Monday Morning Critic 2.20.11 – Saturday Night Live’s Jeremy Lin Bit, 2012 Oscar Winners Predictions, Drive

Every Monday morning, InsidePulse Movies Czar Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings an irreverent and oftentimes hilarious look at pop culture, politics, sports and whatever else comes to mind. And sometimes he writes about movies.

Sometimes I have to give my proper respects when it’s due. Saturday Night Live just killed it this weekend with their bit on the racial asides with Jeremy Lin and how it wouldn’t be tolerated on nearly any other race. One of the funniest things I’ve seen in a long, long, long time.

2012 Oscar Predictions Piece

There isn’t a whole lot going on this week worth writing about other than the prelude to the biggest, ahem, night of the year for: The Oscars. While the Oscars get less important as the years go by I think they still represent something of note. And for a brief moment in time they still feel like the biggest thing in the cinematic world. There’s a certain amount of majesty and grace to the Oscar broadcast I don’t think gets replicated in any other creative genre. The one thing I will always give the Academy credit for is their ability to make the presentation feel important; it’s the one thing I didn’t like about the Grammys a week ago. The Grammys are a big deal but they never really feel like it; the Oscars do.

There’s pomp and circumstance to it that just makes it feel special in a way no other awards show does.

It’s why we care when the show gets hijacked for whatever celebrity cause of the moment, where awards presenters matter and who hosts the show is scrutinized beyond any normal level. We don’t really care who hosts the Emmys like we care about who hosts the Academy Awards; it’s a much bigger honor, too. It still feels like an event, albeit not nearly as much as it used to. Winning an Oscar means far less than it used to be, mainly because what often gets recognized as the best in cinema genuinely isn’t, but it still means something. We still take the Oscars seriously unlike the Grammys or the Emmys; it still means something.

But it’s also temporary. It’s not like we can go back and view a year in film in the same way we can a year in a sport; there are statistics and numbers but ultimately film is entirely subjective. There’s no objective criterion in evaluating one year over another in term of film quality; we can compare box office numbers but that’s not really fair. We can compare things like Rotten Tomato numbers, et al, but those are just aggregated opinions.

It’s a good indicator but it’s not like going back and comparing efficiency ratings from NBA point guards for a certain period of time. Efficiency ratings are things we can measure with statistics; RT ratings are merely a percentage of who liked it and who didn’t. It doesn’t really measure whether a film is good or not, just what people thought of it. There’ve been plenty of films with bad ratings on that site that I enjoyed and vice versa; film is a subjective medium. It’s why the film award itself is engaging for all of like five minutes or so.

Film awards are temporary but the power of the medium is forever. The Oscars embody this temporary importance of immense proportions, for lack of a better word or phrase. The Oscars feel powerful for the moment but they really aren’t in the long run. We remember great films and great performances, not whether or not it won an award or not. I love Goodfellas but it doesn’t ruin my enjoyment of the film, or enhance it alternatively, because it lost to an equally great film in Dances with Wolves. It’s a nice note and easy to argue about when it comes to the merits of either film, or evaluating careers, but in the end scheme of things it’s a debate: nothing more. If we really think about it a good chunk of what gets christened as the best in a year of cinema is mainly Hollywood trying to do one of two things: recognize the immediate or right a wrong.

One if recognizing the best of the moment and if Hollywood really wanted to emphasize quality of film we’d wait a decade and see. Some films don’t age well after a year, et al, and it’s why we go “How did that win?’ so often. The Oscar has permanence to it but it’s about something temporary and even the way we look at Oscar-quality films has changed as well. It’s like the Heisman Trophy in a way; it’s not the best film of the year it’s usually the “Best film released after September of the year that is a drama” much like how the Heisman is the “Best running back or quarterback from a top 25 team and in a BCS conference.”

There are rare exceptions to those who get nominated for either but it’s mainly a hard and fast rule that you can take to the bank. If we went back to 2001 and figured out who was the best it’d be awful similar to how it played out but there’d be a number of changes we’d make because we have perspective. We tend to get wrapped up in the moment for the Oscars and it doesn’t get corrected until years later in the cinematic conscience. Whoever has the trophy, though, doesn’t change.

The other thing that Hollywood ends up doing is to symbolically right wrongs either from their own mistakes or what has been perceived as societal ones over the years. That’s why make-up Oscar wins happen and why someone can get penalized because of a perceived mistake from four decades ago needs to get righted in that particular year. Warren Beatty lost to Henry Fonda because of a mistake years before Beatty was a relevant actor. But there’s elegance to it all that make them matter.

Trying to predict winners and losers, much less who’ll get nominated, is far more complicated than it ever has been. But alas as always, since I have nothing to amuse myself or all four people who read this column religiously who aren’t related to me, it’s time for the annual Oscar Winners Prediction Column. As always I’ve eliminated categories like shorts and documentary categories based on how difficult they are to guess as well as the fact that it’s the most difficult category to view as well. And I never guess on writing or technical categories, thus I whittle it down to the ones that matter the most (to me).

Music (Original Score)

The Nominees: The Adventures of Tintin (John Williams ), The Artist (Ludovic Bource), Hugo (Howard Shore ), Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Alberto Iglesias ), War Horse (John Williams)

Kubryk’s Commentary: John Williams seems to be in the driver’s seat this year as he has two of the five nominations for Spielberg films. He also happens to have the two best scores of the year; one of the things I loved about both War Horse and Tintin was that they both were exceptionally well done on a technical level. If this is a year where the silent film is going to win the major categories, usually the Academy gives films that they feel are on the same level something as a bit of a consolation prize. Especially in an underwhelming year like this, I don’t see the big sweep that’s been predicted for The Artist playing out in this category.

I do think The Artist has the best score of the year and it has to be given more weight because it’s all the film really had to work with in terms of audio. In reference to this film I’ve always talked about the degree of difficulty and the score gets points ahead of the rest for that alone. It has to be excellent or else the whole film just flops miserably. However I don’t see it winning, though, as The Artist doesn’t feel like a film that’s going to pull off a sweep like Lord of the Rings: Return of the King did. Look for War Horse, which has a big sentimental vote from large portions of the Academy, to win this as a consolation for not winning anything substantial.

Who Should Win:: The Artist (Ludovic Bource)
Who Will Win:: War Horse (John Williams)

Music (Original Song)

The Nominees: “Man or Muppet” from The Muppets (Music and Lyric by Bret McKenzie), “Real in Rio” from Rio (Music by Sergio Mendes and Carlinhos Brown Lyric by Siedah Garrett)

Kubryk’s Commentary: Well … the good thing is that you can technically flip a coin and have a 50% chance of getting this one correct. The bad thing is that you can technically flip a coin and have a 50% chance of getting this one correct. This is by far one of the more baffling decisions from the Academy, up there with Marissa Tomei winning for My Cousin Vinny and Eddie Murphy being pulled from hosting duties because he wouldn’t wear the bright red, leather outfit from Raw and do his Mr. T commentary as part of his opening monologue.

It’s odd the Academy would only nominate two songs this year, all things considered, and neither is what you’d call brilliant pieces of music that’ll stand the test of time. The one from Rio wasn’t all that memorable but then again “Man or Muppet” was cute but not something I’d go out and scream about if it wasn’t nominated for an Oscar or lost. In a month we’ll have to go to Wikipedia to find out who won this; “My Heart Will Go On” neither of these are. My guess is that with their big comeback this year that the Academy will find a way to reward The Muppets for nostalgia purposes.

Who Should Win:: “Man or Muppet” from The Muppets (Music and Lyric by Bret McKenzie)
Who Will Win:: “Man or Muppet” from The Muppets (Music and Lyric by Bret McKenzie)

Foreign Language Film

The Nominees: Bullhead (Belgium), Footnote (Israel), In Darkness (Poland), Monsieur Lazhar (Canada), A Separation (Iran)

Kubryk’s Commentary: This is usually known as “Wait for NetFlix Award” because most of the foreign language nominees never see the theaters. Usually the winner will find a way in but that’s about it, unfortunately. A Separation has been getting an insane level of praise in a very limited release and looks to be the frontrunner. When it doubt, play the chalk.

Who Should Win:: A Separation (Iran)

Who Will Win:: A Separation (Iran)

Actor in a Leading Role

The Nominees: Demián Bichir (A Better Life), George Clooney (The Descendants), Jean Dujardin (The Artist), Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), Brad Pitt (Moneyball)

Kubryk’s Commentary: If Mel Gibson hadn’t gone off the reservation then his stellar performance in The Beaver would be the undisputed favorite to win here, of course, but since he did it’ll be something to be discovered years from now when people forget he’s lunatic.

This is actually the Academy’s best, all-around category in terms of marketing appeal this year. You have two stars (Pitt, Clooney) in genuinely strong performances, a little seen but brilliant performance from earlier in the year (Bichir), a veteran character actor finally getting his due (Oldman) and a newcomer (Dujardin) to the American scene but a veteran hand in his home country. It’s also the most intriguing as well. Off the bat you can throw out Bichir; he’s a surprise nomination but hasn’t collected many awards outside of it. Oldman is in the same scenario as well; it’s a bit of a shame because he’s excellent in Spy. Pitt I’d imagine is getting nominated if only because of the same group of people that keep nominating Meryl Streep for anything; like the two could star in O.J And Mike Vick: A Musical Tale of Prison Rape and Scented Candles and they’d get nominated. It’s a shame because he hasn’t actually won anything yet; he’s bound to get his Scent of a Woman style Oscar sometime in 2030 at this rate. This leaves us with the two that have the best chance: Jean Dujardin and George Clooney.

Dujardin and Clooney have collected most of the hardware handed out this year so far and look to be the favorites here. Clooney is also Hollywood royalty, having cemented his status as someone with whom good films are associated with. Clooney may not draw massive crowds but he has the movie star mojo to him that few have nowadays. People may not pay money to see his films but he’s still considered a movie star. Also complicating things is that Clooney’s role in The Descendants isn’t’ a huge stretch for him as an actor. It’s the same thing with Pitt in Moneyball, oddly, in that Clooney is playing just a variant of his usual characters. It’s a great performance but it’s a role for someone like Philip Seymour Hoffman instead of the guy that every woman over 40 has a crush on.

Dujardin is the new guy and is the sort of performance the Academy rewards. As a silent film actor in a silent film the degree of difficulty is off the charts for him. It’s a more difficult role than what Clooney had, too. Complicating things is that Clooney already has an Oscar win in acting and multiple winners are rare in acting. It takes a special performance, like Sean Penn in Milk, to justify a second recognition from the Academy and Clooney’s is good but not special. Dujardin’s is and he hasn’t been nominated or won before; it’s the same situation that Marion Cotillard was in for La Vie en Rose.

Who Should Win:: Jean Dujardin (The Artist)
Who Will Win:: Jean Dujardin (The Artist)

Actor in a Supporting Role

The Nominees: Kenneth Branagh (My Week with Marilyn), Jonah Hill (Moneyball), Nick Nolte (Warrior), Christopher Plummer (The Beginners), Max von Sydow (Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close)

Kubryk’s Commentary: If you were in a time machine in 1986 and just woke up, you’d think four leading men were taking minor roles in a film and got nominated for it. And you’d also be wondering who the hell the fat guy was, too, as four of the five nominees this year are former leading men turned character actors known for films outside of the ones they made this year. It’s kind of amusing to think that the guy who used more racial slurs opposite Eddie Murphy in 48 Hours than David Duke at a Klan rally would garner an Oscar nomination but stranger things have happened.

Throw in comedian Jonah Hill and it’s a remarkable group of talent nominated in one category.

The favorite and probable winner here is going to be Plummer. He has everything going for him. It’s the right role at the right time in the right film. The Beginners was a great role for him and he’s at the point where a lot of things are coinciding; he’s at the right age, been nominated before and lost and in a near perfect role to win for. Don’t kid yourself; Plummer is stellar in The Beginners and deserves to win on the merits alone. But unfortunately the Oscars don’t work like that; sometimes it’s a matter of timing than it is a matter of talent.

In this case Plummer is hitting both at the same time. Hill was solid in Moneyball but let’s face it; normally he’s a comedian and as such people are going to overrate his performance as a dramatic actor because of it. No one looks back now and goes “Man, that fat chick from Precious is a really good actress” unless you’re directly related to Mo’nique. Nolte and Branagh are both excellent but not nearly as good as Plummer, unfortunately.

Most likely one or both will get a make-good Oscar sometime in the near future. Von Sydow is in the role that Hal Holbrook played in 2007’s Into the Wild; nominated but no one really kind of understands why.

Who Should Win:: Christopher Plummer (The Beginners)
Who Will Win:: Christopher Plummer (The Beginners)

Actress in a Leading Role

The Nominees: Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs), Viola Davis (The Help), Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady), Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn)

Kubryk’s Commentary: In a just world, Michelle Williams would get her Oscar for the most nuanced and brilliant performance of 2011. No one in either gender was as good as she was in My Week with Marilyn. The film may not have been something I thought was brilliant but Williams captured that spirit of Marilyn Monroe in a way no actress really could, despite not really looking like her. It’s akin to watching Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler or Denzel Washington in Malcolm X; you feel the power of an actor in a role that showcases everything they have deep inside. Rooney Mara and Glenn Close are nice also-rans and would have a better chance in any other year than they do this year but make up nice accessories in a year where you have a remarkable performance like Williams’ portrayal of the tragic film star.

Unfortunately she’s not going to win an Oscar this weekend, much like Rourke and Denzel.

That’s because the two odds-on favorites to win this year are Viola Davis and Meryl Streep. Streep was solid but not great in The Iron Lady but it’s a prestige picture with her in it; a nomination is going to happen no matter what happens. Kind of like Chris Brown and domestic violence; the music industry has accepted the fact that he likes beating up women and has no problem with it in the same way the Academy nominates Streep for nearly everything he does. Its cinematic comfort food and a given; Meryl Streep merely has to be in a film, it seems, to get nominated. She’s a wonderfully talented actress but a number of times she’s been nominated without having provided a great performance and 2011 happens to be one of those years where she has a chance at winning but it’s not going to be a distinctly memorable performance for the win.

Davis, on the other hand, is probably going to win but not because she had the best performance of the year. It goes back to Kathryn Bigelow winning for The Hurt Locker and more was made of the win because it was a woman winning. It goes back to George Clooney making a big grandstanding speech about Hollywood is “out of touch” that reeked of smugness. Davis had a solid to good performance in The Help but not one you’d instantly call “Oscar caliber.” This is a really weak year for Best Actress performances, however, and as such you can slot in Davis for a nomination because you need five.

Thus this apparently qualifies.

Williams probably won’t win but years from now we’ll be remembering her performance as the definitive Marilyn Monroe in the same way Mickey Rourke is always ours as Randy “The Ram” and Denzel is Malcolm X. Davis probably gets the win but don’t count out Meryl Streep; she’s been nominated so many times since she last won for Sophie’s Choice thirty years ago. This is precisely the sort of Oscar bait type role that the Academy usually rewards, too, but she has two wins already and a third Oscar is extremely rare even for the best actress of her time.

Who Should Win:: Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn)
Who Will Win:: Viola Davis (The Help)

Actress in a Supporting Role

The Nominees: Bérénice Bejo (The Artist), Jessica Chastain (The Help), Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids), Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs), Octavia Spencer (The Help)

Kubryk’s Commentary: Another category in which something the Academy has neglected for years is being made up for. Comedy has been the bastard child of awards season for some time. No comedic performance has won anything of note and comedians seem to be consigned to having to do dramatic work to be recognized by their peers to go after the little golden man. This in spite the fact that comedy is significantly tougher than drama as an art form to accomplish successfully; it’s not like you have the comedic equivalent of a tear jerker setting like the Holocaust or New York after 9/11 that’ll instantly make it seem funnier.

That’s why Melissa McCarthy is nominated for Bridesmaids; to shut up comedic actors for the next decade about not getting a fair shake at the Oscars. It wasn’t a great performance nor was it a great film but a film written by women and about women that doesn’t involve sparkly vampires apparently is a novelty in Hollywood nowadays. It needed to be recognized somehow, despite the fact that it wasn’t all that good. It’s a rare case of a film’s success dictating some sort of recognition beyond its normal merits.

You can justify a film like anything from the Transformers trilogy for anything technical because it’s a marvel of CGI and effects but a garbage film. But it takes a lot for a film like Bridesmaids to get nominated for anything; its success for a film of its kind (a female centric, R-rated comedy) merits recognition in this case because it’s so rare. Merits may be too strong in this case, though. Provides a good justification might be a better explanation and the Oscars tend to use Supporting Actor/Actress categories as a good way of rewarding films that have succeeded in some way but won’t crack the big award.

It’s kind of like how Heath Ledger got nominated for The Dark Knight. Throwing a bone to genre fans, in this case, overcame the sting of Christopher Nolan being overlooked for an Oscar nomination. McCarthy’s nomination makes sense. It’s not a big award like Best Picture and the film was successful enough that something beyond a writing nomination or win could be justified.

But she’s not going to win.

The winner is going to be either Bérénice Bejo or Octavia Spencer. Not too many people saw Albert Nobbs and Jessica Chastain is a curiosity of a nomination considering she was better in Tree of Life and The Debt, amongst others, instead of The Help. Spencer had the better performance but she and Viola Davis were both nominated. It’s hard for two people to sweep an acting category of both genders and hasn’t happened in quite some time. Spencer had the better performance but Bejo had the greater degree of difficulty in The Artist. The Artist feels like a juggernaut and my guess is that Bejo wins.

Who Should Win:: Octavia Spencer (The Help)
Who Will Win:: Bérénice Bejo (The Artist)

Animated Feature Film

The Nominees: A Cat in Paris, Kung Fu Panda 2, Puss in Boots, Rango

Kubryk’s Commentary: This is easily the most messed up year for animation. Why? Because there’s no Pixar involved. Cars 2 wasn’t as good as the rest of the usual Pixar far and as such it’s been pushed aside for a number of other films. Which is good because it didn’t deserve to either be nominated or to win; it’s nice to see the Academy not give Pixar a pass and nominate Cars 2 just because it’s a Pixar property. That leaves three films most people saw and a foreign one most didn’t.

I can’t say whether or not A Cat in Paris is a good film because I don’t know. What I do know is that the winner will be either Puss in Boots or Rango. Panda 2 was a decent film but the two best animated films of the year were Rango and Boots. I preferred Boots slightly over Rango and I imagine the Academy will do the opposite.

Rango has the pedigree Boots doesn’t with Depp and Verbinski; it’ll be a way of honoring both for other work that hasn’t been recognized in the past.

Who Should Win:: Puss in Boots
Who Will Win:: Rango

Directing

The Nominees: The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius), The Descendants (Alexander Payne), Hugo (Martin Scorsese), Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen), The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick)

Kubryk’s Commentary: This is one of the more interesting categories of the entire awards process. You have four guys who have been nominated for and are considered legends in their fields against a newcomer with a gimmick that none of the others would be able to pull off. It’s the beauty of being unknown in a way.

Michael Hazanavicius doesn’t have a body of work from which to have a style defined from, unlike the rest of his counterparts who’ve also been nominated.

Judging this year’s Best Director winner from the five nominated is really tough. Picking the one who’ll win, though, is a bit easier using a standard I remember Kevin Smith discussing a year ago with The Social Network and The King’s Speech. His thoughts then were that Fincher deserved the Oscar because he didn’t think Hooper deserved to win because Fincher’s could’ve done The King’s Speech. Hooper couldn’t have put together The Social Network. That was his reasoning behind why he thought Fincher should’ve won and it’s hard to disagree with him.

Part of the argument for Hazanavicius for winning Best Director is that perhaps no one else on the awards podium with him couldn’t have done as good or betters a job with The Artist as he did. There’s a legendary group of directors opposite him and I don’t think they could’ve made The Artist with their current styles. Scorsese is a visual story-teller, Allen craves dialogue, Payne works wonders with the human condition and Malick has an epic sense that the silent era wouldn’t be able to accomplish. On the other side of that we don’t know enough about Hazanavicius to know if he could take the same film that Hugo, The Tree of Life, Midnight in Paris or The Descendants eventually turned out and crafted the same. He doesn’t have enough history, outside of his OSS films, to really show that he could’ve made those other films and hit that quality level.

So it seems almost futile trying to judge who did the best work to a point. So it really comes down to who told the best story in the best possible manner. I would give it Scorsese, who went for a family audience and crafted a love letter to film. And while he may have gotten his Oscar for The Departed, there still is the sentiment that Scorsese hasn’t been as appreciated as he ought to be when it comes to winning Oscars. You can’t discount that notion playing into people’s heads.

The sentiment has been that it’s either Hazanavicius or Payne that’ll win; both The Descendants and The Artist have pretty much been trading awards throughout the season. Hazanavicius seems to be the one that’ll win, if only because it feels inevitable, but you can’t discount the factor that perhaps they’ll split enough votes that Scorsese could join the ranks of other great directors with two Oscar wins.

Who Should Win:: Hugo (Martin Scorsese)
Who Will Win:: The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius)

Best Picture

The Nominees: The Artist, The Descendants, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Help, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life, War Horse

Kubryk’s Commentary: It’s hard to pick any film but The Artist or The Descendants to win. Nothing else has really been winning Best Picture awards of note besides those two pictures during this awards season. The Artist may be a novelty but sometimes novelties can win. And I think it will.

Who Should Win:: The Artist
Who Will Win:: The Artist

A Movie A Week – The Challenge

This Week’s DVD – Drive

It was amongst the Top 10 films I loved from 2011 and something I was waiting for on DVD. But I never reviewed it theatrically and I had a whole screed about how this film got hosed for the Oscars this year ready to go when I realized I’d never written about it. Throw in a deal on Amazon and some gift card cash needing to be spent and it made a good deal for me. It’s never a bad thing to pick up one of one of the best films of 2011 alongside Midnight Run and the ‘80s version of Running Scared in exchange for Blu-Rays of films I have duplicates of.

Drive has a unique set up. A getaway driver (Ryan Gosling), in the middle of helping out a friend (Carey Mulligan) and her husband (Oscar Isaac) out of a jam, wanders into a situation that quickly spirals out of control. Confronted with a Jewish gangster (Ron Perlman) who wants to be Italian and his foul mouthed boss (Albert Brooks), Driver (Gosling’s character is never given a name) gets in far over his head and has only way out: beating people up with a hammer.

This isn’t a film about plot; it’s a fairly innocuous and pedestrian story if viewed purely from a description. It’s in how Nicolas Winding Refn tells it that makes it interesting. Combining a sort of techno-noir vibe to it with an ‘80s style of cinematography, the film feels like it could’ve been a Michael Mann film right after Thief. If you want a full on review I’d suggest Travis’s, which gave nearly the same exact thoughts as I would’ve, but it’s an absolutely terrific film.

Strongly recommended.

What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 Pints of Bass Ale and community college co-eds with low standards at the Alumni Club

Act of Valor – A bunch of Navy SEALs kick ass and take names.

See It – It’ll finally replace Navy Seals as the film of note featuring Navy SEALs in it, at least.

Gone – A serial killer tried to kill Amanda Seyfried. He failed and now has her sister. Now it’s time for her to go all vigilante-style and find out who he is, of course, and save the day.

Skip It – Once you get into the film the killer will be found via the Law of Economy of Characters. Where’s the fun in that?

Tyler Perry’s Good Deeds – Tyler Perry stars as a guy who does good deeds for people or something.

Skip It – It’s a Tyler Perry film… which means it’ll be some preachy film about being good to one another or something.

Wanderlust – Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd are a married couple who move onto a hippie combine. Shenanigans ensue.

See It – My guess is that Paul Rudd’s awesomeness won’t be tempered by Aniston’s inability to be in entertaining movies. Plus it’s directed by David Wain, who generally brings the funny.

Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @MMCritic_Kubryk.

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