Friday, January 16, 2015

An Unimpressive Year for the Oscars

I am going to fight the urge to write a long, extensive, exaggerated introduction about how it's been such a long time since I've written on here. I used "long" twice in that sentence. Still easily distracted by such things. Two weeks later....

ANYWAY, I am here to discuss awards season. My absolute "preferred" time of year--still cannot type down "favorite" and be able to live with myself--is still awards season, despite my appalling absence last year. And Oscar Season 2014 was really the time to shine, creatively speaking, for there were numerous films to applaud. I'll do some praising right now for some of the films that should have been honored last year with physical statuettes, but were not. I'll do so, briefly, with pictures of those who were unforgivably ignored last year.

American Hustle: One of the best films of the year, and it got a total of zero awards at the Oscars. The direction was near-perfection; David O. Russell can really direct his actors into seamless collaboration and allow them to execute their full talents. The acting ensemble was just phenomenal, they just played off each other's performances so remarkably well. That's the marking of a truly talented director. I feel I've repeated some adjectives just then, oh well. Each and every one of these beautiful people should have received recognition, particularly that beautiful lady on the far right. Seriously? Lupita beat her? Now that pissed me off, and it still does now that I simmer over it a little more. 12 Years a Slave altogether was a dull dull picture, only receiving recognition for a striking reason. I enjoy period pieces, but that one was uneventful--and I wanted to like it. Let the disparaging comments commence. If only I had written last year...
This picture seems to define the movie, from the many I've seen in magazines. And why shouldn't it? He's just flawless. Leonardo DiCaprio gave yet another magnificent performance and was shunned by the Oscars yet again. Sure, he was nominated, but come on. How long are they going to wait, until he makes his own version of The Reader? (If you comprehend the meaning of that reference, I want to give you a hug.) Martin Scorsese, also, directed something worthy of merit, yet the award went to the spaceman director. Even Jonah Hill--who accepted a mere sixty grand to be in the movie--deserved something! However, I really can't complain about who did receive the Leading and Supporting awards...
Dallas Buyers Club. I am thrilled to say I actually enjoyed this one. Being that it had to do with AIDS, I feared that it would be another Philadelphia, out to make the audience cry and make them feel bad if they didn't. This film, however, focused on the health insurance issues, reminding people that AIDS is a serious medical ailment, not some sort of social stamp used to define certain groups. It was an issues movie, but the kind I like: one that exposes crooked practices set against the average (i.e. not rich) people of the country. Anyway, enough soapboxing. Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto gave exceptional performances as HIV-positive patients victimized by unfair medical practices. Each of them deserved the gold last year...even though Leo really deserves one sometime soon.

That felt good. Those recaps really reminded me of how much I love to write about movies. Awards season specifically, which brings me to the motive behind why I decided to return to this here blog. Italics just felt right. You may have noticed how I extolled last year's cinematic feats, and this was for good reason. One was to point out the films I enjoyed immensely and give them their overdue praise. Another is to show a stark contrast to this year's awards season. Stark contrast. And I will give you several examples of this utterly inadequate Oscar year. Also, I watched the Golden Globes. Thought I should mention, even though it's an obvious given knowing me. It gives me the edge I need to make Oscar predictions, which I will do at the end, though this year seems to be predictable by anyone. I'll be discussing some nominees--for the Oscars have announced their list--including a major criticism of one movie that happens to be the front-runner.... Birdman.

Birdman. Writing a negative review requires so much more precision and attention than writing a positive one. You really need to refine your skills of cruelty, especially when the dislike is so strong and especially when the consensus defies the dislike. I must implore what is so exceptional about Birdman that has Hollywood all aflutter with admiration, that has the Academy tossing a total of nine potential accolades at it. This is a genuine question, am I just missing something? I watched Birdman from beginning to end, forcing my dad to sit and endure until it was over. Throughout the film, I sat in futile anticipation that the conclusion of the movie would be so outstanding that both our cringes would disappear. Unfortunately, the ending just made it all worse, if possible. I actually walked away from the projector screen. Quite a gesture I know because usually I'm pressed up against it. I don't know why I'm attempting humor right now. Allow now to elaborate on these pessimistic feelings I have toward the film. I must stress that I truly wanted to watch this movie, therefore I wanted to like it. I like Michael Keaton, who I refer to as "Gene" in honor of The Other Guys. Where was that movie at the Golden Globes? Funniest thing of the second decade, I reckon. Anyway, I like Gene, and I like Edward Norton and Emma Stone (despite my dad's intense dislike of her and her abnormal eyes). The plot sounded pleasant enough: "A washed up actor, who once played an iconic superhero, battles his ego and attempts to recover his family, his career and himself in the days leading up to the opening of a Broadway play" [taken from IMDb]. Nothing remarkable, but enjoyable-sounding nevertheless. Actually, the plot sounded rather familiar, played-out you might say; as the film progressed, the cliches and familiarity were utterly impossible not to notice. The cinematography itself was jarring in an unsettling, not artistic, way. Following Michael Keaton (for the majority of the time since he is the lead) around the whole movie is not at all as artistic as I am sure the director thought it was. I got the feeling he was trying to do "a play within a play" kind of movie, and the fact that there is such a kind of production proves its lack of originality. There are films made like plays, such as Carnage and most Woody Allen films, and there are movies about plays, like All About Eve, which was actually a successful endeavor at making such a film seem like "a play within a play". What Birdman accomplished was pseudo-intellectual chaos that is the opposite of aesthetic. The score was aggravating as well. The jazzy noise and rat-a-tat drum beats sounded as if I was walking through the odd-Broadway districts inhabited by pretentious, artsy quasi-intellectuals. Considering the quality of the film, it was well-chosen. Acting, or lack thereof. As I've said, I like the actors in the movie themselves, just not their acting in the movie. And I don't see it as their fault whatsoever--it's the director's responsibility to muster each player's full potential to attain great performances (see American Hustle). Nonetheless, let's look at the acting. 
Michael Keaton--who is the definite Best Actor this year, according to the Academy--is not the best actor. I like him and all, but he doesn't possess the skills akin to actors like Edward Norton. He's a funny guy, known for zany roles such as Beetlejuice and Mr. Mom. There's nothing wrong with that, but why feel the need to just give him an Oscar? His career hasn't shown much quality to deserve recognition. Golden Globe at most, just not for Birdman. There was never a year where people felt he was snubbed, unlike Leonardo DiCaprio on many occasions. So why? In Birdman, especially, he was absolutely unexceptional, at times he even exhibited bad acting. Maybe his character demanded it, but Keaton was just too jumpy and agitated throughout the movie. The whole time, whenever I saw him on the screen, I thought "Wanna get nuts?" which is from Batman. I'd like to note that I appreciate the obvious comparison of Michael Keaton as Batman and his character as Birdman. It's funny, they're both washed-up actors. What a hilarious coincidence. Sense the tone. Maybe he was trying too hard--definitely trying too hard actually--but I just didn't see a comeback, as so many people have been saying. In quality that is, for this is surely a comeback in Hollywood since everyone loved the movie. I'm guessing when he walked through Times Square in his underwear, that was the moment people thought, "Yes. He's back." I just saw a sixty-three year-old man half-naked, that's what I saw. Petty, I know. If he doesn't give an incredible, show-stopping performance, I'll ask again: why does Mr. Mom need an Oscar? 
Moving on to other performances, we arrive at Edward Norton. Here is the one impressive aspect of the movie, though he always gives a spot-on performance even without the director's guidance. That has to say something, the fact that his acting was unharmed by the director, yet everyone else (aside from Naomi Watts, also, though she isn't nominated so I'll skip over her) dwindled in their ability. Indeed, Edward Norton deserves any acclaim he gets, wonderfully portraying a Method actor. Another coincidence it seems. Emma Stone, an actress I like very much, was nothing special in Birdman, certainly unworthy of an Oscar let alone being nominated for one. While I like Emma Stone, I don't feel she has developed her acting craft enough to earn award recognition. She's still young and I can't accept her as Oscar material just yet, unlike Jennifer Lawrence who is just innately talented it appears. Her performance in Birdman--Emma Stone not Jennifer Lawrence, if that needed clarification and I hope it wasn't needed--does not mark her entrance into the prestigious world of Oscar, nor does the movie itself deserve a place among the award stratosphere. As I write this, I am also scrolling through user reviews on IMDb. It's amazing how much praise this film is getting, I can't understand it. Of course, for those who gave praise, you might be reading this with your eyes rolling and scoffing at my ignorance. And what another coincidence that the subtitle of the film is "The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance". What the fuck does that even mean? Apologies for my first swearing in the new year. Surely, you who adored the film can explain it to me. Please do, and try not to be pretentious in your condescending enlightenment. There are many comments of praise for Birdman but one in particular really stunned me: "It's borderline miraculous" [said by Jessica Kiang from The Playlist]. Really? That quote just floored me, both out of disbelief and sheer hilarity. How can this be said of a film that is so bland, so painfully familiar that "original" is the furthest adjective that can be used to describe it, let alone miraculous? It's unbelievable. I feel like I'm an outsider and those who loved the film are part of some cult. I'm aware that a cult consists of smaller groups within a larger society, but it seems that the majority of people are under the spell of Birdman. Maybe I'm the sole cult member then, that seems plausible. To wrap this up, I'll talk about the one glaring flaw in the film, one that composes a large part of the movie and its assumed charm. Michael Keaton portrays a washed-up actor who is known for a superhero called Birdman, and throughout the movie the voice of Birdman haunts him. The bird tells the man how he is worthless and all that--again, very familiar. Near the end of the movie, the actual Birdman appears in Keaton's imagination of course. The costume is very silly, by the way, but that is a petty insult to the film. All of a sudden, at the moment Birdman appears, blockbuster, superhero effects surround Michael Keaton. Think Transformers in terms of explosions and action. If this scene were included in the trailer, there must have been many confused moviegoers expecting to see a new superhero called Birdman in action, explaining more than half the box office I'm sure. As this action-packed scene proceeds, I assume that these fantasies are products of Keaton's past and his desire to be famous again and all that. However, from this point, it appears that his character actually thinks he is Birdman, not just the actor who played him. This is proven by his attempt to "fly"...and the director's decision to have an extended sequence of Michael Keaton flying through the city. Insert cringe and confusion here. This whole thing is a metaphor or serves as symbolism of some sort, considering the artistic aspect attributed to the movie, but I do not appreciate ridiculous "art". Get it? The grand finale of the movie shows the play of Keaton's character on stage. At the end of the play, his character's character kills himself...only this time, Keaton's character actually killed himself. Predictable ending, or so I hoped. Instead, Keaton's character shot off his nose. What the fuck. This ending, as I mentioned earlier, makes Birdman far worse than I had already realized. Then, if this weren't enough, Keaton's character jumps out the window (of a hospital? really?) and Emma Stone looks up smiling, happy to see her father finally flying. Applause? No. This final act was just preposterous, culminating in my own impression of the movie--that it was a piece of garbage. And not the garbage art found in modern art museums. Was my review seething enough for you? Because I feel great right now. So much writing at once.

Foxcatcher. True story. This one I really liked. Not in a Top Ten of All-Time sense, or even the "I'll watch this again" sense. Perhaps I say really liked because I was somewhat surprised, considering the year we've had thus far. What was most surprising of all was neither acting nominee, but the man I actually couldn't stand until this movie: Channing Tatum. Up until now, I really disliked him in every way when it comes to actors. His performances are awkward and just plain awful, particularly his feats in comedy. The fact that girls and women just fawn all over him is an eye-rolling experience--he's nothing special, and the fact that everyone thinks he's gorgeous just makes him less attractive in my eyes. Aren't I bitter? However, this movie demonstrated Channing Tatum in a habitat where he is acceptable and even good at acting. As insecure Olympic champion, Mark Schultz, Tatum displays such intensity in the role as he strives to win the next Olympics. The ferocity he shows in the movie is shocking at times, it's just the concept of him being a good actor is incredible. Maybe he finally found his niche in the acting world? Maybe the direction was terrific (earning its director nomination)? Whatever the case, Channing Tatum is now labelled as decent in my book. Until he makes another Jump Street or Magic Mike that is. 
Steve Carell was another shocking element of the film, transforming into this ominous creep. The make-up helped to distance himself from Michael Scott from Dunder Mifflin, but an actor with true talent can transform himself no matter what. And that's what Steve Carell proved himself to be, earning his first Oscar nomination for his portrayal of John Du Pont, the millionaire who sponsors Mark Schultz to be an Olympic wrestling champion. Every time Steve Carell creeped onto the screen--literally creeped, a soundless and eerily quiet entrance--he oozed a sort of talent unbeknownst to audiences. (Word of the day: can you guess which one?) He was able to execute a dramatic role without resorting to awkward jokes, as he is used to, and prove that he is more than just a funny face. With a bird nose. I love Steve Carell. The next nominee is Mark Ruffalo, who portrayed Tatum's brother in the film. A fellow Olympian, Dave Schultz is a down-to-earth, honest family man who truly cares for his brother Mark, seeking out his best interests. Once Mark becomes involved with John Du Pont, however, his fraternal instincts kick into gear (what an old school catchphrase) and he looks into their odd relationship. Eventually, Dave is a part of the Du Pont team--as a result of Du Pont's insistence that he joins. I see that I am giving a synopsis of the film instead of critiquing it, I apologize. 
Performance-wise, Mark Ruffalo did a stand-up job (another catchphrase), filling the role of a humble guy who means no harm very well. As he normally does. Truth be told, he plays nearly the same character in every movie, with some variation depending on the film. In Foxcatcher, however, he actually deserves the acclaim, in my opinion. From here on, let's assume that everything "I" says is in "my" opinion. With Kids Are All Right a few years ago--remember that? Of course you don't--he provided a lackluster performance (along with the rest of the cast of that one); but here, with the right direction, Mark Ruffalo was able to act in the confines of a well-made picture, allowing him to be very decent indeed. The fact that the director of this film--Bennett Miller--was able to guide Channing Tatum into a performance that can be called "very good"? Now that is some masterwork. I would like to see Steve Carell win the Oscar this year because he accomplished something rather incredible for a man of his talents. Though we know he won't...damn Birdman.

The Grand Budapest Hotel. Not a true story. Wes Anderson strikes again with this masterful film about a renowned fictional hotel in the Republic of Zubrowka, following the adventures of a quirky concierge and his trusted protege. My adoration for Wes Anderson is a fairly recent development, beginning with this film now that I think back. It was because of this strange yet phenomenal piece of cinema that I explored his other films. The one I thoroughly enjoyed was The Royal Tenenbaums, for I am a sucker for dysfunctional family dark comedies. There's a genre for you. With Budapest Hotel, Anderson demonstrates his unusual craft once more as he dazzles the eye with aesthetic screenshots and quirky plot twists.A review in a nutshell, you could say. Each shot, literally, can be taken and displayed as artwork of actual value. Set during World War II, the film immediately peaked my interest, even more so as events unfolded within that framework. Let me just insert a teensy tangent: I was scrolling through the user review boards on IMDb and found one titled "So now we're saying Grand Budapest is better than Birdman?" Umm, yes we are... And I'm glad to see a few amusing comments agreeing with me on that point. Anyway, back to the show. Beyond the visual pleasures with production design, the acting was absolutely superb. Another great acting ensemble, helmed by a director who knows how to direct his talented cast and summon their utter best. 
Ralph Fiennes is the centerpiece of this quirky comedy. As the legendary concierge at the Grand Budapest Hotel, he is as accommodating to his guests as he is to the audience watching the film. He is hilarious--literally making me laugh out loud--and slides into the role like the glass slipper fit on Cinderella. I went to Disney World a few weeks ago. It was nice. Like all skilled actors worthy of praise, Ralph Fiennes becomes the character he portrays quite believably as well as splendidly. His eloquence certainly suits the incomparable concierge, as each phrase out of his mouth is a fancy for the ears. Why he received no Oscar nomination this year is beyond me. It also infuriates me, especially knowing Michael Keaton was for such an inadequate picture. Anyway. Other colorful characters, played by Wes Anderson's usual band of actors, include: a decrepit wealthy widow and her diabolical son (Tilda Swinton and Adrien Brody), a peculiar assassin (Willem Dafoe), a humorous inspector (another great performance by Edward Norton this year), and a secret society of concierge (Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman). I already said this, but here I go repeating it: Wes Anderson can direct his actors beautifully to the golden sun. Little metaphorical lingo for your fancy. The wonderful screenplay provides characters with whimsical dialogue, bringing to life a gratifying rapport between the actors and pleasing audiences with an interesting storyline. Every aspect, practically, is impeccable. The film never lost its pacing, unlike a certain frontrunner I trashed earlier, and it remained entertaining all throughout. It was a true cinematic delight, and as I reflect on how marvelous it was I have the urge to watch it again. Quoting my dear dad, that is the definition of a good movie--one you want to watch again and again. As I said, discussing an excellent film takes much less time and passion than discussing an awful film.

Gone Girl. Here we have perhaps the greatest dramatic--for comedic, see the previous entry--film of the year. The mystery behind why this film wasn't nominated, nor was it director, for an Academy Award astounds me. The critics adored the film, complimenting its hypnotic allure and twisted (in a good, psychologically thrilling way) execution. David Fincher, especially, was at the top of the Best Director prediction list, from what I recall, and rightfully so. And no nomination. In fact, the only nods worth mentioning is Rosamund Pike for Best Actress and for Best Adapted Screenplay. Enough lamentation, let's examine the evidence. Gone Girl is a bestselling novel, so I'll assume you've either read it, heard about it, or have seen the film. The film goes through several phases (i.e. segments that each feel like their own film yet combine to make a fantastic whole picture) which increases the enjoyment of the viewer. For me it did anyway. Sparing the details, focusing on the quality. Rosamund Pike, first and foremost, deserves that goddamn Oscar. Why speak so crudely? Well, the award is beginning to lose its value, and I feel it should be redeemed with cinematic excellence. That begins here by bestowing the honor upon the lovely Rosamund Pike for her performance as the lovely yet haunting Amazing Amy Dunne. 
How she shifts from persona to persona is mesmerizing, but above anything she is always devious and calculating. She would have to be, to execute such a scheme. Again, watch the movie so you'll know exactly what excellence I'm talking about. It is impossible to deny the value of her performance. By denying her value, the Academy would be propelling itself further down the downward spiral that began when Slumdog Millionaire won Best Picture. Call me cruel and unforgiving, I'll say you're probably right. In reality, I may be the sweetest girl ever. Ask anyone. Anyway. Ben Affleck does it again, and by "it" I mean acting rather well and not at all cheesy or awful. This year, he will be the recipient of the Redeemer Award at the Razzies, for his transformation from Gigli to Argo. Well deserved, as would be the Oscar for Best Director he failed to receive for Argo. Interesting, how long and far a grudge against the Academy can go. Another honorable mention in Gone Girl goes to Tyler Perry, who was actually decent acting-wise. Again, remarkable direction. Neil Patrick Harris--known for playing a womanizer on television, and hosting the Oscars this year wouldn't you know it--is also good in the film, which is all I can say considering I'm still in the process of warming up to him. I don't like How I Met Your Mother, so liking him is a stretch too. But A Million Ways to Die in the West helped a great deal. You know, the film that's nominated for a bunch of fucking Razzies. Seriously? As fucking Birdman is collecting accolades? What in God's name.... I say after swearing twice. Every player in this acting ensemble served their part in making a phenomenal (used that word already) picture, and major credit is due to the director of the film who guided them to being exceptional. Making Madea act well is a feat worthy of at least a fucking Best Director nomination, yes? Crude language for a deteriorating Academy of so-called cinematic excellence. What makes Gone Girl a truly unique and magnificent cinematic experience is the daunting suspense, executed with finesse by director David Fincher and perfected by both the chilling screenplay/story and the actors. Enough said. For you consideration. Let's revive the golden age of Academy Award history.

Well, I wrote way more than I intended, which is a fantastic feeling I must say. Feeling great right now, damn. I'm not through yet though--now for the Oscar predictions. Pretty obvious, the way I see it, but I'll go ahead and use pictures to illustrate my points again.

The Oscar for Best Picture will go to... Birdman. Why this for my prediction? That caption on the poster says it all, am I right?

The Oscar for Best Actor will go to... Michael Keaton for Birdman. This image expresses how I feel toward this inevitably accurate prediction.
The Oscar for Best Actress will go to... Julianne Moore for Still Alice. She looks about as confused as I am as to why she's even nominated, let alone a potential winner.
The Oscar for Best Supporting Actor will go to... J.K. Simmons for Whiplash. I haven't seen the movie, but I am glad that he's finally getting some recognition for his strong acting skills. Want more proof? Watch Oz from beginning to end.
The Oscar for Best Supporting Actress will go to... Patricia Arquette for Boyhood. Couldn't care less, not much competition anyway.
The Oscars for Best Picture and Best Directing should go to... Gone Girl and David Fincher for directing. If only they were nominated...
The Oscar for Best Actress should go to... Rosamund Pike for Gone Girl. I think I made my point earlier.
The Oscar for Best Actor should go to... Ralph Fiennes for The Grand Budapest Hotel. The Academy already snubbed him for Schindler's List. Now they don't even give him a chance. Goddamn Academy.
Edward Norton should just get an Oscar for something he did this year. Even Birdman would be okay.
This is her nineteenth nomination. Of course she deserves each and every one because she is the actress of this lifetime. Just wanted to say: wow.
Goodness gracious. I am quite the Productive Penelope today. Or rather Busy Betsy. Vigorous Veronica, there we go. It has been a sincere pleasure writing today, all day long. I really miss writing how I think because, up until this point, my thoughts have been scattered around my head. In addition to heavy college coursework, my brain is befuddled with my passions and my responsibilities. It's good to have a bit of mental release. Here's hoping that the urge to write will hit me more often. As I've said, it feels amazing. Have a productive and merry new year! Until next time.