“How did a Jia Zhang-ke documentary get into this lineup?” my fellow Oscar blogger Ed Gonzalez marveled after watching the shockingly formal Butter Lamp, which, compared to the strain of self-involved beardo hipster entries that have won this category in recent years, practically carries itself like a miniature, fictionalized version of a Sensory Ethnography Lab film. Composed entirely of frontal shots presumably representing what the aperture of a big-shot city photographer’s camera sees as he sets up portraits for rural Tibetans, Butter Lamp blurs the line between documentary, narrative feature, and avant-garde object as brazenly as peak Kiarostami—or, closer to home, the downright abstract 2015 best documentary short nominee The Reaper. And, though its final frames make a statement on industrialization pointed enough for even the Imitation Game-voting base to process, it’s probably still going to lose harder than any nominee in the specialized, “Weinsteins needn’t apply” races since Dogtooth.
Sally Hawkins (#1–10 of 8)
As was recently reported by the hive of Oscarologists over at Gold Derby, American Hustle has history on its side when it comes to the acting races, as only two of the 14 films to see their stars nominated in all four categories have walked away without a single acting Oscar (those two, for the record, were 1936’s My Man Godfrey and 1950’s Sunset Boulevard). Like Wings’ “Live and Let Die,” which her drained-out desperate housewife, Rosalyn, blasts in her living room while rocking dishwashing gloves, that bit of Gold Derby trivia should be music to the ears of Jennifer Lawrence, who, of American Hustle’s quartet of contenders, has the strongest shot of clinching a statuette on March 2. The recipient of the Golden Globe and a handful of critics’ prizes, Lawrence is still riding high on a wave of success that ushered her to last year’s Oscar podium, where she claimed Best Actress for Silver Linings Playbook, another David O. Russell dramedy to score across-the-board acting bids.
When the Weinstein Company ultimately, and perhaps inevitably, retracted its decision to have August: Osage County star Meryl Streep campaign in the Supporting Actress category, it proved to be great news for Streep’s co-star Julia Roberts. Indeed, even August writer Tracy Letts claims Roberts’s part is a leading role, but debating category fraud is as futile as hoping Armond White won’t taint a New York Film Critics Circle awards ceremony, and given the competition, Roberts never would have landed a Best Actress nod anyway. But with Streep bumped into leading contention, Roberts seems to have become a Supporting Actress lock, not only because she steals the show with her bitiest turn since the one that won her an Oscar, but because she’s part of a smaller crowd in which she simply can’t be overlooked by her adoring peers. Some see Roberts as the wild card; I see her as an industry-beloved shoo-in.
- 12 years a slave
- Academy Awards
- adepero oduye
- american hustle
- august: osage county
- blue is the warmest color
- blue jasmine
- crystal fairy
- don jon
- Gaby Hoffman
- jennifer lawrence
- julia roberts
- June Squibb
- léa seydoux
- Lee Daniels' The Butler
- meryl streep
- Oprah Winfrey
- sally hawkins
- scarlett johansson
- the weinstein company
There are ghosts in an old Bed-Stuy house.
Wes Anderson’s next film is called Moon Rise Kingdom and it will tentatively star Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Bruce Willis, and Tilda Swinton.
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This week’s DVD releases include Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky, perhaps my favorite film of last year, and Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York, another film I found pretty damn great. A comparison between the two, though, reveals just why Happy succeeds where Synecdoche can never quite take wing.
In Happy-Go-Lucky’s opening scene, Poppy (Sally Hawkins) enters a used bookstore and immediately pulls a book titled The Road to Reality off the shelf. “Don’t wanna be going there,” Poppy says as she puts the book back. So we are introduced to a character it seems so many viewers are preconditioned to despise: the whimsical and quirky space cadet, uninterested in harsh reality lest it encroach upon her naïve enjoyment of life.
Poppy is overly extroverted and far too nice, the type of person we resent and pity all at once—resent because she stumbles obliviously into a happiness that eludes us and pity because such naïve happiness must be in some way a façade, ultimately empty because it has not been tempered by an honest reflection upon ’reality’. In short, she’s annoying.
One of the more frustrating aspects of the seemingly year-long awards season is watching pundits and prognosticators remain largely oblivious to their role in shaping the Oscar race. The noise people like Tom O’Neill make throughout the year feels as influential to this rat race as the awards handed out by critics, which makes it frustrating when these pundits refuse to promote films they’ve seen instead of lavishing free publicity on productions that won’t come out for many months. These forecasters buy into the idea that films released during the beginning of the year have no chance at snagging Oscar nominations, and their disinterest in endorsing films such as The Witnesses and Flight of the Red Balloon rubs off on distributors, when it stands to reason that some of these films might actually connect with Oscar voters if more awards watchers were less interested in snagging better batting averages than their fellow soothsayers. But is this trend changing? Take, for example, the rather exceptional cases of Richard Jenkins and Melissa Leo. It’s unlikely these two fine, older performers would be on any Oscar voter’s mind right now if it wasn’t for the concerted reportage of people like Awards Daily guru Sasha Stone, one of the few Oscar bloggers out there who seems to recognize that Academy members are among her readers, and who often took a break from conventional prognosticating last year to spotlight films and performances she felt should to be on AMPAS’s radar. There’s never joy in seeing films like The Visitor and Frozen River (both, curiously, without prime real estate over at Stuff White People Like) lapping up praise, but there’s no doubt that Jenkins and Leo survive these risible films with their dignities in tact, or that Stone’s coverage of the Oscar race is thoughtful in a way O’Neill’s never is. Without the efforts of persons like Stone, it’s impossible to imagine Leo with a SAG nomination, something Sally Hawkins doesn’t have—though Hawkins has something Leo doesn’t: a Golden Globe and the adoration of the collective critical community, to say nothing of Meryl Streep’s approval. If Hawkins, Anne Hathaway, Streep, and Kate Winslet are locks by this point, that leaves Leo to fend off Angelina Jolie for the final spot, assuming you believe Cate Blanchett’s predictably chilly non-performance in The Curious Benjamin Button and Kristin Scott Thomas’s heralded turn in Me Love You Long Time don’t have enough fans. Jolie, who was arguably snubbed last year for A Mighty Heart, received both a SAG and Golden Globe nomination for her work in Changeling, and though she has big-studio muscle behind her, the Clint Eastwood film’s tepid critical reception will undoubtably hurt the superstar actress. For sure, just as the buzz around Jolie’s performance has continued to dissipate, Leo’s has only built since being vetted by people like Stone (was this partly responsible for Sony Pictures Classics beating every other studio out of the gate with Frozen River screeners?) and catching the attention of both SAG and the Independent Spirit Awards.
This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.
Hello. My name is Vadim Rizov, and when we hit October I’ll be celebrating six months of full-time free-lancing; the post-grad malaise is lurking somewhere, no doubt, but has yet to announce itself. This is kind of a minor miracle, given the well-publicized woes of the critical world, and even though I’m way below the poverty line and living more-or-less subsistence level, I’m perfectly happy to have made it so far. And so, for the first time since I’ve arrived in New York, I’m both fully accredited for the New York Film Festival and able to attend the press screenings without skipping class. Alas, I have to skip out for a week to go on a road trip, but otherwise I hope to be shooting back more-or-less coherent daily dispatches as a kind of personal victory lap. The NYFF press screenings—which began this past Friday and continue well into the festival—almost constitute a weird, parallel festival. It’s great fun if you know fellow attendees, just like every other festival, so forgive me if the dispatches don’t reflect the atmosphere of NYFF public screenings in all their harried and formal glory.
What does Woody Allen believe in? Across 40 years he has spoken publicly of his atheism and general pessimism while drawing from these sentiments in even his goofiest comedies. He has been in psychoanalysis for about as long as he’s been making films, and the dialogue in his screenplays often reads like an analyst’s notes. Allen may keep coming up with new premises for his movies, but there are no mysteries about the man that his 40-plus films haven’t laid open like franks on a grill (apologies to Ghostface Killah). Cassandra’s Dream is more of the same, just bigger and blacker. (No, not in that sense. You crazy?) The almost believable tragedy that unfolds here is on roughly the same scale as his last wristcutter, Match Point, but he gestures more broadly to the Greeks, the Good Book and the Timeless Futility of It All. In case you missed it last time, he wants you to get it here: Life is profoundly cruel and unfair.