Academy Awards

Last Night’s Oscars in Retrospect

Yesterday, before the big night last night, I decided to post my picks for the 2015 Academy Awards. Like most people I was unable to catch all of the films nominated, but that didn’t stop me from predicting the winners of the films I had seen (and even some I hadn’t).

Let’s see how I did.

Ok, so I got one right, but to my credit it was the most important award. I liken this to going eight and eight for the season but still winning the Super Bowl. At least that’s what I’m going to keep telling myself.

Allow me to take up some space on your screen and defend what was going on though my head at the time.

Best Cinematography:

I still think this should’ve went to The Grand Budapest Hotel, but I understand Birdman taking this one. Certainly both films did some interesting things in the camera work department. Birdman obviously merged some surrealist elements within the film to make it a sort of Magical Realist piece. Not to mention the “one-take” method they managed to pull off. Overall very ambitious and well done. Still, my issue with the win is that Birdman primarily takes place in one setting. It’s basically a backstage dramedy. Because of this, due to the film’s enclosed space and lack of diverse settings it didn’t allow for a wide range of camera work. Compare this to Grand Budapest which moves to a number of different settings such as trains, hotels, a monastery, small villages, etc. Wes Anderson and Robert Yeoman were able to bring that signature look they’ve been known for in a film that probably provided them with a number of challenges.

Best Adapted Screenplay:

I really thought this was going to be the only award American Sniper would win. A screenplay adapted from a very popular and rather controversial book to some. I’ll steer away from political contention and say that, although good, this film had no chance to win Best Picture, namely because of some questionable shot and music choices that made me feel I was watching a Michael Bay film at times.

On the other hand, I’ll turn my car right into the political discussion and drive it off the ledge by saying I don’t think this film was a victim of any sort of political stance as I’ve heard some in the media suggesting. I got the same message in American Sniper as every other war film I’ve ever seen. War is Hell, it’s fucks people up and should be avoided. Anyone that got the opposite of that, well I don’t know what movie you were watching.

Best Original Screenplay:

Again, another instance where I completely understand the Academy’s choice. Birdman is a damn good script. Still, maybe it’s because I’m an English Lit major, I just felt The Grand Budapest Hotel was written so well. Smart and extremely funny the whole way through.

Best Actress:

I admit even in my Facebook post that I had not seen Wild, but I had heard this might be Reese Witherspoon’s second grab at the golden statue since she won for Walk the Line. Based on her reaction when her name was not called, I assume she heard the same. From what I’d heard about Wild, this is a film fully propelled by Witherspoon as opposed to Walk The Line where she was basically sharing the spotlight with Joaquin Phoenix.

Still, is there a film Julianne Moore isn’t absolutely amazing in? Yet this is her first Oscar win. Surprised me too.

Best Actor:

I was just really rooting for Michael Keaton to win this Oscar. His lost reminded me of when Bill Murray’s portrayal in Lost in Translation lost out to Sean Penn in Mystic River. Both Murray and Keaton are the same type of actor in my opinion. Both have been in the game for years and primarily play roles that don’t get a lot of attention from the Academy. The stars finally align and they get that one shot late in the game only to have it swept out from under them.

This is not to say Eddie Redmayne didn’t deserve the Oscar. His portrayal of Steven Hawking had all the things the Academy has come to love; a transformative portrayal of an exceptional real-life character who is stricken with some physical or mental plight that they must overcome. Redmayne delivered in spades and it’s a life changing win for him, but, dammit, I really would have liked to see Keaton get that Oscar after the years he’s put into the biz.

Best Director:

I wrote a post pretty much outlining why I felt Boyhood absolutely had to win an Oscar. Upon seeing Birdman, despite the monumental process it took to make Boyhood, I found it to be a more solid film. Still, I think Linklater was completely snubbed on this win for the same reasons I outlined in my post. That level of commitment deserves something.

Best Picture:

The one I got right! Although I never got around to seeing Imitation Game or Selma (for some reason Selma isn’t playing in a lot of theaters out here in AZ), this was hands down a great film. Great performances from a stellar cast, an original story with enough art house appeal to make it feel fresh. Enough said.

EXTRA: Best Original Song:

I didn’t add this pick namely because I had only heard two songs, “Everything is Awesome” and “Glory”. Before the awards I was completely rooting for “Everything is Awesome”. After seeing the live performance and watching David Oyelowo absolutely drenched in tears I couldn’t believe how wrong I was.

I mean, listen to the lyrics of “Everything is Awesome”.  It’s a song about utter conformity. It’s even used in the film ad nauseam in an attempt to keep everyone in Legoland subjugated. It’s like the happy-go-lucky musical version of the Oceania National Anthem.

“Glory” is the absolute opposite. It’s a song about hope and fighting against oppression.

Here’s an excerpt:

One day when the glory comes
It will be ours, it will be ours
One day when the war is won
We will be sure, we will be sure
Oh glory

Seriously, I have no idea what I was thinking here.

 

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Indie Intros Oscar Edition: Ava DuVernay’s The Door

With the Oscars happening this Sunday, we’re rounding out our Indie Intros: Oscar edition with a film from Ava DuVernay, director of the MLK biopic, Selma. Selma is nominated not only for Best Motion Picture, but also Best Original Song for “Glory” performed by Common and John Legend.

DuVernay is no stranger to Hollywood. As a publicist for over ten years, she helped promote such films as I’Robot, Man on Fire, Spider-man 2, and Spy Kids. She also has the honor of being the first African-American female director to be nominated for a Golden Globe as well as win Best Director at the Sundance Film Festival.

“The Door” is a short film that tells the story of a woman who is struggling with a failed marriage or a marriage that never was or a jilting at the altar or one of a hundred other scenarios that have been covered in countless romantic comedies. The reason is never given and honestly, who cares. Truth be told, it really doesn’t matter. “The Door” is a film that focuses on how friends and family can come together to help a loved one cope with the pain, rather than spend time to tell a back story that really isn’t that uncommon. Each of her friends and family has different methods of bringing her out of her funk, my favorite being her second friend who suggests the tried and true method of going out and dancing your ass off. Each method essentially heals a different part of her, picking up the pieces of who she once was.

“The Door” doesn’t rely of dialogue to tell the story, but rather uses visuals and music to reveal the plot. Much of the film seems to borrow a lot of its look and feel from music videos, so much so that I was fully expecting Mary J. Blige to come into frame and drop the hottest single of 2002. Instead what we get are visuals that tell us just what we need to know to construct a story blended with carefully selected music that helps the audience connect with the mood of the character. One scene in particular shows us exactly how important music is to the main character and her healing process, when a friend takes her to a concert.

What “The Door” ultimately accomplishes is telling a story much like the old silent films of the 20’s, but modernizing it to great effectiveness. One look at the film will tell you that production value wasn’t a problem. DuVernay clearly makes a conscious choice to tell this story via other means than words, proving something I’ve always believed, that dialogue in film is not nearly as important as many give it credit for.

Indie Intros Oscar Edition: Joris Oprins’ Mute

When we think of the Academy Awards, it’s often the nominations for Best Film, Actor/Actress, Director, etc. that occupies most of the media surrounding the event. It’s important to remember sometimes that among the big names like Clint Eastwood and Wes Anderson, there are other directors of foreign and short film categories that worked just as hard to produce an Oscar nominated film. Since I primarily cover short films, I’ve decided to add at least one director who has been nominated for Best Short Film.

This is Joris Oprins’ first Oscar nomination, but not his first film. He and his two partners, Job Roggeveen and Markieke Blaauw, have been making animated short films since 2003 with their debut film “Wad“.

I have to admit, I’ve always found it strange that the Academy has separate categories for best Feature, Foreign and Animated Films, but when it comes to shorts, live action and animated are lumped together regardless of the country of origin. I suppose it’s because the Academy gives shorts the same kind of attention the rest of the public does.

“Mute” is Oprins’ second short film and his first foray into using CG. The story takes place in a world without mouths. This doesn’t stop people from attempting many of the activities that we orally-blessed take for granted. This all changes when a happy accident with a knife allows the populace to speak for the first time. What results is one of the most adorably gory films you’re likely to see.

Artistically, “Mute” feels like a combination of Despicable Me and Wallace and Gromit. The male character models are reminiscent of Grimace from McDonalds, while the female characters have the addition of breast mechanics straight out of Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball. Furthermore, I could swear they lifted Maggie’s pacifier sound from The Simpsons.

It’s impressive to see a film be able to find humor in a concept so gory. I would be hard-pressed to call this short a dark comedy simply because, absent of the blood, the humor is rather uplifting and cheeky. This is a good example of the type of storytelling power animated films are capable of that live action can’t possibly produce. Unless you have a way to make slicing yourself a new mouth produce the same audience reaction often reserved for kitten videos.

Indie Intros Oscar Edition: Alejandro González-Iñárritu’s Powder Keg

Since my last Indie Intros post chronicled the work of Richard Linklater, a response to Boyhood being nominated for six Academy Awards, I thought I might just cover other nominees till the awards kick off in February. Up until the week of the 22nd I’ll be dedicating the Indie Intros section to filmmakers nominated for the 2015 Academy Awards. We’ll look at some of their humble beginnings before we witness all the bad jokes and musical numbers the Academy is so known for. Then we’ll all go to work the next morning and complain about who should have won.

Before we begin, I’d like to preface something for the sake of controversy. Ideally, I wanted to focus on all of the Best Picture nominees, but the fact is not every filmmaker in this category have short films to view. Short films from James Marsh or Morton Tyldum were nowhere to be found on the Internet. When I searched for a site showing Damien Chazzelle’s “Whiplash”, the short film that is now an Oscar Nominated feature of the same name, I was directed here which just screams to me, “If you dare show this film we’ll sue you back into the Stone Age!” Finally, Clint Eastwood hasn’t had to make a short film to show off has talents, most likely because there has never been a time in his life where he hasn’t been goddamn Clint Eastwood.

With the recent commentary over the amount of nominations given to American Sniper and the lack of nominations given to Selma, I don’t want any additions or omissions to be viewed as political or social commentary (that’s for a different section of my blog).

With that, Birdman director Alejandro González-Iñárritu is no stranger to the Academy. His debut feature film Amores Perros was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film in 2001 and Babel, starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, was nominated for Best Picture in 2007. “Powder Keg” isn’t exactly his first short, yet it’s still relatively early in his career. Before ever shooting Perros, he had shot “El Timbre”, a Spanish film that I couldn’t seem to find anywhere. Worry not though, as soon as I do I plan to cover it on my future Spanish sister site, El Barrio de Los Cineastas Amistosos.

“Powder Keg” comes right off the heels of Amores Perros and as a result has some significant star power behind it. It stars Clive Owen, the king of gruff deliveries, and Stellan Skarsgård who shouldn’t to be confused with Alexander Skarsgård, or Peter Sarsgaard, that smug bastard who thinks he can just jam as many A’s into his name as he wants. Skarsgård plays a war photographer who captures local terrorists murder a group of innocent civilians. Embedded in Columbia, the UN sends Owen in to extract him, but things go awry. Basically, it’s a faster paced, less elaborate Argo.

That’s not to say that the film doesn’t have the same sense of urgency that makes Argo so good. As Owen drives through the Colombian town of Nuevo Colon, you really get a sense that this is a place going through a giant upheaval. Armed soldiers and terrorists alike litter the streets and pose a constant threat to the two protagonists.

Much like Amores Perros, “Powder Keg” gives us a look at the everyday lives of those who live south of the border of the U.S. Here in “Powder Keg” we witness how U.S. demand for cocaine has affected those living in Cartel controlled Columbia. This ties into the overall message of the film; that as we watch the horrors that the drug war wreaks on South America, there is more we could be doing to stop it. Anyone who has seen Amores Perros or 21 Grams might be seeing a pattern in Alejandro González-Iñárritu’s work, to address that the actions of one person can create a Butterfly Effect that can influence the lives of others. In “Powder Keg” he explores this theme on a much grander scale; pointing out that many of us here in the U.S. are content with condemning the atrocities witnessed abroad, yet fail to address our role in them. This is conveyed through Skarsgård’s Harvey Jacobs, a photographer who regrets his lack of involvement for the sake of getting the perfect picture.

Finally, the cinematography works to further stress Iñárritu’s message. Many of his shots give the impression that they come from the POV of an onlooker lurking in the shadows, watching everything unfold but refusing to get involved in fear of the repercussions. Also, the graininess of his shots will remind you of old 8mm war footage, implying that we are content simply being a horrified viewer, but never an active participant.