Oscar Nominations: Snubs and Surprises

Yesterday morning, Seth McFarlane and Emma Stone announced the Oscar hopefuls for the 85th Academy Awards. As is the nature of any awards show, there are a variety of opinions on who deserves what and what films are worthy to be called the best of the year.

Best Director

Two of the biggest films this year were “Argo” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” which combined for 12 nominations. Sadly, none of those 12 will lead to Oscars for Kathryn Bigelow or Ben Affleck. Leaving Bigelow off the ballot makes some sense as she won the title back in 2010. The bigger crime is that Hollywood seems to still be punishing Ben Affleck for a couple of poor films from a decade ago. His three directorial features (“Argo,” “The Town” and “Gone Baby Gone”) are all loved by critics and were financially successful. It’s about time he was rewarded for resurrecting his career. On the bright side, Affleck is only 40 years old, so he has several decades to change voter’s minds. What is most admirable for this year’s category is the inclusion of first-time director Benh Zeitlin and his work with “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”

Apparently the Academy loved “Amour” and “Silver Linings Playbook”

Before Thursday morning, French film “Amour” was only expected to pick up a nomination in the foreign language department. On top of that category, it also received recognition at best actress, best picture, best original screenplay and best director. Quite the victory for a non-American film that flew under more than a few radars. It wasn’t a real surprise to see “Silver Linings Playbook” on the list of nominees, but the Academy’s love for the David O. Russell picture was overflowing when Robert DeNiro and Jacki Weaver were able to pick up supporting nominations (bringing the film’s total nominations to eight).

“Django Chained”

It isn’t unusual for Quentin Tarantino’s films to be under-appreciated at the Oscars, but many of his fans will be crying foul after failing to read the filmmaker’s name on the ballot for Best Director. Perhaps just as frustrating for them will be how the Academy overlooked Samuel L. Jackson and Leonardo DiCaprio for supporting actors. But, let’s be honest, the possibility of getting 3 supporting actor nominations for one film is ridiculous. Even if it happened, none of them would probably win because they would cancel each other out with the voters.

Animated Feature

While most people may not be all that excited about this category, I’m just glad that all of the nominees are quality animated films. There’s no “Hotel Transylvania” or “Kung Fu Panda 2” on this year’s list. Although “Wreck-It Ralph” has most of the momentum going into the awards season, there are several films in this category that could win.

There’s several more remarks I could make about this year’s nominations, like “What does John Hawkes have to do to impress Academy voters?” but at the end of the day, a lot of this is subjective. For the most part, I think this is a solid class of films. Now let’s see how the Golden Globes go this Sunday night.

Happy viewing

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The Death of Original Ideas

I tried to avoid it. I really did.

I sat down at the computer to write a nice little piece on the recent developments concerning a Justice League movie*…but then I saw it.

By “it,” I am referring to the reports that Warner Bros. is pursuing a film option based on “The Guinness Book of World Records.” Yes, THAT Guinness Book of World Records.

“But,” you say. “What kind of story can you make out of a book that is just a collection of facts?” Oh, ye of little faith. Don’t let the lack of characters or stoyline get in the way of a good movie-making opportunity. Some sites have pointed out that Warner Bros. was also interested in making a “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” a few years ago, but at least that has some wiggle room for a story. This is more along the lines of the short-lived idea “Erector Set: The Movie.”

Just for kicks, I’ll share my best guess at what a movie based on “The Guinness Book of World Records” would look like:

A stoner/loser/college drop-out (played by Seth Rogen, Andy Samberg or whoever else is filling in the Young Adam Sandler character these days) goes on a quest to find self-fulfillment/prove himself to be a man by completing a series of tasks that will make him the holder of the most Guinness records. Along the way he finds true love with the quirky girl from back home who always had a thing for him. Think “Hot Rod” meets “The Bucket List.”

I don’t like to write this sort of negativity too often because, after a while, it just sounds like an old man sitting on his porch yelling at kids to get off his lawn. But every now and then, you read a movie synopsis and think to yourself, “That is literally the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard.” Today is one of those days for me.

Great movies are too few and far between these days. What happened to the skilled screenwriters, auteur directors and movie execs who knew how to take a risk? Hollywood’s been all about the money for decades, but at least there used to be a few more bones thrown towards those who enjoy quality films.

Before this rant goes too far overboard, I’ll cut myself off and just say this: similar to politics, theatergoers vote for the kind of movies they want to see every time they stand in line at the box office. Stay informed and use your $10 wisely, or else we’ll be stuck with knock-offs like “Battleship” til the end of time.

 

* – As for the Justice League movie, it was confirmed this week that writer Will Beall (this year’s “Gangster Squad”) was hired in 2011 to work on the upcoming script. While Beall hasn’t done much to date, he is currently working on the “Logan’s Run” remake and “Lethal Weapon 5” for Warner Bros. More good news comes from the fact that both Wonder Woman and the Flash should be getting their own films in the next 2-3 years. Unfortunately, three of the writers from “Green Lantern” are helming those scripts as well (because it’s always good to pull the talent from a project that cost you $100 million last summer). Of course there are still hundreds of questions left to answer before the Justice League is assembled on screen, but it’s nice to know that Warner Bros. is trying.

2012: The Summer Blockbuster Rises

I’m so excited right now. After 4 1/2 months of utter cinema garbage (“The Three Stooges,” really Hollywood?!), it’s time for what many consider the golden age of yearly theater-hopping. While this is a promising time every year, some summers are more generous than others. Take 2009 for example. It gave us great films like “Star Trek” and “Up,” but also delivered “Terminator Salvation,” “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.”

In recent years, the summer blockbuster season has become a little lackluster in my opinion. Part of this is due to the fact that 2008 was the greatest summer for movies since Steven Spielberg introduced audiences to a killer shark in 1975’s “Jaws.” My proof? How about this list of films?

  • “The Dark Knight”
  • “Wall-E”
  • “Iron Man”
  • “Hellboy 2”
  • “Wanted”
  • “Tropic Thunder”
  • “Kung-Fu Panda”
  • and many more

Find me a list that tops that and I’ll be happy to relinquish the claim. Since then, the summers have grown a little duller for the most part. It’s seems to be a little more “Green Lantern” and a lot less “Toy Story 3.” But I believe in my heart that 2012 can be the year to end all years for summer audiences (also for Mayans). Here are the movies that I’m most excited for this summer.

MAY

“The Avengers” – May 4

Duh. Old news for you guys. It came and conquered last weekend like the Hulk in a china shop.

“Men in Black III” – May 25

I remember when I saw MIB II back in 2002 and my little movie-loving mind was disappointed by the lackluster sequel to a film I had grown to love as a kid. That being said, I cannot wait for the series’ redemption to finally come through ten years later. If nothing else, it’ll be fun to hear Josh Brolin talk like Tommy Lee Jones for 2 hours.

“Snow White and the Huntsman” – June 1

When Kristen Stewart was originally cast to play the “fairest of them all,” my eyes nearly rolled out of my head. I could name at least 50 actresses I’d rather see in the role. The more I see of the film itself, though, I’m intrigued by the dark tone. Also, Charlize Theron looks deliciously evil and Chris Hemsworth has had me sold since he first picked up Mjolnir.

“Prometheus” – June 8

Ever since this project was announced, I have been trying to stop rocking back and forth with uncontrollable fits of excitement. Ridley Scott returning to the world of his 1979 sci-fi classic “Alien” and with one of the best ensemble casts in recent memory? It’s too much to bear. Do yourself a favor and go into this film as blind as possible. It will be scary, gruesome and fantastic (I hope).

“Brave” – June 22

Coming hot off its first critical failure, look for Pixar to be in full swing with the tale of a Scottish princess yearning for freedom and adventure. Even if it’s only half as good as movies like “Up” and “The Incredibles,” it’ll be worth watching.

“Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” – June 22

What’s summer without a little apocalyptic comedy, right? This film stars Steve Carell and Keira Knightley as two people who are looking for happiness during the earth’s final days. With such an interesting premise and likeable stars, I’m more than a little hopeful.

“The Amazing Spiderman” – July 3

I’m usually the first in line to hate on reboots, but after the horrifying taste left in my mouth after Emo Peter Parker took over in in “Spiderman 3,” I’ll take any fresh ideas. It also helps that the casting seems better this time around. The only thing that really worries me is how much I may hate the 3D.

“The Dark Knight Rises” – July 20

This is probably the film I am most excited about for this summer. I’ve been a die hard fan of the Caped Crusader for as long as I can remember and, like everyone else with a pulse, I love what Christopher Nolan has done for the franchise. Judging by the latest trailer, this looks like a fitting conclusion for the trilogy.

“The Bourne Legacy” – August 3

I love the popularity Jeremy Renner has received in the last 2 years. “The Bourne Legacy” will be his 3rd big action movie in about 9 months (“The Avengers” and “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol”). I trust that he will be a worthy replacement for Matt Damon and can’t wait to see where the story is taken.

“Total Recall” – August 3

On the same day, we get a remake of the classic 1990 film that followed Arnold Schwarzeneggar’s adventures on Mars. With a great cast (Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale and Bryan Cranston) and today’s technology, it could be a great summer outing (or it could be a lame rip-off, but hey…..).

“The Expendables 2” – August 17

I know I shouldn’t fall into the trap, but with Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme added to the original cast, I’m genuinely interested. We’ll see what happens when the world’s rowdiest nursing home travels to the local theater.

“Lawless” – August 31

Few things can beat a good crime film, and this one has an amazing cast to get things started. Tom Hardy, Guy Pearce, Shia LaBeouf and Gary Oldman play cops and robbers in this Depression-era shoot ’em up.

Who knows what the summer of 2012 has in store for us simple moviegoers? It would take a whole lot of bad execution for things to go awry, but as sports fans always say “that’s why they play the game.”

Until next month, happy viewing.

8 Possible Directors for “Catching Fire”

It’s kind of a slow time of year for movie lovers.

If you’re anything like me, the time between January and April/May is mostly spent catching up on indie films that were only in theaters for 2 weeks or playing the trailers for “The Dark Knight Rises” and “The Avengers” on repeat. God knows you won’t find me in a theater paying 10 bucks to watch “CGI of the Titans.”

The biggest story of this week has been Gary Ross’ decision to step down from the directing chair for the “Hunger Games” sequels. Gasp!

But take heart young Panemians, for I have concocted a list of replacements that are well-suited for the job. Some of these make more/less sense than others but I would feel very at ease if one of the following was chosen to pick up where Ross left off.

Len Wiseman

Wiseman (whom I will forever call “The Luckiest Man on Earth” for marrying Kate Beckinsale) is best known for his work on the “Underworld” franchise and will soon bring the “Total Recall” reboot to life. He is an action director who knows how to handle the kind of blood and guts described in both “Catching Fire” and “Mockingjay.” Wiseman first broke into the business through the art department, so he also knows a thing or two about design (A skill that could come in handy when creating the world of the Capital and the arena.)

James Mangold

Here is a director that I think could do very well with the action scenes required for “Catching Fire” as well as the personal moments where we see the characters develop. He has directed “Girl, Interrupted” and more recently “3:10 to Yuma” and “Walk the Line.” All three of these films have strong characters and the last 20 minutes of “Yuma” are pretty intense. Mangold would be a fine choice, however he has recently been tapped to direct the next “Wolverine” movie with Hugh Jackman, so he could easily be unavailable.

Rupert Wyatt

Who IS currently available is this 39-year-old director from the UK. He made his big directorial splash last August with the surprisingly well-made “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” Although this was his first big movie, he also directed the 2008 film “The Escapist,” which isn’t too shabby. He may not make as much sense as some of the others on the list, but I think he has what it takes to make an even better film than Ross’ “Hunger Games.”

Brad Bird

I’ll go ahead and admit that this is more of a wishlist choice for me. Not only did Bird direct 2 of the best animated films ever made (“The Incredibles” and “The Iron Giant”), but he also proved he can handle live action features (“Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol”) with ease. There could also be availability issues here but, if given a script that is anything better than cringeworthy, he could knock this series out of the park.

AND HE HAS TWO OSCARS!

Tony Gilroy

If you’re wanting a top-calibre director to take over “Catching Fire,” Gilroy would be a strong candidate. He has only directed 3 movies, but the first was a little film called “Michael Clayton” for which he earned Oscar nominations in directing and writing. The third is the soon-to-be-released “The Bourne Legacy” which looks very promising. Strong characters, Bourne-style fighting and Oscar nominations? Yeah, you could pick worse.

Duncan Jones

The son of actor and musician David Bowie, Jones made his feature debut as a director with the 2009 film “Moon.” While it was not exactly the biggest moneymaker, it is a very strong film that many felt was robbed during the awards season. On top of this, Jones also directed the sci-fi action film “Source Code” last year, which was much better than most people would have thought. He doesn’t have a large body of work to judge by, but I think Duncan Jones is the kind of director you gamble on.

David Yates

Why is it that every director seems to be from the UK? Anyway, I know for many fans of the “The Hunger Games,” the biggest worry is whether or not the films will be able to flow together when different directors are at the helm. Others are concerned about how things will translate from the books and onto the big screen. For Yates’ stamp of approval, I will direct you to the nearest “Harry Potter” fan. A relatively unheard of director prior to his work on the last 4 “Harry Potter” films, Yates was able to make the difficult transition between the fun wizard movies filled with Quidditch to the darker installments where important characters are dropping left and right. Why would I like Yates to direct “Catching Fire” and possibly “Mockingjay?” Because he’s been there before. Sadly, this may be another one of those directors whose schedule is too busy.

My top choice for a “Catching Fire” director?

That would be…Alfonso Cuaron.

The 50-year-old director from Mexico may not have too many well-known film credits to his name, but I’ll share the only two that matter. “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” and “Children of Men.” The first is important because you can basically take the attributes I had given to David Yates and transfer them to Cuaron. He’s been there before. If you haven’t seen “Children of Men,” go watch it right now. No, I’m not kidding. Fold the computer down and go……

For those of you still with me, “Children of Men” is not only an excellent film but also has the kind of filmmaking that I would like to see in “Mockingjay.” There is an apocalyptic feel. And despair. And a warzone. It’s great filmmaking and I would be interested in this series getting a similar vibe when stuff starts to really hit the fan.

So that’s my list. If you have any other suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comment area. I’m all ears.

For more of my thoughts, head on over to Velvet Curtain Reviews http://velvetcurtainreviews.wordpress.com/ where I usually call home. I’ll be reviewing a little movie called “Titanic” this weekend as the 100 year anniversary of the real-life tragedy is nearly at hand. If I don’t see you there, I’ll be back here every month on Tellurian Things. Happy viewing.