Tom Hooper (#110 of 16)

SXSW 2013: Downloaded, Touba, & Before You Know It

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SXSW 2013: <em>Downloaded</em>, <em>Touba</em>, & <em>Before You Know It</em>
SXSW 2013: <em>Downloaded</em>, <em>Touba</em>, & <em>Before You Know It</em>

Downloaded, Alex Winter's chronicle of the rise and fall of the peer-to-peer file-sharing music service Napster, falls on the more conventional end of the documentary spectrum. The filmmaker does a pretty thorough job of chronicling the company's highlights, from its inception as the brainchild of 18-year-old Shawn Fanning—who basically taught himself computer programming in order to be able to create the program—to its stunning popularity, and then the even more thunderous blowback from Metallica's Lars Ulrich and the Recording Industry Association of America, all of which helped finally bring Napster's short but groundbreaking existence to a flaming finish.

Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Sound Mixing

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Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Sound Mixing
Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Sound Mixing

It's at this point we had to ask ourselves, “Is Argo really going to end up a two-Oscar Best Picture winner?” Because while it seems almost certain to buck all sorts of precedent and take Best Picture, which of its six other nominations will be there to back it up? Honestly, the way things have been developing among the guild awards, the only nod that seems entirely out of reach is Alan Arkin's bid for supporting actor. We'll cover Best Editing in the next few days, but the movie still seems more of a spoiler than a frontrunner for original score and adapted screenplay*. In theory, that leaves Argo's two sound bids to prevent the movie from achieving a dubious feat not achieved since Cecil B. DeMille's The Greatest Show on Earth. Some of us are going to hedge on our Oscar-pool ballots and give Argo one or both of them, but unless the topsy-turviness of the race infects every category, both it and Lincoln seem to lack the “bigness” this category seems to require.

Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Director

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Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Director
Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Director

After Argo collected nearly every major industry award in the lead-up to the Academy Awards, in the process emerging as this year's Best Picture frontrunner, it came as a shock to everyone to see Ben Affleck shut out of the running here given how often Best Director and Picture coincide. It's with some irony, then, that two filmmakers who've emerged as the main contenders in Affleck's absence are also among the very few previous winners here whose films were denied Best Picture trophies: Ang Lee and Steven Spielberg. But let's try to rid our minds of the deplorable notion that Spielberg and Lee are contending for an award that belongs to Affleck. Stripped of this context, an Affleck-less battle for Best Director has all the makings of otherwise good Oscar drama.

Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Supporting Actress

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Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Supporting Actress
Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Supporting Actress

Blergh. Weeks ago I dreamed a dream where all the particulars of my presently contentious relationship with Anne Hathaway, a typically smart and endearing performer who was robbed of an Oscar in 2009 for Rachel Getting Married, were manifest. At the actual Oscar ceremony, which resembled a standing room-only dinner party, I hugged Hathaway, who I referred to as my sister, as she paraded around in her Catwoman outfit, working the room with the same jacked-up excitement she exhibited days earlier opposite Chelsea Handler and Jon Stewart and hinting at all the things she's going to do to her hubby once she gets home. Someone, probably Christopher Plummer, announces the winner in this category and the award goes to Sally Field, for illuminating through her two excellent meltdowns in Lincoln, one opposite Tommy Lee Jones, the other opposite Daniel Day-Lewis, the essence of the Steven Spielberg film as a study of the conflict between public and private modes of behavior in the arena of American politics. Shock ripples through the room, and while I should be sad for my sister, who puts on a predictably brave face, I can barely sustain my excitement at Oscar turning his beefed-up buttocks to a performance every bit as cloying as Anne's contrived acceptance speech at the Golden Globes.

Oscar 2013 Nomination Predictions: Director

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Oscar 2013 Nomination Predictions: Director
Oscar 2013 Nomination Predictions: Director

When introducing Life of Pi at its New York Film Festival premiere, Ang Lee quipped that there are three things directors are warned to never work with: Children, animals, and water. With his latest, of course, the Taiwanese maestro broke all three rules, helming a high-seas adventure with an adolescent hero, and populating much of it with a part-CG, part-live-action menagerie. For his efforts, and for stepping up to the plate to adapt Yann Martel's worldwide bestseller (a supposedly insurmountable task previously passed over by M. Night Shyamalan and Alfonso Cuarón), Lee is likely to land on Oscar's Best Director shortlist, following prior nominations from the Broadcast Critics and the Hollywood Foreign Press. No stranger to the Academy's affections, the man who won this category in 2006 for Brokeback Mountain is the closest thing to a fourth-place lock this year, tailing behind three shoo-ins whose projects were all far more political.

Oscar Prospects: Les Misérables

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Oscar Prospects: Les Misérables
Oscar Prospects: Les Misérables

With its Oscar clout and inevitable crowd-pleasing matched by widespread critical ire, Les Misérables is easily the year's most divisive awards contender. The film does have its champions, like the oft-snarky New York Post critic Kyle Smith, who gave it the top spot on his 2012 top 10 list, but by and large, Les Mis has endured ample lashings from reviewers, as diverse as David Edelstein, Richard Corliss, and our own Calum Marsh. The divide between journos and tearful devotees has become one of the season's buzziest narratives, most recently prompting helmer Tom Hooper to “respond to his critics,” whose qualms, as expected, couldn't stop the musical from squashing the box-office competition on Christmas Day (the movie raked in $18.2 million, history's second-largest holiday opening). What does it all mean for the movie's Oscar fate? To be honest, probably not much. It seems unfathomable that Les Misérables won't end up on the Best Picture shortlist, an outcome that was in the cards before a frame of footage was seen (or, arguably, before a frame of footage was shot).

Oscar Prospects: Zero Dark Thirty

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Oscar Prospects: Zero Dark Thirty
Oscar Prospects: Zero Dark Thirty

Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty was certainly made to seem special, kept under tight lock and key before being slowly, strategically unveiled at year's end, but few pundits likely predicted the gravity of the film's Oscar potential, and that Bigelow may well have another winner on her hands. As 2012 winds down, it's beginning to feel a lot like 2009, when The Hurt Locker stormed ahead as the little contender that could, and sat poised to not just claim the Academy's top prize, but make Bigelow its first female Best Director. If you want to go by precursor buzz alone, Zero Dark Thirty has now stepped ahead of Lincoln as this year's Best Picture frontrunner, claiming top kudos from The New York Film Critics Circle, and topping the 10-Best lists of early-out-of-the-gate critics like David Edelstein and Lisa Schwarzbaum (Owen Gleiberman and Richard Corliss, who also revealed their lists, included it among their picks as well). For whatever it's worth in this early stage, the film also picked up five nods from the International Press Academy, landing Satellite nominations for Picture, Director, Actress (Jessica Chastain), Original Screenplay (Mark Boal), and Editing (Dylan Tichenor). And as of this very writing, the National Board of Review has named Zero Dark Thirty its Best Film of the Year, with Bigelow taking the Director trophy. It's more than safe to assume that the movie has an ironclad slot in Oscar's top race, if not a damn good shot at ending up ahead of the pack.

New York Film Festival 2012: Hyde Park on Hudson

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New York Film Festival 2012: <em>Hyde Park on Hudson</em>
New York Film Festival 2012: <em>Hyde Park on Hudson</em>

While at first the idea of Bill Murray playing Franklin D. Roosevelt may seem counterintuitive to the actor's sensibilities, on further thought the combination is quite rife with possibility. Throughout his career, Murray has offered up intimate portraits of individuals whose personal vices he spun into inspired bits of comedy (the challenged greenskeeper of Caddyshack, the insufferably self-obsessed Phil Connors in Groundhog Day, etc.), and every so often into devastating visions of isolated, broken men (see Broken Flowers and Lost in Translation). In Hyde Park on Hudson, Murray is up to the task of channeling our country's 32nd president despite a scarce resemblance in appearance and voice. He succeeds in doing so by summoning the otherworldly presence of his famous comedy roles as well as the understatement of his more serious efforts, melding them into a compelling portrayal of a larger-than-life yet mysterious figure such as Roosevelt.

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.