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Is it too early to start predicting next year’s Oscars?

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The Atlantic, The Playlist and The New York Times all have them: 2013 Oscar prediction pieces. Predicting next year’s Oscars within days of this year’s Oscars? Isn’t that a little early? In a word: yes.

True, it’s useful to get a quick look at the big prestige movies coming our way this calendar year, to put them on our radar for when they begin to crop up in the fall. But the fall is still a long ways away. Some of these movies (like Terrence Malick’s upcoming project with Ben Affleck) don’t have release dates yet — or even titles (like Terrence Malick’s upcoming project with Ben Affleck) — and could easily wind up getting pushed back to the 2014 Oscar race (like Terrence Malick’s upcoming project with Ben Affleck). Since no one has seen any of these movies it is basically just a guessing game: look at the calendar, see which movies have the best creative pedigrees, and fire away. “The Dark Knight Rises” for Best Picture? Sure, why not. Best Adapted Screenplay? Uh, let’s see if we can understand the words coming out Tom Hardy’s mouth first.

Anyone who tried the Oscar prediction game at this time last year would have been way off: who would have called “The Artist,” a tiny silent film from France that hadn’t premiered anywhere, to win Best Picture? No one. At this point in the 2009 Oscar race, “The Hurt Locker” had just lost at the Spirit Awards, where it gambled on nominations prior to its theatrical release, and looked dead in the water. Meanwhile “Avatar” still sounded like the craziest of crazy gambles by James Cameron. Did anyone predict that horse race? At this point, no.

These pieces are endemic of a strange, and relatively new impulse in the world of movie journalism: the drive to extend “Oscar season” until it lasts the entire year. This is almost certainly a function of the number of websites devoted to Oscar coverage, which serve an important (and very ad-friendly) niche for a good third of the year and then need to justify their existence the other eight months. If you work on one of those sites, this has to be the toughest week of the year to fill: people are burnt out on Oscar talk (can you tell I’m burnt out on Oscar talk?!?), but you’ve got to fill the space somehow. Hence, mega-early predictions.

I was a guest on the /Filmcast this week, where we dissected the Oscar broadcast and awards (for this year, I want to be clear about that). And one thought occurred to me as we all piled on “The Artist.” This was a film I enjoyed when I saw it — not enough to declare one of the best pictures of the year, but enough to feel like it was a satisfying movie. Yet by late February, it had been the presumptive Best Picture frontrunner for so long that I was completely sick of reading and talking about it. Now that it’s the best film of 2011, I’m sure I never want to hear about it ever again, much less watch it again. These professional Oscar prognosticators are so good at their jobs that they’ve have taken a lot of the guesswork out of the Academy Awards. They’ve killed the suspense, and a little bit of the fun. Would I have been happier with “The Artist” as a Best Picture winner if it hadn’t been talked to death for the last six months? Maybe. What movie could hold up to that much scrutiny?

So maybe let’s hold off on the predictions for now. The Toronto Film Festival, in early September, feels like a better place to start this conversation. At this point, it’s just a lot of empty talk.

Do you like reading next year’s Oscar predictions now? Tell us in the comments below or write to us on Facebook and Twitter.

Underworld

Under Your Spell

10 Otherworldly Romances That’ll Melt Your Heart

Spend Valentine's Day weekend with IFC's Underworld movie marathon.

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Photo Credit: Screen Gems/courtesy Everett Collection

Romance takes many forms, and that is especially true when you have a thirst for blood or laser beams coming out of your eyes.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a werewolf, a superhero, a clone, a time-traveler, or a vampire, love is the one thing that infects us all.  Read on to find out why Romeo and Juliet have nothing on these supernatural star-crossed lovers, and be sure to catch IFC’s Underworld movie marathon this Valentine’s Day weekend.

1. Cyclops/Jean Grey/Wolverine, X-Men series

The X-Men franchise is rife with romance, but the steamiest “ménage à mutant” may just be the one between Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), Cyclops (James Marsden), and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman). Their triangle is a complicated one as Jean finds herself torn between the two very different men while also trying to control her darker side, the Phoenix. This leads to Jean killing Cyclops and eventually getting stabbed through her heart by Wolverine in X-Men: The Last Stand. Yikes!  Maybe they should change the name to Ex-Men instead?


2. Willow/Tara, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Joss Whedon gave audiences some great romances on Buffy the Vampire Slayer — including the central triangle of Buffy, Angel, and Spike — but it was the love between witches Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Tara (Amber Benson) that broke new ground for its sensitive and nuanced portrayal of a LGBT relationship.

Willow is smart and confident and isn’t even sure of her sexuality when she first meets Tara at college in a Wiccan campus group. As the two begin experimenting with spells, they realize they’re also falling for one another and become the show’s most enduring, happy couple. At least until Tara’s death in season six, a moment that still brings on the feels.


3. Selene/Michael, Underworld series

The Twilight gang pales in comparison (both literally and metaphorically) to the Lycans and Vampires of the stylish Underworld franchise. If you’re looking for an epic vampire/werewolf romance set amidst an epic vampire/werewolf war, Underworld handily delivers in the form of leather catsuited Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and shaggy blonde hunk Michael (a post-Felicity Scott Speedman). As they work together to stop the Vampire/Lycan war, they give into their passions while also kicking butt in skintight leather. Love at first bite indeed.


4. Spider-man/Mary Jane Watson, Spider-man

After rushing to the aid of beautiful girl-next-door Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), the Amazing Spider-man is rewarded with an upside-down kiss that is still one of the most romantic moments in comic book movie history. For Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), the shy, lovable dork beneath the mask, his rain-soaked makeout session is the culmination of years of unrequited love and one very powerful spider bite. As the films progress, Peter tries pushing MJ away in an attempt to protect her from his enemies, but their web of love is just too powerful. And you know, with great power, comes great responsibility.


5. Molly/Sam, Ghost

When it comes to supernatural romance, you really can’t beat Molly and Sam from the 1990 hit film Ghost. Demi Moore goes crazy for Swayze like the rest of us, and the pair make pottery sexier than it’s ever been.

When Sam is murdered, he’s forced to communicate through con artist turned real psychic, Oda Mae Brown (Whoopi Goldberg in her Academy Award-winning role) to warn Molly she is still in danger from his co-worker, Carl (a pre-Scandal Tony Goldwyn). Molly doesn’t believe Oda is telling the truth, so Sam proves it by sliding a penny up the wall and then possessing Oda so he and Molly can share one last romantic dance together (but not the dirty kind). We’d pay a penny for a dance with Patrick Swayze ANY day.


6. Cosima/Delphine, Orphan Black

It stands to reason there would be at least one complicated romance on a show about clones, and none more complicated than the one between clone Cosima (Tatiana Maslany) and Dr. Delphine Cormier (Evelyne Brochu) on BBC America’s hit drama Orphan Black.

Cosima is a PhD student focusing on evolutionary developmental biology at the University of Minnesota when she meets Delphine, a research associate from the nefarious Dyad Institute, posing as a fellow immunology student. The two fall in love, but their happiness is brief once Dyad and the other members of Clone Club get involved. Here’s hoping Cosima finds love in season four of Orphan Black. Girlfriend could use a break.


7. Aragorn/Arwen, Lord of the Rings

On a picturesque bridge in Rivendell amidst some stellar mood-lighting and dreamy Elvish language with English subtitles for us non-Middle Earthlings, Arwen (Liv Tyler) and Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) bind their souls to one another, pledging to love each other no matter what befalls them.

Their courtship is a matter of contention with Arwen’s father, Elrond (Hugo Weaving), who doesn’t wish to see his daughter suffer over Aragorn’s future death. The two marry after the conclusion of the War of the Ring, with Aragorn assuming his throne as King of Gondor, and Arwen forgoing her immortality to become his Queen. Is it too much to assume they asked Frodo to be their wedding ring-bearer?


8. Lafayette/Jesus, True Blood

True Blood quickly became the go-to show for supernatural sex scenes featuring future Magic Mike strippers (Joe Manganiello) and pale Nordic men with washboard abs (Hi Alexander Skarsgård!), but honestly, there was a little something for everyone, including fan favorite Bon Temps medium, Lafayette Reynolds (Nelsan Ellis).

In season three, Lafayette met his mother’s nurse, Jesus, and the two began a relationship. As they spend more time together and start doing V (short for Vampire Blood), they learn Jesus is descended from a long line of witches and that Lafayette himself has magical abilities. However, supernatural love is anything but simple, and after the pair join a coven, Lafayette becomes possessed by the dead spirit of its former leader. This relationship certainly puts a whole new spin on possessive love.


9. Nymphadora Tonks/Remus Lupin, Harry Potter series

There are lots of sad characters in the Harry Potter series, but Remus Lupin ranks among the saddest. He was bitten by a werewolf as a child, his best friend was murdered and his other best friend was wrongly imprisoned in Azkaban for it, then THAT best friend was killed by a Death Eater at the Ministry of Magic as Remus looked on. So when Lupin unexpectedly found himself in love with badass Auror and Metamorphmagus Nymphadora Tonks (she prefers to be called by her surname ONLY, thank you very much), pretty much everyone, including Lupin himself, was both elated and cautiously hopeful about their romance and eventual marriage.

Sadly, the pair met a tragic ending when both were killed by Death Eaters during the Battle of Hogwarts, leaving their son, Teddy, orphaned much like his godfather Harry Potter. Accio hankies!


10. The Doctor/Rose Tyler, Doctor Who

Speaking of wolves, Rose “Bad Wolf” Tyler (Billie Piper) captured the Doctor’s hearts from the moment he told her to “Run!” in the very first episode of the re-booted Doctor Who series. Their affection for one another grew steadily deeper during their travels in the TARDIS, whether they were stuck in 1950s London, facing down pure evil in the Satan Pit, or battling Cybermen.

But their relationship took a tragic turn during the season two finale episode, “Doomsday,” when the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and Rose found themselves separated in parallel universes with no way of being reunited (lest two universes collapse as a result of a paradox). A sobbing Rose told a holographic transmission of the Doctor she loved him, but before he could reply, the transmission cut out, leaving our beloved Time Lord (and most of the audience) with a tear-stained face and two broken hearts all alone in the TARDIS.

Nostalgia and the Academy Awards

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The Academy Awards are one week away and, at this point, it looks like the big winners will be the French silent movie tribute “The Artist,” the American tribute to French silent movies “Hugo,” and other films, like “The Help” and “Midnight in Paris,” set in or obsessed with the past. Clearly, this year’s Oscars are all about nostalgia. But why? In The Los Angeles Times, Neal Gabler locates the origin of this trend in the neurotic minds of Hollywood executives who, he writes, are “full of self-loathing”:

“We tend to think that the denizens of the film industry luxuriate in the popcorn movies they deliver to us, that they love the bombast that is now the primary reason people go to the movies. Indeed, the stereotype of the movie mogul is still a man or woman who cares more about money than prestige, and who boasts, as a writer once remarked of Columbia Pictures head Harry Cohn when Cohn said a movie wasn’t any good because he kept wiggling in his seat, that the whole world is ‘wired to his ass.’ They are us — only richer.”

Gabler believes that as the movie industry’s offerings have gotten dumber, its need for respectability has intensified. That led to the situation we have now: where, Gabler explains, the studios pump out only two kinds of movies: blockbusters and “anti-blockbusters.” These films, like “The Artist” or “Hugo” or “War Horse” don’t just steep in the world of the past, they celebrate the past in order to denigrate the present. “The Artist,” for example, is a story about the tragedy of innovation. Its hero is a silent film actor at the top of his game. When Hollywood introduces sound, and the actor — the artist! — refuses to make the transition, he is nearly destroyed. But even more importantly, the beauty of silent film was destroyed, and it’s that beauty that “The Artist” seeks to resurrect and honor.

Gabler has certainly identified a legitimate trend amongst this year’s Academy Award nominees. He’s a smart guy too; Gabler wrote “Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination,” one of the finest biographies in recent memory. But I’m not sure he’s reading this trend correctly. Is the nostalgia amongst a wide swath of 2012 Oscar nominees a reaction against mainstream Hollywood or an expansion of it?

After all, cinematic nostalgia was not simply limited to awards pictures last year: it was the predominant theme in all kinds of films. Just about everything Hollywood makes these days is indebted to something that has come before. It might be something based on an old television series or or a landmark series of books or a toy popular with children in the 1980s. Don’t forget all the prequels to sci-fi classics or comic book movies. Then there’s the big-screen adaptation of the old cartoon and the big-screen adaptation of the old cartoon and, of course, the big-screen adaptation of the old cartoon. Even so-called “original” films look like prior works, from Steven Spielberg movies to James Bond adventures. The trick is the same every time — take an existing property with a built-in fanbase and gussy it up with new effects to capture the imagination of a new audience and recapture the imagination of the old audience who loved it even before it looked good.

Gabler says that the Oscars’ “sudden burst of nostalgia” may be “a demonstration of the self-contempt of an industry that is finally tired of itself.” But the same impulse fueling a film like “War Horse” — which Gabler cites as an example of an old-fashioned anti-blockbuster — is basically the same impulse fueling a film like “Cowboys & Aliens” — a new-fangled action spectacular. Like “War Horse,” “Cowboys & Aliens” is indebted to the works of John Ford (as well as the works of other nostalgia icons like George Pal and Ray Harryhausen) — and like “War Horse” it’s also about “primal communions” between boy and father, man and horse. “War Horse” might be soppy melodrama and “Cowboys & Aliens” might be a noisy bore, but the cloth they’re cut from is not all that different. And both came from the same man: director and executive producer (respectively) Steven Spielberg.

Maybe Hollywood is full of self-loathing; in my experience, most people and most industries are. But I’m not sure the presumed popularity amongst Oscar voters of “The Artist,” “Hugo,” and others is indicative of that self-loathing. It seems equally likely that nostalgia’s Oscar dominance this year simply reflects nostalgia’s dominance across all kinds of filmmaking disciplines. Most of the nostalgic movies mentioned above were huge hits; I selected them from this list of the highest grossing films of 2011. If we looked back over the past couple years, we’d find similar results. Old is the new new. And money is still money.

What do you make of all the nostalgic films at this year’s Academy Awards? Tell us in the comments below or write to us on Facebook and Twitter.

“I’d like to thank the Academy…” – Tim Grierson on The Art of Oscar Speeches

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It’s easy to be cynical about the Oscars. “Just another awards show.” “They always honor the wrong movies.” “It’s too stuffy and dull.” And while I agree with all those complaints, I’ve never been someone who rolls his eyes at the Academy Awards. OK, fine, I’m not jazzed about Billy Crystal as the host, and I’m not thrilled that “The Artist” is probably going to win Best Picture. But this Sunday, I’ll probably be as excited as I always am about the show. It’s not necessarily who wins that matters — it’s how they win. For me, you see, it’s all about the acceptance speeches. In front of the world, a celebrated actor or director becomes something different — a brand-new Oscar winner — and the unpredictability of that transformation is something I never get tired of watching.

Because the buildup to Oscar night is filled with so many other nights of awards — critics’ prizes, the Golden Globes, the SAG Awards — it can sometimes feel anticlimactic when they finally hand out the Academy Awards. (By this point last year, did anyone think Colin Firth or Christian Bale wasn’t going to win?) And so it’s inevitable that some of the speeches come across as smoothly delivered but a little rote. There’s less surprise in the winner’s voice because, well, he or she sorta knew this moment might be coming.

But nonetheless there are still occasionally those out-of-left-field shockers in which the pomp of Oscar night gives way to something more lively and human. For all the carefully manicured glitz of the program, a great, heartfelt speech can cut through that — and thank goodness.

I’m thinking of a moment like Adrien Brody’s 2003 reaction to his Best Actor win for “The Pianist.” He was up against four previous Oscar-winners, and he was easily the least-known of the contenders. And, yet, there he was, hearing his name called. We tend to remember Brody’s victory mostly for his memorable big smooch with presenter Halle Berry, which gets replayed over and over again. But his acceptance was much more than just that — it was the chance to watch the youngest man ever to win Best Actor wrap his head around what was happening. And so out came this wonderfully touching and ramshackle speech that a more seasoned Hollywood veteran would never give in a million years. And that was the point: Whether wishing a military buddy a safe return or admitting that the experience had been great except for the “insomnia and sudden panic attacks,” there was something terrifically unguarded and honest in Brody’s words that made him seem like the realest person in the room. It wasn’t smooth, but it was beautiful and emotional.

I think that’s what we all want from acceptance speeches — that sense of connection with a winner in which we get a hint of what’s going on in his or her head during a career-defining moment. Even if we’ve never had dreams of winning an Oscar (or a Grammy or a Tony or an Emmy), we’ve all probably imagined what it would be like to be in front of all our peers (and a huge TV audience) and say thanks. And even if you look down your nose at the Oscars, there’s no question it’s the pinnacle of the film business. For the rest of your life, you’ll always be identified as “Oscar-winner” so-and-so. (Although, as George Clooney noted when he won the Best Supporting Actor prize, there is a downside to that.) And we all get to share in that moment of someone’s ascension to Oscar immortality, which only a select group of actors and filmmakers have ever gotten to enjoy. That’s incredibly thrilling — but it also must be a little daunting. The performance took weeks of preparation, a few months of shooting, and then a few months more to be shaped in an editing room. But the speech? That happens live, and there’s no way to know what will come out of your mouth — but audiences will remember it for just as long.

I’m not the only one thinking about Oscar speeches lately. Film critic Glenn Kenny recently put together a list of the best male and female acceptances, and while it’s a great rundown, I think it tends toward the more iconic speeches that we all remember. Personally, it’s the smaller, less infamous moments that have stayed with me. Like when 2008 host Jon Stewart brought back Best Original Song co-winner Markéta Irglová (for “Falling Slowly” from “Once”) to say her thanks after she’d been played off earlier. Or Kate Winslet, receiving her 2009 Best Actress Oscar, asking her dad to “whistle or something ‘cuz then I’ll know where you are” — which her dad did immediately, getting her attention in the packed Kodak Theatre. Or Paul Sorvino sobbing uncontrollably as his daughter Mira won Best Supporting Actress for “Mighty Aphrodite.” Or Tommy Lee Jones, whose head was shaved for his upcoming role in “Cobb,” insisting “I am not bald” while winning Best Supporting Actor in 1994.

But the reason why I love the Oscars specifically is that every once in a while you’ll get a crazy confluence of events that allows the crunk rap group Three 6 Mafia to walk home with an Academy Award for Best Original Song for “Hustle & Flow.” Their minds clearly blown, the members rushed the stage and just started shouting out thanks to whomever they could remember, which included group member Paul Beauregard (a.k.a. DJ Paul) thanking, “George Clooney, my favorite man, he showed me love when I first met him.” It was such a terrific, spontaneous moment — almost as terrific as host Jon Stewart’s comment to the staid Kodak audience: “How come they’re the most excited people here tonight? Why is that? … That’s how you accept an Oscar.”

It’s not the only way. But it sure made for great television. I hope we get a speech that heartfelt and natural and joyous Sunday night.

You can follow Tim Grierson on Twitter.

Do you have your own favorite Oscar speeches? Let us know in the comments below!

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