probation.  It's full of visual gags, brilliant cinematography, and real emotion.  Bonus points for what may be the best Bill Murray performance ever, and that's saying something.



2. Moonrise Kingdom (2012). An absolute charmer about first love filled with humor, beauty, and melancholy.  The cast is terrific and the sets even more evocative and beautiful than usual. I also love the use of the Benjamin Britten music throughout.



3. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001). This is Anderson's most sprawling movie, with a cast of at least 6 main characters. It takes obvious references from the writings of J.D. Salinger as it chronicles a family of dysfunctional prodigies in a stylized (of course) New York. Whatever it loses in depth of individual characters it makes up for in the relationships between the family members.  It's also anchored by two wonderful performances by Gene Hackman and Anjelica Huston as the estranged parents of the Tenenbaum clan.



4. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014).  See above.

5. The Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009). All done in stop motion animation with a tremendous group of voice-over actors.  Clooney and Streep work perfectly as the central Fox pair.  Charming and clever, yet it feels a little more minor to me than other Wes Anderson films.



6. Bottle Rocket (1996). Anderson's debut, a crime caper of bumbling characters, as his signature style is just beginning to form.  The humor and wacky characters are there, but it's not as symmetrical and stylized as the later films.  A fun caper comedy, which also serves as the debut of the very funny Owen Wilson.



7. The Darjeeling Limited (2007). These last two films are in the period where I fell out of love with Anderson a bit. From what I remember, Darjeeling was a pleasant enough experience to watch, but both the humor and emotion felt a little forced.

8. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004). The only Anderson I actively disliked.  Everything his most derisive critics say about him seem true about this movie- it struck me as facile, twee, and tiresome. That said, some people I respect really love this movie, so maybe it's time for a revisit.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

I'm thrilled to be returning to The Film Experience's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," and always excited to revisit Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, one of my all-time favorite films.  It's a true classic for so many reasons:  The amazing screenplay with a great central conceit by Charlie Kaufmann; the believable and affecting relationship; the career-best performances by Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet; the pitch-perfect supporting performances that sell us on the reality of Lacuna, Inc.; and the sense of melancholy and emotion that is woven so effortlessly throughout the film.

Perhaps what I love most about the screenplay is the way it follows Lacuna, Inc's process of going through old memories.  As Lacuna goes deeper, so does the film. We see deeper and darker memories and emotions as the film goes along, until there are moments that become almost overwhelming.

One of the most affecting sequences of the movie, where I suspect I'm not the only viewer to get choked up, is when Joel and Clementine attempt to escape the erasing by traveling back to Joel's childhood, to hide out in memories that existed before he met Clementine.  We move through some teen embarrassment into a sequence where a very young Joel is forced into a moment of cruelty by neighborhood bullies. Only this time Clementine is there with him, and she carries him away from this painful memory until they are alone together in front of his home. It's a brief moment of happiness and redemption for the two, but it doesn't end there.

The shot I've chosen is right after this, when Clementine disappears from his memory, Joel's childhood home becomes decrepit, and he rides off on his bike.  I love this shot because out of context you're not sure if its young Joel or older Joel.  It's Jim Carrey, but he carries himself so well in his childlike way, on his boyhood bike, setting out to escape the painful memories. I'm deeply moved by the desolation of the shot, with Joe's childhood red cape being the only bright spot of color.  In the end its a great shot in a truly great movie because it both connects to the central relationship of the movie and shows all the baggage and memories we carry with us throughout life and into every relationship.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Oscar Night Live Blog


12:05
12 Years a Slave!!!! The Academy did the right thing, as they sometimes do.  I ended with 20/24.  Not too bad, although no big surprises this year either.  So happy right now.


11:46
Very well-deserved Best Actress to Blanchett.  Quick mention of Woody, no gushing.  Probably well-played.

As expected, Matthew McConaughey.  A very good performance in a year of really great ones.  A real rambly speech, but kind of fascinating.

I am now incredibly stressed to see Best Picture...

11:33
Watching Sidney Poitier.  Second time I'm tearing up.

Director to Alfonso Cuaron.  One of my favorite directors, and first Latino winner of Best Director.

Random thought- unless we have an upset in these last 3 categories, this is really a surprise-less show.

11:25
Adapted Screenplay to 12 Years a Slave. I hope and pray this means Best Picture.

Original Screenplay for Her!!! Yes!!! Not doing so well on predictions but I don't care. This also means American Hustle will most likely go 0/10.  Quite a fall for what many thought was the frontrunner.

11:16
John Travolta just called Idina Menzel "Adele Nazim."  WHA???

And score for Gravity.

Song to Let it Go.  15/18 I think.  Can't keep track so much anymore.

11:00
In Memoriam followed by a really synthesized version of Wind Beneath My Wings.  What year are we in?

10:49
These stupid tributes are such a waste of time.  Arbitrary theme this year... heroes.  Let's just get some more Ellen jokes.

10:44
Production design.... The Great Gatsby. Now we can say its won two Oscars. I really prefer all the other nominees to this.

10:28
Cinematography to Emmanuel Lubezki.  An absolute master and he finally has his Oscar.  I'm 12/14 now.

Editing to Gravity as well.  It's doing really well.  I picked Captain Phillips for this. 12/15.

10:20

Stars eating pizza!  Get the gifs ready!

Sound awards of course going to Gravity.

Supporting Actress to LUPITA!!!  And she hugs Liza Minnelli!  SO HAPPY. All time classic speech too.  Perfect. Teared up a little there.

10:00
Foreign film goes to The Great Beauty!! Loved this and picked it. 8/10.

Tyler Perry introducing the Best Picture nominees..... a little odd.

Love U2, but that song is a serious snoozer.  At this point, you know everyone wants to hear Let it Go.

9:40
Live action film. Helium.  I predicted this! 5/7.

Documentary short. The Lady in Number 6. Touching especially since the subject died just this past week.

Documentary.  20 Feet From Stardom.  A great choice in a great field.  Bill Murray starting the standing ovation was PRICELESS.


9:30
Kim Novak.... looks very different from Vertigo.  Had some work, perhaps?
Animated Short to Mr. Hublot.  I didn't predict this, so I'm only 50% this year!

Animated feature to Frozen, of course.

Visual effects to Gravity.  Ya think.  The first of many tonight, I'm sure. 4/6 now I think, so at least my percentage is improving.

I really liked Her... but this song is just a little too indie-cute, even for me.

9:00
Makeup... Dallas Buyers Club. They walked REALLY slowly to the stage.  I guess they didn't want ot pull a Jennifer Lawrence.

8:58
Costume Design... The Great Gatsby.  My first miss for the night.  I thought American Hustle. Never beat again the most extravagant costumes.... and the 70s have never won.

8:53
Highlight so far.... Pharrell dancing with Lupita, Meryl, and Amy Adams! Love that song.

8:50
Solid opening from Ellen.  Highlights:

-"One of the greatest Liza Minnelli's impersonators I've ever seen.... good job sir."
-"Simply put, Meryl cannot afford to be nominated again."
-Jennifer Lawrence-"If you win tonight, I think we should bring you the Oscar."
-Jonah Hill- "You showed us something in that film that I haven't seen in a long time..." (for those who don't know, Jonah whips it out in the movie.)

Supporting Actor
Jared Leto of course. Not my pick but a great category this year.  GREAT first half of his speech, then had to turn it awkwardly political.

8:14
Will Smith- no tie, but ascot.  I approve.

8:06
Did Bill Murray just age like 10 years?

8:03
Hometown pride for Barkhad Abdi-from Minneapolis!

8:01
Lupita-killing it with the fashion this year. Also, after winning 5 indie spirits, they "had an intimate 12 Years a Slave dinner." Any guesses as to the restaurant? Maybe Hard Rock Cafe?

7:54
Jared.... looking like Jesus.  Cut the hair, man.

7:24
McConaughey has a very... tan mom.

7:22
"We have huge respect for Woody Allen" said by some costume designers.  Too soon.  Too soon.

7:14
Amy Adams is dressed tonight in tribute to Kim Novak from Vertigo.  She's awesome.

7:06
June Squibb is "one hell of a pole dancer." Awesome.

7:04 
Why are they showing me Viola first? To remind me of a terrible moment- when Meryl Streep's over-the-top performance in The Iron Lady beat her a couple years ago?

7:00 
Here we go.... the most exciting Oscar telecast I've seen in many years.  Let's hope the telecast lives up to the hype.  I'll be regularly updating, as I also try to sit back and enjoy.  Newest posts will be on top.

Pre-show thoughts: If I had 3 wishes for tonight, they would be:

-12 Years a Slave winning Best Picture. It deserves it and it will mean so much.

-Lupita beating Jennifer for Best Supporting Actress.  It will be great for Lupita, and it will be great for Jennifer Lawerence's career.  I really like her, and I don't want the inevitable backlash.

-For anyone to upset the Dallas Buyers Club duo of McConaughey and Leto.  I liked them both, but there are many more deserving competitors in both categories, and they've just steamrolled the competition.  I'd love Bruce Dern, Chiwetel Ejiofor, or Leonardo DiCaprio in Actor and Michael Fassbender, Bradley Cooper, or Barkhad Abdi in Supporting Actor.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Final Winner Predictions




It's the best kind of Oscar year, when there are lots of tough choices to make because so many races are tight.  One thing is for certain: Gravity will win the most awards of the night.  Does that mean it will win Best Picture? It very well could, but it's an amazingly close race.  Here you go....

I've also taken the opportunity to list my preferences in order across the categories-with my personal pick at the top.


Predicted Multiple Winners
Gravity- 6 (Director, Cinematography, Score, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects)
12 Years a Slave- 3 (Picture, Supporting Actress, Adapted Screenplay)
Dallas Buyers Club- 3 (Actor, Supporting Actor, Makeup)
American Hustle- 2 (Original Screenplay, Costume Design)

If I Had a Vote:
12 Years a Slave- 6 (Picture,Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Film Editing)
Gravity- 3 (Score, Visual Effects, Sound Editing)
Nebraska- 2 (Actor, Original Screenplay)
Inside Llewyn Davis- 2 (Cinematography, Sound Mixing)


Best Picture
12 Years a Slave
Gravity
Nebraska
Her
Captain Phillips
American Hustle
The Wolf of Wall Street
Philomena
Dallas Buyers Club

Will Win: 12 Years a Slave
Could Win: Gravity
Should Have Been Here: Inside Llewyn Davis

An absolute nail-biter between 12 Years a Slave and Gravity, and I'm switching by the second.  At one point people thought American Hustle had a shot too, but I think its glory has faded.  As much as I really love both frontrunners, I desperately want 12 Years a Salve to win.  It would be a great win for film.  In the end.... I'm flipping a coin and going with 12 Years a Slave, but ask me in another minute and I'll say Gravity.  The tightest race in many, many years.

Best Actor
Bruce Dern, Nebraska
Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street
Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
Christian Bale, American Hustle

Will Win: Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
Could Win: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street
Should Have Been Here: Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis

McConaughey probably has this in the bag, which is too bad when a category is this rich.  I'd love to see Dern, Ejiofor, or even DiCaprio surprise with a win here.  Of the three, DiCaprio has the best (although I think slight) chance to upset.

Best Actress
Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock, Gravity
Amy Adams, American Hustle
Judi Dench, Philomena
Meryl Streep, August: Osage County

Will Win: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Could Win: Amy Adams, American Hustle
Should Have Been Here: Julie Delpy, Before Midnight

Even the recent Woody Allen saga won't be enough to deny Blanchett her well-deserved Oscar.  The drama is how she will talk about Woody in her acceptance speech.

Best Supporting Actor
Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
Bradley Cooper, American Hustle
Barkad Abdi, Captain Phillips 
Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
Jonah Hill, The Wolf of Wall Street

Will Win: Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
Could Win: Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
Should Have Been Here: James Gandolfini, Enough Said

Throughout the season, I've been most disappointed at how thoroughly Leto has dominated in what is a decent, but sort of obvious role.  Expect him to win here, just as he has at about every other awards show.

Best Supporting Actress
Lupita Nyong'o, 12 Years a Slave
Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
June Squibb, Nebraska
Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine
Julia Roberts, August: Osage County

Will Win: Lupita Nyong'o, 12 Years a Slave
Could Win: Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Should Have Been Here: Shailene Woodley, The Spectacular Now

Probably a very close race between Lawrence and Nyong'o.  They are both terrific, but Nyong'o's performance is one of the most astonishing supporting performances I've ever seen, and will probably win. If she doesn't, I think it's bad news for 12 Years a Slave's Best Picture chances.

Best Director
Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
Alexander Payne, Nebraska
Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street
David O. Russell, American Hustle

Will Win: Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
Could Win: Steve McQueen
Should Have Been Here; Coen Brothers, Inside Llewyn Davis

While I prefer McQueen, I will still cheer when Cuaron, one of my all-time favorite directors, wins this.

Best Adapted Screenplay
12 Years a Slave
Before Midnight
The Wolf of Wall Street
Philomena
Captain Phillips

Will Win: 12 Years a Slave
Could Win: Philomena
Should Have Been Here: The Spectacular Now

Probably a fairly easy win for 12 Years a Salve, although I think there's a slight chance the well-liked Philomena could sneak in.

Best Original Screenplay
Nebraska
Her
Blue Jasmine
American Hustle
Dallas Buyers Club

Will Win: American Hustle
Could Win: Her
Should Have Been Here: Frances Ha

Another coin flip category- I had a hard time picking between American Hustle and Her.  I also have a sneaking suspicion Nebraska is probably not all that far behind.  American Hustle did get 10 nominations, though, so I think they will most likely give it a statue or two.

Animated Feature
Haven't Seen:
The Croods
Despicable Me 2
Ernest & Celestine
Frozen
The Wind Rises

Will Win: Frozen
Could Win: The Wind Rises (but not really)

Best Cinematography
Inside Llewyn Davis
Gravity
Prisoners
Nebraska

Haven't Seen
The Grandmaster

Will Win: Gravity 
Could Win: Nebraska
Should have been here: 12 Years a Slave

This is my favorite below-the-line category, and it's a really great crop of work this year.  I'm excited for Emmanuel Lubezki (a truly great and Oscarless cinematographer- he should already have 3 Oscars for Children of Men, The New World, and The Tree of Life), but I am also a little disturbed at how this category has turned into best-3D the past few years (Avatar, Hugo, Life of Pi), so I would personally vote for my favorite (and Oscar-snubbed) film of the year, Inside Llewyn Davis.

Best Costume Design
American Hustle
12 Years a Slave
The Great Gatsby

Haven't Seen:
The Grandmaster
The Invisible Woman

Will Win: American Hustle
Could Win: The Great Gatsby
Should have been here: Her

Best usually means "most" in this category, and logic would give the edge to Gatsby. However, this would be a cool place to honor one of the most memorable parts of American Hustle.  In the end, I'm making a bet that the Oscar voters will go with the deep V-necks.

Best Documentary
20 Feet From Stardom
The Act of Killing
The Square
Cutie and the Boxer

Haven't Seen
Dirty Wars

Will Win: 20 Feet From Stardom
Could Win: The Square

Three phenomenal films are in contention for the win:  the astonishing and disturbing The Act of Killing, the soulful crowdpleaser 20 Feet From Stardom, and the inspiring and enlightening Egyptian documentary The Square.  Any could win, although I'm guessing 20 Feet From Stardom will be too hard to resist.

Best Documentary Short (Haven't Seen Any)
Haven't Seen
Cavedigger
Facing Fear
Karama Has No Walls
The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life
Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall

Will Win: The Lady in Number 6
Could Win: Cavedigger

Film Editing
12 Years a Slave
Captain Phillips
Gravity
American Hustle
Dallas Buyers Club

Will Win: Captain Phillips
Could Win: Gravity
Should have been here: Inside Llewyn Davis

A very tight race between Captain Phillips and Gravity, I think.  Captain Phillps artful building and sustaining of tension may be just enough to overtake the Gravity juggernaut.

Best Foreign Language Film
The Great Beauty
The Missing Picture
The Hunt
The Broken Circle Breakdown

Haven't Seen:
Omar

Will Win: The Great Beauty
Could Win: The Hunt

I loved the ravishing, Felliniesque Italian film The Great Beauty, really liked The Missing Picture, liked the thriller The Hunt, and was mixed on the musical tearjerker The Broken Circle Breakdown.  I think it's a 3-way race between The Great Beauty, The Hunt, and The Broken Circle Breakdown, but I am guessing the mix of style, beauty, and longing in The Great Beauty will win.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Dallas Buyers Club

Haven't Seen:
Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
The Lone Ranger

Will Win: Dallas Buyers Club
Could Win: Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa

Best Original Score
Gravity
Her
Philomena

Haven't Seen:
The Book Thief
Saving Mr. Banks

Will Win: Gravity
Could Win: Philomena
Should have been here: 12 Years a Slave

A lackluster category this year, which makes this a pretty easy win for Gravity's powerful score.

Best Original Song
Let it Go, Frozen
Happy, Despicable Me 2
Ordinary Love, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
The Moon Song, Her

Will Win: Let it Go
Could Win: Happy

Two good songs, and two mediocre ones.  Frozen's epic showtune will definitely win.

Best Production Design
Her
12 Years a Slave
Gravity
American Hustle
The Great Gatsby

Will Win: The Great Gatsby
Could Win: Gravity
Should have been here: Inside Llewyn Davis

I'm afraid my least-favorite production design (The garish The Great Gatsby) will win over 4 worthier contenders.

Best Animated Short (Haven't Seen Them)
Feral 
Get a Horse!
Mr. Hublot
Posessions
Room on the Broom

Will Win: Get a Horse!
Could Win: Mr. Hublot

Best Live Action Short (Haven't Seen Them)
Equal No Era Yo
Avant Que De Tout Perdre
Helium
Pitaako Mun Kaikki Hoitaa?
The Voorman Problem

Will Win: Helium
Could Win: The Voorman Problem

Best Sound Editing
Gravity
Captain Phillips
All is Lost

Haven't Seen:
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Lone Survivor

Will Win: Gravity
Could Win: Captain Phillips

Best Sound Mixing
Inside Llewyn Davis
Gravity
Captain Phillips

Haven't Seen:
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Lone Survivor

Will Win: Gravity
Could Win: Nothing else!

Best Visual Effects
Gravity

Haven't Seen:
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Iron Man 3
The Lone Ranger
Star Trek: Into Darkness

Will Win: Gravity
Could Win: Nothing else!