Sunday, February 24, 2013

Predicting the Oscars!

They're finally here!  It only took an entire year to get this point, and I couldn't be anymore excited.  This is my personal favorite night of television every year.  While there have been years that were more entertaining than others (typically based upon whoever's hosting), you never truly know when someone is going to get up and make that once in a lifetime acceptance speech or whatnot, so there truly is no way to gauge how awesome or entertaining of a night it will be until you finally see it all unfold.  Hopefully Seth MacFarlane will be able to put his crass, political humor behind him and come out with some good jokes as tonight's Oscar host.  We'll know for sure tonight, but what I can try to predict is which films will win the Oscars.

This truly has been a special year for an Oscar enthusiast like myself.  Not only was 2012 such an amazing year of filmmaking all around, but this was legitimately the tightest Oscar race we've had in the past decade.  While we can all pretty much count on Argo coming out on top, there are many categories that could easily go this way or that.  Take Best Actress which could easily go to Jennifer Lawrence or Jessica Chastain, and possibly even Emanuelle Riva.  Then Best Director, where the perceived frontrunner, Ben Affleck, didn't even net a nomination, which could possibly get Spielberg his third Oscar, or Ang Lee his second, or even get David O. Russell his much deserved first.  Let's not even talk about the put-the-nominees-in-a-hat-and-draw nature of Best Supporting Actor to see who wins.  What does this mean if you're trying to predict the Oscars?

Well, it means that this is the hardest year since I've been doing this to make good, informed decisions, because I truly believe that this will be a year where the Academy will spread the love and not just award the same film over and over again, like they've been content to do for the past five years or so.  Will Argo win the most Oscars?  Possibly not, even though it is most likely to win Best Picture.  Of course, the big question is, can anything else possibly be announced as the Best Picture winner come tonight other than Argo?  Perhaps.

If any film were to beat Argo, it would be consensus pick Silver Linings Playbook, which could pull off the upset.  Playbook played exceptionally well with the actors, which is the largest branch of the Academy.  The film received a nomination in all four acting categories, a rare feat whenever it comes to the Academy Awards.  With the actors clearly in love with the film, and with them making up the largest percentage of voters, we could see an upset brewing.

Not to mention the fact that the Academy seemed to go its own way in nominations this year, not really mimicking the Golden Globes or any of the guilds in many major categories, so it's entirely possible the Academy as a whole isn't as in love with Argo as everyone thinks they will be.  Personally, I wouldn't put my money on anything other than Argo, I'm just saying that it's a possibility that another film might win tonight given Affleck's snub and the huge love for films like Lincoln and Silver Linings Playbook poured out from large branches of the Academy, most notably, the actors.  If a film other than Argo wins Best Film Editing and/or Best Adapted Screenplay, two awards that typically go hand and hand with Best Picture, we may be in for a big surprise when Best Picture is announced.  That's all I'm saying.

With all this said, it's time to predict who I think will win tonight's Oscars.  For a full list of nominations, go here, and as always, tune back in after the show to see what my final thoughts on this year's Oscar winners are.  So, without further ado, my predictions for the 85th Academy Awards:

Best Short Film (Animated) - Paperman
Best Short Film (Live Action) - Curfew
Best Documentary Short Subject - Mondays at Racine
Best Sound Mixing - Les Miserables
Best Sound Editing Skyfall
Best Makeup and Hairstyling - Les Miserables
Best Costume Design - Anna Karenina
Best Production Design - Les Miserables
Best Visual Effects - Life of Pi
Best Original Song - "Skyfall" from Skyfall
Best Original Score - Life of Pi
Best Cinematography - Life of Pi
Best Film Editing - Argo
Best Documentary Feature - Searching for Sugar Man
Best Foreign Language Film - Amour
Best Original Screenplay - Michael Haneke, Amour
Best Adapted Screenplay - Chris Terrio, Argo
Best Supporting Actress - Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Best Supporting Actor - Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
Best Actress - Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Best Actor - Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Best Director - David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Best Picture - Argo

The Oscars will air on ABC starting at 7e/6c.  See you after the show!

UPDATE:  So another year, gone.  It was an enjoyable Oscar show, by no means the best I've ever seen, but it had plenty of good laughs and heartfelt speeches to make the night a joy.  Not to mention, the spot on orchestra conducted by William Ross, which featured some marvelous musical selections.  Sadly, the show was fairly predictable.  There were really no big surprises.  Argo won where everyone predicted it would, there was no last minute surge for Emanuelle Riva like many predicted, nor did anything really go other than as planned, save for the shocking tie for Best Sound Editing, which was only the second tie in Oscar history for any award.  Other than that, a fairly dull end to what started out as one of the most exciting Oscar seasons in my lifetime.  Oh, well.  You can view the full list of winners here.  My final tally was 17 and 1/2 out of 24, a new record for me.  Till next year!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Predicting the Spirit Awards

Even though this weekend is seemingly all about the Oscars, there is one more award's show before tomorrow night that can often affect the Oscar outcome, and that is the Film Independent Spirit Awards -- the only award's show that exclusively honors Independent films.  The Spirit Awards are voted upon by Film Independent and Independent Filmmaker Project (IFP) members.  The membership can be anyone who is willing to join these two non-profit organizations that support Independent film, however, majority of the members are Independent filmmakers themselves from all over the world.  Of course, how does this affect the Oscars?

Well, two of this year's Best Picture nominees -- Beasts of the Southern Wild and Silver Linings Playbook -- are up for the top Spirit Award honor of Best Feature, and very often this can give an indication of how the industry as a whole views a particular Independent film and its importance.  Always occurring the night before the Oscars, the Spirit Awards have at times foreshadowed a momentum swing for a particular film or performance that went on to Oscar glory.  Even though I don't think this will usurp Argo's Best Picture chances, it could add some last minute fuel to the fire for Jennifer Lawrence for Best Actress or David O. Russell for Best Adapted Screenplay.  We'll see.

Below you'll find my predictions for the Film Independent Spirit Awards, which air tonight at 10/9 central on IFC, hosted by SNL's Andy Samberg.  This is my first year predicting these awards, so go easy on me, because it's very likely that I'll make a good many mistakes, even still, I think I have a good idea of what will win the major categories.  It will be interesting to see if Quvenzhane Wallis will beat out Jennifer Lawrence here for Best Actress, seeing how Beasts of the Southern Wild has so much industry love?  For a full list of nominations, just click on this link, and as always, check back later tonight to see my final reactions and how the events might affect tomorrow night's Oscar ceremony.  Now for my predictions:

Best Feature - Silver Linings Playbook
Best Director - David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Best First Feature - The Perks of Being a Wallflower
John Cassavetes Award (Best Feature made for under $500,000) - Starlet
Best Screenplay - David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Best First Screenplay - Rashida Jones and Will McCormack, Celeste and Jesse Forever
Best Female Lead - Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Best Male Lead - John Hawkes, The Sessions
Best Supporting Female - Ann Dowd, Compliance
Best Supporting Male - Michael Pena, End of Watch
Best Cinematography - Ben Richardson, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Best Documentary - How to Survive a Plague
Best International Film - Amour 

UPDATE:  For a first time predicting these, I didn't do that bad.  I got 8/13 correct.  What does any of this mean for the Oscars?  Well, it pretty much reaffirms that Amour is guaranteed Best Foreign Language Film, as well, if the Indie film crowd didn't speak up for Beasts of the Southern Wild, it's Oscar chances merely fall into the category of also ran.  Then there was the Silver Linings Playbook sweep, which is oddly similar to last year's Spirit Awards sweep for The Artist, where that film went on to sweep the Oscars the following night.  Could the same thing happen this year?  Unlikely, though the Best Director and Best Screenplay wins for David O. Russell might be some foreshadowing as to some Oscar wins in those same categories for him, as well, Jennifer Lawrence winning Best Female Lead only made her Oscar chances even greater.  So there you have it.  All in all, it was a fun show, the presenters seemed like they were loose and having fun, and Andy Samberg was surprisingly hilarious.  With that said, onto the Oscars!

Friday, February 22, 2013

If I Had an Oscar Ballot...

A play-at-home Oscar ballot

How would you vote if you were an Academy member and had an Oscar ballot?  It's something I hope to be able to experience someday, but right now all I can do is live with the hypothetical.  The Oscars are my Super Bowl.  So many people look forward to that one night of television every year, and the Oscars are that for me.  So with only two more days till the 85th Academy Awards, I decided to have a little fun and do an entire blog post based around the idea of if I had an Oscar ballot and my votes could be counted.  If I were an Academy member, this is how I'd vote this year.  Check out my dream ballot below.  As always, I don't included the documentary, foreign film, or short categories, because I haven't been fortunate enough to see any of those, and for a full list of nominees, just click on this link.


Best Sound Mixing - Les Miserables
Best Sound Editing - Zero Dark Thirty
Best Visual Effects - The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Best Original Song - "Skyfall" from Skyfall
Best Original Score - John Williams, Lincoln
Best Makeup and Hairstyling - The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Best Costume Design - Lincoln
Best Production Design - The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Best Cinematography - Skyfall
Best Film Editing - Zero Dark Thirty
Best Animated Feature - Wreck-It Ralph
Best Adapted Screenplay - David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Best Original Screenplay - Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola, Moonrise Kingdom
Best Supporting Actress - Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Best Supporting Actor - Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
Best Actress - Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Best Actor - Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Best Director - Steven Spielberg, Lincoln


As it is, I am a fan of a few of the perceived frontrunners, such as Daniel Day-Lewis and Anne Hathaway, but in the technical categories is where I find myself sticking up for some of my favorite films.  Inevitably, whenever there are scrumptious Best Picture nominees like Life of Pi or Les Miserables peppered throughout the tech categories, it makes the blockbuster fare get pushed by the wayside for more "prestigious" material, it doesn't matter if it truly wasn't the best work of that given year.  Personally, from a production standpoint, from costumes to production design and everything in between, I felt that The Hobbit was the best film of last year on that front, but alas it will be lucky to walk away with even one award come Sunday.  As well, I stuck up for Moonrise Kingdom in Best Original Screenplay, even if it is the most "original" work nominated, it wont win because more "prestigious" films are.  However, if I had a ballot, this is how I would vote.  Now, onto Best Picture.

The reason I saved Best Picture for last is because the way Best Picture is voted upon is different than the other categories.  While in all of the other categories Academy members merely check off the film or performance they liked best, in Best Picture they use what is called a preferential ballot.  This means that every Academy member ranks the nine films nominated for Best Picture from 1 -- being their favorite -- to 9 -- being their least favorite.  In doing this, it doesn't matter which film gets the most number one votes, but  rather which films tend to be in the top three spots on most ballots.  If say Lincoln got a hundred number one votes and twenty second place votes, and then Argo got only ninety first place votes, but had a hundred second place votes, it would win Best Picture because it was the consensus pick, which is probably how it will win Best Picture come Sunday night.

Taking this into account, I figured I would play as if I really had an Oscar ballot and I will rank the Best Picture winners, from my least favorite to my favorite, with a short commentary beneath each film to explain my reasoning for its spot on the list.  So, without further ado, this is how I would rank the films nominated for Best Picture:

9.  Amour
The reason this film is in last place is purely because it is the only film nominated for Best Picture that I have not seen and it would be wrong to give it a sight unseen boost.  I hate that I haven't seen it, but it's just shown up here in my hometown and I probably wont get a chance to fit in a viewing before Oscar night.

8.  Beasts of the Southern Wild
I just was not a fan of this movie and found it to be ambitious, but technically and structurally flat.  The fantasy aspects were not incorporated well enough into the narrative and it made it seem like two films battling for our attention, rather than delivering one good, clean narrative.

7.  Les Miserables
The songs are exceptional, so are the performances, but the plot just featured too many gaping plot holes for me to ever truly get lost in the story or care about the characters.  Then there was Tom Hooper's direction, which never took advantage of the large spectacle that this film could have delivered. 

6.  Django Unchained
As it is, I have never been a Quentin Tarantino fan, and I am also not a fan of movies that see the need to be over-the-top violent for violence sake, whilst rewriting history and being campy and absolutely ridiculous all at the same time.  In my opinion, I'd have much rather seen Skyfall or The Avengers nominated in its place, both were far superior efforts that got snubbed.

5.  Argo
In all likelihood, this film will be the Best Picture winner come Sunday night.  While I enjoyed the film and found it historically fascinating, well acted, and extremely tense, I felt that the characters were purely stock film characters we've seen thousands of times before and I never truly connected with them.  By far not the worst choice the Academy could make come Sunday, but I believe that there are four better.

4.  Life of Pi
Technically, this is the most impressive film nominated for Best Picture, for that alone it makes it an easy to stomach winner.  Not only that, it's also an enjoyable man against nature survival tale that is highly emotional and genuinely thought-provoking, even if it does sag a bit in the middle portions of the film.

3.  Lincoln
I would be personally satisfied if this film won Best Picture, but contrary to popular belief, I don't think it really stands a chance.  Even still, this film is about as perfect as a historical drama can be.  I'm not a huge history buff, but I found the story engaging and informative because Spielberg and his cast and crew represented these historical figures as real flesh-and-blood human beings.  I grew to love these characters, and that is why I am such a fan of this film.

2.  Silver Linings Playbook
Similarly to Lincoln, the reason I love Silver Linings Playbook is because of the genuine characters.  The story gets quirky and absurd from time-to-time, but the likable characters and the loveable actors that portray them keep you engaged and rolling with it every step of the way.  Ultimately, it's an uplifting film that just makes you feel good about being you and not trying to be something that you're not.  In my opinion, if there is to be a spoiler for Argo come Sunday night, this is the only other film that might get enough of a consensus love to get it the surprising win.

1.  Zero Dark Thirty
If I really had a ballot, this would be the film I'd most want to win.  What director Kathryn Bigelow did (an even bigger snub if you ask me than Ben Affleck's) is she made this story we thought we all knew feel fresh, tense, and human.  I was personally surprised by the depths of humanity that this film had, and part of that is because all of the actors give it their all and bare their souls for the audience to see.  This is what drives this film, not the narrative of the CIA's search for Bin Laden.  If it was solely about that and didn't take time to focus on the CIA agents affected by their life's work, this film would not have the massive amount of emotional resonance that it has, but it does, and that is why this film is the number one film nominated for Best Picture.


So there you have it.  I'll be back on Sunday to post my official predictions for the 85th Annual Academy Awards!  See you then.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

My 10 Favorite Best Picture Winners of All-Time

In my continued attempt to drum up excitement -- within myself, as well as in others -- for Oscar night, I decided to take a look at the 84 films that have been awarded the Academy's highest honor, that of Best Picture.

When a film wins Best Picture, it pretty much becomes an instant classic, ensuring that it will always be remembered in some way, shape, or form.  As such, some of the most famous classics of all-time won the Best Picture Oscar, ranging from films like The Sound of Music, to The Godfather, all the way to Gone With the Wind.  While people often argue what films deserved to win Best Picture or not, seeing as how hindsight is 20/20 and tells us which films have become more popular over the years, I feel to Kanye West someone else's Best Picture win is wrong.  If I made a film that was honored with the Best Picture Oscar, I would hate it if some critic or filmgoer was spouting off why it didn't deserve to win.  At the end of the day, whatever wins Best Picture in any given year is someone's cup of tea, and therefore to deride other people's tastes is something I'm not interested in doing, which is why I'm purely honoring the films that won Best Picture, and it's also why I'm not saying who deserved the win more, but which films are my favorites.

Key word to remember here is "my" favorite Best Picture winners.   Inevitably many other filmgoers will miss the inclusion of their own favorites, and I can already hear some people I know questioning why I left off certain films.  The bottom line is, there are 84 films to choose from, and to only choose 10 out of 84, there are obviously going to be many great films that miss out.  Which is why I ask everyone to list off their own 10 best list in the comments section below.  My hopes with this list is that I might be talking about a film you might have never seen before and inspire you to see it, or that I might cause you to rethink what you've always thought about a particular Oscar winner and its importance.  Either way, I expect some bits of debate, and I'm interested to hear what others think, so don't be too shy to reply in the comments section.  So, without further ado, My 10 Favorite Best Picture Winners of All-Time!


10.  Rocky (1976)
There are many nowadays who still bemoan the fact that such a commercially viable film beat out Taxi Driver for Best Picture, but at the end of the day, Rocky is still a genuine classic of cinema to this very day, just as much so as Taxi Driver is.  While what Rocky did is now considered cliche for most sports movies, it was the film that created the down-and-out underdog mold.  Nothing ever goes good for Rocky, but we're always pulling for him because he's such a likable guy with surprising amounts of charm and heart.  All he wants to do is be somebody, and there's the brilliance of Sylvester Stallone's script.  Yeah, while Rocky does get a chance to fight the champ, Apollo Creed, the film is also about his own personal battle to woo Adrian, paralleling that of the boxing narrative.  While Rocky does not win the fight, he wins the love of Adrian, and that is what makes this film so memorable.

9.  Braveheart (1995)
Braveheart falls into the traditional Oscar winner mold of the historical epic, and it is by far my favorite historical epic that the Academy has ever awarded with Best Picture.  What makes Mel Gibson's masterpiece so much better than most other historical epics is the depths of humanity to the film.  This is a film that is all about character and emotion first, and Mel Gibson as director takes his time to create emotional attachments to characters so that you care when they die.  Then there's the fact that Mel Gibson delivers his finest acting performance of all-time as Scot, William Wallace, blue war paint and all.  And I'll just say this, if you don't feel a rush of emotion when William Wallace is battered and broken and all he can yell is, "Freedom," then I might begin to wonder if you even have a heart.

8.  An American in Paris (1951)
While my personal favorite Gene Kelly musical done with producer Arthur Freed is Singin' in the Rain, that film hit theaters less than a year after An American in Paris swept the Academy Awards and therefore the Academy felt that they'd already been there and done that.  Even so, An American in Paris is still a marvelous movie musical that is every bit as charming as Singin' in the Rain and is every bit as glamorous and jaw-dropping.  Gene Kelly's athletic form of tap dancing is on great show here under the great supervision of director Vincente Minnelli.  The combined talents of Kelly and Minnelli lend An American in Paris a kinetic style, combining Kelly's dancing with camera moves to best showcase the dancing.  Then there are the Gershwin tunes which make up the film's soundtrack, as well as the introduction of Leslie Caron, and An American in Paris manages to more than differentiates itself from other MGM musicals of the time and manages to stand on its own two feet as the finest musical I think the Academy has ever awarded with Best Picture.

7.  Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
I'm always a little wary whenever I include a fairly recent film on any sort of favorite film of all-time list, because the question arises, how long have I really lived with the film for it to sink in, but then I think, I'm still discovering many of the classic films I've included on this list, some of which I didn't even see for the first time till after I first saw Slumdog Millionaire, and therefore I don't feel bad at including it on this list.  What makes Slumdog such an unforgettable experience, is that I can't think of any other film to compare it to.  Director Danny Boyle gave the film this very fast-paced, non-linear style that always kept the film intriguing and kept you on your toes in even the more slow dramatic scenes.  Though, where I find myself coming back time and time again to rewatch this film is the love story that encompasses every single frame of this film.  Jamal spends this entire film searching for Latika, it's his only motivation, and you root for him because Jamal is an everyman.  While most have not experienced many of the hardships that Jamal has, we can all relate to that feeling of love lost and hope to find that love once again.  I believe this is why I can rewatch such a difficult film, because 99% of the film is fairly rough, seeing children in squalor, and yet, when Jamal and Latika finally kiss and do their Bollywood dance, I don't think I've ever been happier.  I rewatch Slumdog Millionaire to go on this journey and to feel this cathartic form of happiness, and it's why this film will always be one of my favorite Best Picture winners of all-time.

6.  The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
It's arguable whether there's ever been a director who has had more success with the Academy than William Wyler.  Having won Best Director three times, nominated a total of 12, the most nominations of any one director in history, you could easily call him one of the Academy's all-time favorite filmmakers.  In fact, three of his films won Best Picture, and I believe that The Best Years of Our Lives is his finest work to have won the award.  This was a timely film that clearly struck a chord with an America only one year removed from the official end of World War II.  Seeing the challenges and triumphs of returning war veterans struggling to readjust to normal society made the film an affecting piece of work that spoke to many Americans in the audience, and is what still makes it such a powerful film.  Most importantly, the film asks the question of how do you move on and re-establish normalcy after an earth-shattering event?  In our modern society, be it a devastating natural disaster or a war, the themes of this film are still easy to relate to, and it's why I am such a fan of the film.

5.  On the Waterfront (1954)
"I coulda been a contender."  Easily one of the most mimicked lines in all of movie history, and it's only one of the many fantastic moments from director Elia Kazan's masterpiece.  Made during the Red Scare, I've always been amazed at how the film was not seen as more subversive than the government at the time probably did.  The film is all about unionization and the rights of the common working man against the large machine, represented in this film by gangsters.  Featuring my personal favorite Marlon Brando performance of all-time, On the Waterfront was simply ahead of its time in both thought and production techniques.  The film was shot entirely on location and not on a studio, a rarity for Hollywood films of that day and age, as well, Kazan was one of the pioneering Method directors in Hollywood, pushing Method acting.  Kazan's preaching of the Method brought out powerhouse performances from his stars like Brando and Eva Marie Saint, making a film that felt real and not like a stage play, which is how so many other dramas at the time felt.  Even to this day, you could probably take this same script and the film the would be relevant, and I think it's because thematic ideas such as what the film deals with are simply timeless.

4.  You Can't Take It With You (1938)
Director Frank Capra is another one of the Academy's favorite filmmakers of all-time, having the distinction of being the only director in Oscar history, who wasn't also an actor, to ever be the Oscar host.  Considering the sheer volume of classic Frank Capra films, when you see which films of his actually won Best Picture, and which didn't, the list is surprisingly small, with only two of his films having won Best Picture:  It Happened One Night and You Can't Take It With You.  In this case, You Can't Take It With You is not just my favorite Frank Capra film out of the two, but it also just so happens to be one of my favorite Frank Capra films in general.  You Can't Take It With You is just pure old Frank Capra charm from start to finish.  It will make you laugh, cry, and feel all warm and fuzzy inside.  It's as if you took the idea of Romeo and Juliet and made it heartfelt and funny with Frank Capra styled characters.  Featuring great performances from Jimmy Stewart, Lionel Barrymore in a surprising nice guy role, and my favorite leading lady of all-time, Jean Arthur, more likeable than ever before, I just can't say enough about this film.  If you haven't seen it, you need to go find a copy.  It's that good.

3.  The Apartment (1960)
The Apartment is in many ways the precursor to many modern romantic comedies, deftly blending humor and drama to make an unforgettable film that far surpasses any other comedy that has ever won Best Picture, even though that list is incredibly short.  If there's one thing that the Academy hates almost as much as they hate big blockbusters, it's a comedy.  For a comedy to succeed with the Academy, it typically has to fall into The Apartment mold, and yet that's not a bad mold to be in.  There is a reason that The Apartment is one of only a handful of comedies to win Best Picture, and it's because this film was so rich in human authenticity, while also being highly hilarious at the same time.  The thematic ideas and character types are still prevalent in our own modern day society and it makes Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine all the more relatable.  There are still people who would do anything to move up the corporate ranks in their office.  People who have affairs and lie to their lovers that they're going to leave their spouses.  And there are still lonely men like Lemmon's C.C. Baxter, who pine over the same, seemingly unobtainable woman, day after day.  This is why The Apartment is one of the greatest Best Picture winners of all-time.

2.  Casablanca (1942)
Often tossed up there with Citizen Kane and The Godfather as one of the greatest films of all-time, there is a reason that Casablanca continues to impress generations upon generations of filmgoers.  For myself, this is just the quintessential Old Hollywood film.  It's got drama, it's got suspense, as well as romance.  It has colorful characters from larger than life actors, as well as a few gags here and there, not to mention the fact that it has the greatest work-in-progress script in movie history, that resulted in some of the most memorable dialogue and one of the most tightly plotted films ever.  Whether it's the romance that gets you, or if you're like me, you love the characters and the suspense, Casablanca is a Golden Age masterpiece, perfect as patriotic propaganda for any nation at war.  I think that's why Casablanca initially won Best Picture, and it's why it still continues to remain relevant.  The thematic idea of patriotism runs underneath the entire film.  Released right after the US entered World War II, the film rung true.  While in the film it's the French against the Nazis, when the film was released, the US took the message and placed themselves in the shoes of the French people seeking freedom in Casablanca.  For every war or conflict since, or whenever you just needed to be reminded of what patriotism looked like, Casablanca was there to impact filmgoers.  Patriotism is one of those notions that will never die, and therefore, neither will Casablanca.

1.  The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
It was just an unwritten rule, blockbusters never won the Academy Award for Best Picture, let alone get nominated, and then there was The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  Not only did every film in the trilogy get nominated for Best Picture, but then The Return of the King, the final installment in the epic fantasy franchise, went 11 better, winning not just Best Picture, but a total of 11 Oscars, tying Ben-Hur and Titanic for the most Oscar wins in Oscar history.  What makes The Return of the King, or for that matter, the entire trilogy, so spectacular, is that the films do not purely rely on their spectacle to win over moviegoers, like so many blockbusters do.  While yes, these films did include some of the most jaw-dropping special effects and production design work in movie history, creating a larger than life canvas that no film since the Golden Age of Hollywood had quite managed, but they also managed to make you care about the characters and their plights.  I think this is why The Return of the King was the one to finally win Best Picture, because it was the third film in the trilogy, we had two films to get to know these characters, and this time about, it was the grand finale.  The Return of the King wraps everything up in an emotionally satisfying way, not just delivering the big action-packed ending that the film does have, but it made you care while watching it, and it's why this is the only fantasy blockbuster to have ever won Best Picture.  If only more fantasy or science fiction films would learn from The Lord of the Rings.  It's not about the action or spectacle that allows audiences to relate, it's the humanity of the story, the thematic undercurrents of friendship, love, and heroism, that any filmgoer can relate to.  That's what makes The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King not just one of the finest blockbusters of all-time, but also one of the greatest films of all-time in general, and it's why this film easily earns the honor of my favorite Best Picture winner of all-time.


Tune back in on Friday as I play the hypothetical game of, "If I had a ballot for the Academy Awards."

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Most Deserved Oscar Wins of All-Time - Part II

Continuing what I started yesterday with Part I, here is Part II of what I feel to be the Most Deserved Oscar Wins of All-Time.


Best Film Editing - Jaws
Edited by the legendary Verna Fields, Jaws is one of those films where it would not be what it was if it were not for the editing.  The film's editing made the movie.  In essence it created the shark, because the mechanical monstrosity that was used onset only walked half of the time.  By having to use lots of cutting and POV shots, Fields worked with Spielberg to create one of the most taut and thrilling creature features of all-time.
(Runners-UpStar Wars, Raging Bull, The Matrix, and Slumdog Millionaire)

Best Makeup and Hairstyling - The Planet of the Apes
How's this for some Oscar trivia:  John Goodman's character in this year's Best Picture frontrunner, Argo, portrayed Oscar winning makeup designer, John Chambers, who won this Oscar for the original, The Planet of the Apes.  Being perfectly honest, I don't think there has ever been more spectacular makeup or hair work on film.  The work in this film went to creating humanoid apes who could talk and interact with the human actors, and the end results are still nothing short of amazing.
(Runners-UpPan's Labyrinth, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and Braveheart)

Best Production Design - Star Wars
Production design deals with the creation of the sets and finding locations that meet the vision of the script and of the director, and to say that there's ever been a film where it's production design was more influential than Star Wars, I would like to see that film.   The look established by production designer John Barry, established the look of the evergrowing Star Wars universe.  Every Star Wars book, comic book, movie, video game, or TV show, since, have had to adhere to these designs.  The effects of these designs are still being felt to this day, just watch The Clone Wars animated TV show on Cartoon Network.
(Runners-UpThe Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Avatar, Pan's Labyrinth, and Batman)

Best Original Score - John Williams, Star Wars
Come on, it's probably my favorite film score of all-time, and not only that, it's probably the most recognizable film score in movie history.  I only hope John Williams comes back to score the new trilogy of Star Wars films.  I can't imagine a Star Wars film without him.
(Runners-Up:  John Williams, Jaws; John Williams, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial; Howard Shore, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring; and Jan A.P. Kaczmerak, Finding Neverland)

Best Animated Feature - Spirited Away
This very well may be my personal favorite Oscar win in Oscar history.  Japanese animation director, Hayao Miyazaki, and his Studio Ghibli, have produced many of my favorite animated films of all-time, so to see what is often considered Miyazaki's masterpiece also be an Oscar winner, is just icing on the cake.  I can't think of a film that's ever been more deserving of this award, save for Miyazaki's own Howl's Moving Castle, which lost out to Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit in 2005.
(Runners-UpThe Incredibles, Ratatouille, Up, and Wall-E)

Best Writing - Original Screenplay - Good Will Hunting
This category featured some of my personal favorite screenplays in movie history, but I truly believe that Matt Damon and Ben Affleck's script for Good Will Hunting is the prime example of a perfect script.  It's the kind of script that you're taught to write in film school, with some of the greatest dialogue ever spoken in a film and so much thematic and character depth, where every single character has a larger purpose in the story.  I adore this script, though many of the runners-up came awfully close.
(Runners-UpThe Usual Suspects, The Apartment, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)

Best Supporting Actress - Jane Darwell, The Grapes of Wrath
Jane Darwell's performance as Ma Joad in John Ford's classic adaptation of John Steibbeck's masterpiece is the performance that anchors the entire film.  Ma Joad is the glue that holds together the Joad family, and Jane Darwell is the uniting force of every other actor's performances.  A great supporting actor or actress is there to play their part so well, that they give the leads and other actors something to actually work with, and Jane Darwell does that to perfection in this film.  This Oscar was so deserved.
(Runners-Up:  Meryl Streep, Kramer vs. Kramer; Eva Marie Saint, On the Waterfront; Cate Blanchett, The Aviator; and Josephine Hull, Harvey)

Best Actor - Gregory Peck, To Kill a Mockingbird
Very often an actor wins for a film that wasn't their career best work, they just won because they were snubbed when their career best work was nominated, but in this case, Gregory Peck won for the finest performance in his storied career.  As Atticus Finch, Peck is the small town lawyer from Alabama with the kind of moral compass that inspires his children.  Occasionally, there is a moment in an actor's performance that you call an Oscar winning moment, and there is no other moment in the history of film as powerful as Atticus's monologue when addresses the jury in his closing statement.  "In the name of God, do your duty.  In the name of God, believe... Tom Robinson."
(Runners-Up:  Marlon Brando, On the Waterfront; Anthony Hopkins, The Silence of the Lambs; Robert De Niro, Raging Bull; and Cliff Robertson, Charly)

Best Director - Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
The reason I am so charmed whenever I think back to seeing Danny Boyle win a Best Director Oscar, is because Danny Boyle isn't the kind of director you'd ever think would have won an Oscar.  His work always tends to lean more towards commercial ideas, not towards traditional Oscar fare, not to mention, he never makes the same exact film twice.  He dabbles in so many different genres, from family films all the way to gritty crime thrillers.  So to see what I believe to be the greatest film he's made thus far wholeheartedly embraced by the Academy, it just still fills my heart with joy.  Here's a guy who probably never will make another film again that the Academy will embrace, so this very well might have been his one and only chance, which is why I am so glad that for once the Academy realized that and gave honor where it was due.
(Runners-Up:  Steven Spielberg, Saving Private Ryan; John Ford, The Grapes of Wrath; Peter Jackson, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King; and Steven Spielberg, Schindler's List)

So the only film to take home multiple Oscars by my accounts is Star Wars, with 4 all-time wins for me, surprise, surprise if you know me.  Tune back in on Wednesday, where I will name my 10 Favorite Best Picture Winners of All-Time!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Most Deserved Oscar Wins of All-Time

With a week till the 85th annual Academy Awards, I figured it would be fun to do a series of Oscar themed posts leading up to the big night.  Today, I'll start a two-part post examining the Most Deserved Oscar Wins of All-Time.  Then, I'll follow that up with a Top 10 post, naming My 10 Favorite Best Picture Winners of All-Time, followed by a post where I play the hypothetical, "If I was in the Academy and had an Oscar ballot, how would I vote this year?"  I'll name what I want to win in each Oscar category, and then I'll finish it all up next weekend posting my official Oscar predictions.  However, today is all about what I believe to be the Most Deserved Oscar Wins of All-Time.

Here's how I'm gonna do this, I'm going to go by every modern Oscar category (except for the shorts) and I'll pick my favorite winner of all-time from that category.  Seeing as how there are so many categories, you can understand why I'm doing this particular post in two parts.  Today I'm gonna take care of half of the Oscar categories, and tomorrow I'll finish up with Part II.  Obviously, since I'm going to be doing a post where I highlight my favorite Best Picture winners of all-time, I'm not going to do Best Picture in these two posts, but I will name my favorite winners from categories as varied as Best Actor all the way to Best Sound Mixing.  So, without further ado, these are what I believe to be the Most Deserved Oscar Wins of All-Time!

Best Visual Effects - Jurassic Park
This one seems like a no-brainer, but in my opinion no other film of all-time featured special effects as groundbreaking as those in Jurassic Park.  The work in Jurassic Park paved the way for modern CGI-effects by creating the first ever, photorealistic CGI characters on film.  The CG dinosaurs are still believable and are the benchmark that I feel all computer generated imagery should still be judged by.
(Runners-UpStar Wars, The Lord of the Rings:  The Return of the King, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and 2001: A Space Odyssey)

Best Costume Design - An American in Paris
This was a category that gave me some difficulty in finding the winner that was my personal favorite of all-time, and this was the one I came up with, purely because of the sheer volume of chic clothing in the film, and I mean, would you expect anything different from a film set in Paris?  With each character's clothing representing their character's personality, this is costume design at its most colorful and glamorous.
(Runners-UpRoman Holiday, All About Eve, Some Like It Hot, and The Last Emperor)

Best Cinematography - Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Considering how many of the most beautiful films of all-time have won this award, I may have stunned a few with this choice, but I really love the cinematography of this film.  Not only was it shot by the legendary Vilmos Zsigmond, but this film's cinematography, more so than perhaps any other film in Spielberg's filmography, was able to convey Spielberg's sense of movement, love of light, and the fairy tale-like softness of each image, to create a film that is all about mystery and wonder.
(Runners-UpGone With the Wind, The Third Man, How Green Was My Valley, and Days of Heaven)

Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing - Star Wars
I don't know if there's any other film in film history where sound played such an important role to creating another world, or in this case, galaxy.  Without the excellent sound editing and sound mixing, there would be no life to characters such as R2, Chewbacca, or Darth Vader, let alone the sounds of blasters and lightsabers, which have become so recognizable to geeks the world over.
(Runners-UpSaving Private Ryan, Jurassic Park, The Matrix, and West Side Story)

Best Original Song - "White Christmas" from Holiday Inn
It just would feel wrong to give it to any other song, even though this is probably the most stacked category where I could have gone so many different ways.  Almost every major Disney classic was eligible, as is so many other iconic songs, but there is something about the music and lyrics supplied by Irving Berlin and Bing Crosby's vocals that has made "White Christmas" not just one of the greatest film songs of all-time, but also the preeminent Christmas song.
(Runners-Up:  "When You Wish Upon a Star" from Pinocchio, "Falling Slowly" from Once, "Beauty and the Beast" from Beauty and the Beast, and "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" from The Lion King)

Best Foreign Language Film - Departures
Many of the most well-respected foreign films of all-time have won this award, and I go with a more recent film that received mixed reactions when it won, but the Japanese film, Departures, is one of the most beautiful films I've ever seen.  The story of an encofiner in rural Japan, the film manages to represent Japanese funeral customs, whilst having universal appeal through its careful examinations of grief, loss, and forgiveness.
(Runners-UpRashomon, The Bicycle Thief, 8 1/2, and Dersu Uzala)

Best Writing - Adapted Screenplay - Casablanca
Quite possibly one of the most deserved Oscar wins in movie history, and yet there was never a finished script.  The film was constantly being rewritten, even overdubbing old lines of dialogue with new ones once the film had already been shot.  Regardless, Casablanca stands tall as the quintessential movie script, perfectly balancing character and plot with some of the most memorable lines of dialogue of all-time.  "Here's looking at you, Kid."
(Runners-Up:  To Kill a Mockingbird, The Lord of the Rings:  The Return of the King, Slumdog Millionaire, and The Godfather)

Best Supporting Actor - Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker was one of those performances that comes along only once in a blue moon.  To see an actor literally transform their entire being, from the way they talk, to the way they walk, and become a character who, on the page, is quite possibly the creepiest and most evil person imaginable, is a remarkable feat.  I think the best way to sum up why this is one of the most deserved Oscar wins in history, is that you never see Heath Ledger in a single frame of this film, you only ever see the Joker.  The Joker was Heath Ledger, and Ledger was the Joker.
(Runners-Up:  Robin Williams, Good Will Hunting; Kevin Spacey, The Usual Suspects; Robert De Niro, The Godfather Part II; and Harold Russell, The Best Years of Our Lives)

Best Actress - Audrey Hepburn, Roman Holiday
This was the film that made Audrey Hepburn a star, and it's also my favorite of her many wonderful performances.  In this film, she has the right dose of charm, regality, and naivete to play the young runaway princess at the center of the story.  This is just quintessential Audrey Hepburn, and upon seeing this film, you can easily see how she became Audrey Hepburn the icon.
(Runners-Up:  Julie Andrews, Mary Poppins; Jodie Foster, The Silence of the Lambs; Claudette Colbert, It Happened One Night; and Hilary Swank, Boys Don't Cry)


Tune in tomorrow as I deliver Part II of the Most Deserved Oscar Wins of All-Time!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Off-Kilter Romance Films

In honor of Valentine's Day, I figured I'd do something special and recommend my ten favorite romance movies.  As the title suggests, majority of these films are not what you would consider traditional Hollywood romance films, and that is part of the reason why I find majority of them so affecting.  All of these films deal with love in varying, often atypical ways for romance movies.  Not all of these movies have happy endings, but there and again, the assumption that everyone on Valentine's Day has a significant other is a little outdated, so therefore why watch a movie that is about two soul mates coming together?  Why not watch a good break-up movie that makes you feel better about yourself?  I believe I have a film for every person on Valentine's Day, so without further ado, here are the ten romance movies that I would deem my ten favorite romance films of all-time:

10.  The Empire Strikes Back

The geek's Valentine's movie.  What qualifies it for this list?  Oh, just Han Solo and Princess Leia, quite possibly the most unlikely romantic pairing imaginable, and yet it works, all thanks to the brilliant dialogue and the charming Harrison Ford.  I mean, what other actor could conceivably pull off the line where Princess Leia says, "I love you," and Han merely replies, "I know."  That is cinematic gold, and is the greatest confession of love I think that has ever transpired on the silver screen.

9.  Slumdog Millionaire

 Slumdog is one of those rare perfect storms, a film that is both challenging and uplifting.  The finale is one of the most joyous I've ever seen in a film, I mean, who doesn't love a good Bollywood, song-and-dance ending?  But what really makes this 2008 Best Picture winner such a marvelous work of film, is that the story is literally that of the underdog, who starts in the slums of India, is orphaned, grows up literally looking simply to survive, and all this time he's been in love with the same girl, Latika, who he was separated from.  His entire life he has searched for her, and he eventually finds himself on India's version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, in an attempt to find her.  If that doesn't qualify this film as one of the greatest romance films of all-time, then I don't know what will.

8.  One Wonderful Sunday

This is the hardest film to find on this entire list, so if you're that kind of romance film lover who loves seeking forgotten movie gems, then One Wonderful Sunday may just do the trick.  The story follows engaged couple, Yuzo and Masako, in 1947 Tokyo, Japan, still rebuilding from World War II.  With only thirty-five yen to spend, they try to make the most out of their one day of the week they have to spend time with one another, but as the day progresses, they progressively start to lose all hope in themselves and in humanity in general.  However, what makes this film such a stand-out romance movie is that the two young lovers must rely on one another and their dreams of true love to pull one another out of depression and into happiness.  By the end of the film, I promise you will be smiling and genuinely believing in the power of love once more.  As an added side note, if you love Japanese filmmaker, Akira Kurosawa (Seven Samurai), this is one of his first films, and while it is at times rough around the edges, it still stands as one of my favorite films from his filmography.

7.  Superman:  The Movie

This is the romance film that both guys and girls can agree on.  It's got action, it's got humor, it's got heart, and it also has a great romance at the core of it.  The romance between Superman and Lois Lane is so utterly charming, that when they fly through the night sky, you're soaring along with them.  Not to mention the great banter between Superman's alter ego, Clark Kent and Lois, while at the Daily Planet.  Then, there's the moment where Superman finds Lois dead and turns back time to bring her back to life, proving that Superman's capacity for love is what makes him strong and is what enables him to do all of his great feats of strength.

6.  In the Mood For Love

This is the film on this list for that foreign film lover, the arthouse couple looking for a good love story to move them on Valentine's Day.  Wong Kar Wai's sumptuous film, In the Mood For Love, is the Hong Kong based filmmaker's greatest work to date.  It's in many ways more of a poem than a straightforward narrative.  While the film does have a narrative spine and a plot, the film is more about the visual images and the thematic ideas explored between actors Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung, portraying two people who live in the same apartment building that discover that their spouses are having an affair with one another, drawing these two lonely souls together.  What is so brilliant about Wong Kar Wai's filmmaking here is that hey never act on their feelings, they never truly succumb to love, which is what makes this story of lost love so much more real and affecting.  Bottom line, if you're looking for a romance movie that is different and aspires to higher artistic ground than most on Valentine's Day, then In the Mood For Love is the film to seek out.  (This film is hard to find, but is currently on Netflix instant streaming).

5.  Singin' in the Rain

If you adore musicals, then this is the perfect Valentine's Day film.  The romance between Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds is the glue that holds this film together and gives it a narrative spine.  Without this romance, the film would just be a musical revue of some old Arthur Freed songs, but thanks to their star-crossed romance, it allows the viewer to lose themselves in the sheer joy and frivolity of quite possibly the grandest, and most spectacular movie musical of all-time.

4.  Flipped

Director Rob Reiner's 2010 hidden gem, about two middle schoolers discovering their first crushes, all the while having their first brushes with love, is one of the most honest and true films I have ever seen.  This film perfectly captures the innocence and purity of the romantic notions of that pre-teen age range when we first discover the opposite sex.  Taking place in pre-Vietnam 1960s, the film's setting allows your mind to be freed and enjoy the simplicity of this love story, that is genuinely sweet and moving.

3.  (500) Days of Summer

This is the guy's romantic comedy.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as everyman, Tom, who falls hard for Indie-chic actress, Zooey Deschanel, playing Summer Finn, the unobtainable girl that every guy has always fallen head over heels for when she didn't ever actually feel the same way.  (500) Days of Summer is a fresh and modern look at the tolls of being a hopeless romantic in today's society, but where the film shines is in its ability to create cartoonish, laugh-out loud moments, and balance that with its Indie rock music video sensibilities and the genuine humanity that comes from both Tom and Summer.  Featuring my favorite Joseph Gordon-Levitt performance to date, this is a film that I think most average guys, at least geeky guys, can relate with.  It's perfect for a single guy who's going through a break-up, or the single guy who's never had a real girlfriend.  It's funny, charming, and is perfect catharsis for the viewer on a day where we're told it's all about love.

2.  The Apartment 

If you are the, "I would do anything for love," kind of movie viewer, then you will love 1960 Best Picture winner, The Apartment.  Literally, this entire film is all about Jack Lemon's character, C.C. Baxter, doing just about anything for love, even if that involves taking care of the love of his life, Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), who overdosed on sleeping pills in his apartment after she found out that Baxter's boss would not leave his wife for her.  And what was she doing in Baxter's apartment, you may ask?  Well, Baxter had been loaning it out to his bosses at work to conduct their affairs in so their wives wouldn't find out, enabling Baxter to move up the corporate ladder.  Whew!  It sounds heavy and melodramatic, but believe me, it's not.  The Apartment is honestly the precursor for majority of modern romantic comedies, but here's the thing, it does it all right.  The characters are not represented as larger than life cliches, but as flesh-and-blood humans with real psychological issues, so while it is one of the funniest movies I have ever seen, it manages to be dramatic all while being laugh-out loud funny thanks to director Billy Wilder's brilliant ability to bring out genuine humanity through the situations.

1.  Howl's Moving Castle 

If you are a lover of animation, or simply a romantic in general, then Howl's Moving Castle is the perfect Valentines Day movie for a date, or if you're single, just for viewing on your own.  I can't think of any other movie that quite reinforces the optimistic nature of true love than this Japanese animated fantasy about a shy, meek young girl who is transformed into a 90-year-old woman, whilst falling in love with a heartless, vain wizard who lives in a castle that is made up of ramshackle mechanical parts and literally walks.  This is just a perfect fantasy, with the American dub featuring voices from the likes of Christian Bale, Josh Hutcherson, Jean Simmons, and Lauren Bacall.  It's a fairy tale, much like many of the American made animated romance movies, but unlike those films, Howl's Moving Castle has more to say than just it's sophisticated love story that isn't merely about a Princess meeting her Prince Charming, but rather it also deals with pacifist themes and the idea of finding your true self.  All of this makes Howl's Moving Castle not just my favorite romance movie, but also one of my 10 favorite movies of all-time.  Not to mention the fact that I can't watch this movie and not be smiling by the time the credits roll.