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Locarno Film Festival 2015 Schneider vs. Bax, Dark in the White Light, & Junior Bonner

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Locarno Film Festival 2015: Schneider vs. Bax, Dark in the White Light, & Junior Bonner

Fortissimo Films

Locarno Film Festival 2015: Schneider vs. Bax, Dark in the White Light, & Junior Bonner

Warning: Proceed with caution. It’s fitting that such counsel conjures an image of black text on yellow, because it’s also something to keep in mind when returning to the Locarno Film Festival, whose ubiquitous mascot is, of course, the spotted leopard. If you’re not careful, this can indeed be an unpleasant place. The stifling heat, the airless venues, the local prices, those unseemly beige military uniforms worn by security staff, and the walks from one location to another, which always seem, in such unceasing humidity, just one block too far. All of these can be troublesome in and of themselves, but when concentrated together in a single locale at the windless foot of the Alps, things can get oppressive. Why bother?

Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions Picture

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Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Picture
Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Picture

Like anyone who’s been covering what’s become, as the party line goes, “the closest Best Picture race in recent memory,” I’ve gone through many mental rewrites of this top-prize breakdown. The one I clung to the longest involved the word “bullshit.” It took shape, of course, after American Hustle, formerly known as American Bullshit, strutted through steam clouds of victory on nomination morning, collecting 10 nods before also claiming the SAG award for Best Ensemble (not to be confused with any costume-design kudos the film enjoyed throughout the season). Was this awfully great, unrepentantly tacky crime caper really the new frontrunner? If so, then the filmic narrative peddled by pop-culture journos since early 2013—that the year’s wealth of black-centric cinema was bound for unprecedented Oscar glory, capped off with a crown for 12 Years a Slave, the most confronting and “important” flick of the bunch—would have to be thrown out. What’s more, Steve McQueen’s insta-contender, a historical indictment many perceive as being as deep as young Patsey’s (Lupita Nyong’o) abyss of despair, would be overtaken by an epic of unadulterated shallowness. American Hustle’s win would insist, with all the fuck-it-all thump of Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love,” that the notion of Oscar wins signifying some sort of sociopolitical responsibility is, indeed, bullshit.

Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions Director

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Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Director
Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Director

It’s a good thing the Best Director category didn’t go the way of Best Picture to accommodate more nominees, because this year’s campaign has only ever been a three-man race even in its most competitive stages. The two non-contenders are Alexander Payne (Nebraska) and Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street), who’ve each enjoyed a nearly spotless recent track record for landing in the category. Payne has received nods for his last three films, while five of Scorsese’s last six non-documentary films have earned the legendary director an aisle seat at the ceremony. But with only one win between the two filmmakers (Scorsese’s The Departed) in that stretch, their nominations likely speak more to the compulsory voting habits and pre-digested tastes of Academy voters than to the merits of either Nebraska or The Wolf of Wall Street. And though David O. Russell has been on a nomination hot streak of late, with American Hustle capping a trio of Best Director nominations over the last four years for the filmmaker, his chances, which seemed much higher back when his crime caper stormed onto the scene last December, have since fizzled along with the film.

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 2014 Winner Predictions Adapted Screenplay

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Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Adapted Screenplay
Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Adapted Screenplay

Tomorrow, the Writers Guild of America will announce its 2014 award winners, and whichever scribe(s) waltz off with the Original Screenplay prize may do the same on Oscar night, as all five nominees in the category were replicated by the Academy’s writers branch. The result of the WGA’s Adapted Screenplay race, however, won’t prove as keen a barometer of what might go down at the Dolby on March 2. Only three of the guild’s Adapted Screenplay contenders—Before Midnight, Captain Phillips, and The Wolf of Wall Street—made it onto Oscar’s shortlist, and even if one of them triumphs, breezing past Tracy Letts’s opus about familial dysfunction, August: Osage County, and Peter Berg’s bizarrely recognized soldiers-as-mincemeat shit show Lone Survivor, there’s still the seemingly impassable hurdle of John Ridley’s script for 12 Years a Slave, which, though ineligible for WGA honors (you can get those exclusion deets here), looks like Oscar’s indisputable frontrunner. Steve McQueen’s chilly directorial shortcomings may underscore what’s weak in Ridley’s take on Solomon Northup’s memoir (namely an undernourished depiction of the precious family from which our hero is stripped), but it feels nuts to bet against the one script in this field tied to a plausible Best Picture winner.