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Bradley Cooper (#110 of 13)

Oscar 2015 Winner Predictions: Actor

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Oscar 2015 Winner Predictions: Actor
Oscar 2015 Winner Predictions: Actor

First, praise be to the brave Oscar pundits who have Bradley Cooper in their crosshairs. Indeed, given how close this race probably is between Eddie Redmayne and Michael Keaton, it’s easy to see how Cooper could benefit from a vote split, not unlike, some have argued, Adrien Brody did back in 2003 when this award was anticipated to go to either Jack Nicholson or Daniel Day-Lewis. But we don’t have the courage to rally behind Cooper, terrific as he is in American Sniper, as this and adapted screenplay seem like the two categories where the contentiousness surrounding the Clint Eastwood film’s ostensibly mythmaking depiction of Chris Kyle is most likely to hurt. Which is to say nothing of the fact that, unlike Brody, Cooper enters this race without SAG, BAFTA, and Golden Globe nominations.

Jennifer Lawrence: On Female Spontaneous Combustion

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Jennifer Lawrence: On Female Spontaneous Combustion
Jennifer Lawrence: On Female Spontaneous Combustion

The image of women spontaneously combusting while doing housework was one of the most popular tropes of filmmaking more than a century ago. In a widely viewed early film from 1903, Mary Jane’s Mishap, a British housemaid accidentally immolates herself while attempting to light a hearth fire with paraffin and subsequently explodes out of the chimney. It was, of course, not uncommon for 19th-century women to catch fire in their own homes when their bulky hoop skirts would graze against an errant spark from the fireplace. Women spontaneously combusting in their own homes was a frequent hazard of the time that journalists then tastefully referred to as “crinoline conflagrations.”

Comical media images of women exploding provided outlets for spectators to laugh off the hazardous politics of everyday domesticity. While many aspects of the relationship between gender politics and media culture have changed since the early 1900s, we still harbor an unconscious tendency to laugh at otherwise horrific images of violence inflicted on women’s bodies. Fortunately, 21st-century domesticity isn’t quite so fraught with the perils of instantaneous conflagration. Yet, the image of women catching fire—quite simply as a metaphor for women’s ambitions to be visible at all—continues to spark our cultural imagination.

And perhaps no other movie star walks this fine line between media visibility and human calamity as deftly as Jennifer Lawrence. There’s something oddly literalistic about the actress’s star appeal. From her “electricity” with Bradley Cooper, to her near-fatal calamity with a 1970s microwave in American Hustle, to her iconic portrayal of “The Girl on Fire” in The Hunger Games trilogy, Lawrence draws on a long tradition of female combustion in cinema.

Oscar 2014 Nomination Predictions: Supporting Actor

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Oscar 2014 Nomination Predictions: Supporting Actor
Oscar 2014 Nomination Predictions: Supporting Actor

Let’s pretend, for a second, that Jared Leto, a vain campaigner who can’t even be bothered to remember the names of critics groups that honor him, won’t be the Supporting Actor strutting to the podium on Oscar night, and making some jokey, offensive gesture like daintily tossing his hair back. Who, then, is next in line to overtake Leto for his turn as a trans woman—or, as Katie Couric would call her, a “transgender”—in Dallas Buyers Club? Methinks it won’t be fellow lock Michael Fassbender from 12 Years a Slave, who’s fine but unexciting as a pathetic slave owner, but one of two damn-near-locks who represent foreign underdogs: Daniel Brühl in Rush and Barkhad Abdi in Captain Phillips.

Oscar Prospects American Hustle, David O. Russell’s Thick Slice of Voter-Friendly Trash

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Oscar Prospects: American Hustle, David O. Russell’s Thick Slice of Voter-Friendly Trash
Oscar Prospects: American Hustle, David O. Russell’s Thick Slice of Voter-Friendly Trash

I think the scene that finally secured American Hustle a place on my Top 10 list was the one in which conman Irving’s (Christian Bale) wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), goes on and on about her fingernail topcoat at a dinner. Chatting up Dolly (Elizabeth Röhm), the wife of soon-to-be-swindled Camden mayor Carmine (Jeremy Renner), Rosalyn raves about the topcoat’s contradictory virtues, saying it’s “sweet and sour, rotten and delicious—like flowers, but with garbage.” She “can’t get enough of it.” To watch this scene is to witness David O. Russell not only reclaim his former, gonzo glory, but wholeheartedly own the superficial tackiness of his vision. Sure, this is a film about countless layers of fakery, and the notion of a topcoat—a mask—being both vile and alluring has definite thematic implications. But American Hustle, marvelously, isn’t hung up on such sobering ideas. The topcoat speech is more a megaphone announcement of tone, and of a director finally ditching the safety net of Oscar pandering, which he used to entrance voters with the falsely offbeat The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook. And still, he’s going to net those votes nonetheless, as there’s just enough delicious here to make the rotten palatable for traditionalists.

Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Actor

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Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Actor
Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Actor

The larger-than-life aura that Daniel Day-Lewis breathes into the characters he portrays seems also to have in recent years extended to the actor himself, whose notorious choosiness about selecting roles only buoys the virtually mythical status he carries in the acting world. So when the announcement came in 2010 that Day-Lewis was set to play Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s long-awaited film about our 16th president, few of us doubted that the extolled actor would go on to claim his third Oscar. With the preeminent voice of modern acting playing one of the most revered figures in American history in a film from the world’s most famous filmmaker, the performance was embedded with an air of inevitability long before production photos or clips surfaced. But what’s most intriguing about Day-Lewis’s depiction of Lincoln is how toned down he is in the role. His performance resounds through quieter timbres and softer movements than we’re accustomed to from the actor. Moreover, Day-Lewis reveals a human side of Lincoln that deepens the president’s legendary standing while offering a window into his tortured soul. That his performance is exactly the kind of commanding portrait we’ve come to expect from Day-Lewis, but also acutely nuanced in ways he rarely expresses, only solidifies his imminent victory.

Understanding Screenwriting #104: Lincoln, Skyfall, Flight, & More

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Understanding Screenwriting #104: <em>Lincoln</em>, <em>Skyfall</em>, <em>Flight</em>, & More
Understanding Screenwriting #104: <em>Lincoln</em>, <em>Skyfall</em>, <em>Flight</em>, & More

Coming Up In This Column: Lincoln, Skyfall, Flight, Silver Linings Playbook, Middle of Nowhere, Covert Affairs but first…

Fan Mail: First an addition to US#103. I mentioned in the credits for Argo that there was another source listed in the credits of the film, but I could not find it. Shortly after I sent off the column, the new issue of the British magazine Sight & Sound arrived. It identifies the other source as “based on a selection from The Master of Disguise by Antonio J. Mendez.” I’m guessing that’s the Tony Mendez.

David Ehrenstein liked my Sharon and Roman story so much he has added it to his one-man show, currently at finer bookstores near you.

“Erbear423” understandably took me to task for appearing to dump Paul Dano and Jesse Eisenberg into the same category as Adam Sandler and Andy Samberg. I can see how you can read my comments that way, but what I was trying to get at was more the kinds of roles they often play rather than the actors themselves. I like Dano and Eisenberg very much and they have been terrific in some very good movies, but even then they are often playing the sensitive young man finding his way in the world. My point was that there were no characters like that in Argo, for which I was grateful. As for Adam and Andy, they’re on their own.

Lincoln (2012. Written by Tony Kushner, based in part on the book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin. 150 minutes.)

The public figure: I have always liked Tony Kushner, and not just the concept of Tony Kushner the public writer. The latter would be the playwright and activist who writes about public issues like AIDS, race, violence and politics. What I like about Kushner is that he is a hell of an interesting writer. OK, I will admit that when I first saw the stage play Angels in America in 1995, the writing instructor in me mentally got out my red grading pen. I imagined waving it in the air, saying, “You can cut this;” “You’ve said that three times, twice is probably enough;” “We don’t need all that.” Even though the TV film of Angels (2004) was shorter than the play, I brought out the mental red pen again. And his 2001 play Homebody/Kabul was probably talkier than it needed to be. But his book for the 2002 musical Caroline, or Change was a model of precision. And his screenplay, co-written by Eric Roth, of the 2005 film Munich was one of the smartest scripts of the last decade.

Oscar 2013 Nomination Predictions: Actor

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Oscar 2013 Nomination Predictions: Actor
Oscar 2013 Nomination Predictions: Actor

Whether the reason boils down to Oscar politics or an overall lack of enthusiasm, it certainly looks like Joaquin Phoenix is about to be snubbed for his work in The Master, despite the mind-boggling excellence of his performance as Freddie Quell. From stature to facial contortions, Phoenix startlingly became someone else while tackling the film’s lead role, in a manner beyond the typical transformative acting that annually courts hyperbole. Without looking all that different beyond considerable weight loss, Phoenix adopted a whole new aura as the spiritually starved WWII vet, and spoke his lines with barks and snarls that seemed uncannily natural, as if a pit bull just happened to don Phoenix’s skin. The actor’s now-infamous dis of the Oscar process couldn’t have helped his chances, but it seems Paul Thomas Anderson’s movie has, in general, lost steam, its lack of a PGA nod being the most recent evidence. The man most likely to benefit from Phoenix’s misfortune is Bradley Cooper, whose turn in Silver Linings Playbook is frothy by comparison, but just the sort of crowd-pleasing lead performance Oscar loves. A likable actor, Cooper’s bound to be seen as triumphant for stretching beyond Hangover territory, and with the Academy increasingly honoring flexible comic stars (think Jonah Hill and Melissa McCarthy), his nomination should in fact be an easy get.

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: Silver Linings Playbook

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Oscar Prospects: Silver Linings Playbook
Oscar Prospects: Silver Linings Playbook

It’s certainly easy to accuse David O. Russell of becoming a serial Oscar courter. Having clearly enjoyed the awards love showered upon The Fighter, Russell’s gone on to adapt and direct Matthew Quick’s Silver Linings Playbook, packing about five baity movies into one big crowd-pleasing quirkfest. Those who’ve followed Russell’s career will say he’s always padded banal substrates with the bizarre, but the filmmaker’s new run of Academy-friendly fare is still worlds away from his former curios, like I Heart Huckabees or Spanking the Monkey. He’s embracing the practice of bringing his gonzo tendencies to the mainstream, and if he’s indeed hoping to woo Oscar voters in the process, the plan is working. With Silver Linings Playbook, viewers are gifted a buffet of cheer-worthy tropes, all stretched along a simple narrative track and dressed with Russellian weirdness. A mental illness dramedy that deals with sports, dance, romance, and lovably grotesque relatives, it manages to feel fleetingly fresh while recalling Rocky, As Good As It Gets, Dirty Dancing, and even The Fighter too. If there’s anything especially adept about the storytelling, it’s its ability to trick an audience into buying its faux newness, and even if voters don’t fall for the recycling, they’re still liable to take the movie’s bait. With a thin batch of comedic contenders, its Best Picture nod is secured, as may be the nods for Russell’s Direction and Adapted Screenplay.

15 Famous Movie Monkeys

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15 Famous Movie Monkeys
15 Famous Movie Monkeys

Disneynature unveiled its fourth American Earth Day doc this weekend with Chimpanzee, a glimpse into the life of young chimp Oscar, who may or may not boast more refinement than narrator Tim Allen. Leading the film with at least a small hope from Disney that names will have influence in next year’s Documentary Feature race, Oscar is but the latest filmic primate to captivate viewers, his adorable anthropomorphism reflecting back the basest human instincts and pastimes. More than any other class of creature, Oscar and his ilk afford an audience the fun of animal voyeurism right along with a close species identification. It’s what helps movie monkeys to endure, from the big to the small, the winged to the animated.