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Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions Actress

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Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Actress
Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Actress

If there’s anything with even the slightest ability to nudge Cate Blanchett’s path to Oscar victory off course, it’s the seemingly endless Farrowgate scandal, which has Woody Allen’s allegedly molested daughter calling out his muses by name, and guilting them in an attempt to harm the director by extension. As Mark Harris brilliantly observed in his Grantland essay “Oscar Season Turns Ugly,” this kind of linkage of Oscar results to actual sociopolitical issues is at once necessary and ludicrous—a tricky conundrum that can’t be assessed “without acknowledging that something horrible is being inappropriately trivialized and something trivial is being inappropriately transformed into a crisis of situational ethics.” I don’t think anyone ever felt that Blanchett, an unerringly shrewd celebrity, would have indulged the open invitation to address this scandal in her subsequent acceptance speeches. But few likely foresaw that, amid a pop-cultural atmosphere in which the topic simply cannot be ignored, the Aussie frontrunner would find a way to dodge it while taking an unimpeachable high road, dedicating her Best Actress BAFTA win Sunday night to the “late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman.” In raising her Stoli martini with a twist of lemon to one of the Academy’s departed elite, odds are Blanchett closed whatever case Dylan Farrow had in terms of exacting revenge by setting a trip wire for Blue Jasmine’s leading lady.

Oscar 2014 Nomination Predictions: Actress

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Oscar 2014 Nomination Predictions: Actress
Oscar 2014 Nomination Predictions: Actress

Saving Mr. Banks telegraphs Emma Thompson’s date with Oscar. When her character, Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers, first meets Walt Disney (Tom Hanks), the mogul of magic walks past a wall of Oscar statuettes—golden idols nearly within Thompson’s grasp. And when Travers finally hits the premiere of the film she reluctantly greenlit, she’s decked out, as seen above, like she’s bound for the Academy’s red carpet (though, admittedly, it’s good this film takes place in the days before “Who are you wearing?” as it seems the answer could be “Bed Bath & Beyond”). In short, this is my way of saying that Thompson, a woman who’s flawlessly navigated the campaign circuit, is in. Could Meryl Streep’s Thompson tribute at the National Board of Review Awards, which some saw as underhandedly self-serving, have affected the Brit’s chances? I don’t think so. If anything, the last few days have galvanized my suspicion that August: Osage County’s Streep, the vulnerable hopeful alongside the category’s other predicted locks (Thompson, Gravity’s Sandra Bullock, Philomena’s Judi Dench, and Blue Jasmine’s Cate Blanchett), is out.

Oscar Prospects Saving Mr. Banks, the Winning Heavyweight That Probably Won’t Win Anything

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Oscar Prospects: Saving Mr. Banks, the Winning Heavyweight That Probably Won’t Win Anything

Walt Disney Pictures

Oscar Prospects: Saving Mr. Banks, the Winning Heavyweight That Probably Won’t Win Anything

If I had to bet which 2013 Oscar contender would score the most nominations without a single win, I’d go for Saving Mr. Banks, a movie so gosh-darn disarming you might just strain your cheeks from watching it, but one that doesn’t quite fit into the apparent fabric of this year’s awards race. Watching this film, which recounts the rocky relationship between Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) and smiley juggernaut Walt Disney (Tom Hanks), who’d adapt Travers’s work for the screen, you feel, aptly enough, as if you’re on a theme park ride, soaking up the glee while knowing your joy is highly controlled by precise mechanics. You also feel that this baldly manipulative, yet nevertheless adorable, origin flick has all the trappings of a Best Picture frontrunner—one from some stage in history, at least.

Oscar Prospects Gravity, Your Cinematography and Visual Effects Winner

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Oscar Prospects: Gravity, Your Cinematography and Visual Effects Winner
Oscar Prospects: Gravity, Your Cinematography and Visual Effects Winner

On September 12, when Mark Harris officially returned to Grantland to cover the Oscar race (he stepped aside last season due to the conflict of husband Tony Kushner’s Lincoln being in contention), he penned this dead-on and intentionally prickly piece, which took to task the festival-going, hastily-Tweeting types who hurried to declare 12 Years a Slave this year’s Best Picture winner. In true Harris style, the article used insider wisdom and everyman accessibility to comprehensively articulate the trouble with this particular behavior, and the folly of using “I’m first” tactics to simplify something that still has miles of nuanced ground to cover. It’s one thing to announce, with great certainty, one’s thoughts on a probable nominee, like the baity Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine, but it’s quite another to plant one’s feet so early, and firmly name a winner. 12 Years a Slave has a lot of promise, but it’s impossible to tell how it will fare amid the cavalcade of critics’ awards, additional precursors, shifting tastes, and campaign strengths, not to mention the mystery of whether or not Academy members will stomach the film’s violence enough to hand it their loftiest vote. That said, as another adored colleague, Nathaniel Rogers, recently acknowledged, Gravity simply isn’t walking away this year without statuettes for Cinematography and Visual Effects. Sorry, Mark, but this time, my feet are planted.

On Trend Gravity, IMAX 3D, and the Burden of Front-Row Seating

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On Trend: Gravity, IMAX 3D, and the Burden of Front-Row Seating

Warner Bros.

On Trend: Gravity, IMAX 3D, and the Burden of Front-Row Seating

I made it to Gravity right on the button. Seeing the film on my own time (and dime), as opposed to catching a press screening, I ordered the tickets online and arrived precisely at the 7 p.m. start, at one of three Manhattan theaters that were showing the movie in IMAX 3D—on opening night. Which is to say, I was very, very late. Even before we entered the auditorium, my partner and I resigned ourselves to the fact that we’d be sitting separately. And, sure enough, after rounding the corner of the entryway, and seeing the jam-packed stadium seats, it was clear we wouldn’t be gripping the same armrest when Sandra Bullock hurtled into space like a boomerang. Any open, acceptable seats had coats and bags on them as place holders, or, in a few cases, the firm hand of someone who seemed to be eyeing me with a silent dare: “Touch this seat, and you’ll be wearing the nachos my husband’s buying right now.” I found my partner a half-decent seat in the third row, far right. But, eventually and inevitably, there was only one last option for me: the front row.

Box Office Rap Gravity and the Art-House Blockbuster

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Box Office Rap: Gravity and the Art-House Blockbuster
Box Office Rap: Gravity and the Art-House Blockbuster

When Contagion opened in IMAX theaters on September 9, 2011, only a handful of films had previously been offered in that large-scale presentation that weren’t either part of a franchise, an original film with hopes of becoming a franchise, a work based on another text, or a prominent remake a la Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. From 2002 to September 2011, a total of 77 wide release films made their way to IMAX screens. Of these, and excluding animated and concert films, only three films (Eagle Eye, Inception, and Sanctum) opened over that nine-year span that didn’t fit the above qualifications. Certainly, these anomalous entries can be explained by their potential box-office appeal, but only Inception had directorial (let’s say auteur) pedigree, which is where my interest lies. We shall call such films art-house blockbusters (AHB), in accordance with our established definition.

Toronto International Film Festival 2013 Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity

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Toronto International Film Festival 2013: Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity
Toronto International Film Festival 2013: Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity

More successful as delirious cinematic exercise than emotional survival tale, Alfonso Cuarón’s highly anticipated Gravity possesses a vast space between the quality of its virtuoso technique and its trite screenplay. Embarking into space on her first mission, a slightly nervy Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is assisting in the installation of data and just becoming acclimated to her clumsiness in a cumbersome space suit. As she works on the outside of their spaceship, a bolt comes loose and she uses all her strength to grab at the floating object, sighing, “I’m used to a hospital basement where things fall to the ground.”

Ryan’s joined by seasoned, retirement-bound astronaut Matt (George Clooney, as alternately goofy and confident as ever), who tosses off stories of Mardi Gras in 1987—juxtaposing the casual layman banality of everyday conversation against the distractingly beautiful multi-miled view from space—as well as self-esteem-boosting pep talks. The data Ryan is installing, however, isn’t uploading correctly and, as Houston in the command center reports, a collision has left bits of a satellite hurtling through space and, possibly, in the direction of Ryan, Matt, and another astronaut (cue the groan-worthy line “clear skies with a chance of satellite debris”). Danger, of course, is imminent, and Cuarón delicately calculates and disarms the audience in the opening moments with a placidity that will soon be absolutely shattered.