Sunday, February 24, 2013

Live-Blogging the 2012 Academy Awards

11:02: Did I just say Ben Affleck gave the speech of the night? I briefly forgot about Daniel Day-Lewis. I promise to never do that again. Good night again, everybody!

11:01: This song for all the losers is really getting Emmanuelle through this difficult moment. And whatever Kristin's been product-placed here for all night, it feels well and duly advertised.  Good night, everybody!  Are you a loser? Here's to the Losers!

11:00: Ben Affleck wins speech of the night, right? I don't care how rehearsed, sincere, or rehearsed-sincere it is (and it reads as pretty damn sincere to me).  It's wonderful.  Maybe not what I'd dream of if I were his wife "working on their marriage, and it is hard work." But otherwise? Lovely.

10:57: Grant Heslov, between Ben Affleck and George Clooney: "I know what you're thinking: 'Three Sexiest Producers Alive.'"

10:56: Michelle gives it to Argo.

10:55: Pecking order in the audience: John Travolta sits in front of Justin Theroux, who gets a better seat than Harvey Weinstein. Octavia Spencer is in front of Annapurna Pictures empress Megan Ellison and next to some cute guy. Octavia's always got a cute guy at hand.

10:54: Michelle Obama!  If the First Lady presents Best Picture, does that count as crossing the boundary between Church and State?

10:53: Jack Nicholson didn't want to die with Crash as the last Best Picture he announced.

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Picking Favorites: An Oscar Retrospective

In my season-long quest to be as positive as possible—and to avoid feting this year's nominees at the expense of the films and careers that got us here———I thought I'd run up to today's festivities with one more celebratory post.  This time, rather than citing my favorite achievements, past or present, by each of this year's nominees, I am looking back at Oscar's own peaks.  Hence, I have selected my very favorite winner from each year in the Academy's history. The takeaway here is that, for all the times Oscar gets things blatantly wrong, there is at least one exalted moment at every ceremony, and frequently more than one, where he gets things impressively right.  Let's assume we'll witness at least one of these tonight, and let's hope we have trouble picking a favorite among many viable options!

To add some collective bonhomie and diversity of opinion to this enterprise, and to include more people in my month-long Happy Party regarding the awards, I've invited some of my Oscar-obsessed besties from around the web to voice their own retrospective picks.  They include Tim Brayton from Antagony & Ecstasy; Guy Lodge from In Contention and elsewhere; Colin Low from Against the Hype; Joe Reid from, Low Resolution, et al.; Katey Rich from Cinema Blend; and Nathaniel Rogers from The Film Experience.  Everyone had the options of abstaining in any year where they felt unsure of their opinion and of cutting themselves off at whatever year their particular Oscarmania or their busy schedules dictated. You'll see our choices below, and I hope you'll add yours as well in the Comments field... before or after all the fun of tonight.

My Choice: A Separation, Foreign Language Film: Because the film itself is extraordinary, because Iran had never won, and because Farhadi handled the delicate tasks of accepting glitzy Western awards in a politically volatile context with such unflagging diplomacy and subtly pointed remarks
My Runner Up: Christopher Plummer, Supporting Actor

Tim Sez: A Separation, Foreign Language Film
Guy Sez: Jean Dujardin, Actor
Colin Sez: Octavia Spencer, Supporting Actress
Joe Sez: Meryl Streep, Actress, even though I didn't know it till halfway through her speech
Katey Sez: Rango, Animated Feature
Nathaniel Sez: A Separation, Foreign Language Film

My Choice: The Social Network, Original Score: For the indelible qualities of the music, its service to the film, and its unexpected embrace by this conservative branch
My Runners Up: Inside Job, Documentary Feature; Toy Story 3, Animated Feature; The Social Network, Adapted Screenplay; Inception, Sound (especially for the first lesbian winner!)

Tim Sez: The Social Network, Original Score
Guy Sez: The Social Network, Original Score
Colin Sez: The Social Network, Original Score
Joe Sez: Inception, Cinematography
Katey Sez: The Social Network, Original Score
Nathaniel Sez: The Social Network, Original Score

My Choices: Mo'Nique, Supporting Actress and Kathryn Bigelow, Director: Because both women knocked their work right out of the park and because neither followed the campaign scripts that a lot of reporters wanted them to—Bigelow by not dwelling on gender, and Mo'Nique by not doing a damn thing she didn't want to

Tim Sez: Mo'Nique, Supporting Actress
Guy Sez: Kathryn Bigelow, Director
Colin Sez: Kathryn Bigelow, Director
Joe Sez: Sandra Bullock, Actress, because f*ck the haters
Katey Sez: Up, Original Score (but so many great winners!)
Nathaniel Sez: Mo'Nique, Supporting Actress

Yes, I already cheated on my own game by pairing two winners, but Oscar even does that occasionally, so the ruling stands. Apologies for earlier "Sandy/Sandy" confusion, re: Joe Reid's vote. You know some queens are still reading Sandy Powell hard for being so over her third statuette.

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Sunday, February 10, 2013

2012 Oscar Class: When I Loved Them Best

February 23: Rundown completed, with the late, truly great Eiko Ishioka. By all means, keep adding your own past favorites in the Comments.

Winter quarter at Northwestern is too clogged to offer much to this blog: —think hiring, admissions, course planning, and speaker recruitment for next year, on top of the usual day-do-day and week-by-week work... and in my tenure year, no less! —Failing the opportunity to get any real blog series going, even during Oscar season, I have compensated with a Twitter series in which I reflect back on my favorite career achievements by many of this year's nominees, the famous ones and the less so.  I thought I'd archive the posts here, grouped by category, with regular updates.

Margaret Ménégoz (nominated for Amour): Rohmer's The Green Ray, cinema's loveliest valentine to exasperating women and fleeting sublimity

Ben Affleck (nominated for Argo): Politically, his work in and advocacy for the Congo; personally, when he earned the Garner Endorsement... Artistically, as he shatters his mask of civility in Changing Lanes and as head piranha in Boiler Room

George Clooney, as producer (nominated for Argo): Far from Heaven, the pinnacle of Section Eight's short, happy life of spreading wealth 

Stacey Sher (nominated for Django Unchained): Erin Brockovich, where she produced a vanity star vehicle and an "issue film" minus pitfalls of either... Though if we're talking pure affection, bless Sher for taking the chances she did on Living Out Loud, Caveman's Valentine, and Out of Sight.

Gil Netter (nominated for Life of Pi): The creamy, campy, nasty, and wonderfully cast My Best Friend's Wedding reigns supreme from a spotty CV

Kathleen Kennedy (nominated for Lincoln): E.T., because talk about nailing your debut, and Bridges of Madison County, for heroic distillation

Tim Bevan (nominated for Les Misérables): Laundrette, for charmingly challenging the market; Pride & Prejudice, for new tones; United 93, for guts

Donna Gigliotti (nominated for Silver Linings Playbook): Effervescent Oscar champ Shakespeare in Love and deft remake Let Me In. Why so many non-believers?

Kathryn Bigelow (nominated for Zero Dark Thirty): Hurt Locker for tension, economy, contrapuntal vision; Strange Days for absorbing scuzz and sprawl

Michael Haneke, as director (nominated for Amour): Time of the Wolf, for being haunting, austere, emotionally direct without seeming smug. Amour next.

Ang Lee (nominated for Life of Pi): Crouching Tiger, for rich palette, woozy movements, and fierce women; and Lust, Caution, for getting nasty

David O. Russell (nominated for Silver Linings Playbook): I ♥ Huckabees, equally earnest and ironic, metaphysical, tricksy, hysterical, but fluent in Folks

Steven Spielberg (nominated for Lincoln): ET, a peak of mainstream product and a sad, gutsy, eccentric artwork; Schindler, for votive power

Jessica Chastain (nominated for Zero Dark Thirty): Performing quiet risk assessments on Shannon in Take Shelter; shaking up that chicken in The Help

Jennifer Lawrence (nominated for Silver Linings Playbook): Winter's Bone, especially for sibling bonds and boat scene; she's also a fine foil in Like Crazy

Naomi Watts (nominated for The Impossible): "Dream Place," unpacking sweaters, touring Adam's set, everything after "Llorando" in Mulholland Drive

Bradley Cooper (nominated for Silver Linings Playbook): As he keeps insisting on picking Amy Poehler's clipboard off the ground in Wet Hot American Summer

Daniel Day-Lewis (nominated for Lincoln): For all his "bigger" turns, I can't shake straight-backed but broken John Proctor in The Crucible

Hugh Jackman (nominated for Les Misérables): The Fountain, stoking real feelings, his slight blandness ideal as a vessel for souls passing through

Joaquin Phoenix (nominated for The Master): Master, for ace Pennmanship; We Own the Night and To Die For, for poignant takes on two lost guys

Denzel Washington (nominated for Flight): Cagy, smart, fiery in Malcolm X; discomfited in Philadelphia; hypnotic and venal in Training Day

Amy Adams (nominated for The Master): Junebug, for awe, sunniness, and rue; The Fighter, for pugnacity; Sunshine Cleaning, for hints of anger

Sally Field (nominated for Lincoln): Steel Magnolias, which took best, blended advantage of her humor and almost surly toughness

Anne Hathaway (nominated for Les Misérables): Prada, finding a detailed girl in drabbest role; Rachel, using neediness, exhibitionism brilliantly

Helen Hunt (nominated for The Sessions): Mad About You, for intimacy; Dr T, for carnal ease; "G***amn Motherfu**ing HMO Bastard Pieces of Sh*t."

Alan Arkin (nominated for Argo): From my narrow survey, his delicacy in Heart Is a Lonely Hunter and quietly memorable turn in Glengarry

Robert De Niro (nominated for Silver Linings Playbook): Taxi Driver, for poignant but dangerous inarticulacy; New York, New York, for charisma and cruelty

Philip Seymour Hoffman (nominated for The Master): Magnolia, for panicked tenderness; Ripley, for 16-carat smarm; Synecdoche, for prismatic sadness

Tommy Lee Jones (nominated for Lincoln): Indelible husbands in Coal Miner's Daughter, Blue Sky, Hope Springs; two triumphs in Three Burials

Kirby Dick (nominated for The Invisible War): Sick: The Life & Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist, so touching and confrontational in equal parts

Howard Gertler (nominated for How to Survive a Plague): Shortbus, a movie on which my feelings remain mixed but a clear feat of producing. Rooting for you!

Michael Haneke, as writer (nominated for Amour): As scripts, the unflinching Piano Teacher, queasy Code Unknown, and elliptical Caché take the cake

Quentin Tarantino (nominated for Django Unchained): My answer since '97, you Jackie-Come-Latelys. Heightened form and idiom minus the heartlessness.

Tony Kushner (nominated for Lincoln): Angels, for Harper, Roy, ideas, convictions, cubistic compassion, more life; Homebody/Kabul, for brio

Seamus McGarvey (nominated for Anna Karenina): Winter Guest, for deep, delicate chill; War Zone, for unnerving tactility; Soloist, for surprises.

Robert Richardson (nominated for Django Unchained): JFK and NBK, two bold, disparate phantasmagorias; and groggy but hopped-up Bringing Out the Dead

Janusz Kaminski (nominated for Lincoln): Dull answers, but Schindler is stunningly lensed, first acts of Diving Bell and Pvt Ryan do amaze

Roger Deakins (nominated for Skyfall): Dead Man Walking, for faces and subtle atmospherics; Fargo, for memorable framings, evocative whites

William Goldenberg (nominated for Argo and Zero Dark Thirty): Ali, whose unexpected rhythms and episodic structure accumulate so much force, up to potent end

Tim Squyres (nominated for Life of Pi): The same pair (see: Ang Lee) plus Sense and Sensibility for cadence and balance, Rachel for carefully managed entropy

Michael Kahn (nominated for Lincoln): Indelible images in energetic succession for Raiders; oscillating fever and quiet in Fatal Attraction

Jay Cassidy (nominated for Silver Linings Playbook): Into the Wild for rhythm, panorama; Assassination of Richard Nixon for enabling odd, great performance

Dylan Tichenor (nominated for Zero Dark Thirty): Ambition, originality of Boogie, Magnolia, most of Blood; classicism of The Town; energy of Whip It

Andy Nelson (nominated for Lincoln and Les Misérables): The Thin Red Line, Moulin Rouge, and A.I., three very different jewels in one hell of a crowned résumé

Greg P. Russell (nominated for Skyfall): Point Break and Salt, two instances when detailed sonic hyperbole ideally suited a dialed-up story

Wylie Stateman (nominated for Django Unchained): Nixon, for Stoned hyperbole and eerie quiets; and Kill Bills, for sharp sounds gleaming like swords

Jacqueline Durran (nominated for Anna Karenina): Anna Karenina's architectural couture; Tinker Tailor's subtle detail; Happy-Go-Lucky accessories

Joanna Johnston (nominated for Lincoln): About a Boy, for contemporary cool in all senses; War Horse, for textures; Unbreakable, for color.

Paco Delgado (nominated for Les Misérables): Bad Education, where the color, cut, and print of the men's clothes make them look like Gila monsters

Eiko Ishioka (nominated for Mirror Mirror): Muscle suit, basilisk gown in Dracula. Taloned mask, four-storey cape, unraveled heroine in The Cell.

Colleen Atwood (nominated for Snow White and the Huntsman): Beloved, for unusual colors and details in new contexts; Edward Scissorhands, for instant iconicity

David Gropman (nominated for Life of Pi): I never forgot the lived-in homes and neighborhoods of Nobody's Fool, Bobby Fischer, Mr & Mrs Bridge

Jim Erickson (set decorator, nominated for Lincoln): Boy, can he decorate US period sets, as also seen in New World, Little Women, and There Will Be Blood

Eve Stewart (nominated for Les Misérables): Topsy-Turvy is an unqualified triumph, but where was her nod for woolly, chilly, indelible Vera Drake?

Alexandre Desplat (nominated for Argo): Birth and The Painted Veil are the two scores from the last decade I'd gladly attend in concert

Mychael Danna (nominated for Life of Pi): Exotica score evokes grotty desperation without standard tricks. Sweet Hereafter sad, odd, soulsick.

John Williams (nominated for Lincoln): Star Wars' glorious fusion of magic and chintz; AI and Nixon, taking nervy risks; iconic ET and Jaws

Thomas Newman (nominated for Skyfall): American Beauty, for fusing discord and sublimity as well as Hall or Ball did; Good German for yuks

Bill Westenhofer (nominated for Life of Pi): Stuart Little, where mouse's charm, simplicity, and deft execution defied a typically antic genre

Janek Sirrs (nominated for Marvel's The Avengers): The Matrix, because in the middle of the night, I can be big-hearted. Nice work on Pleasantville, too.

Howard Berger (nominated for Hitchcock): The outlandish archetypes inside a diseased mind in The Cell; phantom behind the diner in Mulholland Drive

Peter King (nominated for The Hobbit): Velvet Goldmine's UFO-ready makeup reveals and conceals character, nails glam-à-clef allusions. Fierce!

Lisa Westcott (nominated for Les Misérables): Notes on a Scandal, where makeup on Dench, Blanchett conveys all you need to know but isn't too much

Tim Burton (nominated for Frankenweenie): Edward Scissorhands for heart, Mars Attacks! for ack-ack and ruthless momentum, Ed Wood for everything

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