There Will Be Blood (#110 of 27)

Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Production Design

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Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Production Design
Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Production Design

In 2010, we asked, “How do you solve a problem like Avatar? How do you hold a fluorescent, floating anemone in your hand? Well, you can't. Because it exists in hexadecimal code on a hard drive somewhere in Silicon (or is it Uncanny?) Valley.” So we threw our vote to Sherlock Holmes and shook our heads on Oscar night when James Cameron's Epcot Center diorama was awarded. The lesson? That Gravity, even though it's the Mission: SPACE to Avatar's more elaborately designed Universe of Energy: Ellen's Energy Adventure, shouldn't be too quickly discounted. Two years earlier, we thought the category would break toward Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood's Wild West City attraction only to see it (rightfully) lose to Tim Burton's Broadway-ed Dickens funhouse Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Meaning that the benefits of being a Best Picture frontrunner in this category are negligible. And so we put our money on Joe Wright's Anna Karenina last year only to see it toppled by the Lincoln Logs of Steven Spielberg's Lincoln. Meaning that being a politely revered or disliked Best Picture nominee is also negligible.

Oscar Prospects: The Master

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Oscar Prospects: The Master
Oscar Prospects: The Master

Time will tell if the Academy's newest rule adjustment will throw off the mojo of latecomers like Les Misérables, but it's sure to benefit a movie like The Master, which has graciously offered voters several months to see it before casting their ballots. Often, such an early-season release would carry the risk of a loss of steam, and that may well be the fate of Paul Thomas Anderson's latest, but it seems there are too many Oscar-friendly factors at play here to doubt the movie's long-term clout. The cast is smack-dab in Oscar's comfort zone, the Scientology parallels are present enough to offer some baity relevance, and with critical champions like A.O. Scott, the film has the reviews it needs to make it a veritable must-see, even if it's not being gushed over quite like There Will Be Blood. There is the consideration that the Oscars aren't what they were in 2007, when critically adored fare aligned with Academy favorites, and a curio like the saga of Daniel Plainview could go toe-to-toe with the elliptical nihilism of No Country for Old Men. But, then, The Master isn't in the same key as its predecessor either, and if anything, its rather straightforward narrative makes it Anderson's most accessible film since Boogie Nights. Though likely not a top-five contender, the movie's Best Picture nomination chances look fairly solid at the moment, boosted by a very impressive box-office performance.

Poster Lab: The Master

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Poster Lab: <em>The Master</em>
Poster Lab: <em>The Master</em>

Poster designer Dustin Stanton has a history with Paul Thomas Anderson, devising the ad for the director's Punch-Drunk Love while working with BLT & Associates, and creating the unforgettable one-sheet for There Will Be Blood while employed by Concept Arts. Now an independent artist, Stanton has been followed by his auteur collaborator, and has easily outdone himself with the poster for The Master, Anderson's forthcoming sixth feature. Focusing on a drifter (Joaquin Phoenix) who, in the early 1950s, finds apparent salvation from alcoholism and malcontent with a budding religious group, the film is served well by Stanton's glass-half-full approach, which implies a skepticism about the drifter's turning point, and seems to question whether or not his saviors' murky world is indeed better than his own. There's a host of meanings one could ascribe to this handsome image, which easily sits in the top tier of 2012 film posters. Stanton first marries the elements of liquor and the sea, as the cultish group reportedly gets its start on a boat (where much of the film takes place). There's also the dichotomy between Phoenix's bobbing-through-life apprentice and his titular mentor (Philip Seymour Hoffman), whose credibility may just be going down by the head. And if you care to take the bait, there's always the matter of the title itself, which seems an incidental reflection of Anderson's ego.

Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Short Film (Animated)

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Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Short Film (Animated)
Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Short Film (Animated)

Is it just us or can the Academy's infatuation with The Artist be felt even in categories where the film isn't nominated? Grant Orchard's The Morning Stroll, about a chicken stopping a passerby on a city street dead in his tracks, first in a time when films were referred to as moving pictures, then in our present day, and finally in a post-apocalyptic tomorrow where zombies have come home to roost, is cute up to the point that its artistry adopts the very ADD it increasingly thumbs its nose at throughout. A sweeter, more quaint vision, Patrick Doyon's Sunday is in essence also a study of human routine, only this one waxes nostalgic on the different world children and adults inhabit without a shred of condescension. Both Terence Davies and Bill Plympton would love it…and we know how many Oscars each of those filmmakers have.

SXSW 2011: American Animal

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SXSW 2011: <em>American Animal</em>
SXSW 2011: <em>American Animal</em>

If Andrew Haigh, the director of Weekend, the earnest, prosaic, and mostly unsurprising British drama that won an Emerging Visions Audience Award at South by Southwest last night, is considered a fresh new voice in cinema, then what about Matt D'Elia, who shows more breathtaking audacity in his debut feature, American Animal, than Haigh shows in his Richard Linklater-ish romantic talkfest? Don't get me wrong: Weekend, for all its gay-themed subject matter, is agreeable and sometimes quite moving. What it lacks is the brash confidence that American Animal exudes in abundance, the confidence of an artist willing to risk driving its audience up a wall in order to realize a defiantly unique personal vision. You won't necessarily warm to everything D'Elia throws at you, but you certainly won't leave the film without some kind of opinion on it.

A Vision of the Past, and Future Red Dead Redemption

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A Vision of the Past, and Future: Red Dead Redemption
A Vision of the Past, and Future: Red Dead Redemption

Red Dead Redemption is the game Grand Theft Auto always wanted to be. Developed by GTA masterminds Rockstar Games, this pseudo-sequel to 2004's Red Dead Revolver—a functional if underwhelming third-person western saga—thrusts you into a roam-all-you-want Old West sandbox environment, allowing you the freedom to concentrate on the storyline's primary missions or simply gallop about the vast plains, dusty deserts, and Mexican mountains, collecting rare herbs, hunting wild animals, and rescuing whatever damsel in distress you might happen upon along the way. Far less limiting than GTA's urban metropolises, which—because so much of those cities' interior spaces were inaccessible—always felt constructed out of paper houses, Red Dead Redemption's settings are fully, thrillingly alive, their functioning ecosystems, sudden dramatic occurrences, and operative economy all helping to create a sense of participating in a universe that operates independent of (rather than revolves around) you. To spend time in this adventure's locales is to feel a part of a wider world. And, consequently, to catch a glimpse at gaming's immersive potential.

As with its GTA predecessors, Red Dead Redemption is at once upfront about its cinematic influences and yet not beholden to them, using its myriad frames of reference to produce something both familiar and unique. You platy as John Marston, a former outlaw who's compelled in 1911 by the federal government—under threat to his family—to visit New Austin (a Texas stand-in) to track down and kill former criminal mate Bill Williamson. It's a task that goes awry at outset, thus compelling you to get Marston back on his feet and prepare for a siege on Williams's fort compound. If that basic setup sounds similar to countless classic and revisionist westerns, that's no accident, as allusions abound throughout Red Dead Redemption's lengthy campaign. As always, though, Rockstar doesn't name-check so much as simply tip the cap to its favorite celluloid ancestors, from Once Upon a Time in the West (and its depiction of encroaching modernity sounding the old guard's death knell) and The Wild Bunch (especially during the game's later Mexican Civil War sequences) to, in the name of a budding oil community, There Will Be Blood.