Thursday, February 16, 2017

Oscar Predictions 2017

Back again to take a completely uneducated stab at 10 Oscar categories, hoping to snap the two year 7 out of 10 streak. As usual, I've seen very few of the nominated films (I think the only ones I've seen are animated), so using this as any sort of basis for your own picks is very much contraindicated.

Some notes before the picks:

1. I'm pretty convinced that the song from Moana will win Best Original Song so Lin-Manuel Miranda can wrap up his EGOT. Or PEGOT if you throw in the Pulitzer. Or MacPEGOT if you throw in the MacArthur Grant.

2. My picks may have a slight bias to them as I actually grew up in Manchester, Massachusetts (prior to its official renaming of Manchester-by-the-Sea, which I prefer not to recognize). You would think that would have gotten me out to see the film - but you'd be wrong!  I do still intend to see it... along with all the other movies I've been intending to see.

3. The folks at Five Thirty Eight have put math behind what I did in trying to sort out the most predictive awards (and have yet to acknowledge me, the bastards). Where they're looking at a category I'm picking I'll comment on who they see as the most likely winner as well. They pick one winner in a category I do not, Best Documentary - Feature, which they have as heavily favoring O.J.: Made in America (though 13th got a big boost from winning the BAFTA, the only one of the Oscar nominated feature documentaries nominated).

Anyway, picks!

Best Foreign Language Film - this is where I usually make a pick based on some sort of linguistic or nationalistic quality, which never really works out (were I to do this for this year, the Australian film Tanna would have been my choice for being filmed in the Vanuatuan language of Nauvhal).

But this year, I'm thinking the Academy will make a political point in awarding the Oscar to The Salesman, an Iranian film whose director, Asghar Farhadi, has already said he will boycott the show over the travel restrictions placed on Iranians trying to enter the US. This will be just one of the many times Donald Trump gets a poke in the eye during the telecast.

Best Animated Film - I've only seen one of the nominated films, but it's the one that I've seen the most chatter about being the winner, and I did like the film, so I'm going with Zootopia here. The Five Thirty Eight model concurs, though they have Kubo and the Two Strings as a reasonably close second thanks to its BAFTA win.

Best Original Screenplay - I'm going to go with Manchester by the Sea over La La Land here based on the idea that the writing awards are used to recognize films that won't win Best Picture (though you could use the same theory to say that Hell or High Water will win). 

Best Adapted Screenplay - A pretty stacked category, with four nominees for Best Picture (Moonlight, Hidden Figures, Fences, Lion) and one for a film that many feel got jobbed out of a Best Picture nod (Arrival). All of the films here fit the bill as potential winners in lieu of a Best Picture win, but I'm going to go with Arrival as it would be the biggest make-up of the group.

Best Supporting Actress - Both of the actress awards seem like locks at this point, and the Five Thirty Eight tracker would support that line of thought, which makes me feel extra sure of going with Viola Davis here. Though I do feel badly for Michelle Williams, who is apparently going to be stuck on the verge of winning in perpetuity (maybe she and Amy Adams can carpool).

Best Supporting Actor -I'm also doubling down with Five Thirty Eight to go with Mahershala Ali for his work in Moonlight.


Best Actress - This was looking like a pretty even race between Emma Stone for La La Land and Natalie Portman for Jackie, but things kind of took a turn when Isabelle Huppert won the Golden Globe and Stone won the other major awards. Portman got lost in the shuffle, not helped by the relative low profile of her film. So I'm going with Emma Stone, as is Five Thirty Eight.

Best Actor - In one respect this should be a lock for Casey Affleck, as he's won the bulk of the awards for his performance in Manchester by the Sea. But Denzel Washington won the SAG Award for Fences, and that is a highly predictive award (18 of the last 22 winner went on to win the Oscar), and is heavily weighted in the Five Thirty Eight model (which gives a slight edge to Affleck).

The other thing that may help Washington is the lingering disdain for Affleck given his past legal troubles. I am going to look past them (to the extent one can) and go with Casey Affleck here, mostly to satisfy my blatant homerism.

Best Director - Speaking of troubled pasts, Mel Gibson is apparently back in Hollywood's good graces as evidenced by his nomination for Hacksaw Ridge. Mel will have to settle for the nod, as this is almost certainly going to Damien Chazelle. He's swept all the major awards, so it would be incredibly surprising for him not to win the Oscar.

Best Picture - Everyone seems to love La La Land, and any movie that celebrates classic Hollywood, and the Los Angeles area in general, seems like easy pickings for Oscar voters. The win by Hidden Figures for best ensemble at the SAG Awards is a little surprising (La La Land wasn't nominated), and suggests that it may not be a waltz to the finish line for La La Land (see what I did there?), even if voters may not get behind Hidden Figures for the Oscar.

But they could get behind another movie that's more critically acclaimed and also features an African-American cast. Which is how I got to picking Moonlight as my choice for the top prize. It's also a film that, in a year where people may be looking to make a statement, would make one for both African-Americans and the LGBTQ community. Five Thirty Eight has La La Land as a strong favorite to win this, so it seems like a bad choice to be the only category where we disagree. But I'll do it anyway.

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Monday, July 25, 2016

Viewing for the Kids

We've seen a couple of movies over the last month or so at the behest of our two kids (who, at this point, are the sole drivers of what we see in the theater). It was a decidedly split decision.

On the good end was The Secret Life of Pets, which is not particularly original (mismatched buddy comedy, but with dogs) but was at least reasonably entertaining. It was better when focusing on the two dogs, their conflict, and the other pets who live in their building, which is a problem as the plot was really driven by a gang of "flushed" pets who live in the sewer and have an ultimate goal of getting ride of all humans. It's in those scenes where the film's pedigree shows, as I have to think the action was based on some ideas for the Minions that never quite made any of their films (there's also a Minions short before the movie, which did nothing for me). The voice work was OK, tending towards generic (or teetering at going over the top for Kevin Hart's evil bunny character). All in all, it was fine and will probably get a sequel it doesn't really need or deserve.

On the less than good end was Ice Age: Collision Course, which my older son has wanted to see ever since seeing the short that teased it before the Peanuts movie. I'll admit to not being particularly well-versed in the Ice Age series, so my reaction may be mostly borne from not having any existing relationship with the story or characters. But as a stand-alone exercise, this was an incredibly dull film. The basic plot: a meteor is threatening Earth, and to avoid extinction our band of heroes have to use magnetic fragments from a previous meteor strike (shot out of a volcano) to attract the new meteor off course.

Yeah, I don't get it either.

This is apparently the fault of the squirrel character, who is flying around in an acorn-powered spaceship (no, I don't get that either). That being said, I think my son was bored by the Earthbound parts of the movie - or was as confused as the rest of us by the jumping back and forth - as every time the film cut to the squirrel I could hear him say, "meanwhile, back in space." That was easily the most entertaining part of the movie experience.

We also saw plenty of previews, many of which were shared by both movies:

Monster Trucks, where a teenager's truck becomes home to an alien (which then apparently spawns a family in other trucks, or there were other aliens that now live in trucks?). There are conflicts with the government and other, snobbier, non alien-infested truck driving folks. OK then.

Nine Lives, in which Kevin Spacey is nearing the Robert De Niro line of surrender by playing a busy executive who, in buying a cat as a present for his daughter (Jennifer Garner) - or her son? - it turned into a cat by the mysterious pet shop owner (Christopher Walken). House of Cards doesn't pay enough?

Ghostbusters, a quirky independent film based on a French classic of the same name (OK, not really, but if you don't know about this remake why are you even here?).

Trolls, about a pair of trolls (MISMATCHED BUDDY/FUTURE ROMANTIC PAIRING ALERT!) who have to save the rest of trolldom. Looks cute if a little like Shrek without the big Fiona reveal.

Storks, about a stork who helps a human orphan deliver one last baby before the storks go into the flying package deliver in the hopes of beating Amazon's drone to that market. I am less enthused by this film having seen the preview for a second time.

Sing, where a theater owner puts together a singing competition in order to drum up business for his theater. Note: all of the characters are animals (animated, of course).

Moana, the upcoming Disney film that appropriates whatever Polynesian culture they missed when making Lilo & Stitch. It features a girl named Moana and a demigod named Maui (voiced by Dwayne Johnson) doing... something. Details are a little sketchy, I think because they wanted to rush a trailer out that notes Lin-Manuel Miranda is doing the songs.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, based on the book of the same name, about a home for kids with unusual abilities and those who would like to kill them. By look, kind of a Victorian X-Men.

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Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Oscar Predictions 2016

So we're back for another go at this, having gone seven for ten last year (two of the misses, however, were Best Actor and Best Picture, so if we were going to miss we missed big). And my obligatory comment about a category we don't pick: with The Weeknd, Sam Smith and Lady Gaga all nominated for Best Original Song, this may be a better show musically than the Grammys.

Standard disclaimer applies, I've seen none of the films in the categories we're predicting. No wagering.

Best Foreign Language Film - I'm going with Mustang because it's representing France but is in Turkish. Double the countries, double the voting appeal.

Best Animated Film - My boys love Shaun the Sheep Movie, and I've seen ads or previews for Anomalisa and Boy & The World. I know nothing about When Marnie Was There. And none of this matters, as Inside Out has had this think locked up for months.

Best Original Screenplay - the WGA Awards aren't until this weekend, so I don't get to cheat on the screenplay awards. This would be an excellent place to break up the #OscarsSoWhite monotony with a win for Straight Outta Compton. But I don't think it's going to happen, as this is where Spotlight will get it's major recognition for the night.

(Also - Joel and Ethan Coen have writing credits on Bridge of Spies? I had no idea, which shows you how much of an expert I am.)

Best Adapted Screenplay - I have no read on this award, so I'm going with this as a makeup award as well for The Big Short. Though I suppose the makeup could be for Carol not getting a Best Picture nod...

(UPDATE: Spotlight and The Big Short both won WGA Awards, and while they're not as predictive as the DGA Award it doesn't hurt.)

Best Supporting Actress - I'm going to take a flier on Rooney Mara here. Alicia Vikander is probably a smarter choice based on her SAG Award.

Best Supporting Actor - The SAG Awards usually help sort this category out, but not this year with Idris Elba's win for Beast of No Nation. Sylvester Stallone will be the sentimental choice, and after his Golden Globe win he could take it. I was leaning towards Mark Ruffalo, but where most of the recognition for acting in Spotlight was for the ensemble, I'm going to go with Mark Rylance for Bridge of Spies.


Best Actress - Brie Larson, which is an absolute mortal lock.

Best Actor - What I said about Brie Larson? Times a thousand for Leonardo DiCaprio finally getting the Oscar.

Best Director -here I do get to cheat, as the DGA Awards were handed out last week. Alejandro González Iñárritu won for The Revenant, and he'll win here as well.

Best Picture - So here's where things get interesting. The DGA Award is highly predictive of what film wins this award, so you'd think this is a lock for The Revenant. But then there's the Producers Guild Association Awards, which have been spot on since 2007. And then there's Spotlight, which has won most, if not all, of the ensemble acting awards. As these are listed pretty much in order of the likelihood in which the film might win, I'm playing the odds and going with The RevenantA bold choice!

Enjoy the show everyone!

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Friday, January 15, 2016

Staaaaaaaaaar Waaaaaaaaaaaaars...

Finally got around to seeing Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, and it was fine. I like Star Wars, but am not a fanatic, so my expectations were probably more realistic than those of your average fanboy. It did a solid job of introducing the new characters that will drive this trilogy while bringing back some familiar faces and doing reasonable fan service in connecting the film with those that came before it.

The breakout characters are pretty clearly Rey, the scavenger and apparent future Jedi knight played by Daisy Ridley, and BB-8, the droid who fills the R2D2 role in the film. Rey kicks ass in a way that women rarely do in film, and balances it well with her innate flying and engineering skills. Her Jedi skills also manifest quickly, as seen in her lightsaber duel with Kylo Ren, the Vaderish figure who represents a more mysterious side of the First Order, which rose from the ashes of the Empire to be a real threat to the Republic and the rebels they continue to back in the fight against evil. It is criminal how the marketing for the film (notably in the toy and games area) has ignored Rey (though they are apparently rectifying this with a new wave of Rey-focused toys coming out, which makes me wonder if this was done on purpose).

The other notable new character is Finn, a stormtrooper who refuses to participate in the massacre of civilians and eventually joins Rey to find the rebels. We probably see more of the actual life of a stormtrooper through him than we did in the other six movies combined. He's also got a touch of the Force in him, as seen in his own lightsaber battle with a stormtrooper who favors a bludgeon built into his armor.

In fact, if there's something that really sets this movie apart from the rest of the series is the real emotional connection to the characters and the story. The first six movies weren't devoid of this, but it feels like this movie does it better than the films that came before it (laughably so in the case of episodes I through III).

George Lucas was quoted as saying that the movie was too much like the originals, and one level he has a point. Episode VII has some very strong parallels to the first film, from starting on a desert planet to stopping at a dodgy cantina to a key rebel attack on a genocidal enemy installation. But what I think he misses is that the film is well-made enough to do this while also being able to create a clean start to the final trilogy. I shudder to think what Lucas would have come up with had he still been at the helm (if nothing else, I suspect Jar Jar Binks would have been made a general or something).

All in all, I think the film managed to live up to the hype about as well as it could have. It's always nice when a film that's basically critic-proof still manages to be good.

Four previews before the film:

Boy & the World, a Brazilian animated film about a boy searching for his father. It looks great, and was even nominated for Best Animated Feature for this year's Oscars (which it will lose to Inside Out). I would like to see it, but given how rarely we get out to the movies I don't see where I find time to see it during it's brief run at the theater where we saw The Force Awakens.

The Jungle Book, the live(ish) action remake of the cartoon classic. Visually it's pretty impressive, but I can't say I have much interest in seeing it. We are certainly not taking the kids to it, as the trailer suggests it'd going to be violent.

Deadpool, a jokey superhero film starring Ryan Reynolds, who apparently has been forgiven for The Green Lantern. The hero in question used to be a special forces soldier, but an experiment gone awry has made him virtually indestructible. He teams up with some similarly maladjusted partners to fight crime, I guess. I don't really see superhero movies, so I'm not likely to see this. Ever.

Captain America: Civil War, the latest entry in the Avengers franchise that sees Captain America and Iron Man fall out over... something. I'm not sure what, I think it's over some guy who is apparently also a superhero but who has some level of mystery about him. Yeah, not likely seeing this ever, either. Nothing against superhero movies, it's just a genre I've never gotten into (which is also true of the comic books, video games, and whatever other media platforms the Avengers have been in). To me, the Avengers are still John Steed and Emma Peel (and not the ones from the awful 1990s movie).


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Saturday, November 7, 2015

I saw a movie! In an actual movie theater!

So thanks to my older son's elementary school showing It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown! to the kids the day before Halloween, he decided he would like to see The Peanuts Movie. And based on how good he and his younger brother were when we saw Big Hero 6, we decided to take them. I had read a couple of reviews beforehand, so I knew I wasn't going into a gritty reboot or something that in striving to be contemporary (more on a movie that looks to be doing that in a bit) winds up disconnecting from the original material. But I was worried that it wouldn't live up to the comic strips and TV specials I'd grown up with.

Which, really, was too high a standard, as what were the odds that the movie would ever live up to the original material? But I am happy to say that the film managed to be entertaining and engaging for both the kids and the adults in our party. For the former group, the gags and action were entertaining by and of itself. For the adults, we got to enjoy the fan service, from the main plot line (Charlie Brown's pursuit of the red-headed girl) to various subplots (Snoopy taking on the Red Baron), to passing references (such as the wide shot at a school dance where the kids dance just like they did in the wide dancing shots in A Charlie Brown Christmas).

All of this could have been nostalgia for nostalgia's stake, but the film does a good job of using all of this to support the main conflict of the movie: Charlie Brown's struggle to overcome self-doubt and low self-esteem so he can connect with the read-headed girl. I do think this struggle was softened a bit by the other kids being less hostile to Charlie Brown than in the original material (though there was enough to keep Charlie's doubts realistic, rather than it just being one kid's inability to read a room).

I also thought the ending went a little overboard in wrapping things up. No spoilers, but I do wonder if the ending was created to help the run time (I had a similar feeling about some of the Snoopy-Red Baron story, which really wasn't about the Red Baron and had at least one segment that I thought wasn't necessary). The film clocks in at 1:28, and would probably be more like 1:20 without these scenes.

In any event, I am happy this wasn't the sort of disaster that I thought it might be, and I may even be a little pleased at the potential for a sequel.

There were six trailers before the movie, and that's not including the one for the 25th(!) anniversary re-release of Home Alone. As you might expect for a 10:45 am showing of a G-rated movie, all of the previews were for animated fare:

The Good Dinosaur, from Pixar/Disney, set in a world where dinosaurs are not wiped out in a meteor strike. A young apatosaurus is separated from his family, and he struggles to find them again with the help of a young boy named Spot who, as you might guess from the name, acts more like a dog than a human. Seems decent enough, and I would not be shocked if this is the next film we see in the theater as a family.

Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip, why? Are these films doing well on Netflix or something? Anyway, Dave is getting married, and the rodents team up with the fiancee's son to try to stop the wedding. Remember when I was talking about a movie that was trying too hard to be contemporary? This may be the one. I'm pretty sure there's a musical number called "Uptown 'munk" in this thing. Ugh.

Kung Fu Panda 3, in which Po meets his dad and moves to a panda village, which is then threatened by some supernatural force that has destroyed his old village. Po has to teach the other pandas kung fu in order to protect their homes, etc.

The Angry Birds Movie, which is about birds. Who are angry for some reason. And then pigs show up. All in a movie that is a good three years too late to ride the wave of popularity from the game.

The Secret Life of Pets, which is about what your dogs, cats, fish, etc. are up to while you're at work. This was my favorite trailer of the group, which is meaningless given how many trailers make bad movies look good, but let's give hope a chance here.

Norm of the North, which combines some previous animated films in a way it hopes you don't notice. Norm is one of the denizens of the Arctic who notice that people are showing up in increasing numbers, and in some cases staying. Norm, with the help of some tough lemmings (who in no way are meant to remind you of the penguins in Madagascar, I'm sure), goes to the big city to spread the word that the Arctic is in danger and needs saving (which in no way is meant to remind you of the environmental message of Happy Feet, I'm sure). There's also an evil developer who plans on turning the Arctic into some sort of mixed-use nightmare. Which, even with climate change, seems like a bad idea. It's not like it still doesn't get cold up there, and I imagine building on what is becoming semi-permafrost isn't cheap. Anyway, seems like garbage.

Also worth noting that the film was preceded by an Ice Age short starring Skrat, which while not an official trailer for Ice Age: Collision Course may as well be one. It's fine, but doesn't exactly fill me with desire for the feature film.

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Saturday, February 21, 2015

Oscar Predictios 2015

Back again for another year, the least essential Oscar predictions made by a guy who hasn't seen any of the nominated films. I won't even bother with the Oscar pool disclaimer, it's so close to the actual ceremony.

My only comment before getting to our usual predictions is that "Everything is Awesome" from The Lego Movie had better win the best original song award after its snubbing for best animated feature.

Best Foreign Language Film - I usually pick the film that uses the most exotic (to me) language. I usually don't pick correctly, so my apologies to Tangerines, which I am picking because it is partly in Estonian.

Best Animated Feature - So I actually did see a nominated film this year, Big Hero 6. I saw it on a Disney cruise (which is where I'm writing this from, incidentally). I liked it well enough. So it's my pick! (Turns out I've actually seen two nominated films, as the best animated short nominee Feast was shown before Big Hero 6. It'd be nice to see it win, too.)

Best Original Screenplay - Wes Anderson won the WGA award for The Grand Budapest Hotel, so you think this might be the year he finally breaks through, and it would make some sense as it would be a way to recognize him and the film, which have virtually no chance at the major awards. But I'm going to say the award goes to Birdman for some reason.

Best Adapted Screenplay - I might as well go with one WGA winner and pick The Imitation Game, even though I think the film has gotten a little lost behind the other films with multiple nominations. I would not be surprise if American Sniper won this as a way to recognize the film without getting too political with Clint Eastwood thanking an empty chair.

Best Supporting Actor - J.K. Simmons for Whiplash.
Best Supporting Actress - Patricia Arquette for Boyhood
Best Actor - Michael Keaton for Birdman
Best Actress - Julianne Moore (finally) for Still Alice

No real discussion here as these all seems like locks. If you made me pick one upset I'd go with Emma Stone for Birdman, though I have no reason beyond her being young Hollywood and generally well liked.

Best Director - Once again, the DGA being the near-mortal lock on this award means I'll choose Alejandro González Iñárritu for Birdman. However.

Best Picture - I am not going to go with Birdman. It seems like the expansion to 10 nominees has opened up voting a bit and makes the split more likely (or in the case of Argo, a best picture win without your director being nominated at all). I think Birdman may be too divisive to take the ultimate prize, while Boyhood can cash in on its unique production history to claim the top spot.

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Oscar Predictions 2014

Hey, the Oscars are on Sunday! So here's your annual predictions post, which is rapidly becoming the site's annual post.

Usual disclaimers: I've seen none of these movies, don't blame us if you make your Oscar pool picks based on this and tank. On to the predictions!

Best Foreign Language Film - Not as easy as last year when one of the nominees was also a Best Picture nominee, so it's back to making up some bullshit reason why a film will win. I'm going with Belgium's The Broken Circle Breakdown, on the idea that an Oscar win may help get those crazy Flemish and Walloons to live together in harmony.

Best Animated Feature - there may be some sentiment for The Wind Rises if it is indeed Hayao Miyazaki's last film, but this is probably going to Frozen.

Best Original Screenplay - winning the WGA Award is enough of a reason for me to go with Her, even if it was based on an episode of The Big Bang Theory.

Best Adapted Screenplay - the WGA Award here went to Captain Phillips, but I'm going to go with 12 Years a Slave here for no particularly good reason.

Best Supporting Actor - is going to Jared Leto, which is apparently the biggest lock of all the acting awards.

Best Supporting Actress - will probably go to Jennifer Lawrence, though I'm totally rooting for June Squibb.

Best Actor - you should probably get used to hearing "Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey" from here on out. He won the Golden Globe, SAG Award and Satellite Award for his role in Dallas Buyers Club, all of which portends well for him. On the other hand, the idea of hearing "Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey" may drive voters to Chiwetel Ejiofor.

Best Actress - things get a little interesting here as Cate Blanchett has won pretty much everything in sight for her work in Blue Jasmine, the latest film by (re)accused child molester Woody Allen. And while you'd like to think that voters can separate Blanchett's work from everything else, it's certainly not going to help. I still think Cate Blanchett will win, but am leaving the door open a little for someone else (either Amy Adams, to avoid becoming her generation's Julianne Moore, or Judi Dench because she's Judi Dench).

Best Director - The DGA Award, which is a very strong predictor for this award and for Best Picture, went this year to Alfonso Cuarón for Gravity, and I don't see why he wouldn't win here as well. Cuarón's also won the lion's share of other awards, and people seem to like him more than the last director of a technically visionary film.

Best Picture - this is where things get interesting Most of the talk here has been about 12 Years a Slave and American Hustle, and while Gravity will likely dominate the technical awards it hasn't done so well in winning other Best Picture awards. The Oscars abhor a split, but I'm thinking that 12 Years a Slave forces one this year.

So there you have it. Let's see how wrong I am on Sunday!

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