Sunday, March 2, 2014



Hello, my friends, and welcome to my 9th annual LIVE, moment-by-moment, stream-of-consciousness Oscar commentary! I started doing this on my old MySpace blog back in 2006 -- CRASH won Best Picture that year, beating out MUNICH and BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, and I was not a happy camper. What a long, strange trip it’s been since then! I know there are many different live-blogging and live-tweeting options available to you tonight, so thanks for stopping by. I know I can’t compete with Portland’s feminist bookstore or Woodstock from Peanuts, but I will do my damnedest to entertain. Plus, hey, I’ve seen every nominee in every category except for one elusive foreign film (ironically, THE MISSING PICTURE), so my musings will be more informed than most! [pats self on back]

We should be in for a fun night. I like (or, at least, don’t outwardly hate) pretty much all nominees so the proceedings should be relatively rage-free. However, there are plenty of storylines to keep an eye on as the night progresses. First and foremost, of course, is the battle between 12 YEARS A SLAVE and GRAVITY. The two films (both of which made my Top 10) should pick up their share of gold throughout the night, but will the Academy give the big prize to the challenging, important picture or the mind-blowing sci-fi spectacle? Meanwhile, will AMERICAN HUSTLE be a factor at all, or has its ship sailed? My personal #1 movie of the year, BEFORE MIDNIGHT, only picked up one nod (Best Adapted Screenplay) and my #2, INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS, got snubbed in the major categories, but my #3, HER, is up for several awards and surrounded by great buzz -- I’d love to see it pick up Original Screenplay and/or Production Design. Will the Age of McConaughey reach its apex tonight or will DiCaprio finally get his long-overdue statue? Jared Leto seems pretty close to a lock, but could Barkhad Abdi pull off an upset? Will Cate Blanchett be adversely affected by the recent Woody Allen controversy, perhaps paving the way for Amy Adams to snag her first award in five tries? Best Supporting Actress pits America’s past sweetheart, Julia Roberts, against its current sweetheart, Jennifer Lawrence -- but that award belongs to the luminous Lupita Nyong’o, right? Could Disney pull off a trifecta of Animated Feature (FROZEN), Original Song (“Let It Go”) and Animated Short (GET A HORSE), thus officially ushering in a new golden age? Is there any chance the great John Williams picks up his first win in 20 years? So many questions... I’m getting myself all riled up!

My LIVE running commentary will begin with Red Carpet Madness (starting with the telecast on E!, if you want to watch with me, though I might switch over to ABC at some point) at 6 p.m. EST sharp, followed by the 86th Academy Awards at 8:30. I’ll be updating this blog every few minutes with my play-by-play, observations, predictions, reactions, rants and random musings -- absolutely no filtering allowed! And as an added bonus: I will be drinking heavily! Be sure to bookmark this page and check back often... or keep your browser right here and click “refresh” constantly & obsessively. See you soon!


6:00 – Aaaaaaand away we go! I’m watching the E! red carpet show and it is already rough. Seacrest and Giuliana were playing a “guess the Oscar nominee based on their parents” game and I wanted to shoot myself before we even started. Now Kelly Osborne and the other people whose names I don’t know are talking about God knows what. WE’RE LIVE, FOLKS!

6:01 – Now Giuliana and the one nameless guy are talking about Lupita Nyong’o and how she is going to light up the red carpet when she arrives. So true – that might be more anticipated than the awards themselves.

6:07 – Kelly and the other nameless guy are raving about Sandra Bullock’s past outfits. Sandra is cool. She will probably will not win an Oscar tonight but GRAVITY will win many – including, I think, Best Picture.

6:11 – Hmm, maybe I started this live blog too early. There have been more commercials than Red Carpet stuff in the first 11 minutes. Fortunately, my Thai food has arrived! And I’m on my second beer (following a big Bloody Mary earlier). Hold onto your butts.

6:14 – Oh, hey, a celeb! It’s Viola Davis. She’s good. And she is wearing green, which is my go-to color also. High five, Viola!

6:16 – Whoa, Liza Minnelli is there. And Olivia Wilde, who is an absolutely perfect specimen. I think I saw Kristen Chenoweth. And Portia de Rossi is there... okay!

6:18 – Charlize Theron dress retrospective, never a bad thing. And Portia de Rossi is now talking to Seacrest. Oh yeah, duh, I just realized that she is there because Ellen is there. I’m a little slow sometimes. Need more beer to get the synapses clicking!

6:19 – Kristen Chenoweth in E!’s special new 360-degree dress cam. You might say that she is quite… popular so far. Get it? Popular? WICKED? I’ll be here all night!

6:24 – GRAVITY vs. 12 YEARS A SLAVE discussion happening now. It could go either way, and maybe 12 YEARS should take it, but I have a feeling that it’s gonna be GRAVITY – which will also win a slew of technical awards and probably Director. And now, Kristen Chenoweth is back and talking about short girl tweets? I like short girls and tweets... sign me up!

6:26 – Anna Kendrick on the right side of the screen – that’s good! Meanwhile Seacrest is asking about the status of the 50 SHADES OF GREY movie. That’s bad.

6:28 – FIRST AMY ADAMS SIGHTING! She is wearing navy blue and looking amazing as always. “Get everyone out of the way,” Kelly Osborne and I exclaim at the same time! We wanna see Amy. But wait, there’s Olivia Wilde again – an absolute goddess. Suddenly business is picking up!

6:30 – Barkhad Abdi should grab the mic from Seacrest and say, “Look at me... I’m the red carpet host now.” Please!

6:32 – Idina Menzel also wearing dark green and looking fantastic. She is going to bring the house down when she performs “Let It Go” later. (Remember, she didn’t get to sing any of the three Oscar-nominated ENCHANTED songs, so this is six years worth of pent-up Disney kick-assery that she is getting ready to unleash!)

6:39 – Olivia Wilde is back on my TV screen. God she is perfect. She is married to Jason Sudekis, which gives hope to dorky funny guys everywhere.

6:41 – Chiwetel Ejiofor is in the house. He’s third on my Best Actor list but I would have no problem if he won. Also, remember when he was married to Keira Knightley in LOVE ACTUALLY?

6:43 – Seacrest surprised Ejiofor with an old pic of him & his sister as kids, and then his sister (who works for CNN) appeared with a video greeting. Nice moment, if a bit awkward. And now Amy Adams is here! I love her so much! She is a five-time Oscar nominee... that’s approaching Kate Winslet territory. Of course, Seacreast brings up the kiss with J-Law in AMERICAN HUSTLE. What a perv.

6:46 – Idina Menzel is strange but sexy. I’d like for her to sing to me during intimate moments.

6:47 – LUPITA NYONG’O HAS ARRIVED. She looks amazing in a light blue dress and... shit, she’s gone already! Not acceptable. I think we need a Lupita-cam in the corner of the screen all night.

6:50 – Pharrell Williams is wearing tuxedo shorts. I don’t know who Pharrell Williams is. (I’m old.)

6:52 – Bruce Dern was great in NEBRASKA and has a strong hold on the “crotchety old dude” role at the show tonight. Also, Laura Dern! Dr. Sattler, I refuse to believe that you aren't familiar with the concept of attraction.

6:57 – Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy and Richard Linklater are in the house! BEFORE MIDNIGHT was my #1 movie of the year. The BEFORE trilogy is one of the finest trilogies ever forged. MIDNIGHT has no chance at winning Best Adapated Screenplay, but if it did, you would hear my whoops of joy all around the world.

7:00 – Lupita! Lupita! Lupita! Lupita! Lupita! She looks absolutely spectacular. She is gorgeous and I love her voice. Her little finger crawl into the mani-cam was adorable. I think, now, at the end of this long awards season, I am officially falling in love with Lupita Nyong’o!

7:03 – Naomi Watts looks lovely in a white stucco dress of some kind. But she always looks lovely. Too bad she hasn’t made a good movie in several years – that being said, everybody add ADORE to your Netflix queues. It is so bad and trashy, it’s good!

7:04 – If by some weird chance Lupita and J-Law cancel each other out in the Supporting Actress race, I wouldn’t mind seeing June Squibb swoop in and steal it. She was the best part of NEBRASKA. Heh, Jared Leto has arrived and is hamming it up with Ms. Squibb! His hair looks luxurious. Gotta wonder how Angela Chase is feeling tonight.…

7:13 – Benedict Cumberbatch is in the house and the Internet is probably exploding all around us. (Ladies love the Cummerbund.) He was very good in SLAVE and the best part of the otherwise mediocre AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY. Might have made a good Grand Admiral Thrawn, too. (Just saying.)

7:16 – Kevin Spacey looking dapper. I still need to watch HOUSE OF CARDS (I know, I know... I’m slow when it comes to TV.) And now Spacey is bumped to the inset while LUPITA graces the main screen. God she is luminous. And there’s Amy Adams again – a low-key dress compared to some other ones she has worn this season, but she is still a doll. And, whoa, Jessica Biel! Where has she been hiding?

7:19 – Bette Midler is here. She is going to sing later but all I can think about are various Simpsons quotes. “Oh no... Bette Midler!” “I’ll get you for this Midlerrrr!”

7:20 – Sally Hawkins is a cutie and was very good in BLUE JASMINE – she held her own in a movie otherwise dominated by Cate the Great.

7:22 – Ahh, there’s Cate Blanchett. She looks great and is the best ever and has to be a lock to win Best Actress. Seriously, no other nominee even comes close. She is the goddess of goddesses!

7:28 – Matthew McConaughey is here and looking dapper in a white jacket, of course. He is the man. Also, his mom looks a hell of a lot like Helen Mirren – that would explain the good genes!

7:30 – Oh my God, tell me Jennifer Lawrence didn’t ALREADY trip on the red carpet while wearing a red dress. That’s so J-Law!

7:33 – Hardcore analysis about Cate Blanchett’s dress happening now. The verdict: She looks goooooood. (This is why Giuliana Rancic and Kelly Osborne get the big bucks, folks.) Now they’re focusing on the gloriousness that is Lupita, and so am I, so I apologize for any tytpos that may rewsult.

7:36 – Charlize Theron dress analysis now. She is wearing black and dear lord. Lest we forget, Charlize is a goddess, too.

7:39 – Just realized that the E! show has started doing these hardcore dress analyses because ABC has commandeered the Red Carpet stuff. So I’m switching over now... and there’s Leo! Really rooting for him to win his first, long-awaited Oscar. Not sure there’s any stopping the Age of McConaughey but here’s hoping!

7:43 – The ABC red carpet show is fun because they amplify the cheers & screams of the crowd a lot more than E! But, uhh, something about the “Team Oscar” young filmmakers competition? Or something? I don’t know. WHERE’S LUPITA AND J-LAW AND AMY AND CHARLIZE??

7:47 – Uhhhh, my cable just farted out a couple of times. GET YOUR SHIT TOGETHER, TIME WARNER CABLE. I’VE GOT AEREO BOOKMARKED. 

7:51 – Oh yeah, Jamie Foxx’s daughter. She’s a cutie, too. And now a look at Fashion in Film... I think AMERICAN HUSTLE will get shut out in the major awards but could walk away with Costume Design. That was one Oscar-worthy raid of the local salvation army!

7:54 – Jared Leto again. I saw 30 Seconds to Mars in concert once and it was surreal. Ugh, there’s Julia Roberts... the weakest link of the aforementioned AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY. Oooh, Accio Emma Watson! 

8:00 – Bradley Cooper banters with Jonah Hill and now it’s time for me to take a half-hour break. Hope you guys have enjoyed this madness so far. I’ll be back at 8:30 for the big show! OSCAR NIGHT, BABY!


8:30 – Aaaaaand we’re underway! Ellen Degeneres takes the stage and after one drought-related joke, she has improved on the entirety of Seth MacFarlane’s debacle last year. Heh, lots of similar nominees this year compared to when Ellen hosted seven years ago. But June Squibb is an 84-year-old newbie! “I’M TELLING EVERYONE YOU WRE WONDERFUL IN NEBRASKA!” Ellen says loudly (so June can hear her, natch). Lupita is also a newbie, as is Barkhad Abdi! He is a sommelier, so he knows a lot about wine! “WHO’S THE WINE CAPTAIN NOW”! Bahahaha, that will never stop being funny.

8:33 – The real Captain Phillips, the real Philomena and one of the greatest Liza Minnelli impersonators Ellen has ever seen! Looks just like the real Liza Minnelli! I don’t think people liked that joke. Also, what the hell is going on with the giant inflatable condom Oscars lined up on stage? What kind of telecast is this gonna be?

8:35 – “Amy Adams, you went to college, right? No? Who cares.” I like Ellen’s deadpan. Amy is selfish for being in TWO Oscar-nominated films tonight. (She probably should have gotten two nominations, herself – her performance in HER is arguably better than AMERICAN HUSTLE.)

8:37 – Ellen letting J-Law have it for being a clumsy goofball and falling all over the place! “If you win tonight, I think we should bring you the Oscar.” Now she’s talking about how pretty Jared Leto is. Someone on Twitter said that he looks like Jesus after a shower. That’s funny!

8:39 – Jonah Hill is a two-time Oscar nominee. Crazy. “You showed us something in that film that I have not seen in a long, long time,” Ellen says. (SHE’S TALKING ABOUT HIS PENIS!) Ellen also points out that the two possibilities tonight are that either 12 YEARS A SLAVE wins, or we’re all racists! Haha she went there!

8:40 – First award of the night and Anne Hathaway comes out to the LES MIZ themes. It’s Best Supporting Actor, of course. Barkhad Abdi is intense and of course they show the “I’m the captain now” clip. Bradley Cooper gives a fun manic performance in HUSTLE. Fassbender maybe should win for 12 YEARS… the guy is a genius. Jonah Hill, great work, but no. Jared Leto almost certainly takes this home. By the way, can you believe that Jared Leto is the oldest of these five nominees? That makes me feel fucking ancient. And the Oscar goes to… JARED LETO for DALLAS BUYERS CLUB! No surprise, but a deserving win and a heartfelt speech. Damn, he really is pretty. Somewhere, Angela Chase is crying....

8:46 – LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (or is it ACE VENTURA) star Jim Carrey takes the stage. “It must be tiring to be a nominee,” he jokes. I’m still annoyed that he didn’t get a nod for THE TRUMAN SHOW. I think he’s here to talk about LSD? No, animation and movie magic. Oh, it’s an animated heroes montage! THE INCREDIBLES kicks it off! WALL-E! Merida from BRAVE! HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, Little Mermaid, Mickey Mouse, Peter Pan, this is moving way too fast! Roger Rabbit! Kung-Fu Panda. To infinity and beyond! Dumbo…... obviously this is hugely Disney-centric; Roger Rabbit again. Incredibles again. Snow White. Very fun montage! “Anyone else feel that was a little light on Finding Nemo?” Ellen asks. Heh.

8:50 – Kerry Washington presents the first Best Original Song nomination. It’s “Happy” from DESPICABLE ME 2, performed by Pharrell Williams. This song is kind of catchy but I feel like we’re just going through the motions because “Let It Go” is so obviously going to win. OH but Pharrell just boogied with Lupita and Amy Adams! Okay, I’ll stop being a stinker – this is a fun performance.

8:56 – Samuel L. Jackson and Naomi Watts take the stage. Always nice to hear Naomi speak with her natural accent (but again, please make a good movie again soon). They are presenting Costume Design, which I think could go to AMERICAN HUSTLE. THE GRANDMASTER also looks mighty good, as does THE GREAT GATSBY. Can’t count out the period pieces, THE INVISIBLE WOMAN and 12 YEARS A SLAVE. And the Oscar goes to THE GREAT GATSBY! Well, okay! That was one glorious-looking spectacle. This may also mean that AMERICAN HUSTLE, despite 10 nominees and lots of early buzz, could go home empty-handed.

8:59 – Naomi and Sam stick around for BEst Makeup and Hairstyling. DALLAS BUYERS CLUB, sure… but this award HAS to go to BAD GRANDPA!! COME ON, ACADEMY! That was seriously some of the best old-age makeup ever, and it fooled real people in real life! Fuck THE LONE RANGER. And the Oscar goes to… DALLAS BUYERS CLUB. Not unexpected, but boooooo!

9:02 – Why is the INDIANA JONES theme playing? Ohhh shit, Harrison Ford is in the house! (Actually I should’ve guessed that.) He’s rocking a goatee now, like Michael Douglas. Is that a thing now amongst the elder actor set? He is also wearing an earring and may or may not be stoned. I think he’s introducing some of the Best Picture nominees? Yep. This is a good way to save time.

9:05 – Channing Tatum is here to present those Team Oscar kids. Go kids! Now let’s never speak of Channing Tatum during an Oscar telecast again.

9:10 – Hehe, Ellen gives Bradley Cooper some scratch-off lotto tickets as a consolation prize for losing tonight. Nobody goes home empty handed! (But Ellen needs her quarter back.) Now Matthew McConaughey and Kim Novak (!) take the stage. She makes a MAGIC MIKE reference and he makes a VERTIGO reference. That’s a bit of a disparity. They are presenting Best Animated Short! I was actually disappointed with most of these, but go MR. HUBLOT! Or GET A HORSE because I’d love to see Disney Animation score a trifecta tonight. And the Oscar goes to MR. HUBLOT! Well, all right... it was the best of the bunch!

9:14 – Best Animated Feature time! FROZEN FROZEN FROZEN! It has to win. ERNEST & CELESTINE was good and THE WIND RISES could garner some Miyazaki support and the other ones are whatever. And the Oscar goes to…. FROZEN! YES! Amazingly, this is the first-ever Oscar win for Walt Disney Animation. Welcome to the new Golden Age!

9:17 – Sally Field is here and we still like her! She’s presenting a montage about everyday heroes. Jackie Robinson in 42. Sean Penn as Harvey Milk. Julia Roberts as Erin Brockovitch. THE BLIND SIDE. DDL as Lincoln, bitches! Captain Phillips! Will Smith as Ali. SCHINDLER’S LIST. ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN. ZERO DARK THIRTY. ARGO (hey, remember when it won Best Picture)? “They call me Mr. Tibbs!” THE RIGHT STUFF. BRAVEHEART. SILKWOOD. 12 YEARS A SLAVE. BEN FIGGIN’ HUR. Oh yeah, THE BUTLER was a movie that happened in 2013. LAWRENCE OF ARABIA! And we end with Jackie Robinson again… it’s baseball season!

9:21 – Man, Emma Watson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a sex tape I’d pay to see. (Wait, what?) They’re presenting Best Visual Effects. Obviously this is GRAVITY all the way – the first of many awards for the sci-fi spectacle, I reckon. But how cool would it be if THE HOBBIT won? Smaug WAS one of the great special effects ever. And the Oscar goes to… GRAVITY! OUTER. SPACE.

9:23 – Ellen is sitting in Zac Efron’s seat because Zac Efron is going to be on stage. And sure enough, there he is, having some trouble with the cue cards. He’s presenting Karen O’s performance of “The Moon Song” from HER. Cue all the feels. If by some unlikely chance “Let It Go” doesn’t win, I would have no problem with this lovely little ditty taking home the gold.

9:30 – Kate Hudson is here! Haven’t seen her in forever! She and Jason Sudekis are here to present Best Live Action Short Film. These were pretty strong all around, but I’m rooting for the intense, French JUST BEFORE LOSING EVERYTHING, which had me on the edge of my seat. But I think THE VOORMAN PROBLEM could win…... and the Oscar goes to HELIUM, a story about a kid dying of cancer. Guess I can’t be too mad.

9:33 – Best Documentary Short Subject up next! CAVE DIGGER, the story of a guy who digs caves in the desert, is my pick here, but the safe money is on THE LADY IN NUMBER 6, the story of the oldest Holocaust survivor (who recently died). And THE LADY IN NUMBER 6 wins. The filmmaker’s speech is dedicated to the woman’s memory... very sad timing. It’s a good movie. 

9:35 – Ellen makes the rounds, says hi to Whoopi Goldberg and Martin Scorsese and Harrison Ford. “Is anybody hungry?” Oh sweet, Ellen is going to order pizza! Two large – half olives/jalepenos, please! And now Bradley Cooper is here to present Best Documentary Feature. THE ACT OF KILLING is an astonishing piece of work that SHOULD win. CUTIE AND THE BOXER is a lovely feel-good movie that COULD win. THE SQUARE is important and 20 FEET FROM STARDOM is also a feel-good story and DIRTY WARS was in there somewhere, too… and the Oscar goes to 20 FEET FROM STARDOM! Not my pick but I’ll allow it. I never really expected the fucked up genocide doc to win – but trust me, that’s the one you should seek out. Anyway, now we get to hear Darlene Love belt out a few notes.

9:40 – I think Kevin Spacey just plugged HOUSE OF CARDS but I wouldn’t know because I haven’t started watching it yet (no spoilers). Not exactly sure what he’s talking about… oh, Angela Lansbury and Steve Martin received honorary Oscars, it seems. And Piero Tosi, a costume designer of some regard. And Angelina Jolie got a humanitarian award presented by George Lucas! The Force is strong with her.

9:48 – Ewan McGregor is here with Viola Davis! Somehow, Ewan has never been nominated for an Oscar. That is crazy. They are presenting Best Foreign Film. Good stuff here, especially THE GREAT BEAUTY, which will undoubtedly win. OMAR is my second choice, and THE HUNT is great, and THE BROKEN CIRCLE BREAKDOWN is devastating (also about a kid dying of cancer, I might add). THE MISSING PICTURE is the one nominee in any catergiry that I did not see, dammit. Not that it matters because the Oscar goes to THE GREAT BEAUTY! Yeah! An amazing film. Though, slap an asterisk next to it because it would’ve been a different story if BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR had been eligible.

9:51 – Oh God, Tyler Perry is at the Oscars? That just ain’t right. Looks like he’s introducing a few more Best Picture nominees in this time-saving effort. NEBRASKA continues Alexander Payne’s hot streak as a director – the dude has never made a bad movie. HER, my God, so good and heartfelt and a fully realized vision of an all-too-possible future. And GRAVITY, one of the great sci-fi spectacles we’ve ever seen and could very well win the whole sheboygan. We shall see!

9:54 – Ellen is back on stage in a dapper white suit and introduces a man who needs no introduction, Brad Pitt. Oh God, he’s introducing friggin’ U2 who are going to perform their song from the MANDELA movie. Good movie but not a good song – somehow it won the Golden Globe but that better not happen tonight! Seriously, this song is making my asshole cringe.

10:02 – E.T. music as the show returns from commercial and Ellen is taking a selfie with Liza Minnelli. No, Lupita is not going to have some pizza, much to Ellen’s astonishment. Now she’s going to take another selfie with Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts and Channing Tatum and Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence and Brad Pitt and everyone! Holy crap this picture really might get the most retweets of all time! I wonder how much of this was scripted. Heh, Chiwetel missed the photo op but Ellen obliges him.

10:05 – Kristen Bell and Michael B. Jordan are talking about the technical awards, and now Ellen introduces Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron – another pretty good sex tape in the making. They are presenting Best Sound Mixing, which pretty much has to go to GRAVITY, although actually LONE SURVIVOR wasn’t bad in that regard. But nah, the Oscar goes to GRAVITY! All the technical awards please!

10:09 – Thor and Princess Anna remain on stage for Best Sound Editing. GRAVITY is the sure-fire winner here, too.. and the Oscar does indeed go to GRAVITY! Even though there’s no sound in outer space. But hey.

10:12 – Christoph Waltz arrives to present Best Supporting Actress! Key category here. Sally Hawkins was very good in BLUE JASMINE, but nah. Jennifer Lawrence has a very good shot and man, would the internet erupt if she pulled this off. (She would also be the first back-to-back Oscar winner since Tom Hanks!) But God, this award HAS to go to Lupita! Just an amazing performance. Julia Roberts was the weakest link of a mediocre movie, so nah. Absolutely love June Squibb in NEBRASKA but I doubt it – hahaha, they use the clip where she flashes her naughty bits at the grave. And the Oscar goes to LUPITA!!! Yes!!! Ahhh, I am so happy. She is adorable! She salutes the spirit of Patsy and thanks Solomon Northup for telling her story and his. Lupita breaks down into tears as she calls working with Steve McQueen the joy of her life. Awesome emotional earnest humble happy perfect speech.

10:21 – Pizza’s here! Oh good, Ellen got three pies. Haha, they’re really divvying out real pizza. Brad Pitt hands out plates to Meryl Streep. J-Law is chowing down. “Kerry Washington is pregnant, she needs some.” Jared Leto just won an Oscar so he gets some! Harrison Ford wants a slice and nudges Ellen for a napkin! Hahaha, that was my biggest laugh-out-loud moment of the night! “Where’s Harvey Weinstein?” This was a good bit.

10:24 – I think this lady is the president of the Academy? She’s talking about the cultural power of movies and showing pictures of snazzy new buildings and things. I don’t know. I’m still thinking about pizza! That was seriously one of the funniest Oscar bits in a while. Good job, Ellen!

10:26 – Bill Murray and Amy Adams!!! “Baby, you look like a $146 million domestic!” I would love to see these two make a movie together. Ooh, they’re presenting Best Cinematography. I’m going for GRAVITY here, but INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS would be sweet, too. Or Roger Deakins for PRISONERS, couldn’t possibly argue with that. Ahhhh, Bill Murray interrupts the presentation to honor Harold Ramis. Brilliant. And the Oscar goes to GRAVITY, of course! We were in outer space, dammit! If you haven’t seen it in IMAX 3D and still have the opportunity to do so, I strongly suggest you get on that.

10:29 – Anna Kendrick and Gabby Sidibe present Best Film Editing, which I also think will go to GRAVITY. Unless this is where the Academy decides to honor CAPTAIN PHILLIPS, which is also a possibility. And the Oscar goes to GRAVITY! No surprise that it is cleaning up the technical awards. The question is whether it will carry over the big prizes which are still to come!

10:32 – Whoopi Goldberg is here and she’s wearing ruby slippers! That means it’s time for a 75th anniversary tribute to THE WIZARD OF OZ. Pink is singing while Dorothy and company are on the big screen. “Somewhere over the rainbow” begins as Dorothy enters that Technicolor world. This is a very nice tribute. But you know what other movie is also celebrating its 75th anniversary this year? GONE WITH THE WIND. Too bad it would be in somewhat poor taste to honor that movie in the year of 12 YEARS A SLAVE... (save it for the 80th anniversary).

10:42 – Hehe, Ellen runs out in full Glinda attire, a little too late for the WIZARD OF OZ tribute. Here come Jennifer Garner and Benedict Cumberbatch to present Best Production Design. Oooh, I really want HER to win this! Such a wonderfully realized and intricately detailed vision of the future. Can’t wait to own it on Blu-Ray to really delve into it. And the Oscar goes to THE GREAT GATSBY, wow. Didn’t expect that. But it was a good-looking movie, as Baz Luhrmann movies are wont to be. Plus the GATSBY costume/production design lady seems nice.

10:46 – Thor was here earlier, and now Captain America is here to present a montage about popular heroes! Oh cool. I saw Hunger Games, MAN OF STEEL voiceover, Hobbit, Indy, Star Trek, Jaws. More Katniss, Spidey, Harry Potter, Avatar, KARATE KID (the real one). The Matrix, Kill Bill, AVENGERS! Clint Eastwood. “TODAY WE CELEBRATE OUR INDEPENDENCE DAY!” Jackie Chan. Indiana Jones. “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!” X-Men. BACK TO THE FUTURE! LUKE vs. VADER IN RETURN OF THE JEDI. This is going too fast again! Awww, I saw a Hushpuppy. And it’s over. Good stuff, though I’m fairly certain Katniss and Hushpuppy were the only female heroes they portrayed? Oops.

10:52 – Multiple Oscar nominee (and Mets fan!) Glenn Close is here. Oh shit, she’s presenting the In Memoriam segment. This is going to be rough. I’m not emotionally ready for this. James Gandolfini, right off the bat, shit (would’ve loved to see him get a posthumous nod for ENOUGH SAID). The makeup artist for STAR WARS, not cool. Paul Walker, sad. The sound editor for BACK TO THE FUTURE. Annette Funicello (or as Michelle on FULL HOUSE called her, Annette Funnyjello). Peter motherfucking O’Toole, ughhh. Ray Harryhausen. Sid Caesar. Roger Ebert. Shirley Temple. Joan Fontaine. I think the telecast muted the audience applause, which is new – it’s usually interesting to see who gets the biggest ovation. Ahh, Harold Ramis. And it ends with Philip Seymour Hoffman. God fucking dammit. (Did they forget anybody?)

10:58 – And now, just to pour salt in all of our open In Memoriam wounds, Bette Midler comes out to sing “The Wind Beneath My Wings.” Ughhh. What a rough year (in many different ways). Where’s my drink?

11:01 – Uh, is this standing ovation for Bette Midler or for the photo montage of the dearly departed behind her? Weird moment. Meanwhile, at the bottom of the screen, they post a link to the “complete In Memoriam” segment online. That’s even weirder. Show them all on TV, dammit!

11:04 – Heh, apparently Ellen’s Greatest Selfie Ever actually broke Twitter earlier. I did not notice because I was busy live-blogging but that must have been quite a scary moment for the masses. And now here’s Goldie Hawn. She and Jennifer Lawrence should get drunk together later, in a sort of passing-the-torch ceremony. She’s introducing the remaining Best Picture nominees. PHILOMENA, CAPTAIN PHILLIPS, 12 YEARS A SLAVE. Good stuff.

11:08 – John Travolta comes out, hails Xenu and mangles Idina Menzel’s name (Adele Azeen?). But whatever, it’s “Let It Go” time! Idina is belting it out and I have chills! FROZEN is the best Disney movie since THE LION KING and the best collection of songs since, maybe, THE LITTLE MERMAID. “The cold never bothered me anyway…” holy shit, she nailed it! Standing O for Idina! YES!

11:12 – Jamie Foxx and Jessica Biel are here to introduce Best Original Score, which is always a favorite category of mine. Jamie hums the CHARIOTS OF FIRE theme and here are the nominees. PHILOMENA by Alexandre Desplat is very good. HER is lovely. SAVING MR. BANKS, eh. THE BOOK THIEF, another lovely John Williams contribution. And GRAVITY’s epic epicness, which will probably win. And the Oscar goes to… GRAVITY. No arguments there. GRAVITY continues to clean up!

11:16 – And now Best Original Song! Of course it has to be “Let It Go”… and… YES! “LET IT GO” wins! And the two folks accepting the award are adorable and funny! Possibly the second best speech of the night after Lupita. Yay, “Let It Go!” Yay, FROZEN! Hail Disney!

11:23 – Hah, Ellen passing the hat around the collect pizza money. Harvey Weinstein gives $200. Lupita gives her lip balm, which I’m guessing Ellen will post in eBay later. Now here’s Robert DeNiro and Penelope Cruz?? Weird pairing. They are presenting Best Adapted Screenplay. Oooh, BEFORE MIDNIGHT. My #1 movie of the year has zero chance but God it would be awesome. But as expected, the Oscar goes to 12 YEARS A SLAVE! Well deserved. We now enter the endgame – will 12 YEARS continue the momentum or will GRAVITY turns its tech awards into real gold?

11:26 – Best Original Screenplay is next! Come onnnnn, Spike Jonze and HER! That would make me unspeakably happy. Actually not really sure what else could possibly win (unless this is where HUSTLE gets its pity win?). And the Oscar goes to… SPIKE JONZE for HER! YESSSSSS! So happy! Hard to say whether this is my favorite win of the night – let’s call it a three-way tie with Lupita and “Let It Go!”

11:31 – Okay, we’re officially in overtime now. Angelina Jolie and Sidney Poitier take the stage to a big-time ovation. They’re presenting Best Director, but first Angie heaps praise onto a true acting titan. Goddamn, Sidney Poitier is pure royalty. And now, the nominees… lots of good ones here but I think it’s going to go to Alfonso Cuaron because no one else could have done what he did with GRAVITY. Such vision and precision. And the Oscar goes to… ALFONSO CUARON! YES! Heh, they should’ve filmed his walk to the stage and speech in one long take. Best Picture is still not a foregone conclusion, but it’s feeling more and more like a GRAVITY sweep...

11:41 – Back from commercial to “My Heart Will Go On,” which always generates a ripple of feels. And now here’s the great Daniel Day-Lewis, last year’s Best Actor winner (and the best actor of our time) to present Best Actress! Amy Adams is a five-time nominee and a personal favorite of mine – would have no problem seeing her steal one. However, Cate Blanchett gives an unreal tour-de-force performance in BLUE JASMINE. Sandra Bullock commands the screen in GRAVITY and maybe isn’t such a long-shot the way things are going. Judi Dench is always a contender. Meryl Streep at her absolute Meryl Streepiest. And the Oscar goes to… CATE BLANCHETT! Of course! She is the best ever. She heaps praise on her fellow nominees – “Julia, hashtag suck it!” Ha! Ooh, she thanks Woody Allen, to tepid applause from the crowd. All around outstanding and cool and eloquent and entertaining and sincere speech. Cate Blanchett rules!

11:48 – And now here’s Jennifer Lawrence to present Best Actor! She’s snarking at somebody in the front row. That’s so J-Law! Oh man, I’m feeling anxious. Reeeeeeally want DiCaprio to win. And I think maybe the crowd does, too? Big applause at his name! Christian Bale will not win. Neither will Bruce Dern. Chiwetel Ejiofor has a good chance and that would thrust 12 YEARS A SLAVE back into the Best Picture, um, picture. I think McConaughey will PROBABLY win. But I just don’t know! What’s going to happen! And the Oscar goes go… MATTHEW McCONAUGHEY for DALLAS BUYERS CLUB. All right, all right, all right. We have reached the pinnacle of the Age of the McConaughey. But man, gotta feel bad for Leo. What the hell is it gonna take for him to win! Also, now that McConaughey has started talking, we could be here a while.

11:55 – Hmmm, McConaughey’s grautitous “all right, all right, all right” may now signal the beginning of the end of the Age of McConaughey. And now here’s 2014 Razzie winner Will Smith to present Best Picture. What’s it gonna be Acacdemy? 12 YEARS A SLAVE or GRAVITY? GRAVITY or 12 YEARS A SLAVE? (The other seven nominees are just filler.) And the Oscar goes to… 12 YEARS A SLAVE! Wow! I really thought GRAVITY was going to pull off the sweep But yeah, I guess 12 YEARS is the “better” film, and certainly the more important one in the grand scheme of things. No complaints! Good speech from Steve McQueen, but all I can think is that somebody should beat the shit out of Paul Dano, right now, just for the hell of it.

Aaaaand that’s a wrap! Pretty decent show, all in all, even though there wasn’t a single upset – good or bad – from what I can tell. We knew it was going to be between 12 YEARS A SLAVE and GRAVITY and that is what happened all night long. We knew Cate and McConaughey and Jared Leto and Lupita were going to win and they did. We knew FROZEN and “Let It Go” would win and they did. I guess I wasn’t sure whether Spike Jonze would win for Original Screenplay because I wanted it to happen so much, but looking at those nominees, it was the only possible choice. So, in that sense, the show was not very interesting. But it was still a fun night. My Oscar ballot was better than usual – 16 correct, I think – but still wouldn’t have won me any pools. Ellen was a solid host – her running selfie and pizza jokes were funny and provided my biggest laugh when Harrison Ford asked for napkins. As always, I must list my loveliest ladies of the night (in no particular order): Lupita Nyong’o, marry me! J-Law in red. Penelope Cruz, gorgeous. Charlize Theron, goddamn. Cate Blanchett, goddess. Olivia Wilde, perfect specimen. Actually, I can’t remember - there weren’t even really any truly mind-blowing outfits this year, either, were there? Oh well. No complaints at all. I had a blast with this live-blog for the 9th straight year and I hope you did, too – thanks so much for stopping by, whether it was throughout the night or just for a minute! I salute you and love you! Yay movies! Goodnight everybody!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

February Movie Fanaticism

gloriaGLORIA -- Gloria is an older single lady who likes to go out and have fun and meet people and knows what she wants out of life -- the tricky part is wading through the muck and finding it. This Chilean film from director Sebastian Lelio follows Gloria through a series of emotional ups and downs, successes and failures, perfectly mixing feelings of joy and melancholy. Easily one of the best films about love, sex and relationships among the elder set that I can recall, presented with complete sincerity, but containing themes that are universally relatable regardless of age. Above all, it features one of the best, most complex and fearless performances of the year from Paulina Garcia, who is more deserving of an Oscar nod than any actual nominee not named Cate Blanchett. A truly wonderful film that should be added to your Netflix immediately -- though, fair warning, the Spanish-language version of the song “Gloria” will likely be stuck in your head for weeks afterward.

lego_movieTHE LEGO MOVIE -- Can't blame anyone for being skeptical and expecting little more than a 90-minute toy commercial -- I felt that way, too, at first. As a lifelong LEGO maniac, I walked in with low expectations but high hopes. Turns out the material was in good hands: Directors Phil Lord & Christopher Miller knocked it out of the park with the help of a whip-smart, funny script, a game voice cast, and most importantly, a love of all things LEGO. Visually, this world is astonishingly detailed -- entirely made out of CGI LEGO, from skyscrapers to drops of water -- and will likely take many viewings to fully absorb. The supporting cast of LEGO characters should appeal to every level of geekdom. There's a gleeful, feverish excitement, much like you may have once felt during a particularly creative burst of LEGO energy as a kid. Hard to believe but THE LEGO MOVIE is the first must-see film of 2014.

monuments_menTHE MONUMENTS MEN -- George Clooney directs this true story about a motley crew who attempt to save and protect priceless works of art from the sore-loser wrath of the Nazis as World War II winds down. Since it's essentially a pseudo-heist film starring Clooney and a band of merry pals, it's easy to make any number of "OCEAN meets PRIVATE RYAN" jokes. Unfortunately, it never comes close to the ring-a-ding-ding snappiness of the former or the gravitas of the latter. The story is innately interesting and the cast is obviously watchable (Clooney! Damon! Murray! Goodman! Blanchett! The guy from THE ARTIST!), but the whole thing just isn't handled well. It feels very episodic and fails to engage most of the time. There's probably a good movie to be made about these unsung heroes, but unfortunately this isn't it. You’re better off watching this clip from Linklater’s BEFORE SUNSET which sort of sums things up.

robocopROBOCOP -- There is apparently no stopping the ‘80s remake trend even though they keep getting more and more unnecessary. The original ROBOCOP is a classic -- a perfectly realized vision of the future by Paul Verhoeven, loaded with satire and R-rated gory goodness, with actors like Peter Weller and Kurtwood Smith providing untouchably iconic performances. The remake, while competently made on a technical level, is stripped of literally everything that made the original great. There is no emotional heft or sense of satire (no sense of humor at all, really), performances are bland (with the exception of Samuel L. Jackson and Michael Keaton, both of whose presences are wasted) and the visuals and action offer nothing that we haven’t seen before. There is simply no reason for the movie to exist, especially when a sparkly new 4K-restored Blu-Ray of the original is on sale for less than the price of a movie ticket on Amazon.

winters_taleWINTER'S TALE -- There’s a lot going on in this movie about love and destiny and miracles and angels and demons over the course of a century in New York City. I have not read Mark Helprin’s novel, but I can see how it might be sprawling, detailed and emotionally-involved. Unfortunately, Akiva Goldsman’s adaptation is none of those things. Story-wise, it is weird but not exactly complicated: Good-hearted thief meets dying girl and believes it is his destiny to save her life with love, all while being pursued by a demon gangster intent on preventing such miracles. But Goldsman’s screenplay is a mess, littered with bad dialogue, plot points, flying horses and “rules” that seem to come out of nowhere. Goldsman’s career has been topsy-turvy to say the least -- he wrote BATMAN & ROBIN, for God’s sake, but also won an Oscar for A BEAUTIFUL MIND. In his directorial debut, he pretty much throws everything at the wall to see what sticks -- plus he must have called in a number of favors from past collaborators, including Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly. Colin Farrell and the lovely Jessica Brown Findlay try their best to generate some chemistry but they just have nothing to work with. On the plus side, the film does feature some nice cinematography and a particularly bizarre cameo appearance. But even as a mild curiosity, it’s just not worth the effort.

in_secretIN SECRET -- If there's one thing recent cinema has taught us, it's that French women named Therese used to get trapped in loveless marriages quite often. First, it happened to Audrey Tautou in last year's THERESE (based on the 1927 novel about Therese Desqueyroux), and now it's Elizabeth Olsen's turn in the story of Therese Raquin (originally written in 1867). Both stories are about oppressed lives and forbidden loves, but the former is a sumptuously-filmed character study while the latter is, well, a bit trashier. Aside from being trapped in a loveless marriage with her creepy little twerp of a step-brother (Tom “Draco Malfoy” Felton, who is forging a nice career out of playing creepy little twerps), Therese Raquin is crazily undersexed. Her urges eventually result in an elicit affair with a smoldering friend of the family (Oscar Isaac), with increasingly disastrous results. Sounds good on paper... but sadly, the film is devoid of much passion and the shenanigans fall flat. Olsen, Isaac and Felton are all very good, as is Jessica Lange as the domineering, guilt-tripping mother. But for a movie in which Elizabeth Olsen masturbates in the grass while watching a fieldhand flex his muscles, IN SECRET is surprisingly dull.

pompeiiPOMPEII -- What happens when you take the tragic love story of TITANIC, the sword-and-sandals drama of GLADIATOR and the sensibilities of Roland Emmerich, throw in Kit Harington’s abs, Emily Browning’s lips and a sneering Kiefer Sutherland, add a generous helping of cheese and infuse the undeniable technical skill of director Paul W.S. Anderson? The answer is a hugely entertaining cinematic spectacle that is the very definition of “so bad, it’s good.” Jon Snow stars as Milo, an orphaned horseman who becomes a slave who becomes a gladiator. His skills in the arena get him promoted to Pompeii (sort of a Triple-A affiliate of Rome), where he meets and falls in love with the upper-class daughter of a merchant who has already betrothed her to a crooked Roman senator who also happens to be the guy who killed Milo’s family years ago. (Whew!) Throughout all this melodrama, Mount Vesuvius bubbles ominously in the background. Finally, it erupts. The last 45 minutes are non-stop mayhem, fire and destruction as rivalries are settled, romances are fulfilled, Pompeii is obliterated and everyone dies spectacularly (not a spoiler). Let’s face it... sometimes you just need a disaster flick... and this one hits the spot.

OmarOMAR -- This Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Film is a story of life, love and betrayal on the West Bank. Omar is a young Palestinian who routinely climbs the separation wall to hang out with his friends and share fleeting moments with the girl he hopes to marry. But behind the scenes, rebellion is brewing. Following a botched killing of an Israeli solider, Omar is captured, imprisoned, tortured and tricked into admitting his involvement. He agrees to act as an informant to secure his freedom and is forced to choose between his own well being and what he believes is right. But can he fully trust his Israeli contact? More importantly, can he trust his lifelong friends and the woman he loves? Wonderfully crafted by writer/director Hany Abu-Assad and featuring a host of great performances, the film is a high-stakes, twisty-turny thriller that contains layers human and political complexities, exudes slice-of-life authenticity and somehow invokes both ROMEO AND JULIET and CASABLANCA. Worth seeking out whether it wins the Oscar or not.

nonstopNON-STOP -- It’s been fun watching the great Liam Neeson become the most awesome action hero of the moment. Films like TAKEN and UNKNOWN are pure ass-kicking entertainment, while THE GREY takes things in a more interesting and introspective direction (while still kicking ass). Neeson is just so good and always brings layers of complexity and gravitas to his characters. NON-STOP is no exception -- not exactly a great film, but far more enjoyable and engaging than it might have been with any other star. Neeson plays a federal air marshal who gets involved in an apparent hijacking during a flight to London. The film is riddled with twists and chugs along at an unrelenting pace -- which is a good thing because I’m sure the plot makes less sense the more you actually stop and think about it. But as always, Neeson makes it work -- if he has been picking up where Harrison Ford left off in the ‘90s, then this is definitely his AIR FORCE ONE. (Though, admittedly, “I’m not hijacking this plane -- I’m trying to save it!” is no “Get off my plane!”) Also, keep an eye out for current red carpet darling Lupita Nyong’o, whose flawless presence commands the screen even in a tiny, thankless role.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

January Movie Jollies

paranormal_activity_the_marked_ones_xlrgPARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE MARKED ONES -- Hard to believe that last year was the first time since 2003 that we were not able to celebrate Halloween with a new SAW or PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movie. Not gonna lie... this made the holiday feel weird and unceremonious. To make up for lost time, in 2014, we’ll be getting not one but TWO new additions to the latter series, starting with this “spin-off” that shifts the ghostly phenomena to a new setting, introduces new characters and eschews most of the stylistic cornerstones of the first four films (long, creepy, stationery shots, etc.). The result is a mixed bag. The new characters are even more annoying and bone-headed than previous installments, and while the film benefits somewhat from moving the camera around a bit, there are no real scares to be had. (A possessed Simon game just doesn’t have the same effect as possessed Katie standing and staring at sleeping Micah for hours.) Things do perk up towards the end when the film suddenly goes bat-shit crazy with series mythology (that’s all I can say without delving into spoiler territory), and I admit, that alone makes it worth watching. If you are not a PA fan, this installment is unlikely to win you over. But if you eat these films like Halloween candy, it should be enough to tide you over until October.

rocket_xlgTHE ROCKET -- Directed by Australian filmmaker Kim Mordaunt, this is a feel-good, coming-of-age tale about a Laotian boy named Ahlo, who, according to tribal legend, was cursed at birth because he survived while his twin died. As a result, he spends his childhood avoiding his grandmother’s skunk eye and trying to prove his worth. However, when his family is forced to seek a new home and sets out on a journey across the outback, tragedy strikes and things seem bleak. Can a random rocket-building competition help Ahlo ensure his family’s survival and break the curse once and for all? With its motivated young star (Sitthiphon Disamoe) and fantastical qualities, the film has a distinct BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD vibe. The story is simple and crowd-pleasing, performances are excellent and Ahlo’s motley crew of companions are memorable (particularly his wacky James Brown-loving uncle) --  but the film’s most effective traits may be its focus on Laotian culture, which adds great depth to the characters and their actions, as well as the landscapes themselves, which are both stunning and war-torn and tell their own visual story.

lflsLIKE FATHER, LIKE SON -- Not to be confused with the ‘80s comedy starring Kirk Cameron and Dudley Moore, this Japanese drama tells the story of two sets of parents who learn that their respective six-year-old sons were switched at birth. What follows is a character study of two very different families who are thrown together to deal with this devastating situation. In some ways, the story teeters on the edge of clich√© (one father is straight-laced and stern and emotionally distant; the other is fun and carefree and loving) and most everything that happens is fairly predictable. But there are cultural complexities bubbling under the surface, along with themes of class structure, identity, gender roles and the concept of “nature vs. nurture,” all of which director Hirokazu Kore-eda explores with an understated yet compelling touch. Rich attention to detail, especially when it comes to the families’ daily lives, outstanding performances (of both the adult and child variety) and lovely camerawork add up to a truly moving experience -- and I say that as a childless single person. If you are a dad, it will probably wreck you.

jack_ryan_shadow_recruit_ver2_xlrgJACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT -- Kenneth Branaugh directs a new Jack Ryan adventure, this time with Chris Pine filling the shoes that have previously been worn by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck. The result is... nothing special... yet nothing offensive, either. It doesn’t offer anything we haven’t seen before in, say, the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE series with a dash of Bond, but it is sleekly crafted and manages to hold one’s attention. Pine is certainly no Ford, but he does an okay job. Action sequences are okay. Story (which attempts to reboot the Cold War vis-√†-vis  9/11) is mostly okay. I don’t really have anything bad to say about it, to tell the truth, except maybe that Keira Knightley’s American accent is massively distracting (I mean, why bother casting Keira Knightley if you’re not going to let her use her natural accent?). Meanwhile, fellow New Yorkers should keep an eye out for both Pat Kiernan AND Annika Pergament discussing plot points from the NY1 anchor desk. You often see one or the other pop up in films, but not sure I’ve ever seen them together -- that’s how you know the plot is high-stakes!

MaidenTrip-posterMAIDENTRIP -- A few years ago, a 14-year-old Dutch girl named Laura Dekker decided to become the youngest person ever to sail around the world alone. This documentary chronicles this unlikely feat, mostly using footage filmed by Laura herself, offering a uniquely personal and intimate -- yet still awesome and epic -- coming-of-age tale. Unlike the fictional drama ALL IS LOST, in which Robert Redford battles the savage sea in a lonely fight for survival, Laura’s experience is not quite so harrowing. She is rarely in serious danger and we already know that she succeeds in her quest. Instead, it’s her journey of self-discovery that makes this a fascinating watch. We literally see her grow before our eyes, physically and emotionally, as she comes to terms with her place in life, relationships and identity. Plus, she is funny as hell. My biggest knock against the film is that at 82 minutes, it’s too short! Director Jillian Schlesinger deftly whittles down countless hours of footage and tells a succinct tale, but frankly, I could watch an entire TV series about Laura and her adventures.

i_frankenstein_ver5_xlrgI, FRANKENSTEIN -- I made a New Year's resolution to see more repertory cinema in 2014 and fewer crappy new movies, but I felt that I had to see this one because, come December, no “Bottom 10” list could be complete without it. And that may well be true -- this movie is bad. Can't blame Aaron Eckhart for picking up a paycheck, but he should probably be ashamed of this CGI-fest in which Frankenstein's monster gets involved in an ancient war between gargoyles and demons (because, I guess, we've exhausted all other supernatural beings at this point). Awful dialogue, inane plot, cheesy effects... and perhaps most egregiously, a huge waste of Bill Nighy. Seriously, if you're going to have Bill Nighy play a Demon Prince, have Bill Nighy play a Demon Prince! Bill Nighy spouting lines like, "I am a Demon Prince! You must bow before me!" with his unmistakable voice and hand gestures would have been memorable. Bill Nighy morphing into a generic, unrecognizable CG demon is not. Oh well. On the plus side, there's actually some nice production design to be glimpsed when it isn't shrouded by whatever bullshit is happening in the foreground.

cassylCAN A SONG SAVE YOUR LIFE? -- Back in 2007, upon first viewing, ONCE captured my heart, became one of my most beloved movies of all time and introduced me to Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, whose music still dominates my iPod to this day. So to say that I was excited to receive an invite to an advance screening of writer/director John Carney’s musical follow-up would be an understatement. This time, Carney eschews his previous film’s subtlety, melancholy and realism in favor of pure, unbridled sweetness. CAN A SONG SAVE YOUR LIFE? is bright and vibrant and relatively low-stakes and may require some suspension of disbelief, but if you’re willing, it works. Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo are irresistible as Greta and Dan, two lost souls who find each other in a NYC bar and use music (she’s a singer/songwriter; he’s a producer) to raise each other’s fallen spirits and drive the narrative. Tunes are catchy, performances are fantastic across the board (Hailee Steinfeld, who should have won an Oscar for her work in the Coens’ TRUE GRIT, impresses once again as Dan’s daughter) and it’s a nice cinematic love letter to NYC that effectively mixes iconic and off-the-beaten-path scenery. No, this movie does not recapture the lightning-in-a-bottle transcendence of ONCE, but it is very much a kindred spirit, bursting with sincerity in every frame, and made this willing viewer swoon hard and smile big.

labor_day_ver2_xlrgLABOR DAY -- Lonely escaped convict connects with love-starved divorcee and her teenage son in need of a father figure -- three fractured souls who help each other in life-changing ways. No, it’s not another sappy, melodramatic Nicholas Sparks romance -- it’s the latest from Jason Reitman, the great director of such films as JUNO and UP IN THE AIR. WTF? This is a baffling film. First and foremost, you’ve got a story that is so utterly preposterous to the point where you can’t even suspend disbelief to overlook the plot holes. It is devoid of subtlety, using voiceover and musical score to hammer home every possible thought and emotion. Tonally, it is a mess, mixing heavy melodrama with fever-dream flashbacks and the occasional jarring quirk. At the same time, it is almost completely humorless, and for what should be a steamy love story, it is remarkably chaste (the less said about spoon-fed chili and peach pie recipes, the better). And yet... thank God for Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin, two great actors who try their damnedest to add some nuance and emotional depth to otherwise thankless roles. In fact, they are so good that the story is often engaging in spite of itself. Set over a sweltering Labor Day weekend in 1987, the film also looks great, dripping with atmosphere and paying great attention to period detail. Ultimately, the bad far outweighs the good. I still have plenty of faith in Jason Reitman’s abilities, though, and am happy to write this off as a fascinating misstep.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Oscar Thoughts & Predictions

oscars2It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Yes, Oscar season is upon us and the nominations have been unleashed. All in all, I’m happy with the picks, though 2013 was such a strong year for movies, it would’ve been difficult to screw them up TOO badly. We have the usual mix of expected contenders (GRAVITY, AMERICAN HUSTLE, 12 YEARS A SLAVE), a few eyebrow-raisers (PHILOMENA? No Tom Hanks? No Pixar!) and the occasional selection that is completely out of left field (what the hell is Best Song nominee ALONE YET NOT ALONE?!). Should make for a good show and hopefully wash away the bad taste left by last year’s mostly dull, unfunny and uneventful Seth MacFarlane-hosted affair. Now let’s go through the list and see what’s what. As usual, I will include my predictions based on who I WANT to win and who I think WILL win. Good times. And the nominees are....


her_xxlgWell, the good news is that all of these movies are good and deserving of accolades! The bad news is that those accolades didn’t necessarily need to include Best Picture, especially when more deserving titles (ahem, INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS, my #2 movie of the year, unceremoniously snubbed in most major categories) have been left out. Movies like NEBRASKA, CAPTAIN PHILLIPS, DALLAS BUYERS CLUB and PHILOMENA are all performance-driven and deserve their various acting nods, but stand little chance here. I loved THE WOLF OF WALL STREET but it may be too divisive for a good showing on Oscar night. GRAVITY (my #4 movie of the year) tied for the most nominations overall (10) and with its mix of critical and commercial acclaim, could very easily pull off a sweep. My heart is rooting for HER, my #3 of the year and a simply wonderful film. But in the end, I think it’s going to be a two-horse race between the serious & important (12 YEARS A SLAVE, my #8 of the year) and the fun lark (AMERICAN HUSTLE, which just missed my top 10). These two films have been splitting other award season top prizes (both won Best Picture in their respective categories at the Golden Globes; HUSTLE won the SAG ensemble; SLAVE won the PGA award, actually tying with GRAVITY) and might split categories throughout the night, but I think serious/important will take the top prize, and since it is a tremendous film, I cannot argue with that one bit.

I’M ROOTING FOR: Her (or Gravity)
WILL PROBABLY WIN: 12 Years a Slave

Bruce Dern, NEBRASKA
Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 YEARS A SLAVE
Matthew McConaughey, DALLAS BUYERS CLUB

dicaprioVery sorry to not see Tom Hanks for CAPTAIN PHILLIPS here -- it was his best performance in years and his work in the last act was just astonishing. Joaquin Phoenix (HER) or Oscar Isaac (INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS) or Robert Redford (ALL IS LOST) would’ve been nice, too... but then again, I’m not sure whom I would’ve given the boot. Maybe Christian Bale, since AMERICAN HUSTLE, for all its acting prowess, was really owned by its ladies. Dern is good & crotchety in NEBRASKA and clearly scored the requisite oldster vote. Ejiofor is fantastic in 12 YEARS A SLAVE and has a definite shot. I’ll be rooting for DiCaprio to pick up his long-awaited first Oscar for arguably the best and most jaw-dropping performance of his career in WOLF OF WALL STREET. However, the Age of McConaughey has been running wild since 2012 and will likely culminate with Oscar gold for his tremendous work in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB -- especially if the Globes, SAG Awards and others are any indication.


Cate Blanchett, BLUE JASMINE
Sandra Bullock, GRAVITY

blanchettFirst of all, can you believe that Amy Adams now has FIVE Oscar nominations under her belt? That’s approaching Kate Winslet territory, but in less time. She rules and in any other year, she’d have a shot to win her first statue with her awesome work in AMERICAN HUSTLE, but probably not this year, because Cate Blanchett’s Streetcar-esque tour-de-force in BLUE JASMINE was the best performance back in May and is still the best now. Sandra Bullock commands the screen like she never has before (rocking the hot pants in zero-G, no less). Meryl Streep takes her Streepiness to another level in an otherwise “meh” dysfunctional family melodrama and Judi Dench is also great (and has awesome chemistry with Steve Coogan) as the titular Philomena -- but personally, I would replace both of them with Brie Larson (SHORT TERM 12) or Adele Exarchopoulos (BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR) or Greta Gerwig (FRANCES HA). Still, yes, a strong category indeed -- but this prize is Cate the Great’s to lose.

I’M ROOTING FOR: Blanchett

Michael Fassbender, 12 YEARS A SLAVE

letoThis category is funny if you picture CAPTAIN PHILLIPS’ Somali pirate Barkhad Abdi calling Tom Hanks on the phone and saying, “I’m the captain now!” Heh. An electric performance and a deserving nod. I like Bradley Cooper and David O. Russell really brings out the best in him -- though an argument could have also been made for Louis CK’s small but vital role. I cannot believe we live in world where Jonah Hill is a TWO-TIME Oscar nominee. For that matter, who would’ve thought Jordan Catalano would be nominated for an Oscar for playing a transgender AIDS patient? (Wonder what Angela Chase thinks about that.) I should mention that my fav supporting role of the year, Sam Rockwell in THE WAY, WAY BACK is nowhere to be found, but that was always a pipe dream; would’ve also been happy to see James Gandolfini get a posthumous nod for ENOUGH SAID. Anyway, lastly we have Fassbender giving us one of the most heinous depictions of real-life villainy in recent memory. He has been among the best in the business for several years now and could easily win. But I think Leto deserves it more.


Sally Hawkins, BLUE JASMINE
Jennifer Lawrence, AMERICAN HUSTLE
Lupita Nyong'o, 12 YEARS A SLAVE
June Squbb, NEBRASKA

lupitaReally would’ve liked to have seen Amy Adams pull double-duty and score a nod here for her amazing, adorable, understated work in HER. But alas. We can rule out Hawkins, though she is fine in BLUE JASMINE. June Squibb is the best part of NEBRASKA and I’m thrilled to see her here. I do think the Academy has something up their sleeve by nominating Julia Roberts (America’s past sweetheart) and Jennifer Lawrence (America’s current sweetheart) and pitting them against each other. J-Law is undoubtedly great, whereas Roberts is once again the weakest link of a solid ensemble cast, so it shouldn’t even be a contest. But it’s a moot point, anyway, because this award belongs to the lovely Lupita Nyong’o, whose work in 12 YEARS A SLAVE is just gut-wrenching. The Globes disagreed, but the SAG Awards got it right and the Oscars will, too.

I’M ROOTING FOR: Lupita Nyong’o

Alfonso Cuaron, GRAVITY
Alexander Payne, NEBRASKA
Steve McQueen, 12 YEARS A SLAVE

cuaronGotta give credit where credit is due to Russell: The man can direct the hell out of great actors. I believe he is the first director whose films have scored nominations in all four acting categories two years in a row. That’s wild. So, sure, he deserves a nod himself and could win if HUSTLE sweeps. Alexander Payne is now 6-for-6 as a director of great films, but I would have gladly thrown him under the bus to give the Coen Bros. a nomination. Always a pleasure to see Scorsese get some love -- he brings an intensity to THE WOLF OF WALL STREET that instantly ranks it alongside his best. McQueen’s methodical hand helps 12 YEARS A SLAVE achieve a mix of brutality and humanity that is just incredible -- I think he will win (and let’s not overlook the fact that he would be the first black Best Director winner). But it could also go to Cuaron, whose precision filmmaking helped create one of the most awe-inspiring cinematic experiences of our time, and I’m not sure anyone else could have done it quite as effectively.

I’M ROOTING FOR: Cuaron (or Scorsese)
WILL PROBABLY WIN: McQueen (or Cuaron)


her2So fucking disappointed that the Coen Bros. got snubbed for INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS -- maybe the Academy just didn’t get it. Hell, I’m not even sure I completely get it, but there’s no denying its multilayered greatness. The Coens simply work on another level. My guess is that AMERICAN HUSTLE will win this category and 12 YEARS A SLAVE will win for Adapted Screenplay, just to keep everybody on their toes. I’ve come to terms with it, even though I would be absolutely thrilled if HER picked up some gold for Spike Jonze’s brilliant, creative story that offers such a unique and subtly detailed vision of the future. Woody Allen won two years ago for MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, but BLUE JASMINE is not as good as that movie -- still nice to see the Woodster rack up another nod. Rule out DALLAS BUYERS CLUB and NEBRASKA. I’d be legit surprised if HUSTLE doesn’t win -- but hey, it is a super fun flick.

WILL PROBABLY WIN: American Hustle


before-midnightI’ll just come right out and say that if my #1 movie of the year, BEFORE MIDNIGHT, pulls off a miracle and wins this, my shrieks of orgasmic ecstasy will be heard from sea to shining sea. Unfortunately it has zero chance of winning. (Also, for the record, sequels are considered “adaptations” of their predecessors by the Academy, hence its inclusion here. Weird rule.) As mentioned, 12 YEARS A SLAVE likely has this in the bag and I cannot argue. THE WOLF OF WALL STREET is probably the closest contender but I don’t see it happening. And I guess CAPTAIN PHILLIPS and PHILOMENA are just there because they need five.

I’M ROOTING FOR: Before Midnight
WILL PROBABLY WIN: 12 Years a Slave


FrozenMan... no Pixar makes me sad and feels unnatural. MONSTERS UNIVERSITY was pretty good and certainly more deserving than DESPICABLE ME 2 (damn Minions must have stuffed the ballot box). I actually really liked THE CROODS, one of DreamWorks’ better animated efforts. No idea what ERNEST & CELESTINE is all about -- that’s one of those random nominees that I must seek out between now and the big show. THE WIND RISES is wonderful and could score “legacy” votes for Miyazaki, since it is presumably his last film. But if FROZEN doesn’t win, it would be a damn shame -- it is a great film in every way and easily Disney’s best since the last Golden Age.


THE HUNT (Denmark)
OMAR (Palestine)

greatbeautyAt first, I was absolutely stunned by the absence of BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR until I remembered that it was not eligible and France submitted another film as its entry. Too bad, because it is amazing (and my #5 movie of the year). Unfortunately, my uncultured ass did not do very well in this category. I did see THE GREAT BEAUTY, which won the Golden Globe, and it is tremendous. THE HUNT is an unsettling/infuriating story driven by a great performance by Mads Mikkelson. Aaaaand that’s it. Will do my damnedest to see the others before March 2nd, but for now, I got nothin’ (though I have heard good things about BROKEN CIRCLE BREAKDOWN). I can say that BEAUTY and HUNT are the highest-profile titles so the safe bet is one of them.

I’M ROOTING FOR: The Great Beauty
WILL PROBABLY WIN: The Great Beauty or The Hunt


GRAVITYOh look, this must be the category where the Academy remembered that INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS is a movie that came out in 2013! (Jerks.) Well, it is definitely deserving -- the sad, grey tones perfectly capture the film’s downcast themes. No 12 YEARS A SLAVE nod is odd. Really annoyed at myself for missing THE GRANDMASTER in theatres because I remember thinking about it several times -- will rectify that as soon as possible. NEBRASKA is a lovely, black-and-white postcard of the dusty Midwest, while the great Roger Deakins adds his magic touch to the gritty, painful PRISONERS. However, GRAVITY freaking PUT US IN OUTER SPACE, not to mention Cuaron’s mastery of the long-take -- if enough Academy members actually saw it on the big screen (especially in IMAX 3D), it should be a no-brainer.



gravity3Very surprised to not see Thelma Schoonmaker, Martin Scorsese’s trusted editor, here -- WOLF OF WALL STREET may be a three-hour portrait of excess and debauchery but it’s crafted in such a way that it just flies by. Paul Greengrass films are always super intense and CAPTAIN PHILLIPS is no exception. GRAVITY is a goddamn thrill ride and may be the favorite here (and throughout the technical categories) even if it is not destined to win the big prize. Great story and performances aside, there’s nothing special about the way DALLAS BUYERS CLUB is put together. HUSTLE and SLAVE could be favorites -- the former for its screwball stylings and the latter for its punishing epicness -- but you know what? I’d put my money on outerrrrrr spaaaaace.



her3We’ve got five damn good-looking films here. (No HOBBIT or LLEWYN DAVIS, though? Boo.) I am thrilled to see HER recognized -- it is filled with splashes of color and whimsy and very specific details that make its vision of the future so vivid. It will likely take many viewings to completely soak it in. THE GREAT GATSBY features insanely intricate over-the-top eye candy, as Baz Luhrmann films always do, but I wonder if the Academy will think it’s TOO much (personally, I loved it). GRAVITY does a lot with the sparse vastness of space and the lonely confines of a shuttle. SLAVE and HUSTLE both intricately recreate their times & places in history. Tough category to call -- but my gut says SLAVE.

I’M ROOTING FOR: Her (or Gatsby)
WILL PROBABLY WIN: 12 Years a Slave


hustleAgain, I haven’t seen THE GRANDMASTER, so I can’t comment on that one -- but with nods here and in Cinematography, it must look mighty fine. GATSBY, again, features dazzling costumes that drip with glitz and glamour. THE INVISIBLE WOMAN is a good-looking Dickensian period piece and such films can never be counted out. 12 YEARS A SLAVE again pays tremendous attention to detail, but I think AMERICAN HUSTLE takes this one -- it may not have taken more than a visit to the nearest Salvation Army to recreate those ‘70s outfits, but damn are they memorable.

I’M ROOTING FOR: Hustle (or Gatsby)


badgrandpaLaugh all you want, but when I first saw the trailer for BAD GRANDPA, I didn’t even realize it was Johnny Knoxville. His old-age makeup is some of the best we’ve EVER seen -- certainly better than the awful work in films like J. EDGAR and HITCHCOCK and THE IRON LADY (some of which also scored Makeup nods, I believe). So, yes, it’s crazy to live in a world where a JACKASS movie is an Oscar nominee, but it is actually, legitimately deserving. However, I think DALLAS BUYERS CLUB will win here, especially if McConaughey’s dramatic weight loss is considered part of the makeup process. (In other news, fuck THE LONE RANGER.)

I’M ROOTING FOR: Bad Grandpa!!!
WILL PROBABLY WIN: Dallas Buyers Club

John Williams, THE BOOK THIEF
Steven Price, GRAVITY
William Buter & Owen Pallett, HER
Alexandre Desplat, PHILOMENA
Thomas Newman, SAVING MR. BANKS

john-williams-book-thiefBummed that my favorite score of the year, BEFORE MIDNIGHT, didn’t make the cut -- though I guess I’m biased. No Hans Zimmer for 12 YEARS A SLAVE is legit surprising, but maybe the Academy also thought it sounded too much like INCEPTION (which it occasionally does). To be honest, while this was a great year for movies, it wasn’t a particularly memorable year for original scores for me. But there’s some good stuff here. I enjoyed Arcade Fire’s HER soundtrack and I’m not even an Arcade Fire fan. But it definitely fit that world. Desplat churns out good stuff year after year. Unfortunately for Thomas Newman, the most memorable music in SAVING MR. BANKS movie are obviously the MARY POPPINS numbers. John Williams’ work in THE BOOK THIEF is not among his greatest work but it would still give me unspeakable pleasure to see him win again  -- by God, it’s been a while. I’ll be rooting for him by default, but I think Steven Price’s appropriately epic GRAVITY score wins it.


“Alone Yet Not Alone,” ALONE YET NOT ALONE
“Let It Go,” FROZEN
“The Moon Song,” HER

frozen2Here’s the category where we have the biggest “WTF?!” nominee of the year. ALONE YET NOT ALONE is apparently a Christian movie that opened in super-limited release targeted towards its specific demographic last September. The trailer is, uh, interesting to say the least, and it probably doesn’t hurt that the song was written by an apparent former Academy Governor. Can’t believe I need to watch this crap to complete my goal of seeing every nominated film in every category; it’s a dirty job but somebody’s gotta do it. Meanwhile, if “Let It Go” from FROZEN doesn’t win this award, it would be an absolute travesty. Fucking U2 and “Ordinary Love” won the Globe but hopefully the Academy will have more sense. “The Moon Song” from HER is also lovely and would not make me sad if it won. And I couldn’t hum one note from the DESPICABLE ME 2 song if you put a gun to my head.

WILL PROBABLY WIN: “Let It Go” (unless the world has really gone utterly and irreversibly mad)


soundmixingJust for the record, since it’s always confusing (to me): Sound mixing refers to the way various layers of sound effects, dialogue, etc., of a film are blended together for our auditory pleasure. With that in mind, this is a very strong category. Happy to see the action-loaded THE HOBBIT get some love. LLEWYN DAVIS does great things with music to tell its story, but goddamn it deserved more accolades. LONE SURVIVOR is a contender for its epic battle sequence alone. The use of sound is a big part of CAPTAIN PHILLIPS’ intensity, but it’s an even bigger part of GRAVITY’s and I think the latter will win.

I’M ROOTING FOR: Gravity/Hobbit/Llewyn


soundeditingSound editing, meanwhile, is related to sound design, the creation & selection of sound effects, etc. THE HOBBIT, LONE SURVIVOR and CAPTAIN PHILLIPS are all strong and I guess this is ALL IS LOST’s pity nomination -- though considering the film is mostly dialogue-free and relies heavily on visuals and sound (along with Redford’s grizzled screen presence) to tell its story, it would not be undeserving. But again, I think GRAVITY dominates this area and rightly so.

I’M ROOTING FOR: Gravity/Hobbit


gravity2People, THE LONE RANGER has the same number of Oscar nominations as INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS. That is just a travesty on so many levels. If any Academy members saw THE HOBBIT in HFR 3D, it could generate some votes -- in particular, Smaug is one of the best CG creations ever. IRON MAN 3 and STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS have some good effects, I guess, but nothing we haven’t seen before. GRAVITY, on the other hand, is a groundbreaking visual feast, mixing CGI and practical effects quite seamlessly if I’m not mistaken, and has this one in the bag. (The only film that could’ve maybe given it a run for its money, both in my heart and in reality, is PACIFIC RIM, but alas, no love for del Toro’s monsters vs. robots extravaganza.)



the-act-of-killingSo, so sad that Sarah Polley’s phenomenal STORIES WE TELL (my #7 film of the year) did not make the cut here. Come on, Academy! Regardless, I did pretty well in this category for a change, having seen two of these on the big screen and two more on Netflix (20 FEET FROM STARDOM is the only one I must seek out). CUTIE AND THE BOXER is a lovely and whimsical and feel-good tale of two old Japanese artists. DIRTY WARS is quite an eye-opening look behind the U.S. military curtain that plays like a mystery novel. THE SQUARE offers a gripping, firsthand look at the Egyptian Revolution. THE ACT OF KILLING... God almighty... this film about Indonesian death squads must be seen and then can never be unseen. However, I think the Academy will go the feel-good route, as it did last year when SEARCHING FOR SUGARMAN beat out some much heavier material.

I’M ROOTING FOR: The Act of Killing
WILL PROBABLY WIN: Cutie and the Boxer

(Note that full reviews, picks and predictions for the Oscar-nominated live action, animated and documentary short films will be coming soon. They open at the IFC Center in NYC on Jan. 31st and as usual, I intend to see them all in one day-long marathon. Stay tuned for that!)

Oscar Night is Sunday, March 2nd, and as always, I will be right here with my 9th ANNUAL LIVE MOMENT-BY-MOMENT STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS OSCAR COMMENTARY. Please do swing by and join the fun whether you are watching the big show or not. In the meantime, any thoughts on this year’s noms, snubs and/or my predictions? Who do YOU want to / think will win Oscar gold? God, I love this time of year!