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Peter Jackson (#110 of 23)

Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Makeup and Hairstyling

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Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Makeup and Hairstyling
Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Makeup and Hairstyling

With countless headlines devoted to Bruce Broughton’s nominated-yet-not-nominated Original Song, and Dylan Farrow’s steadfast assault on Blue Jasmine’s nods for Actress and Original Screenplay, this year’s Makeup and Hairstyling category is hardly Oscar’s most scandalous. If you ask me, though, it’s easily the most repellant of all 24 lineups, and one of the more shameful nominee crops in recent Academy history. I suppose Peter Jackson’s furry Middle-earthians can’t get lauded every time out, and it’s probably best that this voting branch didn’t recognize American Hustle, thus fanning the flames of the hater-coined moniker Explosion at the Wig Factory. But, hell, even The Butler’s quasi-campy, half-baked prosthetics would have been a step up from what made the shortlist here: the waxed and bewigged transformation of Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club, Johnny Depp’s repurposing of a white artist’s vision of a Native American in The Lone Ranger, and Johnny Knoxville’s dangly ears and Stretch Armstrong scrotum in Bad Grandpa. Since the bulk of Leto’s agonizing acceptance-speech torrent has involved vain, ignorant chatter about his physical travails, odds are his movie, the “prestigious” comer to boot, has this win in the bag. And while it’s plausible that voters may kick back and overlook The Lone Ranger’s senseless racial appropriation, the film that could and should dig a spur into Dallas Buyers Club’s lead is Jackass’s latest, which, despite its myriad flaws, boasts a mean team of faux-appendage appliers.

Box Office Rap The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and the Fantasy-Entertainment Complex

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Box Office Rap: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and the Fantasy-Entertainment Complex
Box Office Rap: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and the Fantasy-Entertainment Complex

Confession: I don’t like The Lord of the Rings films. All of them. Well, at least the first three, as I skipped The Hobbit: The Unexpected Journey because of my disdain for its predecessors, and needless to say, I’ll be skipping The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug as well. Of course, millions of others will not be skipping the film this weekend, as it tries to land somewhere in the $80-90 million range, matching the previous film’s performance. For me, director Peter Jackson’s initial trilogy operates on bloated runtimes meant to appease fanboy OCD, including Jackson’s own. The apex of contemporary pop-cultural obsession-as-sickness is no better embodied than by these films, which edify young moviegoers to view film culture as narrative/character/imaginary playtime rather than a mindful and serious medium for artistic expression.

However, rather than further lambast The Hobbit, Jackson, and Warner Bros. for their transparent, masturbatory decisions to turn one novel into three films for means of tripling profits, of more importance this week is examining how critics are responding to The Desolation of Smaug, and the sorts of qualities being sought after in their evaluations of Jackson’s latest. The film currently boasts a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 75%—a full 10% higher than the first installment, though the middling reviews did not negatively affect its box office, as The Unexpected Journey had the highest-grossing opening weekend of any films in the entire franchise. Critic proof, like most franchises, but it nevertheless remains the critic’s role to instruct attentive filmgoers to the qualities worthy of contemplation.

Poster Lab: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

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Poster Lab: <em>The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug</em>
Poster Lab: <em>The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug</em>

As Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) famously told Frodo (Elijah Wood) when he set out for Mount Doom, “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.” The greeting-card-ready, underdoggish sentiment is one to which Peter Jackson has hewn closely, and surely one that was paramount for J.R.R. Tolkien too. It was the philosophy that fueled The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and it’s the one that now pilots The Hobbit saga, as freshly evidenced by the teaser poster for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Rarely do you see a protagonist appear so miniscule on a major movie poster, especially one that’s part of a mega-budget blockbuster franchise. The effect, however, is superbly achieved. Having set out from his homeland (or rather, finally left his home, as the last film’s poster illustrated), Bilbo (Martin Freeman) is now deep in the wilds of Middle-earth, surrounded by craggy danger and dwarfed (so to speak) by a mounting gloom. Like Frodo, he’s a mere speck when measured against the powers of this world, and this one-sheet elegantly succeeds in depicting lofty stakes, which many felt would never compare to those of the earlier films. Gone is the warm and welcoming sun that beckoned Bilbo out of his Hobbit hole, and in its place is the steam and ember-yellow glow of a dragon’s breath, which emanates from inside The Lonely Mountain.

Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Visual Effects

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Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Visual Effects
Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Visual Effects

Like Avatar before it, Life of Pi is the kind of Oscar-y prestige pic that also stands as a benchmark for the medium—a whopping widescreen spectacle displaying the latest in CG, 3D, and OMG imagery. Say what you will about David Magee’s boilerplate script, which fumbles religious themes and offers very rusty bookends, but the vast second act of Ang Lee’s boy-and-his-tiger tale is pure cinema on a grand scale, bringing myriad wonders of ones and zeroes to his stranded protagonist. Just as its sheer scope conveys the humbling hugeness of life, the sea provides Lee and his F/X wizards with a great canvas on which to work, leaving ample room for neon-hued whales, flying fish, and a carnivorous island crawling with meerkats. What’s more, all of that comes after the film’s gargantuan inciting incident—the most awesome ship-foundering since James Cameron sunk the Titanic. In short, Life of Pi is, with next to no doubt, your victor in this category, unless some scandal emerges about, say, animal cruelty, toward the scant few animals that weren’t uncannily crafted by digital artists.

Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Makeup

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Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Makeup
Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Makeup

Last year, when The Iron Lady’s Mark Coulier and J. Roy Helland stole the makeup trophy from the team behind Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, the win not only hinted at Meryl Streep’s eventual semi-shock of a Best Actress victory, it affirmed that one needn’t be the flashiest comer to claim this award. In the recent past, the Oscar here has gone to The Wolfman, Star Trek, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, but it’s also been bestowed on Frida and La Vie en Rose, proving biopic metamorphosis can out-putty the extreme and the fanciful (the latter film beat out Norbit and Pirates of the Carribean: At World’s End). Such is good news for Howard Berger, Peter Montagna, and Martin Samuel, the trio of nominees who swelled Anthony Hopkins to twice his form for Hitchcock. Opinions of Hopkins’s transformation have been largely varied, with some hailing it as the suspense master’s resurrection and others finding the whole thing rather gross, but what’s certain is that the actor is all but gone beneath the makeup, which voters may see as a win-worthy feat.

Critical Distance: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

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Critical Distance: <em>The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey</em>
Critical Distance: <em>The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey</em>

The critical response to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first part in Peter Jackson’s new film trilogy based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel The Hobbit, or There and Back Again, suggests that it’s bloated and deficient of the propulsive energy that typified the Lord of the Rings films. The likely cause of dissatisfaction stems from Jackson’s approach toward adapting the book. Whereas Jackson and his writing team condensed each volume of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy into its own film, with The Hobbit they’ve opted to adapt a considerably more straightforward narrative into three films. Thus, An Unexpected Journey only represents a small portion of the book. Critics have seized on this and critiqued the nearly three-hour film for being padded and flabby. While not necessarily untrue, these charges have fueled an abundance of banal commentaries bereft of any real insight into or about the movie. What’s most discouraging about this is that An Unexpected Journey, though certainly vulnerable to criticism, is a more layered film than we’ve been led to believe.

Back There Again: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

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Back There Again: <em>The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey</em>
Back There Again: <em>The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey</em>

Once the distinct, familiar sense of wonder took hold, I felt a sharp pang of guilt watching The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, part one of Peter Jackson’s long-gestating Lord of the Rings prequel. Here’s a movie that so many, myself included, regarded with great prejudice, sizing it up as a cute jaunt that had to be seen along with the other year-end contenders, yet reeked of folly, diminished stakes, and outright opportunism, its attachment to a trilogy making excess seem like one more strike against it. But, then, as Jackson’s camera began scanning New Zealand’s topography, with majestic Howard Shore accompaniment, this arrogant miscalculator (and ardent Rings fan) sat humbled and corrected. Jackson may not boast a sterling track record post-Return of the King, and The Hobbit may have suffered a heap of development hell, passing from Jackson to (eventual co-writer) Guillermo del Toro like a certain burdensome bauble, but shame on all who doubt the enduring, enveloping power of Jackson’s Middle-earth, an immersive and comprehensive filmic world if ever there was one. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey brought me right back to a place I didn’t realize I was missing, a widescreen realm that seems to exist to widen the eyes.

The Lord of the Rings: Moments Out of Time

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<em>The Lord of the Rings</em>: Moments Out of Time
<em>The Lord of the Rings</em>: Moments Out of Time

Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy has earned wide recognition as one of the most significant accomplishments in the modern age of cinema. The films translate J.R.R. Tolkien’s prose through popular filmmaking tropes and cutting-edge technology into a stunningly visceral travelogue of brotherhood, grief, sacrifice, and storytelling itself, enlivened by the panoramic vistas of New Zealand where they were shot. However, there’s a caveat to the retrospective glow that has steadily amassed around the trilogy since The Return of the King swept the Oscars in 2004. Perhaps due to the epic scope of the project, which forms an almost 10-hour opus when connected together, the long view of director Peter Jackson’s accomplishment deemphasizes the minutia tantamount to its success.

Therefore, as we await Jackson’s latest foray into Middle-earth with the release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the time appears ripe for a fresh look at The Lord of the Rings films. However, rather than focusing on where and how the pieces fit into a broader mosaic of the trilogy, an inside-out approach to these movies would make for a more worthwhile account of their riches.

For this piece, I’ve appropriated the concept of Richard T. Jameson and Kathleen Murphy’s “Moments Out of Time” annual look-back at a given year’s cinematic offerings. My hope is to highlight individual moments, disconnected not just from the trilogy’s story, but also from the generally accepted account of its collective achievement. Thus, the “Moments Out of Time” concept applies beyond merely the format of highlighting specific excerpts from the movies. These moments—some of which are individual shots, others extended sequences—aren’t necessarily the best or most pivotal within a certain context for evaluating the films.

Each of the following 10 moments illustrates a slightly different shade of the films’ fluid realization of a complex visual, thematic, and emotional spectrum. They encompass moments large and small, every one offering a distinct flavor of Jackson’s interpretation of Middle-earth, and all magnifying the larger accomplishments of the trilogy as a whole. I’ve limited my list to 10, though dozens more could arguably have been featured.