Oscars 2016: On gender diversity

According to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences trivia, only one person has won a gender-bending Oscar: Linda Hunt as the male dwarf Billy Kwan in 1982’s The Year of Living Dangerously.

Guess that means Jared Leto, who won a supporting actor Oscar for playing Rayon in 2013’s Dallas Buyers Club, doesn’t count. So not even “liberal-leaning Hollywood” knows how to classify transgender roles? What do you do when a man plays a woman assigned as a man at birth? That is some complicated back story. We’re not talking about playing the opposite sex but playing someone who matches one’s birth-assigned gender and has gender dysphoria. Not gender-bending, mind-bending.

Would Eddie Redmayne break new ground if he takes home an Oscar for playing pioneer transgender woman Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl? Or would someone demand to see a birth certificate?

Nothing new under the sun, The Bard might say. Since Shakespearean days, actors have played opposite gender roles. In opera, “pants” roles are de rigueur for mezzos. What Redmayne, Leto and Hunt have been doing is simply acting.

Going forward, what if a transgender actor/actress were to be nominated in an acting category — Laverne Cox, for example. Or someone who has not undergone gender confirmation surgery “displaying” as one gender yet identifying as another — how would the academy handle that acting feat?

Perhaps one day all gender walls shall be blessedly decimated and the academy will be forced to stop segregating men and women into actor/actress categories. It could honor up to 10 nominees and crown just one winner, as in the best picture category. No matter how you slice it, these awards compare apples to oranges.

Such a transformation might actually shorten the awards show. There’s that.

POST-OSCARS UPDATE: Ha! Chris Rock mentioned this very thing in his monologue. Why segregate the sexes?!

Oscars 2016: I coulda been a contender

oscarjoyAs in Oscar marathoning, so in life.

What commodities are at play? Time, money, motive, opportunity.

I had plenty of motive this year. A modicum of money. Less so time. As to opportunity, in the end, the only movies that truly were withheld from view were two features and three documentary shorts — meaning, short of buying the Blu-ray in Marnie‘s case (money commodity), there is nowhere to see them today if I tried:

  • When Marnie Was There (animated feature)
  • Embrace of the Serpent (documentary feature)
  • Body Team 12 (documentary short)
  • Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah (documentary short)
  • A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness (documentary short)

It’s my own fault on those remaining documentary shorts. I trusted a bad Google search that implied the West End arthouse cinema was permanently closed. It had been the go-to place for documentary shorts, but I dismissed it this year as a possibility. In fact, it recently reopened and was showing them the first week in February — not today. Opportunity missed.

And previously I, along with fellow Oscar marathoners, were spewing hate at Quentin Tarantino and The Hateful Eight: Tarantino, for making a 70mm bloody movie that few theaters wanted to order or had the capability to show (he’s just as frustrated after one in particular reneged on showing it) and The Hateful Eight for teasing us into thinking we could catch it in Silver Spring on Feb. 19. Missed it by ONE DAY. For an entire week, it was nowhere — well, nowhere within 200 miles. Then outta the blue, while heading into D.C. on Friday — my last “free” night before Oscars night — on the way to see A War, which I thought would be the last film I picked up this season, a quick Google search turned up The Hateful Eight at a pop-up arthouse near Gallaudet University. The only showing I could make was 9:25 p.m., and I’d have to break a standing date with my husband, and walk a mile round-trip in an unfamiliar, dangerous neighborhood after midnight. While weighing options on the Metro, someone at another station actually got hit by a train, disabling service. Decision made, and opportunity lost.

That same theater, Angelika Pop-Up — likely a perfectly safe, cool theater, I may never know — also this weekend opened the hard-to-get Boy and the World (animated feature from Brazil), which I could have nabbed this morning — early this morning, for an 11:15 showing — but it woulda meant a 1¼-hour trip, three hours round-, plus the 1½-hour movie … nearly six hours for a cartoon? The commodity of time notwithstanding.

oscar1wordStill, if I’d planned things right, I could have ended this season with having seen an impressive 90% of all Oscar-nominated movies in the top 24 categories. That’s even including the five Original Song nominees, excluded here because of the shunned, shameful Fifty Shades of Grey. (I’ve seen The Hunting Ground — a heart-wrenching documentary putting faces to the unbreakable sexual abuse survivors on today’s most prestigious college campuses and tracking their battle to hold university officials more accountable — and the other four suddenly are available either for peanuts On Demand or free on HBO. I’ll sample the tunes on iTunes.)

Back to reality: After picking up the anomaly in the animated feature category, Anomalisa, at an Alexandria, Va., late show last night with my husband after a party and then nailing Cinderella — and completing the costume design category — this morning before breakfast by signing up through Amazon Prime for a free seven-day trial of its streaming service Starz, I end with a score of 34/37+12/15, or 88%!!!!

Adding to the titles missing above, I also lack, a-lack …

  • The Hateful Eight 
  • Boy and the World 

… thus am disqualified from voting with full authority in five frigging categories:

  • Actress in a Supporting Role (grrrrr — hateful to miss any of the “top six”)
  • Cinematography
  • Music (Original Score)
  • Animated Feature
  • Documentary (Short Subject)

My predictions, you ask? Nothing earth-shattering here. The 2016 Oscars seem boring and far too easy to predict.

Best Picture

Prediction & Pick: The Revenant

(see ” ‘The Revenant’ should be revered” for rationale)

POST-OSCARS UPDATE: Spotlight won.

Actor in a Leading Role

Prediction & Pick: Leonardo DiCaprio

(see “Best actor slam-dunk” for rationale)

POST-OSCARS UPDATE: Leo won!!!!

Actress in a Leading Role

Prediction: Brie Larson

Pick: This is where it falls apart for me. Hardest category, always. The only fabulous leading lady easily eliminated this year is Cate Blanchett. Carol, about a May-December lesbian love affair back in the ’50s when such things were unspoken, even unconscionable to some, was deeply moving, as was Cate’s pivotal “these people” scene during the deposition with her husband — out of nowhere, crocodile tears. But she was unknowable (maybe that was the point). She outshone herself with her performance as the stepmother in Cinderella, yet she wasn’t nominated for that. What bugs me most is her young lover and supporting actress nominee, Rooney Mara, had more screen time and did more yeoman’s acting yet was sublimated by Cate’s stature. So Cate earns a penalty.

Jennifer Lawrence, while smokin’ stellar in Joy — she carried the film, despite De Niro threatening to sabotage it — didn’t stretch far enough from Catniss. I love you, Jen, I do, you have a magnetic aura, but no mopping up for you. I fell in love with Saoirse Ronan. As an Irish maiden torn between two lovers and two homelands, she left me breathless, like that Kander and Ebb showtune A Quiet Thing “… Happiness comes in on tiptoe, well whaddya know? It’s a quiet thing …” Do folks even realize she played Susie Salmon in The Lovely Bones? That heart-stopping scene with Stanley Tucci still gives me chills, and she was only about 14. (BTW, Tucci was my favorite actor in Spotlight.)

I want to give this enchanting, gifted actress a body-of-work Oscar already and she’s but a wee lass of 21. But our-house-of-cards-is-crumbling Charlotte Rampling in 45 Years: even quieter, and no one much has trumpeted her gloriousness. Of all the films and performances this year, her portrayal of a wife battling a dead rival will likely stay with me longest. Could be my age. Could be her age (70). She was understated and elegant, and in the final frame simply haunting. Here’s a clip (not the final frame):

So my pick? Oh, piddle. Brittle but unbreakable Brie Larson‘s survivor, maternal, petulant spirit took us on quite the journey. But the star of this movie is the story, the screenplay, the directing, the 9-year-old who wasn’t nominated.

So my brain-picking pick: Saoirse (SEAR-sha) Ronan 

(Looking for an upset and some excitement, but I’ll be disappointed only if Cate Blanchett wins.)

POST-OSCARS UPDATE: Brie Larson won.

 Actor in a Supporting Role

Prediction & Prediction: Sylvester Stallone

Rationale:  Christian Bale seemed more autistic than odd bird in what one critic calls the erratic tragicomedy The Big Short. Mark Ruffalo is one of my favorite guy and journalists are my peeps, but this performance was average — all impatience and mumbling. Cool cucumber Mark Rylance nearly gets my vote; as a Cold War spy, he brought artistry to a movie that screamed artificial. Tom Hardy — huge profile for him this year, eh?, between The Revenant and Mad Max: Fury Road. He’s truly masterful, the Next Big Thing, but he also mumbled through both roles. (What’s wrong with mumbling?! Dunno, but I need to find some way to eliminate them.) In the end, Stallone was a huge surprise. Didn’t think he could act. But those darting eyes, curling lips, the strength he emotes in what seems a decrepit face (c’mon, he’s only 69!! THAT’S acting!). Gotta go with the odds-on favorite.

POST-OSCARS UPDATE: Mark Rylance won.

Actress in a Supporting Role

Prediction: Alicia Vikander

Pick: Kate Winslet 

(I’m not allowed to vote here, according to my rules, because I didn’t see Jennifer Jason Leigh in “The Hateful Eight,” but I “saw” her in “Anomalisa.”)

Rationale: Almost went with Vikander. Saw her in Ex Machina, too, of course, and she’s amazing, she deserves the win. But I can’t get Kate’s performance off my mind, so I’m just going with that. I’d also be THRILLED if Rooney Mara gets it, because she is a leading actress in that film (not supporting, as classified) if ever there was one. I wanted to see Carol a second time just to time her screen time, but I know that’s not how the academy decides leading vs. supporting. She’s handicapped because the name of the film is Cate Blanchett’s character. The only one easily eliminated is the flat Rachel McAdams. She is almost as inconsequential in Spotlight as she was in the second season of True Detective. Emily Blunt was robbed for not being nominated  for Sicario  — even if she would have been placed in the leading actress category, I blame Rachel McAdams for wasting a female spot.

POST-OSCARS UPDATE: Alicia Vikander won.

Animated Feature

Prediction: Inside Out

Pick: Anomalisa

Rationale: Charlie Kaufman’s frisky masterpiece borrows from his Being John Malkovich screenplay but is possibly funnier, more tragic and artistically mesmerizing. Motivational speaker Michael Stone has lost all sense of himself in a world of utter sameness. It takes a “deformed” dimwit — freshly prosaic Lisa — to rouse him, if only momentarily, from his hypocritical, hyper-critical stupor. And Inside Out is just good, clean therapy, for anyone, not just the kids.

(I’m also not allowed to vote here, because I didn’t see “When Marnie Was There” or “Boy and the World.”)

POST-OSCARS UPDATE: Inside Out won.

Cinematography

Prediction & Pick: The Revenant

(Didn’t see “The Hateful Eight”)

Rationale: The most immersive camera work ever. And no VR or 3-D. Sure felt like it.

POST-OSCARS UPDATE: The Revenant won.

Costume Design

Prediction & Pick: Cinderella

Rationale: I wanted to throw a bone to Mad Max: Fury Road here, but Cate Blanchett’s frocks as the stepmother were jaw-dropping and Cinderella’s ballgown? It had the moonlight in it without being over-the-top. Those costumes alone made me cry.

POST-OSCARS UPDATE: Mad Max: Fury Road won. (I had picked that to win before I saw Cinderella.)

Directing

Prediction & Pick: Alejandro G. Iñarritu for The Revenant

But: I was this close to picking Lenny Abrahamson for Room.

And, question: Why does the Oscar cheat sheet list only movie titles and not the directors’ names for this category? Oversight? Works this year, though, because the accomplishments of movie and director are seamless and inseparable. From 2006 (The Departed) through 2011 (The Artist), the Best Picture and Best Director awards were indistinguishable (matched wins). We had two years of disjointed, “spread it around” awards, but last year Iñarritu restored the AMPAS tradition with Birdman, and he’s bound to do it again with back-to-back Oscars.

POST-OSCARS UPDATE: The Revenant won.

Documentary (Feature)

Prediction: Amy

Pick: The Look of Silence

Rationale: The Amy Winehouse story is something everyone in Hollywood can relate to. Reminded me of the Kurt Cobain film, Montage of Heck. Nicely structured, uncomfortably voyeuristic, with great archival footage. But in the end, they’re both “home movies.” If a biopic were to take top honors, I’d rather see it go to the Nina Simone thought-provoking piece, What Happened, Miss Simone? Far more moving and important a message (racism, mental illness). Documentaries should be about the message, and that’s why I favor Joshua Oppenheimer’s follow-up to 2013’s The Act of Killing. How many times does this guy need to call our attention to genocide? Most people aren’t aware what happened in Indonesia in the 1960s. Please, if you haven’t already, discover this artful film. 

POST-OSCARS UPDATEAmy won.

Documentary (Short Subject)

Predicton & Pick: Last Day of Freedom

(I saw only two of the nominees, but  rationale is in “On Oscar diversity: The Big Shortcoming”)

POST-OSCARS UPDATEA Girl in the River won. NEED TO SEE THIS.

Film Editing

Prediction & Pick: The Revenant

POST-OSCARS UPDATEMad Max: Fury Road won.

Foreign Language Film

Prediction: Son of Saul

Pick: Theeb

(Note: I didn’t get to see all the nominees; still missing “Embrace of the Serpent”)

Rationale: I discussed this category a bit in “Oscar-nominated foreign films: The chosen one,” but that was before I saw A War, a Danish treatise on the war in Afghanistan that elicits serious PTSD, and Theeb, a gorgeous, lone-wolf Arabian western — the marriage of The Martian and The Revenant — starring an amazing young talent, Jacir Eid-Al-Hwietat. Who?! Right. Also loved Mustang, but it had editing issues.

POST-OSCARS UPDATESon of Saul won.

Makeup & Hairstyling

Prediction & Pick: The Revenant

Rationale: Sorry, Mad Max. And unsure why The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared was even nominated. He didn’t look 100.

POST-OSCARS UPDATEMad Max: Fury Road won.

Music (Original Score)

Prediction: The Hateful Eight

Pick: Sicario

Rationale: I didn’t see The Hateful Eight but, given its three nominations and all Tarantino’s troubles, figured it should get something. Meanwhile, the score for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, while great, was recycled greatest hits. Sicario was chilling, haunting, memorable and truly fit this fantastic film that more people should have seen and/or appreciated. All senses engaged; you could even smell it.

POST-OSCARS UPDATEThe Hateful Eight won. How’d I guess?! NEED TO SEE THIS.

Music (Original Song)

Prediction & Pick: “‘Til It Happens to You,” The Hunting Ground

Rationale: Gaga.

POST-OSCARS UPDATE: “Writing’s on the Wall” from Spectre won. Pissed.

Production Design

Prediction: Bridge of Spies

Pick: The Danish Girl

But I obviously wouldn’t be sad if The Revenant won again.

POST-OSCARS UPDATEMad Max: Fury Road won.

Short Film (Animated)

Prediction: Prologue

Pick: World of Tomorrow

(see “Are Those Animated Shorts or Are You Just Happy to See Me?” for rationale)

POST-OSCARS UPDATEBear Story (Chile) won.

Short Film (Live Action)

Prediction: Day One

Pick: Stutterer

(see rationale in “On Oscar diversity: The Big Shortcoming”)

POST-OSCARS UPDATEStutterer won.

Sound Editing

Prediction: The Revenant

Pick: Sicario

POST-OSCARS UPDATEMad Max: Fury Road won.

Sound Mixing

Prediction & Pick: The Revenant

POST-OSCARS UPDATEMad Max: Fury Road won.

Visual Effects

Prediction: Mad Max: Fury Road

Pick: Ex Machina

POST-OSCARS UPDATEEx Machina won.

Rationale: I always get this category wrong.

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

Prediction & Pick: Room

(see rationale in “Adapted screenplay: Make room for ‘Room’ “)

POST-OSCARS UPDATEThe Big Short won.

Writing (Original Screenplay)

Prediction: Spotlight

Pick: Ex Machina

Rationale: Gotta give Spotlight at least one. As a real-life journalist, I thought the screenplay was scarily accurate and gripping. Some people say this film will sweep, but I beg to differ. I beg to, because I loved it — saw it twice. And I agree with my husband who says movies must be important, not just entertaining or magical or honest or wrenching or whatever other criteria. Indeed, this one is important, as Doubt was important, or All the President’s Men. (Ultimately, though, as my justification for ignoring Spotlight in every other category, The Revenant got ahold of me and never let go, just like that bear.) Ex Machina, meanwhile — what a fantastic, futuristic, escapist (or not!) story. One of my favorites of the year.

POST-OSCARS UPDATESpotlight won.

Phew, done. Nothing left but the tears.

LET THE FASHION PARADES AND EFFING PARTIES COMMENCE.

Winnowing the Oscars 2016 field via social media

oscaractress

Some of my handiwork at work at USA TODAY

Oscar predictions have hit critical mass this week — from both critics’ standpoints and mass opinions online.

Sealed envelopes? Puh-leaze. Such an archaic messenging device. And no one wants to wait four days for the reveal. These days social media is a prism that doubles as crystal ball.

Who says the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences secret ballots are impregnable?

On the heels of a USA TODAY/Fandango.com poll among 1,000 well-versed moviegoers predicting who’ll win, Hewlett Packard Enterprise analyzed thousands of online conversations surrounding the “top six” categories. It monitored top social media sites and thousands of news sites, using its enterprise search and analytics platform HPE IDOL, to come up with these crowdsourced best bets:

Best Picture: Spotlight

Best Director: Lenny Abrahamson

Best Actor: Matt Damon

Best Supporting Actor: Mark Rylance

Best Actress: Brie Larson

Best Supporting Actress: Rooney Mara

Interesting subplot: Although what HPE dubs “social sentiment” leaned one way, the volume of interest in particular nominees largely leaned another. Of split minds, just as so many other movie fans and pundits, like my Predictions & Picks system. Coin toss time.

Buzziest Picture: The Revenant
38% of mentions in posts related to that category

Buzziest Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio – 61%

Buzziest Actress: Brie Larson – 35% (we have a match!)

Buzziest Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu – 70%

Buzziest Supporting Actor: Sylvester Stallone – 95%

Buzziest Supporting Actress: Kate Winslet – 33%

oscar1wordIf such analytics prove inaccurate Sunday — as in not mirroring the opinions of the 89% male, 84% white and roughly 50% 60-or-older voting members of the academy — at least we can be sure they reflect the public’s tastes in movies and performers.

Using the same mobile tools as the revolutionaries at Maidan or the activists behind the #OscarsSoWhite campaign, perhaps We the small-screen People can help direct future big-screen endeavors.

Meanwhile, my Oscar marathoning score, with just four days and three nights to go: 30/37+12/15 or 81% of all nominees in 23 of the top 24 categories (does not include the Original Song nominees, because I’m not so masochistic as to force myself to watch Fifty Shades of Grey).

On Oscar diversity: The Big Shortcoming

With rampant talk of the Oscars being too pale and too male, people forget another overwhelming bias: too jingoistic.

Though its headquarters are smack-dab in Beverly Hills, when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was first pitched by MGM’s Louis Mayer in 1927, he intended for it to be the International Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. But within four months of its founding, “International” was dropped from the name.

Sure, foreign films are honored in their own category, and foreign actors/creatives regularly creep in across the board. (Among thioscardirectors year’s best director pool, in fact, only two contenders are American, and the smart money is on Mexican director Alejandro G. Iñárritu.) But a separate, mystery panel is required to adjudicate the foreign film categories, an upfront admission the AMPAS membership lacks a worldview.

Most films worldwide are produced in India — in 2014, it certified about three times the number of movies than were made in the USA, 1,966 vs. 707 — but only three Indian movies have ever been nominated for Academy Awards in the foreign-film category: Mother India (1957), Salaam Bombay! (1988) and Lagaan (2001). None was awarded the Oscar. Granted, awards are based on quality not quantity, but how many films aren’t considered because they are beyond the AMPAS panels’ comfort zones or ken?

America holds a movie monopoly.

For roughly a decade, I’ve tracked nominees and winners in the 24 top categories and noticed a serious U.S. bias in an area that should scream inclusiveness: the wonderful world of shorts.

AMPAS’ creed is to advance moviemaking, and this is where it happens. Shorts are the gateway for the have-nots to gain notice, funding and skill. So how’s that working out for foreigners hoping to network?

ANIMATED SHORTS

Sixty-four percent of all Oscar winners have been U.S. entries, including last year’s 3-D Feast, a Disney/Pixar production. Even the non-American animated shorts bow in some way to the States, such as France’s Logorama (2009), which pokes fun of U.S. culture — or lack thereof. The most recent ‘toon winner in a language other than English was 1999’s The Old Man and the Sea — a Russia-Canada-Japan collaboration based on an American classic novel — still in the America-centric judges’ wheelhouse. Another 17% of the winners hail from Canada or the United Kingdom or a collaboration between the two. It’s a filter that doesn’t make us look good.

(You can read about my prediction/pick for this year’s animated shorts here.)

But enough about politics. This is art, not politics. *skeptically cocked eyebrow

LIVE-ACTION SHORTS

My Prediction: “Day One” (USA)

day-one-directed-by-henry-hughes.47.36-PM

This follows the first day on the job for a female Muslim interpreter joining U.S. soldiers on a mission to interview a bombmaker in a remote Afghan village. Despite slick production and fine acting, it offends. Opening with the fetching Layla Alizada nude in the camp’s makeshift shower — realizing she has also gotten her period, what a bummer!— suddenly a buff soldier is undressing outside to use it next, unaware there’s a woman in there. Oooooh, titillation. Later, of course, on the 6-mile trek she has to pee, while men stand guard, and she can’t keep up with the boys and nearly passes out. What, is this Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom? Oh, and of course the crisis involves a complicated pregnancy. While dramatic and gripping, it’s billed as challenging gender and cultural norms but plays right into them. U-S-A! U-S-A! zzzzzzzzzzzz.

ITS EDGE: Heavy industry backing in the way of George Lucas, AFI and marketing up the wazoo. Not to mention the whole military industrial complex. AND it’s slick, did I say? Then there’s the issue that its unoriginal title could easily be confused on the ballot with a popular iPad journaling app, a domestic abuse non-profit or any number of previous TV movies or low-budget films, something porn-ish. Capitalize on name recognition much? Plus they save it until last in the cinema bundle. Who decides the order? It’s like So You Think You Can Dance, the contestant with the most votes or best routine finishes the night.

My Pick: “Stutterer” (Ireland)

Stutterer+Oscars+2016+Benjamin+Cleary_1.1.7Enchanting, beautiful film that shows the comfort and value of online relationships. Matthew Needham plays an earnest loner who would be a hipster if not for his debilitating stutter. He is dependent on his dad to navigate the day, while narrating a lovely alternate universe in his head. When the woman he has been Facebook-chatting up for six months suddenly arrives in town and requests a meeting, he finds himself at a crossroads. With all the heavy topics this year in every category, this film is a breath of fresh air. And, of course, the litmus test: This is the one I would share with my adult daughters.

Also-rans:

  • “Ave Maria” (France/Germany/Palestine) — A Jewish family has an implausible accident at a nunnery in Palestine. They beseech the coven of virgin Marys to help them get back to the settlement. A bit goofy, soap opera-ish and tinged with anti-Semitism, it’s my least favorite of the bunch, even though there were several good laughs (the pickle! the phone!). Refreshing treatment of the Middle East conflict, but felt as if it was shot in just one day.
  • “Shok” (Kosovo/United Kingdom) — Kite Runner in Kosovo. Told mostly in flashback, this is a horrific, powerful story of the death of a friendship amid war (“shok” means friend), and how two adolescent boys are forced to face evil head-on. A true shock awaits that will lurch you in your seat. The only downside is it relies on structural clichés.
  • “Everything Will Be Okay (Alles Wird Gut)” (Germany/Austria) — Love, love, love this one. Simon Schwarz is brilliant as a father who decides he wants custody of his daughter. He’s like a Louis C.K. without the humor. The way the plot unfolds is like a master class in acting. So tense and suspenseful. Such complicated emotions, and the little girl is fabulous, too. I would have chosen this one, if Stutterer hadn’t charmed the pants off me. Something about the order in which the shorts are bundled is extremely manipulative. I’d be thrilled, though, if this won.

DOCUMENTARY SHORTS

Prediction & Pick: Last Day of Freedom

Because my favorite D.C. venue to watch the documentary shorts has permanently closed, I could find only two of the nominees On Demand. Sorta like flipping a coin, but this one stood out. It’s topical, about our broken justice system, but is a blend of documentary and animated short. An interview with the brother of a death row inmate is illustrated in lovely pencil drawings. Its novelty alone should carry it to gold. I wanted to watch it again as soon as I was done.

Also-ran:

chau-beyond-the-lines

  • Chau, beyond the Lines — [Ed: That lowercase “b” is cq.] A guilt trip to Vietnam. Chau is an institutionalized teen boy afflicted with deformities caused by American use of Agent Orange. He also happens to dream of being an artist and fashion designer, even though he must draw with his foot or mouth. Stirring, but it feels a little like a 60 Minutes segment and reminded me of Inocente, the winner a few years back about the homeless girl who also wanted to become an artist.

Oscars 2016: Best actor slam-dunk

trumbo-movie-bryan-cranston

How fitting that Trumbo was the quill in my Actor in a Leading Role cap, the last nominee under my belt, and this year’s homage to Hollywood. (Although Hollywood played the antihero, as part and parcel to 1947’s congressional Commie witch hunt.)

Tragic that a movie about one of the most courageous and prodigious screenwriters in history did not itself earn a screenplay nomination. (Rewrite!)

A shame, too, that Dalton Trumbo’s stand-in won’t be taking home any Oscars next week. As much as Bryan Cranston embodied the wry stoicism of this blacklisted stand-up guy, he can’t touch my untouchable Leo. Cranston is the oldest nominee, nearly 60, but he’s the newbie in this form, with a style still suiting the small screen.

No need to belabor or overthink this category. It’s a two-horse race between Leonardo “always-the bridesmaid” DiCaprio and karma-chameleon Eddie Redmayne. It could be a photo finish, but my money’s on — and my heart’s with — Leo. 

2FABA7AC00000578-3377682-image-a-67_1451409154103

Eddie was fabulous; his long scene before the long mirror, spellbinding. Ultimately, though, despite The Danish Girl‘s gorgeous production design and superlative acting throughout by all, I found myself drifting, uninvolved at the end. Eddie sure can pose and emote — eventually it devolved into vogueing for me. He was technically masterful, enough that I accepted him as a woman, but Leo brought me along in a more visceral way — not just in the eviscerating scenes. I could see Eddie pulling off an upset and making history with a back-to-back Oscar win. Spencer Tracy won consecutive best actor Oscars in the late ’30s, Tom Hanks did it in the ’90s. Ought the aughts be a three-peat feat?

Speaking of three, that’s three … who else is nominated again? Will Smith? No …

Ah, yes, Matt Damon for The Martian. He was darling but not my favorite martian. One might argue he had fewer lines than Leo, but, no, astronaut Mark Watney definitely talked to himself more than frontiersman-fur trapper Hugh Glass in their parallel-universe isolation. Both left for dead and each having a special way with the blade — and grimacing. A survivalist’s showcase, but I love Leo best. He brought HEAT. No heat shield could protect me from that. I’m not down on Damon, and he hasn’t won an Oscar since his screenplay win for 1997’s Good Will Hunting. But he’s kinda the same guy film to film, if we’re to be honest. He’s got all that musculature and the wave of his arm and that clueless-stunned look. The Martian is not his vehicle to Oscar glory.

fassbender-jobsFinally, consider Michael Fassbender as Steve Jobs. Wow. Unbelievable this is the 12 Years a Slave villain. He might be flying under many radars, but stand by for Fassbender 3.0.

Now I didn’t cry in Trumbo; I didn’t cry in The Danish Girl, even though I was supposed to; I let a few tears fly in The Martian, but only when the mass of humanity was applauding the sky; I did cry in The Revenant for that minute my mouth wasn’t slack-jawed, when Glass “reunites” with his half-blood son at the church ruins; but, my goodness, Fassbender’s rooftop scene with daughter Lisa, and the tape recorder bit? Puddles. Both times I saw it, his telescoping genius got me. Score. Despite an Oscar nod, Fassbender is underrated, and it’s a shame there was so much backlash about the “accuracy” of this film. A) Movies, by nature, don’t have to be accurate and B) WHY wasn’t this screenplay nominated?! It “read” like a stage play to me, with brilliant patter so much more noteworthy than what critics fawned over in The Social Network. Kate Winslet — another one I wish could win this year. I barely recognized her until halfway through! But she’s been overshadowed by Alicia Vikander, whose double-duty in The Danish Girl and Ex Machina could put her over the top, so the pundits say. But I’ll save actress predictions for another post.

Funny: I’m pulling for both DiCaprio and Winslet. A Titanic slam-dunk!

At least one will survive.

My pick and prediction: Leonardo DiCaprio

Oscar-nominated foreign films: The chosen one

maxresdefaultSomething disconcerting about a Sunday matinee of Son of Saul in a packed house, mostly elderly Chosen People who then as one tribe shuffle out, jostled flesh to flesh, only to meet the “cleanup crew” in uniform holding implements like batons, blocking the way and herding them to the exits.

Powerful movie expertly done. And one that forced me to consider not just the drama onscreen but that around me. How it starts off deliberately and interminably out of focus and people start making plans to go talk with the projectionist in the booth. The guy next to me with his Ziploc bag of “snacks” (liverwurst? pickles?). The endless crinkling of wrappers, pungent peanut M&Ms. Food should be banned at Holocaust movies. Imagine eating nachos or Goobers at Schindler’s List, appalling. Then there was the woman behind complaining about the third-row seats her middle-aged son chose online (“Oh, dear, these are our seats? I thought we’d be in the back. I can’t sit here. You sure these are the right seats? I’ll get such a crick in my neck. Did you realize we’d be so close? [Finally surrendering] At least I won’t need my glasses.”) It’s like going to temple. Those intimate, rhythmic, interactive sounds: coughing, throat-clearing, tsk-tsks, moans, scolding grunts — even snores from the man on my other side, then his one-word review as the credits rolled: “Disappointing.”

Sir, you’re sure to be disappointed when Son of Saul sends the other foreign film nominees packing on Oscar night.

mustang-cannes-film-festival-2This is my prediction despite having seen only two foreign film contenders, Saul and Mustang, both of them today. In between, I squeezed in my final documentary feature, Amy. You might say it was an all-Jewish day, what with Mustang having vague Fiddler on the Roof overtones (five sisters in rural Turkey bucking the tradition of arranged marriage) — the French offering is my runaway favorite feminist movie of this Oscar season.

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First time sampling Bethesda Row’s plush cinemas with the most comfortable chairs anywhere, but no leeway to move through the aisle. Next time I’ll choose the front row, where no one tends to sit.

But I’ll hold off on committing to a pick for best foreign film until I’ve seen more nominees. Oscars aficionados understand how predictions and picks can be worlds apart. I enjoyed Mustang more than Son of Saul — who can enjoy a Holocaust movie? But Mustang had editing issues near the end, as if the filmmakers suddenly realized they had to trim its running time.

The operative phrase here is running outta time, with Oscar night just a week away, my marathoning score: 27/37+12/15 — or 75%.

A personal best? Only if I can pick up more of what I lack, alack! (Any local leads welcome.)

  • Trumbo On Demand
  • The Hateful Eight — hate to miss this one; screws up my Essential Eight categories. I might hafta do something crazy and drive to Norfolk, Va., to see it.
  • Anomalisa  Oh where oh where? This is the only animated feature that’s a thorn in Inside Out‘s side, so I must see it.
  • Boy and the World
  • Shaun the Sheep Movie On Demand
  • When Marnie Was There
  • Cinderella  — Only available for purchase. Stupid, greedy producers.
  • Theeb On Demand
  • Embrace of the Serpent
  • A War At E Street Cinema; plan to see the first showing Thursday
  • Documentary shorts — three of them, anyway; two are on Netflix!

Are those animated shorts or are you just happy to see me?

They’re shorts, so I’ll try to be brief, but I love the shorts.

  • p11304775_i_v8_aaBear Story (Chile). This warm fuzzy (not!) has the most interesting technique of the bunch. Don’t know what it’s called, so I’ll dub it mechanized magic. It could win on sheer complexity — I imagine it took years to make — but the story was way too grim for me: Instead of running away to the circus, Papa Bear gets kidnapped, tortured for years/decades, only to escape and find Mama Bear and Baby Bear either murdered (ursacide!) or nabbed as well. So what else? He becomes the Quentin Tarantino of Bearywood and peddles his sad story on the street. Or something like that, it might just be he’s a psychotic, morose tinker-tailor bear. Could be a metaphor for fascist oppression. What happened to gleeful cartoons?! 
  • Prologue (United Kingdom). I sampled the shorts via the cinema-house bundle, and this one was saved ’til last because it contained “nudity and violence” and was “not suitable for children,” giving responsible parents time to shuttle out the kids.  Sorry, Charlie. It’s also not suitable for adults. I’m no prude; in fact, I was looking forward to an R- or even X-rated cartoon, but this was sick, sick, SICK, Mister. Gratuitously so. It involves gladiators who murder by sticking swords up each other’s genitals. Not even as good as it sounds. I hope the artist does not have access to sharp objects other than colored pencils. What’s scary is the “artist” says he wants to make it a feature film. Please, let’s start a Kickstarter and pay Richard Williams off if he’ll promise never to create anything again. Listen, below, to his insanity (and it figures he “conceived” the idea when he was 15 — I wonder what it was that “happened to him three years ago” — did he fall on his head or get kicked in the nuts?!):
  • SANJAY'S SUPER TEAMSanjay’s Super Team (USA). A Hindu youngster wants to watch his superhero cartoons on the boob tube on one side of the room, but his dad insists he comes pray on the other side in the armoire altar. Then the kid gets religion, realizing gods are actually superheroes, too. Super cute!
  • We_Can't_Live_Without_Cosmos_film_posterWe Can’t Live Without Cosmos (Russia). Dedicated to “our friends,” this one was extremely touching. Two cosmonauts, 1203 and 1204, dream their entire lives of space and play and train together — showing work should not be work but should be JOYFUL — but then one is lost and the other loses his mind. It even seems a bit rebellious, anti-government-ish, though approved by censors. Wouldn’t mind if it won, except the technique reminds me a little too much of Space Ghost, just two-dimensional, literally and figuratively.
  • World of Tomorrow (USA). Indescribably brilliant. I tend to judge shorts based on which ones I’d tell my adult children they MUST see. This is it. Emily Prime, on the right (I’m guessing she’s 3), is playing with the computer and ends up meeting her future third-generation clone, on the left. I can’t even tell you. Poignant, prognosticating and belly-tickling funny. MUST-SEE. MUST-WIN. (It is streaming on Netflix, if you have a free 16 minutes.)lead_960

 

Among the also-rans packaged in the feature as “highly commended”:

The Short Story of a Fox and a Mouse (France). Theme: finding friends in strange places/faces. This student-created dreamscape feels like an audition tape to join the coveted Disney/Pixar team, though the fur was friggin’ flawless and the enemy owls, a hoot.

Catch It (France). Another animal tale in the tradition of Road Runner. And again? The birds (a turkey vulture) are the villains!?!? C’mon! This classic-feeling cartoon will appeal more to kids than will any of the others. But … oh shoot, you can’t bring your kids because Sir Richard Williams ruined the fun for everyone, didn’t he? A bunch of meerkats pine for one fragrant fruit, then tangle with a vulture for possession.

If I Was God (Canada). For those who prefer stop-action, this autobiographical memory sketch will more than satisfy. Adored the section where the narrator is daydreaming and the images become pieces of cardboard, complete with corrugated seam. The frog-dissection scene is alone worth your ticket and time. A lady in my theater exploded in laughter and became her own spectacle. Story line ended up feeling too narcissistic for me, though. (Apparently animators are gods?)

loneliest-stoplightThe Loneliest Stoplight (USA). A tender treatise on the rush of technology. Evoked two huge laughs from the audience. Probably my second-favorite. Am I just about technological cautionary tales this year? You decide: For 99 cents, you can stream it on vimeo.

In short …

My money’s on:

Prologue, sad to say, because the forbidden fruit always gets picked, plus this guy knows everyone in Hollywood, he animation-directed Who Framed Roger Rabbit, won an Oscar for his adaptation of A Christmas Carol, this is his “life’s work,” and because it illustrates the Spartan/Athenian wars 2,400 years ago, apparently it’s educational. Aaaaack.

My heart’s with:

World of Tomorrow, for reasons stated above. Watch it, you’ll see.

Oscar marathoners: We are not alone

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Ellen, right, and I are comfy in the dark.

And this is what’s so thrilling about Oscar marathoning. I put out a call tonight on Facebook inviting anyone to join me in knocking off the supporting actor category at the late show of Creed. I heard not a peep, yet when I showed up at the theater, who’s waiting in the lobby but a fellow sojourner, Ellen Stucker! Imagine. We live in separate towns. It was like a mini-flash mob. We compared lists and notes, enjoyed the flick, then exited our dark sanctuary into the darker night to cram another day.

I recall with bittersweetness (nonpareils) the friends I made at West End Cinema in D.C. — the only place that showed the documentary shorts and truly the highlight of the season. Some people would come from Baltimore or farther just to lap those up, and we’d all pull out our crumpled lists. It was an annual pilgrimage for many of us. If any of you are still reading this blog, let’s meet up somewhere for Anomalisa.

Meanwhile, the documentary shorts are among the most inspiring and riveting categories. If anyone has any leads on where I can inhale them before Feb. 28, do tell.Screen Shot 2016-02-20 at 1.16.02 AM*Note: Funny thing — turns out the last time I blogged about this same phenom, I used the exact same headline!

‘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 Actor

This year’s Actor in a Leading Role is the hardest category for me. The Academy often gets this one wrong, but thankfully there’s no wrong choice this year. So here goes.

The nominees

Christian Bale (American Hustle). Everybody’s talkin’ ’bout Matthew McConaughey’s transformation, but with Bale, a picture is worth 1,000 pounds. On the right is him with the 40 pounds he gained for American Hustle. At left is him a decade ago, in 2004’s cultish The Machinist.

ChristianBale

This Welsh-born Brit won his first Oscar for 2010’s The Fighter (supporting actor), again unrecognizable. Being a chameleon seems to be the hallmark of a great actor these days. Wasn’t Philip Seymour Hoffman among the best? Such a dichotomy that actors strive to make a name for themselves, while striving to not be recognized. Here is Bale disappearing again into his Bob Dylan persona in I’m Not There  (Bale is also a song-and-dance man from way back):

Unfortunately, we mustn’t award this Oscar based on body of work. He’s flawless, terrific  but the standout moments of Bale’s performance as grifter Irving Rosenfeld are searing and subtle and small, such as when he regrets duping his friend Camden, N.J., Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner). Don’t have a clip of that, but here is Bale talking about the role — and other than the accent, his gestures and manner as Bale suddenly seem a LOT like Rosenfeld’s (trailer follows). Not sure he deserves the Oscar on this one against such a superlative field of contenders. Interesting, though, how Amy Adams’ con is being high-class British and Bale’s con with this character is being a crass American. We’ve all been hustled!

Bruce Dern (Nebraska). Folks say this is 77-year-old Dern’s last major role, so there’s the lifetime achievement aspect to consider. He has never won an Oscar, and has received only one previous nomination — for a supporting role in 1978’s Coming Home. Moreover, he admits director Alexander Payne stretched him for this role. He wasn’t simply “doing a Dernsie,” he told Rolling Stone; he was given a character to play and played it well. His walk alone is a revelation.

But is it a stretch? Does that matter? Maybe it’s enough to be cast well and directed well. I hear Ringo singing “All ya gotta do is act naturally.” … Here is a revealing (but long) interview that shows he walks and talks like that in real life, and includes the news that Gene Hackman was also considered for the role. Drat, woulda loved that.

As much as I loved Dern as wandering Woody, I must agree with him that it was Will Forte’s performance (and directing and screenplay and cinematography) that made the movie so great. Still, Academy voters may be feeling soft for papa Dern. (Robert Redford is also 77, and he carried an entire movie himself. Hmmm. For that snub alone, I may have to choose someone else.) I only wish I’d known Laura Dern had a cameo in Nebraska, near the end, before I saw it, reinforcing the family message. Onward.

Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street). Oh, Leo, Leo, wherefore art thou, Leo? I’ve always been a sucker for DiCaprio’s work. This is his fourth Oscar nomination and he has never won. What?! A look at his Oscar history:

1993 (66th)
2004 (77th)
ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLEThe Aviator {“Howard Hughes”}
2006 (79th)
ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLEBlood Diamond {“Danny Archer”}

In Wolf, Leo is a beast in that Quaalude scene … this is physical comedy in the vein of Jim Carrey or Jerry Lewis. True art: DiCaprio is like a Salvador Dali painting come to life (only the roll down the stairs is a stunt man). And he told Ellen DeGeneres that he and Jonah Hill did 70 takes of the subsequent ham scene. Talk about hams.

I have to admit, the rest of this role was not a huge departure for pretty boy Leo. He did win the Golden Globe for this role, but Americans somehow don’t take him seriously enough. Maybe a comedic turn will do the trick … or maybe we wait until he’s 77.

12-years-a-slave

Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave). Every year there’s the newcomer who steals the show. This could be Englishman Ejiofor’s year. I’ve told many people that 12 Years a Slave  struck me more as live theater than film — it was as if they were performing Shakespeare. I’m still not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but I think Ejiofor’s regal forbearance and sense of dignity for his character is what touched me so deeply. The one languorous shot (above) in which we stare at Ejiofor’s face for a minute or more was as profound as anything I’ve seen on film.

Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club). Not only did he wow us as a cowboy with AIDS, he was hilarious as Leo’s creepy mentor in The Wolf of Wall Street.

What’s brilliant about McConaughey as Ron Woodroof is he manages to imply duality in the real-life figure — some claim Woodroof wasn’t homophobic at all, rather a closeted bisexual. McConaughey manages to leave his angry, agonized, opportunistic character open to interpretation.

It was a true labor of love for McConaughey, with no trace of the work involved (except maybe the weight loss, which is work in itself). He gets my vote.

My pick & prediction: Matthew McConaughey

(although some days I think it could go to Ejiofor or Bale. Ask me in a week, ha.)

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.”

Oscars picks: Makeup and Hairstyling

Quick and dirty on this category that most of you don’t care about.

The nominees:

♦ Dallas Buyers Club: Adruitha Lee and Robin Mathews. Lee also worked on 12 Years a Slave and The Artist (2011’s Best Picture). Dallas Buyers Club was actually shot in New Orleans, not Dallas, and Robin Mathews is a local Nola makeup artist. She did an excellent job making all of the AIDS extras look credible, and Lee’s work on “12 Years” was terrificly horrific, but that one isn’t nominated, sorry. Still, this team has some powerful political influence among industry types, I’m guessing.

♦ Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa: Stephen Prouty convincingly makes Johnny Knoxville look like an 86-year-old prick, extending all the way to his genitalia — not that I would know about that. This was a highly entertaining low-brow romp that I would never have considered watching if not for Oscar marathoning. And precocious 9-year-old Jackson T. Nicoll makes a convincing Honey Boo-Boo in blonde wig and makeup.

♦ The Lone Ranger: Joel Harlow and Gloria Pasqua-Casny

But an 86-year-old jackass can’t hold a candle to Johnny Depp’s museum-quality Tonto. Holy cow. The makeup artistry in this Disney film goes beyond Tonto’s dreads and warpaint. All of those grizzled outlaws and frontierspeople not only look authentic (was that Smell-o-vision?), they made highly recognizable actors unrecognizable. I had to do a double take with the credits on William Fichtner. Even Tom Wilkinson took me a minute.

My prediction: Dallas Buyers Club

My pick: The Lone Ranger

With a little more than two weeks to go, I’ve seen 26 movies … but still have 17 full-length features on the list left to see. I think only 9 more are possible, because I can’t find the other 10 — not in local theaters, or on Netflix, Amazon and On Demand streaming services. (And I’m not buying any DVDs just to complete my marathon. That’d be crazy.)

Still, not too shabby, given I didn’t start until Feb. 2-ish. My Valentine’s Day movie this year was Her (last year’s was Amour). And if all goes well and I find my proper date (nudge-nudge, Patty Kime), I plan to knock off all of the shorts next weekend.

Charting my progress. How are YOU doing?

  1. American Hustle
  2. Captain Phillips
  3. Dallas Buyers Club
  4. Gravity
  5. Her 
  6. Nebraska
  7. Philomena
  8. 12 Years a Slave √
  9. The Wolf of Wall Street
  10. Blue Jasmine
  11. August: Osage County
  12. The Croods
  13. Despicable Me 2
  14. Ernest & Celestine
  15. Frozen
  16. The Wind Rises
  17. The Grandmaster
  18. Inside Llewyn Davis
  19. Prisoners
  20. The Great Gatsby
  21. The Invisible Woman
  22. The Act of Killing
  23. Cutie and the Boxer
  24. Dirty Wars
  25. The Square
  26. 20 Feet from Stardom
  27. The Broken Circle Breakdown
  28. The Great Beauty
  29. The Hunt
  30. The Missing Picture
  31. Omar
  32. Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
  33. The Lone Ranger
  34. The Book Thief
  35. Saving Mr. Banks
  36. Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
  37. All Is Lost
  38. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
  39. Lone Survivor
  40. Iron Man 3
  41. Star Trek Into Darkness
  42. Before Midnight