01
Apr
14

Assembling a Universe I: High Profile Talent

Assembling a Universe is the first in a two part series (and potentially ongoing series) that takes a look at Marvel's strategy in building their cinematic universe. Pictured above, the announcement of The Avengers at the 2010 Comic Con.

Assembling a Universe is the first in a two part series (and potentially ongoing series) that takes a look at Marvel’s strategy in building their cinematic universe. Pictured above, the announcement of The Avengers at the 2010 Comic Con.

The gambit of Marvel’s Avengers Phase I paid off in dividends two years ago with the monumental release of The Avengers. Nothing like it had ever been undertaken before and it’s quite surprising that no one had attempted it sooner given the franchise film model that all the studios are currently operating under. Now that all the other studios are trying to chase Marvel, not only does it seem that they were ahead of the curve in every sense when building this mega franchise, but they seem to be really good at it as well.

Consider this, none of the Marvel films (post Iron Man) has been a flop and though not every film tops the last release, none has ever earned less than $370 million worldwide (not a lot when compared with the $1.5 billion that The Avengers made, but still a lot when you consider that Captain America–a film with ‘America’ in its title, is a hard sell in foreign markets). So what’s their secret then? Really, really well planning. In our first of two posts on ‘Building a Marvel Universe’ we take a look at one of the smart decisions that Marvel has made with their films: getting high profile talent.

This week marks the release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Joining series regulars Chris Evans (Captain America), Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury), and Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow) will be Academy Award winning Robert Redford. Anthony Hopkins and Natalie Portman, two Oscar winners, star in Marvel’s Thor franchise, most recently last year’s Thor: The Dark World. Back in late December we also saw the announcement that another Oscar winning actor, Michael Douglas, would star in Marvel’s forthcoming Antman movie.

Robert Redford and Samuel L. Jackson debating the merits of foreign policy in The Winter Soldier.

Robert Redford and Samuel L. Jackson debating who should star in the next Marvel film in a scene from The Winter Soldier.

If you were to just look these names alone, you think that we were gathering actors together for an Oscar winner photoshoot. How about we throw in a few more names: Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Jeff Bridges, Mickey Rourke, Glenn Close, Scarlett Johansson, Don Cheadle, and Paul Rudd. While not all of them are Oscar winners, they all are recognizable actors. What they all have in common is that they are a very important part of the world building that is the Marvel cinematic universe.

To fully realize the scope of what Marvel is undertaking, there are a couple of key questions that we need to answer; the first of which is, why are high profile actors signing up for comic book movies? Sure, we’ve always had big names in superhero movies (Jack Nicholson in Batman, Wesley Snipes in Blade, and Arnold Schwarzenegger & George Clooney in Batman & Robin), but it’s never been anything on the scale of what Marvel is putting together.

The first and most obvious answer is money and work. By nature of franchises and tv series the longer they run, the more cast members are paid for reprising their roles in future installments. While many think all actors make quite the pretty penny, by taking a gig with Marvel, an actor knows they will have job stability over the course of several years in a couple of different films.

Yes, Joss Whedon can do this all he wants after the success of the first Avengers.

Yes, Joss Whedon can do this all he wants after the success of the first Avengers.

These type of franchise films not only get actors paid, but it also affords them a certain amount of clout to work on other films that are of interest to them (independent or pet project films). Would Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, and Joss Whedon be where they are right now if it wasn’t for their roles in the Marvel cinematic universe? Sure Downey, Evans, and Whedon were known names in Hollywood before Marvel’s Avengers movies came along, but none of them were bankable or A-list. Having a leading role in an Avengers movie (or shepherding in Whedon’s case) or two gives you something that sought after and is difficult to attain . . . box office bank-ability.

Believe it or not Chris Evans turned down the role of Captain America several times before he got a call from Robert Downey Jr. convincing him to take the role. From Variety:

“I remember getting on the phone with him and strongly suggesting that he not shrink away from the offer,” Downey says. “I said, ‘Look man, you might not like the fact that you’ve played one of these guys before (in “Fantastic Four”), but you know, the thing is this can afford you all sorts of other freedoms,’ ”

later . . .

For Evans, the “Captain America” experience has been mostly positive. He credits the series with enabling him to land his dream job. “Without these movies, I wouldn’t be directing,” he reckons. “They gave me enough overseas recognition to greenlight a movie. And if I’m speaking extremely candidly, it’s going to continue to do that for as long as the Marvel contract runs.”

Evans first film as a director, 1:30 Train, is currently in post production and he hopes to start on his second film as a director after filming on Avengers 2 wraps later this summer. As stated in his interview, these types of projects wouldn’t be available to Evans if not for his role in the Marvel cinematic universe.

And even a third reason for actors joining up with Marvel is just plain curiosity and genuine interest. From IGN.com:

“One of the reasons that I did [Captain America: The Winter Soldier] was I wanted to experience this new form of filmmaking that’s taken over where you have kind of cartoon characters brought to life through high technology,” [Robert] Redford explains. “The Avengers series is a product of high technology playing a major role in the new order of filmmaking so I wanted to experience that—I just wanted to know what that was like and I had that opportunity, so for me it was like stepping into new terrain just to experience what it was like.”

So while the big name stars that Marvel brings in to populate their world get more than just a nice payday for being in their films; what does Marvel get out of it? This is where things start to get interesting. At the surface level, you put known actors in your film and you already bring a sense of heightened awareness for it. People recognize them, and by extension, put the film on their radar. A secondary surface level benefit is that you put an established actor in a role and you know you’re going to get a good solid performance out of them. Granted you ultimately don’t know what kind of performance you have until the film is finished, but any filmmaker will tell you that casting the right actor is key for any film. Those with a proven track record, who deliver time and again, give filmmakers and audiences a certain confidence about a film.

How about this for gravitas, Hannibal Lecter himself Anthony Hopkins plays Odin in the Marvel cinematic universe. He'll eat other superheroes for breakfast with fava beans and a nice chianti.

How about this for gravitas, Hannibal Lecter himself Anthony Hopkins plays Odin in the Marvel cinematic universe. He’ll eat other superheroes for breakfast with fava beans and a nice chianti.

On a larger scale and most importantly, Marvel gives these films and this world a certain sense of credibility by having these types of actors in their films. Counting all of the Marvel films released to date as well as those coming out this year, there are 19 Academy Award nominated actors starring in nine films, six of which are Academy Award winners (to give you some perspective, the Harry Potter series only has 12 spread across eight films). Add to that a number of actors who may not be nominated, but still provide high quality work and are recognizable, and you have a sizeable pool of actors who moviegoers know and love. By having quality actors in a film, it gives Marvel a strong foundation to build their cinematic universe upon as well as a sense of legitimacy. Part of the message sent is “we’re serious about these movies and we want you to come see them.” And it’s with this credibility that Marvel is using to build and sustain their shared universe.

Marvel has embarked on something that has never been done before in cinema–create a set of films that exist in the same universe. We’re not talking about franchises and franchise building like Peter Jackson and the Tolkien movies or Harry Potter; while those film exist in the same universe, they are all essentially one long story. This is all old hat.

No, Marvel’s shared universe is a bit different. They are producing a game changer. While every other studio out there is jumping on the “EPIC group superhero movie” bandwagon (Fox with another X-Men movie and Sony with multiple Spider-Man movies), Marvel is paving the way for something bigger. After the success of The Avengers, Marvel has moved on to what they call “Phase II.” While many think that Phase II is just building to another Avengers movie much like the Phase I of Marvel films did, Phase II is more than that. It will ultimately lay the groundwork for an entire universe of superheroes and potentially endless supply of movies. If Avengers 1 was a gamble that paid off, the impending success of a second Avengers movie will not only solidify the Avengers series of films, but open the door for Marvel to further populate this universe that they’ve created. The are ultimately out to create a goose that will lay them an endless supply of golden eggs.

While the superhero films of the late 90s/early 00s introduced us to the modern superhero film (Blade, X-Men, Raimi’s Spider-Man), Marvel has established it as an official genre; with the actors that they recruit to be in their films being an important cog in the larger machine. You see a universe of this size, it needs strong supports to hold it up. High caliber actors provide this type of support.

Phase I . . . Assembled. Now on to Phase II.

Phase I . . . Assembled. Now on to Phase II.

We know that the stories from Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and this summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy compose Marvel’s Phase II and lead up to next year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, none of this would be possible if we as an audience didn’t believe in the characters that populate this universe. While franchises come and go, having an entire ‘universe’ of films to draw from does carry a certain gravity with it. Through calculated and shrewd decision making, Marvel’s casting of well acted and reliable talent for their films gives them an excellent foundation to build their universe.

Is part of Marvel’s success due to the shrewd casting of high profile actors in their films? Tell us what you think and more in the comments.

02
Mar
14

Favorite Films of 2013

"You can't repeat the past." "Can't repeat the past? Why of course you can old sport."

“You can’t repeat the past.” “Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can old sport.”

Whatever films the Academy chooses to award honor tonight, at the end of the day their decision is simply that–their decision. Like any art form, how people interpret and perceive a film is a personal experience unique to them. We all have our likes and dislikes so no matter what one group of people decide, know that the only person who’s opinion truly matters is your own.

We often throw the word ‘Best’ around like we’re some kind of authority on something, “this place has the BEST loco moco.” Or “that was the BEST movie.” And granted, I’ve been guilty of it myself (see the titling for yesterday’s post). With that in mind and in an effort to be better representative of talking about decisions, lists, and preferences that are personal to one particular person (myself) . . .

I give you my favorite films from 2013:

10. This Is The End

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I knew that when I first saw This Is The End, one of the very first opinions I formed about it was that it wasn’t just a funny movie–it was a smart one as well. It could have been the fact that at the very end of the movie there’s a cameo that I thought was just totally off the wall hilarious. After a second viewing though, the film only grew on me. Part of the fun of it definitely is the self referential humor that the guys bring–while I don’t think that’s actually how they are in real life, they are definitely playing off their personas somewhat. Another aspect of the film I love is just how smart the comedy and story actually are. From the practicalness of their reasoning, to how they react to certain situations, to how they intermingle with one another; there are some very smart decisions going on that make the film really fun, and elevates it above a lot of comedies that we get these days.

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9. Her

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What I like about Her is that aside from the whole technology aspect of it, I think it’s a great vision of how our society is and where it’s heading. What I like even better than that are the questions about technology and relationships that the film asks us to look at. Can a human have a personal and intimate (a “real”) relationship with a piece of technology? While watching the film the answer isn’t as easy as you might think and I love that director and writer Spike Jonze is asking us the question. Joaquin Phoenix is just wonderful as the quiet and introverted human while Scarlett Johannson’s voice work is pretty soulful.

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8. Pacific Rim

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I wasn’t having all that much fun last summer until I saw Pacific Rim. I was just gobsmacked by the creativity, action, and spectacle that was in the film. The movie is pure fun to watch and classic summer blockbuster fare. Seeing these huge metal robots go up against even larger sea monsters made me feel like a little kid again. Guillermo del Toro has a great sense of imagination and you can feel that seeing the Jaeger’s and Kaiju battle it out on screen.

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7. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

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Part of it is the sci-fi aspect of the dystopian society, part of it is the story itself, yet still another part of it is that Jennifer Lawrence anchors a pretty solid cast in a film that further develops a potentially great series. While I liked The Hunger Games well enough, Catching Fire takes things to another level. This second outing isn’t encumbered by setting up the story and world building that the first film had to go through and you definitely get a sense that the cast is more comfortable this time around with the story a little more epic in scope. Throw in the fact that Lionsgate kicked in extra budget for the sequel (you know I love my production value), and Catching Fire is not only an exciting sequel, but one of those occasions where the second one is better than the first.

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6. The Croods

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From the first time I saw it, I utterly fell in love with The Croods. For starters I think the animation is on par if not better than Dreamworks Animation’s beloved film from a few years ago, How to Train Your Dragon. But more so than that, I was really into the story of family and change that The Croods presented, and I’m not going to lie, my heartstrings got pulled a litte towards the end. While the film features a wonderful voice work from the likes of Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, Catherine Keener, Clark Duke, and Nicholas Cage; it’s the characters they embody that really made me laugh and enjoy the film.

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5. American Hustle

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Hypothetically speaking, even if American Hustle didn’t have a plot to speak of, I would still watch this film just to see this group of actors perform. It’s no wonder that the film won the Best Ensemble acting award from the Screen Actor’s Guild as it truly is an acting showcase and great to see actors at this high of a caliber working with one another in the same film. Everyone in the film really gets into their roles and gives rich and nuanced performances. While the story was a little muddled at times, having this cast kept me in it the entire time, making me want to see what would happen next.

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4. Gravity

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While the film is a technological achievement in cinema, I prefer to focus on what was presented to me in the theater when I saw Gravity–an intense roller coaster ride of a film that had me on the edge of my seat the entire time. Through the magic of a dark theater, 3D, and surround sound (yes, despite the fact that there is no actual sound in space because there’s no air); Gravity is an awe-inspiring theatrical experience. If you didn’t tell me that this was done in a studio with lots of green screens, it’s exactly what I imagine space to be. The entire time Sandra Bullock’s character is struggling to make it home, I was hoping she would make it to the next station, grab on to some handhold, or magically understand Chinese because the film had me so immersed in her experience of fighting for her life in vastness of space.

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3. The Wolf of Wall Street

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Though I’m always down for Scorsese, nothing could have prepared me for the joyride that is The Wolf of Wall Street. Played charismatically and ferociously by Leonardo DiCaprio, film gives us a look into Wall Street that we all suspected to be true during our economic downfall six/seven years ago, but couldn’t be sure about until this film. Yes, while I’m sure the film does take artistic license into Jordan Belfort’s life, it’s still nonetheless intriguing and entertaining. It’s like watching a spectacular train wreck with all the debauchery and criminality going on–I couldn’t look away yet I was enthralled and entertained by the disaster of it all.

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2. Captain Phillips

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“I’m the captain now.” With those words Barkhad Abdi’s haunting portrayal as the Somali pirate Muse sets up much of the tension in Captain Phillips that doesn’t let up until the climatic rescue at the end of the film. While Gravity was a roller coaster of a ride itself, I think Captain Phillips ups the degree of difficulty (and suspense) since we know what the outcome of the film is before we see it. Paul Greengrass puts together a taut film that places you in the same claustrophobic and nerve-racking confines that Captain Phillips and his crew are in and doesn’t let you go.

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1. Short Term 12

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What can I say other than that I was utterly enchanted with Short Term 12. The film felt so authentically real and personal that I just couldn’t help falling for it. Brie Larson and John Gallagher Jr. are just superb as two counselors at a halfway house who day in and day out are trying to all they can to make sure the kids they look over get a second chance. Broken themselves and coming from the same world of which they also work in, Short Term 12’s sublimeness comes from the relationship between the two leads, and the heartfelt emotion they get from working at Short Term 12. No other film touched me more last year than this one did.

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So that’ll about do it for 2013. Here’s to hoping we get as many good films in 2014 that we got in 2013.

Did you enjoy any of these films from 2013? Let us know or tell us what your favorite films of 2013 were in the comments.

01
Mar
14

Hawaii Cinephiles Pick the Best of 2013

While we may not be the Academy, we know what we like.

While we may not be the Academy, we know what we like.

When we first started the Red Band Project, the one thing I knew for certain was that I loved movies. Never did I think that the words that would appear on this blog would ever go beyond my family or a small circle of friends. Oh how funny life is sometimes.

Through Red Band I’ve come to know, read, and respect fellow Hawaii movie lovers; who each have their own unique voices when it comes to writing and talking about films that they see and love. As we finally get set to close the door on 2013 tomorrow with the Academy Awards, I’ve gathered as many of these local cinephiles as I could and asked them to tell us which films they enjoyed the most from the past year. Please enjoy.

Brian Watanabe, Nonstop Honolulu

0301_02-BrianGravity

I wish I saw more movies this year (I haven’t seen 12 Years a Slave yet). But from a limited sample size, the one film that stands out for me is GRAVITY. It’s either the biggest small movie ever made or the smallest big movie ever made. An indie spirit in a blockbuster body. A simple story of survival framed in an immersive, big-screen experience.

It’s pure cinema. A film so visually ground-breaking, it shifts the paradigm. Don’t be surprised if you see a 13-minute, continuous space-battle shot in the next Star Wars. In 20 years, this is the 2013 film people will still be talking about.

Ryan Senaga, Red Band Project contributor

0301_03-RyanShortTerm12

I loved Short Term 12 and that’s saying a lot cause I usually hate movies like this. A story about a bunch of social workers for troubled teens. Yeah, totally my action movie, comic book hero thing, right? Much to my surprise, at a certain point in the movie, I was reduced to tears. And I haven’t cried in a theater since E.T. phoned home. Yeah, I’m old.

Suzie Setzler, Inside Out Hawaii

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My favorite film from last year was Ben Stiller’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Not only was it visually stunning with gorgeous picturesque sequences but the story had heart and I connected with Mitty on a personal level. Essentially, stories that resonate with me are ones that actually alter my perception of life afterward. It’s a tall order, but Walter Mitty achieved this, quietly and beautifully. I guess I just love how the film makes you reflect on life and how you choose to live it. Now, excuse while I book my plane ticket.

Myong Choi, Nonstop Honolulu

0301_05-MyongWolf

I’ve always been a fan of films with a little bit of an edge so while Gravity did blow me away and was the early choice for my favorite film of 2013, I have to go with The Wolf of Wall Street as my ultimate pick. I’m a fan of anything by Scorsese and his team-ups with Leonardo DiCaprio have all been cinematic successes. DiCaprio especially ups his game in this film and gives what I feel was the best performance of the year. Part Boiler Room and part Goodfellas, The Wolf of Wall Street had the most impact on me this year and I can’t wait to see it again.

Ryan Ozawa, Popspotting

0301_06-RyanGravity

For me, it was Gravity. Very few films genuinely qualify as “experiences,” but Gravity unquestionably makes the cut. And for a 3-D film to engross and mesmerize me, a 3-D skeptic, is even more unusual. Not the strongest story, I confess, but nonetheless an achievement in filmmaking, an exhilarating ride, and something that may only reach its full potential on the big screen. I often doubt the long-term viability of the mainstream movie industry, but films like Gravity will keep me coming back to the box office.

And as for my favorite film of 2013? Come back tomorrow when I go toe to toe with The Academy and list my favorite films of 2013 (or just click here).

Once again, thank you to all who contributed!

28
Feb
14

Oscar Watch 2014: Best Picture

With the Victory Tour all but over; in our final Oscar Watch before we give you our selection for the Best Picture winner of the 86th Annual Academy Awards.

With the Victory Tour all but over; in our final Oscar Watch we give you our selection for the Best Picture winner of the 86th Annual Academy Awards.

Well this is it, the big enchilada. Academy member votes were due this past Tuesday so while voting is done, all we can do now is wait with bated breath for the statues to be awarded on Sunday.

How does one go about choosing a Best Picture winner? And the end of the day, it basically comes down to people. Not people like you or me, but a select group of people–members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (AMPAS aka The Academy). We’re not talking about what you think the Best Picture of the year is, we’re trying to guess what they deem the Best Picture of the year. With that in mind, there are a few things you need to consider:

  • Demographics: In a study conducted by the Los Angeles Times two years ago, they determined that a large majority of Academy members are white males over the age of 50.
  • Voting Blocks (Yes & No): The Academy is broken up into 17 different branches. A new twist to this year’s awards will be the fact that for the first time, any Academy member (regardless of which branch they belong to) can vote on any or all awards–not just Best Picture and those limited to their branch. Previously you could look at guild awards as a predictor on how the Academy might vote in certain categoes; with everyone being able to vote for everything, this is no longer the case.
  • Storylines: This is where Oscar races get real interesting–trying to figure out which storylines will carry films across the finish line. In the voting process, almost everything about a film comes in to play, even its baggage. From performances to how the films are crafted, to stories of how producers got funding or how long it took a director to finally make a film; any storyline about how a film came into being can be the thing that Academy members latch onto when they vote.
  • History: While it’s easy to look back on how the Academy has voted in the past and use that to predict the future–you can’t always go by history. However, this is something you still need to consider and can’t dismiss. A good prognosticator knows when to let history guide you, and when to discard it.

And now, without any more fanfare, and no ado whatsoever . . .

What Should Win: The Wolf of Wall Street

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Out of all the nominees for Best Picture, The Wolf of Wall Street has everything that I would want in a Best Picture winner. It’s got some of the finest acting of the year with Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, and Leonardo DiCaprio (and in my humble opinion a Best Actor winning performance). It also presents subject matter that I think this compelling and thought provoking (Jordan Belfort–does the film glamorize his lifestyle or is it indifferent?). And it’s also got a lot of humor. It’s not a perfect film, but the movie as a whole is greater than the sum of its part and I think it’s Scorsese’s best film in years (even better than his 2006 Best Picture winner The Departed).

On everyone else . . .

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  • American Hustle: With a number of great performances from the ensemble cast, American Hustle has garnered a lot of love from the actor’s branch perfectly illustrated by its Screen Actors Guild award (SAG) for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture (the actor’s guild equivalent of the Academy’s Best Picture). With seemingly a large branch behind them can American Hustle pull off a victory? It’s definitely in the mix with Gravity and 12 Years a Slave with a lion’s share 10 nominations. Alas, acting aside, while the film is a huge crowd pleaser that the general public can relate to, I don’t think Hustle carries the same type of “prestiege” that the Academy thinks a Best Picture winner usual has. Also, it doesn’t have a lot of tech branch (visual effects, sound, etc) support like Gravity does so I just don’t see it making the cut. Granted it’s a period piece which the Academy loves and sure it’s got weaves and combovers, but bad hairstyling does not a Best Picture winner make.
  • Captain Phillips: As much as I love Captain Phillips (more so than Gravity), it’s fate was sealed when Tom Hanks’s name failed to nab a best actor nomination. Surprising to some, but ultimately a casualty of a really good and really crowded field this year (Robert Redford, Oscar Issac, and Michael B. Jordan are keeping Hanks company off the ballot), Phillips does not carry the actor’s branch support that 12 Years and American Hustle do. No actor love, no award.
  • Dallas Buyers Club: The McConaissance and Leto’s larger than life Rayon are the two things that this film has going for it and the Academy should be rewarding them accordingly (maybe even throw in an award for Makeup & Hairstyling as well). After that there’s not that much more to talk about here. Dallas Buyers Club has some phenomenal acting, but it doesn’t have anything else to carry it into Best Picture territory.
  • Gravity: Let’s be real here, Gravity is one of three, maybe even two films that are vying for the Best Picture award. With it’s ten nominations in tow (a majority in the tech categories) it’s right up there in nomination count along with American Hustle (10) and 12 Years a Slave (9). Out of all the Best Picture nominees it has the highest box office gross out of all of them (over $269 million to date) which gives it mass appeal like American Hustle. With the giant undertaking of the film as a whole and it’s long road to the screen, director Alfonso Cuaron is a shoo-in for Best Director and has the potential for taking home the most awards of the night (due to the love from the aforementioned tech branches). Gravity is definitely in the driver’s seat and I won’t be surprised if it wins on Sunday.

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  • Her: Ah Her, such a good little movie. I really wish we had more films like this being recognized. Sadly, I think the real honor for this film will be if it wins Original Screenplay. While personal and emotional, it just does not have the scope that the Academy looks for in Best Picture winners. I mean, they certainly aren’t going to award a film where the lead is basically just talking to himself. No, what I’d really like to see, is Scarlett Johansson win for best actress for Her. Is it too late to resurrect that campaign?
  • Nebraska: Like Philomena and in a more general sense like Her, Nebraska biggest hurdle is that it suffers from small picture syndrome. While you’ve got a great storyline in Bruce Dern’s journeyman like record from solid role player to meteoric leading man with a nomination, a surprising turn in drama by Will Forte, and a supporting actress nod for June Squibb, all of that can’t elevate Nebraska to much talked about “prestige” level that the Academy has for its Best Picture winners.
  • Philomena: Many people wonder how Philomena even snuck into the awards race. I’ll tell you how: old people. Like Nebraska, Philomena has a small, but personal and emotionally charged story backed by a great lead performance–that’s it. With the Academy’s older demographic and with a dame like Judi Dench in the film, it’s easy Oscar bait for the Academy to vote into contention, but not necessarily for a win.
  • 12 Years a Slave: With it’s dark subject matter and stellar performances, 12 Years is the other serious front runner to win Best Picture. Nominated in nine categories, this film certainly does have a lot of boxes that the Academy like to check off for Best Picture winners. Is it a period piece? Check. Is it based on a real life person? Check. Does it have solid acting performances? Check. Does it have scope and range? Check (it covers 12 years doesn’t it?). Is the director recognized? Check (McQueen may not be an Oscar winner, but all his films are critically acclaimed). However, the biggest hurdle for this film will definitely be it’s mass appeal. There have been many rumors that Academy members have not watched or find it hard to watch the film due to the unflinching look at slavery that it presents. Will that have a large enough effect on its awards chances? We’ll find out.

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What Will Win: 12 Years a Slave

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In a race this close, picking either Gravity or 12 Years is essentially splitting hairs. Both are worthy, but since the Academy has already stated there will be no ties in the Best Picture race this year, I’ll tell you why I think 12 Years a Slave will be your Best Picture winner for 2013.

It starts with the other awards of the night: The boys from Dallas Buyers Club will beat out Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender in the actor categories, Cuaron will beat out McQueen for director, and The Great Gatsby looks real good to take the awards in the two tech categories that it shares with 12 Years (Costume Design & Production Design). This leaves potentially Lupita Nyong’o to take the film’s lone acting award (maybe) and an adapted screenplay award for the film (again maybe). With Gravity taking home a lion’s share of tech awards, that only leaves potentially two for 12 Years. In a year so strong, I can see the Academy spreading the wealth around and giving Gravity tech awards and director, but giving Best Picture to 12 Years a Slave. That’s been the case thus far with it’s win for best picture at the Golden Globes and BAFTA’s.

Also working in 12 Year‘s favor, you know all that “prestige” talk I’ve mentioned previously? That is the exact sort of weight 12 Years a Slave can give to the Academy’s Best Picture win category. It is the type of film people automatically look at and say, “Yes, this is a Best Picture winner.” It’s not showy, it doesn’t have special effects, it just has really good acting, a compelling story, was well put together, and carries an important message.”

And as for all that talk of Academy members not being able to watch or sit through 12 Years a Slave; just because they can’t sit through a film doesn’t mean they won’t vote for it. Like I said, with the whole prestige thing in play and potentially tons of peers telling them that a film is deserving, what’s stopping them from voting for a film that’s more of an artful and socially conscious choice?

Besides, you remember the last time a studio sci-fi space film took on a smaller independent picture . . . Avatar ended up losing.

Did we get it right? Or are we totally off base? Give us your thoughts on our picks and yours in the comments.

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Check out the rest of our 2014 Oscar Watch posts for this year:

Actor in a Leading Role
Actress in a Leading Role
Actor in a Supporting Role
Actress in a Supporting Role
The Academy Hustle
The Nominations

27
Feb
14

Oscar Watch 2014: Actress in a Supporting Role

Oscar Watch looks to break down the different categories for the 2014 Academy Awards. We’ll do our best to give you the inside track for your Oscar pools. Above: Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle.

Oscar Watch looks to break down the different categories for the 2014 Academy Awards. We’ll do our best to give you the inside track for your Oscar pools. Above: Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle.

Who Should Win: Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle

I know what you’re probably thinking . . . “Matt, you’re in love with JLaw, of course you’d give her the Academy Award!” If she were being nominated for her Catching Fire performance, or if there was someone who really, I mean REALLY, blew me away in the Supporting Actress category, then I’d say, yes, you’re proclamation would carry some weight. The fact of the matter is that Jennifer Lawrence is really damn good in American Hustle. She simply fades into the role of Rosalyn, Christan Bale’s unpredictable New York housewife. While she’s very good in the “science oven” scene where she nags at Bale’s character with that smug and chirpy voice; it’s probably the lunch scene with her new beau Pete where she laments her fear of change where she really hits it out of the park.

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On everyone else . . .

  • Sally Hawkins: For Hawkins, since I haven’t seen her performance, I can only go off of what I’ve heard and read, which is that though she is well respected by her peers, this is a case of where the nomination itself is the reward. Having been passed over for her lead performance in the 2008 film Happy-Go-Lucky, many feel this nomination is an overdue mulligan from The Academy.
  • June Squibb: Squibb is a funny and overbearing wife in Nebraska, almost too funny at times. In fact in one scene involving speaking about deceased relatives as she stands over their graves, she goes a little over the top by flashing a headstone and taunting the person in it. Could it have been a convention of the screen writing and not the actress? Could be, but even still, I can’t help but feel she has a bunch of Betty White-like moments in the film–creating laughs by having an old white lady saying raunchy things. It’s humor derived from a convention more than a performance; good enough to get you nominated, but not Oscar worthy.
  • Julia Roberts: Though the former Oscar winner has a juicy role as Meryl Streep’s daughter in August: Osage County, that’s about all Roberts has going for her in this race. Before the season August was seen a potentially powerful Oscar contender. After opening to mixed/lukewarm reviews from critics, only a pair of actress nominations remain for the film. Roberts is probably bringing up the rear on this one so it’s good that she’s got a statue to comfort her already.
  • Lupita Nyong’o: Supporting actress is really a two horse race between Jennifer Lawrence and Lupita Nyong’o. I’ve talked about JLaw’s performance already and Nyong’o’s is as good if not better. You would be hard pressed to not to feel a deep sense of pain for the suffering her character goes through in 12 Years a Slave. As the fast picking cotton slave, Nyong’o’s Patsey is a shining star and favorite to master Edwin Epps, which puts her in many difficult situations–including one that is literally hard to watch. Nyong’o’s got a Screen Actors Guild (SAG) award in her back pocket so her performance in the film is being recognized by her peers.

Who Will Win: Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle

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Conventional wisdom might tell you that the chances The Academy would award someone so young acting Oscars in back to back years is slim to none. When you take into account that the last person to do so was Tom Hanks (Philadelphia in ‘93 & Forrest Gump in ‘94) and that no one has ever done it across acting categories, it’s a pretty bold prediction. Hell, at first blush I knew this would be a major hurdle for her awards chances. But here’s where I think it’s very plausible . . .

As I mentioned previously, the is race between Nyong’o and Lawrence. They both have really great performances and on any given day you probably could pick one over the other. Calling that a wash and throwing that out, we now have to look at everything else.

The big award that Nyong’o has going for her is that she won the SAG award for her category–which could portend that The Academy acting branch is behind her. However, Lawrence has two awards to Nyong’o’s to lone one: a Golden Globe and a BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts). I don’t believe in the Globes, but in the awards race they do account for something. The bigger award for Lawrence here is her BAFTA win. This could be a signal that the British block of Academy voters (a subset of the acting branch) could throw their weight behind her.

Moving on to broader speaking terms, American Hustle is a film that has more mass appeal than 12 Years a Slave. I sincerely hope the rumors of Academy members not watching 12 Years due to it being a ‘difficult watch’ are quite frankly that–rumors; but if they’re not then more voters will have seen Lawrence’s role than Nyong’o’s. More viewers should equate to more votes.

Finally, while it’s not generally a category that’s prone to race discrimination (Octavia Spencer, Mo’Nique, Jennifer Hudson, and Whoopi Goldberg have all won the award; Spencer, Mo’Nique, and Hudson within the last ten years), you never know when it could rear it’s ugly head. Remember now, we’re talking about group of people who are predominantly older and white. In a tight race between an African-American actress and a caucasian actress can we say with a 100% certainty that race won’t be a factor? I hope to God it won’t, but when you’re analyzing the system you have to take things like this into account.

With great performances for Nyong’o and Lawrence, Lawrence’s two awards wins to Nyong’o’s one, mass appeal of American Hustle vs 12 Years, and the ugly head of racism rearing its ugly head; that is why I think a second Oscar, and back to back, win for Jennifer Lawrence is very possible.

What are you thoughts on our best supporting actress prediction? Give us your thoughts on the category in the comments.

26
Feb
14

Oscar Watch 2014: Actress in a Leading Role

Oscar Watch looks to break down the different categories for the 2014 Academy Awards. We’ll do our best to give you the inside track for your Oscar pools. Above: Blanchett & Adams, our frontrunners.

Oscar Watch looks to break down the different categories for the 2014 Academy Awards. We’ll do our best to give you the inside track for your Oscar pools. Above: Blanchett & Adams, our frontrunners.

 

Who Should Win: (Tie) Amy Adams, American Hustle / Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine

I really hate ties cause I feel they’re cop-outs, but in this particular case, I think it’s warranted.

Not only did Amy Adams manage to play a sluttier type of woman than she’s normally known for, she also spent half the film speaking in a convincing English accent. And let’s not also ignore the fact that for almost three hours, she avoided a nip slip.

But then again, I think Cate Blanchett deserves this award as well. Not only did Ms. Blanchett manage to play a lower class of human than she’s normally known for, she also managed to spend the entire film speaking in a convincing American accent. And let’s not ignore the face that for almost two hours, she went without a Xanax.

Unfortunately, due to the recent allegations against Woody Allen, as well as his extremely unsympathetic op-ed, voters may punish the filmmaker by denying Ms. Blanchett some glory. This is too bad since she turned in a punishing, fearless role as a totally selfish, materialistic, and prescription medication-addicted bitch while at the same time, getting a ton of laughs in what was actually a comedy.

Judi Dench in Philomena & Meryl Streep in August: Osage County

Judi Dench in Philomena & Meryl Streep in August: Osage County

On everyone else…

  • Meryl Streep: We’ve seen Meryl Streep do this a billion times and we’ve seen her do it better, particularly in The Bridges of Madison County. (Yeah whoa, remember that one?) And besides, every single person who wins an Oscar that night is going to thank her profusely anyway. Sorry God, Meryl’s gonna get all the props.
  • Judi Dench: Like Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street, we get the feeling that Judi Dench is playing herself here. If anything, the Bond movies were probably a bigger stretch for her than this role in a rather cute but ultimately uninspired and vanilla adoption movie.

And while we’re at it, two actresses were criminally ignored in this category.

First there’s Brie Larson from Short Term 12, the most underrated film of the year. Her portrayal of a social worker with her own deep insecurities was one of the most moving and realistic characters to grace the screen in years.

Also very much worth noting is Adèle Exarchopoulos from the epic lesbian love story Blue is the Warmest Color. She seriously worked her ass off. Literally.

Not only was she completely fearless in the extremely graphic sex scenes required of her, she was also emotionally naked for most of the film. She was absolutely convincing as a young girl completely scared and elated with the slow discovery of her sexuality. It’s probably sacrilege to say it, but I bet even Ms. Streep could not have pulled that role off.

Who Will Win: Sandra Bullock, Gravity

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Because of the Woody controversy and Amy Adams getting upstaged by all the J-Law hoopla, I think Sandra Bullock is gonna squeak by. Yes, she did a good job, but I just feel she doesn’t deserve it because a lot of other actresses could have pulled that role off. Even Miley Cyrus would’ve been screaming and crying if she was in that outer space situation. Heck, even Justin Bieber would’ve been screaming and crying… Never mind. (Blake Griffin: You da man.)

 What are you thoughts on our best actress prediction? Give us your thoughts on the category in the comments.

26
Feb
14

Oscar Watch 2014: Actor in a Supporting Role

Oscar Watch looks to break down the different categories for the 2014 Academy Awards. We’ll do our best to give you the inside track for your Oscar pools. Above: Jaret Leto as Rayon from Dallas Buyers Club.

Oscar Watch looks to break down the different categories for the 2014 Academy Awards. We’ll do our best to give you the inside track for your Oscar pools. Above: Jaret Leto as Rayon from Dallas Buyers Club.

Who Should Win: Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

From it’s debut at TIFF last fall, Jared Leto’s performance as Rayon is the first thing people talk about when they talk about Dallas Buyers Club. His transformative performance even overshadows McConaughey’s at times. Leto gets to play the entire range with his character; when Rayon is his usual self he’s flamboyant and in your face, but also has emotional moments as well when he relapses into his drug use or in the scene where he goes to see his father. It’s a loud and sometimes showy performance, but that’s the kind of thing that gets supporting actors nominated and an eventual win.

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On everyone else . . .

  • Barkhad Abdi: If there was anyone that I thought that could slay Jared Leto, it would be the other captain in Captain PhillipsBarkhad Abdi’s Somali pirate captain Muse. A first time actor, Abdi shows no signs of weakness in scenes where he goes toe to toe with Tom Hanks. He truely was in command of those scenes where his crew first comes aboard the Alabama. There’s just something about his eyes, his mannerisms, and his dogged determination that makes his character that much more threatening. Sadly, The Academy rarely likes to give statues to actors without a proven record so Abdi’s nomination could be his prize.

  • Bradley Cooper: Though Cooper is good, he had a much better performance in last year’s Silver Linings Playbook. There were times in the film where when he went overboard, he REALLY went overboard; and not in a good way for me. Having said that, I think the overall strength of American Hustle is really what landed Cooper his nomination.

  • Michael Fassbender: Nobody does bad like Fassbender. His role as a plantation owner in 12 Years a Slave is one of the main reasons why some people have had difficulty with sitting through the film. His demented, and at times sadistic, character is just the type that audiences love to hate. While the performance is good, I just don’t think it’s as high as the one Leto is giving.

  • Jonah Hill: This is Hill’s second nomination, but like Cooper, I think it’s the weaker of the two (his first nominated and better performance being in Moneyball). We know Hill can do comedy, so while his scene stealing shenanigans in The Wolf of Wall Street are fun, they’re just not doing enough to really push him over the top and really show us more of a range.

Who Will Win: Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

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While it’s a solid field, Leto has been the clear frontrunner since the fall. Almost everyone has fallen in love with his character with Leto picking up awards in this category from both the LA & NY film critic circles, a Screen Actor’s Guild award, and a Golden Globe. Only an Oscar would complete the list.

What are your thoughts on our predictions? Give us your thoughts on the Best Actor category in the comments.




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