‘The Revenant’ should be revered

Show of hands: Who knew what “revenant” meant before the movie? ——–

As suspected.

Folks, don’t judge a movie by its title. Tough to draw an audience to the cinema by way of the thesaurus, 20th Century Fox has learned. Upon formulating it was a “revenge flick,” the public was less likely to see it when it came out on Christmas Day — didn’t strike anyone as particularly festive.

And yet the movie’s theme of isolation resonated more powerfully for me (an Oscar marathoner can relate, sitting alone in a theater during 10:10 p.m. previews). It so happens isolation is a common theme among this year’s batch of nominees. The Martian. Room. Carol. 45 Years. The Danish Girl. Joy. Bridge of Spies. Theeb. They all track survivalists’ courage, sitting “inside the head” of protagonists as they struggle alone against the tide or against their demons or against the challenge of seeing 37 feature films and 15 shorts in a month’s time.

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Every year, my Oscar cheat sheet looks slightly different. This year, I started marathoning at my parents’ house when my dad’s printer was low on ink. Charming. One of these days, I shall invent the Oscar Marathoners’ app — the better to track showtimes and venues and fit them into a busy schedule.

It’s been nearly a week since I wrapped up the Best Picture nominees ahead of the 88th Academy Awards telecast, now nine days away. My Oscar marathoning score: 23/37+0/15 or 62% of the full-feature nominees. Still need to squeeze in those shorts. Who can blame me? I’ve been traveling all but seven days of 2016, a big handicap. (Recap: My denominator is 37 and not 42 because I’m not counting the five Original Song nominees as I refuse to waste a cent on such refuse/trash as Fifty Shades of Grey. Should factor in some points for seeing The Hunting Ground twice and catching Spectre On Demand later this week, if I manage it.) 

Today I’m just three pictures away from crossing off what people consider the “top 6” categories: four acting honors plus best director and best picture. I tend to include the two screenplay categories as my Essential Eight. The hateful titles standing in the way: The Hateful Eight (a bear to locate; it’s playing at one remote theater with only one midday showing), Creed (plan to see the late show tonight at a hole-in-the-wall, second-run college theater) and Trumbo, which finally, FINALLY popped up On Demand.

Feast your eyes on the categories I’ve decimated:

  1. Adapted Screenplay
  2. Original Screenplay
  3. Visual Effects
  4. Sound Mixing
  5. Sound Editing — what’s the difference again?!
  6. Production Design
  7. Makeup and Hairstyling
  8. Film Editing
  9. Directing
  10. Actress in a Leading Role
  11. Best Picture

It’s never too soon to predict the big awards, so here’s my big picture on Best Picture — and you know where I’m going with this if you’re paying attention. 

*(In case you’re wondering why there are only eight nominees and not 10, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences changed the rule, ergo: “The pictures receiving the highest number of votes shall become the nominations for final voting for the Best Picture award. There may not be more than 10 nor fewer than five nominations; however, no picture shall be nominated that receives less than 5% of the total votes cast.”)

The Big Short (5 total nominations; released Dec. 11, 2015). I’m all for trying to electrify a dry subject like underwater mortgages. But when I tried to watch this movie with my parents, ages 91 and 84, who have their faculties intact except for some vision/hearing issues, it played like a horror movie on their giant home-theater screen. Too jumbled, gimmicky and LOUD. They couldn’t stand it for even five minutes, so we watched Steve Jobs instead (yay, my third time!!!). Not saying The Big Short wasn’t stylistic or entertaining or educational. It aroused strong emotion: blistering anger. But this movie was trying too hard to get me to like it and, like taking medicine or an advanced econ class, I resisted. It seems targeted to Millennials with squirrel-like attention spans. For what Best Picture tends to represent — a slice of Americana that’s not so bleak — it doesn’t meet my criteria. Ranks 6th on my list.

Bridge of Spies (6 total nominations; released Oct. 4, 2015). Who knew we were referring to a literal bridge?!? Despite fairy-tale-like production design and drippy nostalgia, most of the imagery was not only too literal — it was simplistic. Terrific story, but in Steven Spielberg’s hands it was dumbed-down, Disney-fied, you know, for kids. God, I hated the part on the bus or train where the woman is reading the paper and glowering at Tom Hanks over the negative headlines and then later, same woman, different headlines and she’s all sugar and gaga. GAG ME. “Maudlin” was the word my husband used, and that describes it to a T. Although Mark Rylance was brilliant, Hanks never sold me, no matter how stirring and patriotic the soundtrack got. Give me an actual spy movie with unpredictable twists and turns any day. Ranks 7th on my list.

 Brooklyn (3 total nominations; released Nov. 4, 2015). Oh, heaven. Now THIS is the kind of American story that wins Best Picture. An absorbing immigrant tale (topical!) that some might discount as a “chick flick” but should seduce anyone with a pulse. Gorgeously filmed, consummately acted, lovely screenplay … blew me away. Unfortunately, it carries East-Coast-bias baggage and nobody saw it, so it won’t win. Ranks 4th on my list.

Mad Max: Fury Road (10 total nominations; released May 15, 2015). I’m shocked this was even nominated. I know that hurts the feelings of people I love and respect; I’m sorry. It’s nothing but a CGI car chase purported to be feminist — I felt it was sexist-ugly. The best I could give it might be costume design. People who know me understand that CGI puts me to sleep; I fell asleep twice, unfortunately, and had to see it twice. It did not improve on a second look. A Best Picture, for me, needs to be compelling enough to want to watch again and again. I’m embarrassed USA TODAY reviewers put this one at the top of their list. It would not make my top 20. I think its long legs (its release date a distant memory) can be attributed to the power of the franchise behind it, and the fact movie technology has finally hit critical mass appeal for its audience. Ranks 8th (last) on my list.

The Martian (7 total nominations; released Oct. 2, 2015). This is one of three Best Picture nominees I saw at the theater when they were released (Spotlight and Star Wars: The Force Awakens are the others). I enjoyed it enough to see it twice. Shocking that many average Americans considered it a documentary. Hello?! If a Best Picture is supposed to put life in perspective with universal themes, this works. I still get choked up thinking of the scene where the whole world is watching on screens, pulling for our lone hero in space. However, it’s not a “great” film, and its competition is too great. Ranks 5th on my list.

The Revenant (12 total nominations; released Dec. 25, 2015). I have to admit, for once, the Academy got it right. I literally had to drag myself to see this one — not unlike Hugh Glass dragging himself in the mud and snow back from the brink of death. (Funny how Leo doing that reminded me of his amazing physical comedy in his Wolf of Wall Street now-classic Quaaludes scene.) Despite my reluctance — and I never would have gone to see this if it hadn’t been nominated, thank you, Academy — as soon as the movie started, from the first frame, I was hooked. It was the closest thing to a virtual-reality cinematic experience I’ve known. Never been a fan of 3-D and actually watched it in 2-D, but still, I felt totally immersed, as if I was part of the hunting party. And for anyone who rejoices in nature — holy moly! “Revenant” should stand for “reverence.” While it is indeed a story of revenge, it has themes up the wazoo — family, tolerance, hunter-becoming-hunted, man’s place in grand scheme, native rights — the American Indian stuff alone should make it America’s Best Picture and required study in schools. This is visual literature. Haven’t read the book, but don’t need to. Pure moviemaking magic. Make fun of it all you want, but that bear-mauling scene!! I want to see it over and over. The filming of that scene should be a movie all its own. And the underwater scenes! The stunts, the rapids, the falls. This is Hollywood at its best, people. A pure vision from a brilliant director and collaborative excellence from his whole team, from hair and makeup designers to breathtaking cinematography. I was on the edge of my seat from start to finish. Part of my reaction could be because my expectations were so low that it was an utter joy to discover. I famously posted on Facebook that if The Revenant doesn’t win Best Picture, I’ll eat a raw squirrel — which is why I’m ill advised to host an Oscar party this year. Would be happy for The Revenant to sweep the rest under the rug, and I almost always prefer awards to be spread around. Go, Leo!! Ranks 1st (tops) on my list, obs. 

Room (4 total nominations; released Sept. 4, 2015). Before I saw The Revenant, this was my hands-down favorite. As you’ve heard all the critics say, it’s the Little Movie That Could. Because I had read the book, I especially could appreciate the translation to film — the movie is definitely its own vehicle, even with the author doing the screenplay adaptation — great choices. The acting is flawless, and that whip-smart Jacob Tremblay, who was not nominated for an Oscar, grrrr, nevertheless is the reason I’m torn and could almost assign Best Director to Lenny Abrahamson. The performance he coaxed outta that 9-year-old kid. … But so hard to compete with my new master, Alejandro González Iñárritu. I’m afraid Room will have to settle for a Best Adapted Screenplay and maybe a leading actress Oscar, haven’t quite decided on that yet. And that’s largely because Emily Blunt wasn’t nominated for Sicario. Robbed! Ranks 2nd on my list.

Spotlight (6 total nominations; released Nov. 6, 2015). As a journalist, I’m all for valentines to investigative reporting. I’ve seen this one twice and still cry when the presses roll. But despite a fantastic cast — including one of my favorite Broadway idols, Brian d’Arcy James, and my soulmate, Stanley Tucci — it did not ring all my bells. Yes, a compelling issue, gripping story, important to be seen and advocate for. But I’m rating movies here, not topics. And I feel neither Mark Ruffalo nor Rachel McAdams deserves their nomination. Ranks 3rd on my list, with Brooklyn a close 4th.

More predictions coming soon to a blog post near you.

Oscar picks: Best Picture

Excuse my lapse — life got in the way of movies.

But with less than a week to go (Academy voting closes Feb. 25), I must make my final plugs. Starting with the top.

Best Picture

American Hustle. Heard of “A-List” entertainment? You don’t need me pointing out to you, I’m sure, that for the past two years, the Best Picture winning title started with “A” — i.e. ” Argo,” and “Artist, The.” Coincidence? Or should they simply stop alphabetizing the ballot because, as the list gets longer, voters seemingly can’t get through it?

628x471Since 1929-30’s “All Quiet on the Western Front,” 11 “A” movies have taken home Oscar, including this threepeat from 1949-51:

(For those who forget how to alphabetize, the 11 winners do not include 2001’s “A Beautiful Mind” or 1966’s “A Man for All Seasons.”)

Didn’t expect such cutting analysis?

Seriously, you won’t find this anywhere else, and I’m happy to do the legwork for you. Besides “A,” have any idea what other initial letter has won more Best Picture Oscars?

It’s a tie. No, not “T.” (“The” doesn’t count.) And not “S,” silly.

Happens to be “G.” Think “Gone With the Wind” and the Godfathers. If “American Hustle” doesn’t win this year, I think “Grand Budapest Hotel” has a good shot at winning for 2014, based on the trailer alone — which would put “G” in the lead. Unless “Gravity” wins this year, which makes the “G” force supreme.

Gravity-posterSo does “American Hustle” have an “A” advantage? The full list of Oscar Best Picture winners, in alphabetical and backwards chronological order:

A’s

Oh, almost forgot. Should “American Hustle” win? I think if the Best Picture were only about acting, then yes. This flick is a marvelous showcase of A-list actors acting their best. It’s somewhat Argo-ish, reaching into our recent past with a fun Seventies sensibility. The plot is riveting, there’s just enough cleavage and comedy to make it feel all-American. But it’s not my pick.

Captain Phillips. We Americans like our sea crises, no? “Titanic” and “Mutiny on the Bounty” each won Best Picture, and 1972’s “Poseidon Adventure” won five of its 13 nominations. We also love us some Navy SEALs on the silver screen lately: “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Lone Survivor,” even “Dirty Wars.” Plus, the Maersk Alabama, almost as if on cue, is back in the news with the discovery of two dead former Navy SEALs on board.

Another factor to weigh: Tom Hanks, recently named Forbes’ most trusted celebrity but who was otherwise snubbed this year.

My sister clued me in that this film was also a high-seas adventure in acting for the cast. Hanks and the novice actors playing the Somali pirates (who all hail from Minnesota) had not met before shooting their first scene together, the storming the boat. It wasn’t until after the third take that they started hanging out as colleagues, which created the taut tension and realism. But is realism always what we want from a Best Picture? Not me, so I’m not picking this one.

Dallas Buyers Club. There’s something beautifully transformational here: a rough-hewn, homophobic cowboy is diagnosed with AIDS and ends up playing hero to the gay community. Matthew McConaughey is spellbinding, as is Jared Leto as his transgender business partner. But it was McConaughey’s disappearing act that gave this film such a high profile. The film itself may prove too much of a downer to claim Best Picture in this day and age.

Gravity. Smoke and mirrors. This film will be remembered for its leaps and bounds in cinematic wizardry. But while overcoming all of the creative technological hurdles, somebody forgot about the writing.2001 it is not. I felt more sickening isolation watching the red and yellow astronauts spin into obscurity in that Kubrick classic than watching Sandra Bullock tumble like a quilt in a dryer. I felt more isolation watching the old man eat cereal at the end! Besides, the inside of astronauts’ helmets should not fog up. That just bugs me. When I think of this movie, I think of Bullock’s heaving sighs. And, no, I didn’t see it in 3-D. But I refuse to give an Oscar to a picture that relies on 3-D for quality of experience. Give it the Oscar for Visual Effects, but BestPic? I’m holding out.

Her. As the story of an anti-social writer falling in love with an A.I.-infused operating system, this had great potential as a cautionary tale for the 21st century. But three-quarters of the way through, the story breaks down. For production design, it clicks. And it makes a good parable, or even SNL skit, but can’t carry its weight in Oscar gold.

Nebraska. Now we’re talking form and function. The black-and-white format is your first clue that herein lies an old-style “meaning-of-life” movie. Truly sets it apart from today’s mountain of docudramas ripped from the pages of newspapers and history books. With its brilliant stasis and slow takes, “Nebraska” moves you. As the only official “comedy” in the field of nominees, its message about family sneaks up on you: how roles get reversed with age — the parents who once doled out our sustenance eventually rely on us for wish fulfillment. The characters are created out of thin air and, as odd as they are, we relate whole-heartedly to them.

Philomena. Phew, this is a long list of nominees. No wonder no one gets past the G’s. Did the Roman Catholic Church fail to boycott this film? Could have gotten more attention if it had. The sad story of forced adoptions in Ireland spans continents and decades, and is part buddy flick between dame Judi Dench and a wry, charming British journalist, part indictment of a greedy and sinister church masquerading as charitable, but mostly a testament to a mother’s unflinching faith, hope and love. Not since “Doubt” has so much doubt been cast on religion. Forgive me for not picking this one.

12 Years a Slave. If you’re like me and go to the movies to get stirred up or emotionally pureed, this is your winner. No other film made me cry as much this year — in fact, the only other time I shed any tears during any of the other BestPic Noms was at the end of “Captain Phillips.” Beyond that, “Lone Survivor” —a bloody war movie! — and “Saving Mr. Banks” (manipulated by the Mouse!) were my only tear-jerkers. From its poetic production design to at times nauseating narrative, “12 Years a Slave” hit all my buttons. It’s as if we each time-travel with Solomon, live through the outrageous abuses, and then land back in modern day to realize: Not enough has changed. Those characters and the pestilence of racism persist.This movie deserves every accolade and award it shall receive. And I expect it to sweep the Oscars.

This blurb from Entertainment Weekly”s Hillary Busis sums it up. My sentiments exactly:

Why it should win: Because 12 Years is clearly the most Important movie nominated for the Oscars’ main prize this year; you won’t see any high schools adding, say, Philomena to their curricula. And even beyond its historical significance, McQueen’s film is a phenomenal artistic achievement: On a purely visual level, it’s more striking than any other nominee, save perhaps Gravity. (Good luck getting the time-lapse sequence of Chiwetel Ejiofor’s near-lynching out of your brain.) The acting, too, is top-notch, from the film’s three nominated stars down to its less-lauded bit players (Paul Giamatti’s jovial slave trader, Scoot McNairy and Taran Killam’s snake-oil salesmen, Benedict Cumberbatch’s so-called “good” master). And John Ridley’s script manages to ape 19th-century speech patterns without ever sounding too stilted.

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The Wolf of Wall Street. I’m a Scorsese fan but, honestly, I’m not sure why this one is nominated for Best Picture. The kudos for Jonah Hill and Leonardo DiCaprio are well-deserved but quite enough this time ’round, Marty. Poor Leo. I always want him to do well come awards season, but this is another case of my boy crying wolf — he was so convincingly loathsome and lovable that voters are only going to be confused. In another filmmaker’s hands, this film would have been less interesting, sure, but it doesn’t deserve a Best Pic nom and won’t walk away with much — maybe Supporting Actor, if it’s lucky.

My pick & prediction: 12 Years a Slave

Note: I’m going with an alphanumeric pick that, if properly alphabetized, should come before “A.” It’s as good a prognosticator as any. But if I’m wrong, the winner will probably start with an “A” or a “G.”

Argo’s oops

Been dragging my feet on my pick for Best Picture as distinguished from my prediction for Best Picture, which, everyone who has been reading my blog knows, is Argo … meaning pretty much no one is aware.

Here’s another reason why Argo doesn’t earn my vote, not even for film editing: a honkin’ continuity problem.

Scenes between John Goodman and Alan Arkin I would watch again and again. But that's about it.

Scenes between John Goodman and Alan Arkin I would watch again and again. But that’s about it.

Watching it a second time with my husband this afternoon (because I had dozed off during three scenes the first time and wanted to give it a fair viewing), he astutely wondered whether the use of the Rolling Stones’ Little T&A was anachronistic.

When we first meet John Chambers, played by big talent John Goodman, on the set of the minotaur movie, a date flashes across the screen: January 19, 1980. Pipe in Little T&A — which wasn’t released until August 1981 on the Stones’ Tattoo You LP.

Sure, that album is composed of studio outtakes, some of which dated back a decade. Little T&A was intended for release on the 1980 Emotional Rescue LP, but was dropped. Plus, forgiveably, the song isn’t playing in the movie’s reality, it’s merely providing the soundtrack. But even if it had been released on Emotional Rescue, that LP didn’t come out until June of 1980.

The bigger problem arises in the next scene, after Chambers has received a call from CIA agent and exfiltration specialist Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck). Mendez shows up for their meeting — one assumes time has passed — and bam, a close shot of a newspaper shows the date: Jan. 15, 1980.

I did not know CIA agents could do that: travel back in time.

Now maybe this newspaper was a weekly. In fact, it probably was Variety, now that I think about it. Still … sloppy, sloppy. Why even show the date? Why even use that song? Add that to the other fabrications that other critics find offensive — despite the movie’s caveat “Some scenes and dialogue in this film have been fictionalized for dramatic purposes” — I simply don’t feel any compulsion to see Argo again and again, as I would a One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) or The Silence of the Lambs (1991).

Maybe I’m being nitpicky, but a Best Picture needs to be held up to the highest standards to stand the test of time. Given that the prevailing winds favor Argo, “a paean to Hollywood,” as my husband summed it up, I now feel free and unembarrassed to vote for my own favorite, also destined to be a “Hollywood”-style classic: Silver Linings Playbook. It was not only unpredictably delightful but flawless in its portrayal of flawed humans. I would watch it again and get sucked into it whenever I catch a glimpse on cable, and have already recommended it to friends (my criteria for Best Picture, as outlined in my overall predictions & picks announcement, here).

"Silver Linings Playbook" is about something that is relevant today -- mental illness, bipolar disorder -- and I feel a Best Picture winner should act as a societal time capsule. The other front-running films indicate we are looking to the past for answers. Which may be true.

“Silver Linings Playbook” is about something that is relevant today — mental illness, bipolar disorder — and I feel a Best Picture winner should act as a societal time capsule. The other front-running films indicate we are looking to the past for answers, which may be true. But that’s just not where my head, or heart, is at.

In second place, for me: Django Unchained, because it makes a statement, has a point of view, fits an actual genre, and is destined to be a cult classic. It also confronts our past, a very ugly chapter, but with judgment, attitude and no mercy. As Ann Hornaday wrote in The Washington Post, Quentin Tarantino brilliantly blended slavery and bounty hunting, which both “commodify” the human body. I cannot wait to catch it again.

Tied for third: Big-Picture pictures Life of Pi and Beasts of the Southern Wild remain neck and neck because they both showcase relevant themes (searching for religion/impact of climate change/exploring our relationship to life on the planet/true grit and survival); are breathtakingly poetic and allegorical; and reflect an artful, global period in movies using the best of the latest technology. Plus, storytelling is the star. True art. I would welcome these streamed live on my bedroom wall with a frame around them.

And now I feel I have covered my butt. If one of these four win, I shall be ecstatic.

And then there’s Lincoln. If it wins, I am totally toast.

Happy Oscars Eve to you all, and to all a good night!

Oscars picks from a patron in a leading supporting role

oscarIgnorance can be bliss when it comes to predicting the Oscars. Sadly, I know too much.

Most Academy members don’t have time to see all 38 Oscar-nominated features in every category, so they watch only those that get mailed to them or for which they’ve been wined, dined and re-wined. This year, though, was unique in that most of the nominees in the running for major awards were still in theaters at the time the contenders were announced, giving voters a chance to easily do their homework via legwork.

Me? Last month, I had seen only two films in the running in any category: “Lincoln” (up for Best Picture, Actor in a Leading Role, Actor in a Supporting Role, Actress in a Supporting Role, Directing, Cinematography … phew! … where was I? Costume Design, Film Editing, Original Score, Production Design, Sound Mixing and Adapted Screenplay) and “Snow White and the Huntsman” (Costume Design, Visual Effects). I know, quite the pair.

With two days to go, my tally is 23 of 38 features and all 15 shorts (I had seen one of the shortest-ever animated shorts beforehand: Fresh Guacamole, likely during pre-roll for Lincoln).

Still haven’t seen The Hobbit, I refuse to see Ted, and I am not fully qualified to vote in six categories because I haven’t viewed each nominee: Animated Feature Film (Frankenweenie will win though), Documentary Feature, Foreign Language Film (Amour has it), Makeup and Hairstyling (dammit, Hobbit), Production Design (Hobbit-snobbit!), Visual Design (hobbled again by The Hobbit). I shall focus on the shorts in a separate post, as if anyone cares. (I do!)

So, let’s get on with it.

BEST PICTURE

My Prediction: “Argo”

The metadata, media, my mom, Google searches and gang-think all point to Argo becoming only the fourth movie in Oscar history to win best picture without its director also being nominated. This was clearly a case of Hollywood feeling sorry for Ben Affleck and rallying. Don’t get me wrong: I liked the movie. I also confess to starting to doze off just a tad (well, it was the late show and the third movie I had seen that day) but I swear I didn’t miss much, because when I came to, there was that woman with the 1970s yearbook haircut and glasses still looking fretful. What was stellar about this movie: the acting by veteran legends John Goodman — who also stole the show in Flight, up for Denzel Washington, er, best actor — Alan Arkin and Ben himself; nail-biting film editing; and the exquisite costume and production design. It was authentic, gritty and gripping, even if it did rewrite history with a Hollywood ending. And amid all the beatings Zero Dark Thirty is taking for its depiction of torture, Argo provides the counterpoint: Torture=bad, Capture by Iranians=torture, therefore Iranians=really bad. I love how the story of a fake movie was a fake movie within a fake movie. Probably because I’m a journalist and take a hard-line on “facts,” as we know them, I still don’t want it or Zero Dark Thirty to win … and I wasn’t a big fan of The Artist winning last year, either, as it was just another Hollywood valentine. You want a Valentine? Go see Amour on Valentine’s Day, alone, as I did.

Suddenly I’m feeling sorry for left-out Lincoln. Wasn’t it supposed to sweep up a month ago?

My Pick: This has been the hardest decision of my week. My favorite movie experiences among the nine nominees were, in order but kinda a five-way tie: Silver Linings Playbook, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Amour, Life of Pi and Django Unchained— all because I had zero expectations going in and they each surprised and inspired me to the core. I also loved Lincoln, Les Misérables and Zero Dark Thirty, but I can’t overlook their leaden flaws. I have to base my decision on which movie I would get sucked into and watch again and again on cable forgoing all previous plans, or which I would tell my friends they must see, because that’s what a best picture should do. That movie this year would be … I’ll tell you at the end of this post. Nyah, nyah.

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

My Prediction & Pick: Daniel Day-Lewis

No-brainer. If he wins, he becomes the first actor to win three Oscars for a leading role. We should bow to him or maybe elect him president for real.

I marveled at Day-Lewis’ walk as Lincoln, but also harbor great affection for Joaquin Phoenix’s deflated Popeye stance as a sailor with no compass in the masterful The Master.

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

My Prediction: Christoph Waltz

Loved him, but it’s an unlevel playing field because he felt like an actor in a leading role, and I am irked Leonardo DiCaprio didn’t get the best supporting actor nod or that Jamie Foxx didn’t get nominated for best actor.

My Pick: Robert De Niro

I’m tempted to give it to Alan Arkin for his delivery of just one or two lines — polar opposite of Waltz’s saturation performance — but De Niro is due, proving he’s still got it while redeeming himself for all that Focker nonsense.

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

My Prediction & Pick: Jennifer Lawrence

Sorry to be boring. I love Jessica Chastain — she could be the next Meryl Streep — but this was not the role she should have been nominated for. Naomi Watts is Lawrence’s biggest competition, but there was so much about just being dazed, and you can’t discount her boost from hairstyling and makeup design. Emmanuelle Riva, yay, but her co-star, the pigeon … I mean Jean-Louis Trintignant, should have been nominated as well in that case. And I love kids, but Quvenzhané’s acting is a credit to director Benh Zeitlin.

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

My Prediction: Anne Hathaway

My Pick: Helen Hunt

Sorry, Sally Field. I’ll miss your acceptance speech. Really, really, I will. I know you gained weight for to play Lincoln’s “loony” wife and all (and I loved how you didn’t make her too loony because, heck, I could relate), but Helen Hunt got totally naked in an artful way. Yes, she does that little smirk, and it’s a crutch, but you do the open-mouth exasperated thing. And I did love Anne Hathaway to death, but she loses points for all those talk shows. Did I mention I’m anti-marketing?

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

My Prediction: “Frankenweenie”

Still need to see two, but they all pretty much follow the same formula: Misfit kid gets comeuppance by defeating villains/solving puzzle and saving the day!

CINEMATOGRAPHY

My Prediction: “Anna Karenina”

My Pick: “Life of Pi”

Just to vent here. The cameras were well-choreographed in Anna Karenina, every frame composed like a painting, but I felt I was watching a flip-book story board and got a wee bit dizzy. If it hadn’t been for Keira Knightley and Jude Law’s flesh-and-blood performances I would have died of distraction. The actors and set pieces seemed part of the director’s dollhouse. And who does Joe Wright think he is, Fellini? I know Fellini and, Joe, you are no Fellini.

COSTUME DESIGN

My Prediction & Pick: “Mirror Mirror”

I am going out on a limb here, but the duds in Mirror Mirror dazzled without encumbering character. Whimsical, but not victims of whimsy. On the other hand, I could lobby for Lincoln as a sentimental favorite, his non-cliche stovepipe hat and all. Winning this early-in-the-proceedings Oscar could be a sign of a complete sweep at the end.

Truly, I’d welcome either of the Snow White flicks winning, just please, Oscar gods, don’t give it to Anna Karenina. Those costumes, while fancy-pants, looked as if they’d barely been worn, except maybe once for fittings then the actors were told they couldn’t play in them or get them mussed up.

UPDATE at 5:17 p.m.: Credits just rolled on Mirror Mirror, and I learned it was dedicated to Eiko Ishioka, its own costume designer, who died Jan. 21 —less than two weeks after nominations were announced. This category just got interesting. I have no doubt now she will win posthumously. It’s the kind of story Hollywood eats up. If she doesn’t win, I will eat my stovepipe hat.

DIRECTING

My Prediction: Steven Spielberg for “Lincoln”

Kudos for also directing screenwriter Tony Kushner, no small feat.

My Pick: David O. Russell for “Silver Linings Playbook”

Could be an upset! Would also revel in either Ang Lee or Benh Zeitlin getting a steal.

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

My Prediction & Pick: “The Invisible War”

Only one I’ve seen so far, but will have seen four by the time the Red Carpet is unrolled. Still, I can’t imagine any subject being more timely, rally-cry important or outrage-inducing than institutionalized rape in the military.

FILM EDITING

My Prediction: “Argo”

My Pick: “Silver Linings Playbook”

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

My Prediction & Pick: “Amour”

How could it not win if it’s also nominated for Best Picture? “A Separation” (2011) all over again. (That Iranian brilliance was nominated for screenplay and best foreign film, not quite the same deal, but once a foreign film is elevated, it typically prevails.)

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SCORE)

My Prediction: “Life of Pi”

Hypnotic, but relentless. Still, it’s nice to indulge in something on the total opposite spectrum from John Williams.

My Pick: “Skyfall”

Loved how the new sound melded into the old Bond theme. In general, the music kept my adrenaline going throughout.

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SONG)

My Prediction: Skyfall from “Skyfall”

I think Adele’s performance seals it, and the way the song grooved with the titles was old-fashioned solid gold.

My Pick: Suddenly from “Les Miz”

Aside from the heart-stopping opening and Anne Hathaway’s scene, this song was the moment Les Miz earned my unbridled attention and affection. Stage revivalists should take note.

SOUND EDITING

My Prediction: “Skyfall”

The Oscar almost always goes to action-genre movies. My, Skyfall is doing better than I thought it would.

My Pick: “Django Unchained”

The gunfire and squelchy body parts were indeed impressive if over-the-top — expert sound work is what sold it all and made us squeamish. Also loved all the table-settings/dinner sounds. God, I love this movie. It needs some extra recognition. Maybe best picture?

SOUND MIXING

My Prediction & Pick: “Les Misérables”

C’mon, you gotta hand it to ’em, that wasn’t easy!

WRITING (ADAPTED SCREENPLAY)

My Prediction: Tony Kushner for “Lincoln”

Well, duh. And I get the feeling he is STILL revising the screenplay.

My Pick: David Magee for “Life of Pi

… or David O. Russell for “Silver Linings Playbook”

I honestly can’t decide. Perhaps I should read both books first. Anyone out there who has who cares to weigh in? “Life of Pi” dealt in the art of storytelling, and Magee proved the consummate artist. And kudos to Russell. I mean — the man was a wizard on “Silver Linings,” it was his baby and, in the grand scheme of things, the perfect contemporary Hollywood creation, a Cinderella story examining “crazy in love” against the madness of modern times.

WRITING (ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY)

My Prediction: “Zero Dark Thirty”

I think we have to acknowledge the renewed sense of patriotism and pride people felt attending this movie. In terms of writing, yes, it was too long, but I felt it was because the researchers were throwing their sources a bone. Plus, in terms of writing, there was a nice, subtle “twist,” whether fiction or fact, to help explain why Osama bin Laden was shot on sight. Made me feel better about things, anyway.

My Pick: “Moonrise Kingdom”

This quirky, “camp” movie about misfits, puppy love and khaki scouts is a timely salute in a year when the Boy Scouts finally decided to slacken its anti-gay stance and allow local troops to set their own policies on inclusion.

AND NOW, THE ENVELOPE PLEASE … MY PICK FOR BEST PICTURE:

I am kinda embarrassed to say. I guess I simply wasn’t up for a historical treatise or compromised journalism this year. I wanted something more holistic. So I’m leaning, at the moment, to choosing between Life of Pi and Silver Linings Playbook. Or maybe Beasts of the Southern Wild.

Again I’m feeling sorry for Lincoln. Maybe I should see that one again.

I may need one more day to puzzle this out. Let me deal with the shorts first, and I’ll get back to you on that best picture thing.

38 Oscar movie contenders: How many have you seen?

thCAMKMLLDPeople ask: Will you attempt to see all of the Oscar-nominated movies before the awards-show deadline this year? And will you again be chronicling it?

I will, and maybe. I began this year in the same spot, having seen only two Oscar-nominated films when the nominations were announced two weeks ago. Progress has been slow: I’ve now seen 11.

I’m feeling less pressure, because here’s the thing about 2013’s pool of contenders.

There are fewer movies in the race. Last year, you’ll recall if you read me, there were 46 nominated movies across all categories and 15 shorts to spy in my annual rite to see everything before Red (Magic) Carpet Day. This year, because of excessive hogging of noms by two flicks in particular (you know who you are, “Lincoln” and “Silver Linings Playbook”), there are only 38 unique features to get through.

Here is the full list, in order of the Academy’s own hierarchy by category, from Best Picture through Writing (Original Screenplay), eliminating repeats. And a note to the Academy: Unsure why you list the writing awards last. They should come first — they do come first in the process — or at least immediately after the top six categories that most people focus on. Check marks indicate the ones I’ve seen so far:

  1. Amour
  2. Argo
  3. Beasts of the Southern Wild 
  4. Django Unchained
  5. Les Misérables 
  6. Life of Pi
  7. Lincoln 
  8. Silver Linings Playbook
  9. Zero Dark Thirty 
  10. The Master
  11. Flight 
  12. The Impossible
  13. The Sessions 
  14. Brave 
  15. Frankenweenie 
  16. ParaNorman 
  17. The Pirates! Band of Misfits
  18. Wreck-It Ralph
  19. Anna Karenina
  20. Skyfall
  21. Mirror Mirror
  22. 5 Broken Cameras
  23. The Gatekeepers
  24. How to Survive a Plague
  25. The Invisible War
  26. Searching for Sugar Man
  27. Hitchcock
  28. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
  29. Chasing Ice
  30. Ted
  31. Kon-Tiki (Norway)
  32. No (Chile)
  33. A Royal Affair (Denmark)
  34. War Witch (Canada)
  35. Marvel’s The Avengers
  36. Prometheus
  37. Snow White and the Huntsman 
  38. Moonrise Kingdom

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I refuse to see “Ted.”

And, for those who care, here are this year’s shorts, across three categories, always 15 glimmering treats:

  1. Inocente
  2. Kings Point
  3. Mondays at Racine
  4. Open Heart
  5. Redemption
  6. Adam and Dog
  7. Fresh Guacamole
  8. Head Over Heels
  9. Maggie Simpson in “The Longest Daycare”
  10. Paperman
  11. Asad
  12. Buzkashi Boys
  13. Curfew
  14. Death of a Shadow (Dood van een Schaduw)
  15. Henry

The other odd thing this year:

Movie titles are shorter. A fascinating trend. Could it be a consequence of Twitter — filmmakers, wanting to better promote their products on all platforms, have decided to limit their characters (sic)? It seems that a good third — 34% — of this year’s nominated features are one-word titles. Last year, only 28% of the titles were one word. And this year’s words are shorter — heck, “Life of Pi” may as well be one word for all it evokes in eight characters. And if you eliminate subtitles and articles like “The” (even in French, “Les”), the one-word percentage for 2013 goes even higher: 50%, vs. 39% in 2012

And that’s all I have to say about that.

Related articles:

• Life gets in the way of movies (mommytongue.com)

• Moonlighting at the movies (mommytongue.com)

Moonlighting at the movies

Best Actress Academy Award

Best Actress Academy Award (Photo credit: cliff1066™)

My second job each February: cramming on all of the Oscar-nominated movies. And I mean ALL of the nominees, not just the Best Picture category.

Fios On Demand and the Hulus and Netflixes of the world make it easier to be an expert. I have never been as close to a total sweep as I am this second.

But I’m running out of time.

Some flicks shall remain beyond reach. Among the doc shorts, “God Is the Bigger Elvis” is tied up in some copyright loop. Nyah-nyah, I won’t root for it, then. GO, “Barber of Birmingham”!

And now that our girls are grown, I am gleefully skipping all of the animated features. (Unless someone wants to rent me a kid?)

I can’t, and have no desire to, see the third “Transformers” flick, because I don’t have 3-D capabilities at home and it won’t play any other way. A convenient excuse. And “Real Steel“? Please, no. It’s “The Champ” with robots. Let’s just say it won’t — can’t possibly — win.

Cannot find three of the five nominated full-length documentaries, nor four of the five foreign films, although “Bullhead” is coming soon to a theater near me, West End Cinema in D.C. Not soon enough. Pity — shame — I didn’t go out to the arthouse cinema more in 2011. The import I did see, “A Separation,” has to be the most important. It remains my favorite film experience of the year, with “The Descendants” a close second.

Of all the Oscar-touched films I can see … ye gads, I still have eight left, and we are four days (and four nights) away from the Oscar gala.

Still need to squeeze in:

  • Midnight in Paris” — a must, nominated for Best Picture and Original Screenplay;
  • “W.E.” — which was brought back by a very thoughtful and hip theater in Shirlington, nominated for costume design;
  • “Drive,” for sound editing — and my work pal Jon Briggs’ top pick for everything (I believe it’s the only one he saw);
  • Both sets of live-action shorts and animated shorts, playing at the local cinema arthouse. They collectively count as two movies, in my scheme;
  • The final “Harry Potter” installment  — I have missed the last three, but who cares, read all the books;
  • “The Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” I am tempted to skip this one, except I secretly hope it pays homage to the original, which I saw in theaters 44 years ago and whose final twist gave me my first lesson of how movies can power light bulbs in the dark (i.e. spark imaginations).
  • “Margin Call,” which actually looks good. Original screenplay and adapted screenplay have always been among my pet categories.

My picks so far? To be fair, I can review only those categories for which I have seen every nominee. Starting with perhaps the toughest call, and the earliest in the program:

Best Supporting Actress

MY PREDICTION: The smart money is on Octavia Spencer of “The Help.” For me, though, her character Disneyfied the movie. The anachronistic, undignifed prank sank it. Sure, I laughed and cried, but it was pure manipulation. Should we vote for someone simply because her character was written well — with sass and sell, ah, so memorable for American audiences? She did a fine job — all the nominees did. Janet McTeer‘s pathos, Melissa McCarthy’s mirth, B. Bejos’ mime. Yet …

MY PICK: Jessica Chastain. A win for her would still help “The Help,” but she was no caricature, having to invent a woman both comic and complicated. She also deserves the bump for enduring the hack job that was “The Tree of Life.”

Cinematography

MY PREDICTION & PICK: “Hugo” and “War Horse” are probably close contenders but, because they could win in other categories, this Oscar goes to the misunderstood (for good reason) “The Tree of Life.” Mind-blowing cinematography is all this psychotropic tripe has going for it, besides such winning performances as those of Jessica Chastain, Brad Pitt and the kid playing young Jack — oh, and sadistic dinosaurs, exploding frogs and lots and lots of foliage.

To be continued … gotta watch more movies.