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The Descendants (#110 of 22)

Oscar Prospects Nebraska, the Arguably Offensive Veteran’s Vehicle

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Oscar Prospects: Nebraska, the Arguably Offensive Veteran’s Vehicle
Oscar Prospects: Nebraska, the Arguably Offensive Veteran’s Vehicle

Lately, the conversations I’ve been having with people about Alexander Payne’s Nebraska keep coming back to the same thing: Payne’s depictions of Midwesterners, which, in his latest, are more ostensibly—and, to many, offensively—cartoonish than ever before. I’ve heard some folks describe the characters in Nebraska as loving renderings of those in and around the auteur’s home state, while others have announced outright that Payne’s employment of stereotypes make his movie truly hateable. I personally found that the deplorable decisions Payne does make (such as planting his viewers inside a g-darn TV set, and making them gawk at lounging Nebraskans with voyeuristic judgment), are eventually alleviated by the layered character revealed by the film itself. But what matters in regard to this movie’s awards potential is whether the naysayers have loud enough voices to counter the din of approval. And, at this point, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Even critics and pundits left squirmy by Payne’s captured-in-grayscale rednecks have largely not allowed the caveat to ruin the party, and as for industry types, most seem over the moon about Payne’s well-intended, yet characteristically barbed, heart. Moreover, enthusiasm for the film’s performances, particularly that of “long-overdue” and “under-appreciated” Bruce Dern, appears strong enough to eclipse pesky, nitpicky hang-ups (you should have seen the film’s rapturous reception at the New York Film Festival).

Cannes Film Festival 2013: Nebraska Review

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Cannes Film Festival 2013: <em>Nebraska</em> Review
Cannes Film Festival 2013: <em>Nebraska</em> Review

The men in Alexander Payne’s movies are on a constant journey. In About Schmidt, Jack Nicholson’s Warren experiences late-life enlightenment when he travels cross-country to his daughter’s wedding. In Sideways, Paul Giamatti and Thomas Hayden Church’s characters experience an entire midlife crisis as they explore central California’s wine country. Most recently, George Clooney’s Matt King traveled the Hawaiian islands in an attempt to reconnect with his daughters and reconcile with his seriously injured wife in The Descendants. (You have to go back to Payne’s first two features, Citizen Ruth and Election, to find female protagonists who were also seen at difficult crossroads.) In the process, Payne has become one of American cinema’s most respected chroniclers of male discontent and awakening. If his latest, Nebraska, doesn’t alter the formula, it also does so on a more refreshingly modest scale than that of The Descendants.

On the Rise Shailene Woodley

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On the Rise: Shailene Woodley

Fox Searchlight Pictures

On the Rise: Shailene Woodley

Nearly all the best scenes in Alexander Payne’s The Descendants feature Shailene Woodley, who was unforgettable as Alexandra, the eldest daughter of George Clooney’s cuckolded, soon-to-be-widower, Matt King. Offhand, one thinks of the scene in which news of her mom’s comatose state sends Alex into the family’s pool, screaming underwater in one of the film’s many snapshots of private torment. There’s also the moment that Alex spills to her dad the secret of her mother’s affair, shifting from tearful to venomous without missing a beat, wiping her cheeks before saying, “He hand his hand on her ass. It was gross.”

Woodley hasn’t done much screen work since her Descendants breakthrough, short of continuing her starring role in The Secret Life of the American Teenager, the ABC Family series that will soon wrap its fifth and final season. But, as 2013 rolls on, the 21-year-old has suddenly gone from Oscar snubbee to ubiquitous princess, reportedly landing the lead in two major YA adaptations, clinching the role of Mary Jane Watson in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and still being sure to maintain some indie cred. Of all the young actresses to recently emerge from Disney-type talent factories, from Miley Cyrus to the Spring Breakers hell-raisers, Woodley seems the most on track toward a fruitful and prestigious career, perhaps akin to that of another indie/franchise straddler, Jennifer Lawrence.

Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Editing

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Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Editing
Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Editing

As you might have noticed from our previous Oscar posts, one of the hottest topics among we Slant prognosticators is just how many trophies Argo is capable of collecting. Certain races (like Adapted Screenplay) have stirred up debate, but we all agree that Picture and Editing are surely Argo’s to lose, the latter thanks to the sharp, tension-mounting cuts of William Goldenberg, and, of course, that undying surge of support for “wronged” helmer Ben Affleck (natch, the film’s ACE triumph doesn’t hurt either). History has long proven that the Editing and Picture victor are often one and the same, and if there’s anything normal about Argo’s steady rise to the top, it’s the probable furthering of that time-tested tradition. Of course, it’s conceivable that Life of Pi’s likely tech-awards mini-sweep could reach this category, too, yielding a win for Tim Squyres, the man who spliced together all those bioluminescent set pieces. Squyres has a stronger shot than, say, Michael Kahn, who’s on par with all the other creatives who made Lincoln soar, but is also set to join them in the Corner of Ignored Subtlety. Silver Linings Playbook was an ACE winner as well, taking the top prize in the comedy/musical field, but like The Descendants, it’s a knee-jerky, head-scratcher of a nominee. Our favorite? Oh, it’s Goldenberg all right, but we prefer his ace (sorry) work on Zero Dark Thirty, which he also cut, along with Dylan Tichenor.

Oscar 2012 Composite Winner Predictions

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Oscar 2012 Composite Winner Predictions
Oscar 2012 Composite Winner Predictions

Below is a complete list of our predicted winners at the 2012 Academy Awards.

Picture: The Artist
Directing: Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Actor: Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Actress: Viola Davis, The Help
Actor in a Supporting Role: Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Actress in a Supporting Role: Octavia Spencer, The Help
Original Screenplay: Midnight in Paris
Adapted Screenplay: The Descendants
Foreign Language Film: In Darkness
Documentary Feature: Undefeated
Animated Feature Film: Rango
Documentary Short: Saving Face
Animated Short: The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
Live Action Short: Tuba Atlantic
Film Editing: Hugo
Art Direction: Hugo
Cinematography: Hugo
Costume Design: Hugo
Makeup: The Iron Lady
Score: The Artist
Song: “Man or Muppet,” The Muppets
Sound Editing: Hugo
Sound Mixing: Hugo
Visual Effects: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Picture

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Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Picture
Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Picture

That the Best Picture category’s “Will it be six or will it be seven?” question was settled as close to 10 as possible without actually being 10 isn’t merely a mark of how much of a mess this year’s Oscars are. It’s also proof positive that, despite paying lip service to the hundreds of films “eligible” to be nominated for Best Picture, by the time publicists and studios have had their say, there are never more than maybe two dozen movies in the mix. If nine movies in this hardly vintage year could reach the minimum requirement of being listed first on five percent of all ballots, then frankly the bar isn’t high enough. Even if the board of directors fixes what they’ve broken and revert next year to the five-deep slate, no matter how heartening it is for fans of The Tree of Life (which exists in an entirely different league from the rest of the other nominees) or Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (ditto), it can’t seem like much of an honor to be nominated now that the category’s perverse sliding scale has revealed just how limited Oscar voters obviously see their pool of choices.

Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Editing

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Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Editing
Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Editing

When it comes to film editing, dubbed by so many as “the invisible art,” marveling at how rhythmically one shot feeds another is hardly sufficient in predicting an Oscar winner. If it were that simple, Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall, who linked motorbike zooms to serial-killer string-ups and helped The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo feel like half of its 158 minutes, would take this trophy in a walk. That’s just what the Fincher-backing duo did last year, for their equally riveting chop job on The Social Network. But Fincher’s latest is hardly a contender like his zeitgeist-y Zuckerberg epic, leaving it a tased and tatted victim of the politics of this race. If you’re not a Bourne Ultimatum or a Black Hawk Down or a Matrix, firing more dizzying, whiz-bang splices at the audience than obstacles in a first-person shooter, you’d best be a Best Picture frontrunner.

Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Adapted Screenplay

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Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Adapted Screenplay
Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Adapted Screenplay

Conventional wisdom suggested that adaptations of the biggest bestsellers would make up much of this year’s shortlist—barring, perhaps, the sourly gynecidal Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and its nightstick-in-the-naughty-hole vengeance. So it’s something of a blessing that the 100-odd-page translations of Kathryn Stockett’s The Help and Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, whose own wisdom is quite conventional indeed, weren’t counted among those movies’ recognized achievements. The best-known tome to see its adaptation make it into the final five is John le Carré’s inimitable classic Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, just one reason this category boasts one of the 2012 Oscar season’s finest lineups. Since politics can never be ignored, it’s worth noting that Tinker Tailor has an extra edge here considering nominee Peter Straughan’s wife and co-writer, Bridget O’Connor, passed away before the film hit theaters. But then again, such a sad truth may be precisely what got the unsure hopeful over the nomination hump, and a second sympathy-boosted triumph doesn’t seem likely.

Understanding Screenwriting #89: Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol, The Descendants, My Week with Marilyn, & More

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Understanding Screenwriting #89: <em>Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol</em>, <em>The Descendants</em>, <em>My Week with Marilyn</em>, & More
Understanding Screenwriting #89: <em>Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol</em>, <em>The Descendants</em>, <em>My Week with Marilyn</em>, & More

Coming Up in This Column: Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol, The Descendants, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, My Week with Marilyn, Love & Other Drugs, The Great Moment, Susan Slept Here, but first…

Fan Mail: In talking about the final shot of the wedding of the twins in The Palm Beach Story, David Ehrenstein dragged out his favorite Fritz Lang quote about how it’s “because in the script it’s written and on the screen it’s pictures. Motion pictures they call it.” That does not exactly apply here. Sturges set up the wedding in the script and he could well have written in the reactions of the “other twins.” He didn’t, but he added them as a director, developing what he had written. And it’s not in this case “motion pictures,” because you can see their reactions in a still. The point I am making with a lot of the Sturges Project is the relationship between script and film is a lot more complicated than we normally think. David in his quotes about Sturges’s working method from Ruth Olay demonstrates that.

I may have given David the impression that it was my opinion that Mary Astor was not good in Palm Beach, but that was Sturges’s feeling. I think she is terrific. Sturges wanted her voice higher than her normal range and was disappointed when she couldn’t do it. But who wants a soprano Mary Astor?

Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol (2011. Screenplay by Josh Appelbaum & André Nemec, based on the television series created by Bruce Geller. 133 minutes.)

Harold Lloyd in Burn Notice meets Covert Affairs: I always liked the way the M:I television series managed to squeeze two hours of story material into one hour, which really made you run to keep up. On the other hand, the theatrical films have been a very mixed bag. Mission: Impossible (1996; screenplay by David Koepp and Robert Towne, story by David Koepp and Steven Zaillian) was a mess. They had a great IMF team at the beginning, which they killed off, and the film became focused on Ethan Hunt rather than a team. There was supposed to be a romance between Hunt and Claire Phelps, but all those scenes got cut so when Jim Phelps accuses Hunt of having the affair we are totally lost. Mission: Impossible II (2000; screenplay by Robert Towne, story by Ronald D. Moore & Brannon Braga) had the amusing idea of rewriting Notorious (1946; written by Ben Hecht), with Hunt pimping out Nyah Nordoff-Hall to Sean Ambrose to get whatever the Maguffin was in that film. As much as I love Robert Towne, Hecht is the winner in that contest. Also, M:I II introduced and proceeded to beat to death the business of everybody wearing facemasks to hide their identities. Mission:Impossible III (2006; written by Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci & J.J. Abrams) was the best one so far. Hunt is retired and married but he gets “pulled back in” to try to protect one of his protégés while trying to hide from his wife what he really does. He also has to deal with the series’ best villain, an arms dealer played to the hilt by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Hunt is working with a team this time, and the mixture of action and character probably come from J.J. Abrams’ work in television. (See US#77 for my comments on Abrams in the item on his Super 8.)