OSCARS 2023 recap

March 13, 2023

OSCARS 2023 recap

For movie lovers, the Academy Awards ceremony is usually a fun night designed as a celebration of the art form, with recognition for some of the best work released the previous year. This year’s presentation marked the 95th ceremony, and as always, provided cynics ample opportunity to cast aspersions, while for the rest of us, there were many moments to treasure – some even falling into the category of ‘history-making.’

An opening faux trailer, with a superimposed Jimmy Kimmel sharing the cockpit in a fighter jet with Tom Cruise in TOP GUN: MAVERICK, concluded with the show’s host ‘parachuting’ onto the stage. Kimmel’s opening monologue was entertaining and didn’t shy away from last year’s stunning moment known as “the slap.” Noted in the monologue was a tip of the cap to composer John Williams, who at age 91, received his 53rd Oscar nomination, second all-time to Walt Disney’s 59. It’s also of interest to note that Mr. Williams has scored 25 of director Steven Spielberg’s 27 films.

The only things I’ll mention from the pre-show are that the carpet was “champagne” colored instead of the traditional red, Hugh Grant was an immense jerk during his arrival interview, and the odds-on favorite to have a huge night of awards was EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE (EEAAO), a film with co-directors and featuring many Asian actors in a bizarre story that breaks the mold for traditional Oscar-type films. If you’ve read my “Best of 2022” post, you know that my personal favorite was THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN, which garnered nine nominations, the same as ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT (AQOTWF), with both just behind the eleven nominations of EEAAO. Yes, this year lends itself to abbreviated initials for two long-titled films!

Although I’m not one to buy into the idea of “snubs” since I believe such a label is an insult to others that are honored with a nomination and/or win, it is always fun to see which categories produce surprise winners. Kimmel pointed out that there were 16 first-time nominees and 5 Irish actors nominated – setting up a pretty good punchline. He also noted the absence of James Cameron and Tom Cruise … both A-listers rumored to have had their feathers ruffled due to a lack of nomination for directing (Cameron) and acting (Cruise), although both were producers on films up for Best Picture.

The first award went to the creative genius behind GUILLERMO DEL TORO’S PINOCCHIO (the actual title to differentiate it from other versions). This award was presented by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson who was sporting a form-fitting pink silk sports coat. Not to be outdressed, Troy Kotsur sported a purple velvet suit as he and joined Ariana DeBose in presenting the awards for Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress. Both were highlights and an early indication of the success that lay in store for EEAAO. Ke Huy Quan was emotional and inspirational as he reminded us of what the American Dream really means to those who value it, and Jamie Lee Curtis’ win is a testament to perseverance and support, as she thanked her many collaborators over the years, including her famous parents, Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh.

Each of the five nominated songs were performed live throughout the evening. 14-time nominee Diane Warren was first, soon to be followed by David Byrne and Stephanie Hsu (EEAAO). One of the evening’s true highlights was a rousing song and dance performance of the song, “Naatu, Naatu” from India’s RRR, the eventual winner. Also impressive were a no-make-up and torn-jeans performance from Lady Gaga (TOP GUN: MAVERICK), for some reason filmed almost entirely in extreme close-up; and a pregnant Rhianna (fresh off the Super Bowl) singing “Lift Me Up” from BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER.

Best Documentary Feature was awarded to NAVALNY, and Alexei Navalny’s wife sent a message from the stage. This powerful moment was followed by an audience participation version of “Happy Birthday” during the speech for Best Live Action Short film (AN IRISH GOODBYE). Although I found that moment a bit odd, it was the follow-up that hit me as truly bizarre … a no-holds barred, live from the stage promo for Disney’s upcoming live action, THE LITTLE MERMAID, followed by the first full trailer. I don’t recall such unadulterated marketing schemes every being a part of the ceremony in previous year. Later we did receive a tribute to Warner Brothers for their 100th anniversary of motion pictures – much different than a promo for an upcoming film.

James Friend winning for Best Cinematography for AQOTWF became the first of enough wins that some began to question if the film might pull off a Best Picture surprise to end the night. Best Make-up and Hairstyling went to THE WHALE, the first film to use digital prosthetics in order to allow an actors’ true features to flow through. All the donkey lovers were thrilled to see ‘Jenny the donkey’ led on stage by Kimmel. Unfortunately, this became one of the few nods to my favorite film, THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN. Best Costume went to BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER, and AQOTWF won Best International Feature Film (Germany). Next up were awards for Documentary Short (THE ELEPHANT WHISPERER) and Animated Short (THE BOY, THE MOLE, THE FOX, AND THE HORSE). What was notable was that the first winner was cut off from their acceptance speech, while the second was allowed to babble on.

The award for Production Design became my first “miss” of the night, as AQOTWF took the award over the visually stunning BABYLON. This was quickly followed by another AQOTWF win for Best Score – a straight-to-the-gut musical punch composed by Volker Bertelmann. Best Visual Effects went to AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER, an award presented by Elizabeth Banks and a ‘fake’ Cocaine Bear (her recent movie) as she explained the importance of visual effects. Another odd moment occurred as amazing actress Florence Pugh purposefully held her slit dress open as she presented awards for Original Screenplay (EEAAO) and Adapted Screenplay (WOMEN TALKING). As strange as the spandex undergarment sighting was, I was so excited for Sarah Polley’s win … hopefully this talented writer and filmmaker will be inspired to share more of her work.

Best Sound went to TOP GUN: MAVERICK, and it was the speech given by the RRR winners for Best Song, MM Keeravani and Chandrabose that stole the moment, as Keeravani sang his speech, adapted to “Top of the World” by The Carpenters, a pop group he says influenced him as he grew up. Lenny Kravitz performed during the “In Memoriam” segment … a segment that the Academy seems to botch with omissions every year (this year being no exception). EEAAO won for Best Editing, though it wasn’t until ‘Daniels’, co-directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, won for Best Director that we sensed EEAAO would hold off AQOTWF for the big prize.

A humble and grateful Brendan Fraser (THE WHALE) was nearly overcome with emotions during his speech for Best Actor, and making history as the first Asian actress to win was Michelle Yeoh for EEAAO, an award presented to her by Halle Barry, the first woman of color to win Best Actress. At this point, we felt pretty certain of the film title Harrison Ford would read for the final award of the evening, and sure enough it became a night of history for EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE as it was named Best Picture. The film totaled 7 wins out of 11 nominations, and only two other films took home more than one award: ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT (4) and THE WHALE (2). EEAAO also joined A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (1951) and NETWORK (1976) with winners in three of the four acting categories. It was also a record-breaking night for cutting edge studio A24 as it won 6 of the 7 ‘above-the-line’ awards (Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress).

Leaving empty-handed were ELVIS, THE FABELMANS, and THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN, each coming in with multiple nominations. And though we got a bit tired of Kimmel’s running jabs at Matt Damon (who wasn’t attending), it was very cool to see him point out the legendary 94 year old James Hong, who has nearly 500 credits on IMDb dating back to the mid-1950’s … his latest, of course, being the night’s big winner, EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE. And I’m certain Mr. Hong was relieved to not be seated behind actress and presenter Danai Gurira, whose unique hairstyle stood up about 2 feet from the top of her head. Imagine being seated behind that for 3.5 hours! TV viewership for the ceremony was up 12% over last year’s program, though we can’t help but wonder if some tuned in to see if the Hollywood tradition included a sequel to “The Slap.”

OSCARS recap (2014)

March 3, 2014

oscar twitter The 86th Academy Awards are over … after a mere 3 ½ hours!  Ratings and viewership were at a 10 year high, so ABC is thrilled.   Ellen DeGeneres is clearly a popular draw as host.   The nature of awards shows make them ripe for criticism, and sometimes the Oscars just makes it too easy.  But first, the good stuff.

If you follow my Oscar predictions, you know that I correctly predicted 21 of 24 winners. While that’s impressive, it’s clear that luck played a huge role. As I previously stated, many of the categories could have gone two or three or four different ways, but the  Gravity roll I was banking on did in fact happen … it finished the night with 7 Oscars, easily the most of any movie. What it couldn’t do was get past 12 Years a Slave for Best Picture, creating the rare “split” between director and picture.  The day after has been filled with much noise from the experts who felt strongly that Gravity was the best movie of the year. As I’ve said, I found it to be a visual feast in 3D IMAX, but can’t imagine it will have much staying power on home TV.

The 3 categories I missed were Costume, Live Action Short, and Animated Short.  My personal preference won two of those categories, and in quite a shocker, Disney’s Get a Horse didn’t finish as the top Animated Short.  Three of the four acting awards went to first time winners, and all acting winners gave very sincere acceptance speeches (Jared Leto and Lupita Nyongo’s were particularly terrific).  This is a good time to recognize Meryl Streep’s phenomenal 18th Oscar nomination during her 36 year career.  To put that in perspective, this was Bruce Dern’s second nomination … 35 years since his first one!  American Hustle was 0 for 10 in this year’s Oscars, narrowly missing the record of 0 for 11 held by both The Color Purple (1985) and The Turning Point (1977).  Even more startling, of the 32 nominated feature films (not counting foreign language, documentary, or shorts), only 7 films walked away with a statue.

There were many frustrating (for me) points during the ceremony. The seemingly endless gags on pizza and Twitter (picture, above) were a silly waste of time and caused many East Coast viewers to stay up much later than necessary.  Also confusing was the decision to have Bette Midler sing the tribute song AFTER the slideshow honoring those who have passed away since last year’s ceremony. Having her sing during the slideshow would have been more touching and saved 3-4 minutes.  Ellen’s cruelest joke of the evening was directed at Liza Minnelli … and inexcusable in my book. Ms. Minnelli and her sisters were invited guests for the 75th anniversary of their mother’s (Judy Garland) classic 1939 hit The Wizard of Oz.  To be hit with such a cruel comment just minutes after the show opened must have been humiliating.

The cringe-inducing moments did not stop there.  How about the parade of less-than-perfect plastic surgery results?  The most obvious and difficult to look at were John Travolta, Kim Novak, and Goldie Hawn.  And if the fake hair and face weren’t enough, Mr. Travolta botched his introduction of singer Idina Menzel by inexplicably calling her “Adele Dazeen”.  At the other end of the spectrum, 67 year old Sally Field is the poster child for aging gracefully.  For me, the most uncomfortable moments came courtesy of the rift between “Slave” director Steve McQueen and writer John Ridley.  An historic night for both of them should have allowed for a respectful sharing of the moment, rather than the icy cold shoulders and petty acceptance speeches.

The highlights of the evening helped offset the negative.  I found all of the musical moments to be really enjoyable: Pharrell Williams managed to get the stodgy crowd up on their feet, Karen O’s ballad was short and sweet, U2 unplugged added a touch of rock’s elite, and Broadway star Idina Menzel showed off her extraordinary voice singing the winning “Let it Go”. Pink elegantly performed the “Oz” tribute, and 75 year old Darlene Love brought down the house with her powerful pipes while singing her acceptance speech.

We also witnessed the youngest and newest member of EGOT, as Robert Lopez’ Best Song Oscar finished off his Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony collection.  So after all the predictions, good and bad jokes, musical interludes and pointless hero montages, the single best moment of the night for me was the speech delivered by Best Supporting Actress Lupita Nyong’o, including the inspirational final line, “No matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid.”  In a room full of egos, it’s that line that sticks.

lupita oscar



February 28, 2014

oscars5 Each year I publish my Oscar predictions. I do so in a most straight-forward manner. My track record is pretty impressive (if I do say so myself) and more often than not, I end up with a better record than most national movie critics.  What I never do, is mislead myself or the readers.  Sandbagging is not my thing … Lou Holtz showed me what a poor quality that can be.

I can honestly say that this year provides less clarity, more uncertainty, than any year in recent memory.  Numerous categories have no real front-runner, and some have not just two, but three or four potential winners … even in some of the high profile categories!  As you might imagine, that makes a high number of accurate predictions extremely unlikely.  That’s not sandbagging, but rather full disclosure on this year’s predictions.

My theory on the elevated uncertainty stems from what I have labeled an extraordinary year for the number of good, quality, watchable movies … and an absolute void of truly great ones. There are nine nominated for Best Picture, and I would venture to say that not one will live on as a “must-watch” for the next 10 or 20 years (like say The Godfather or Lawrence of Arabia).

Below you will find my Predictions (my expected winner), my Preferences (my personal choice were I voting), and a brief description of each category.  After the ceremony, I will post a recap, regardless of my record, and provide some insight and observations.  Here’s hoping you enjoy.


12 years This is an incredibly tight race between 12 Years a Slave (the traditionally favored historical drama) and Gravity (the box office bonanza).  A 3D sci-fi movie has yet to win the big award (Avatar, Hugo, Life of Pi), but Gravity could be the first. Because of how tight this is and the convoluted Academy voting methods, we can’t rule out American Hustle sneaking in and taking the statue.  Gravity is the one movie that could get on a roll and rack up a big number of Oscar wins.

Prediction: 12 Years a Slave (mostly because I’m not a big fan of Gravity)

Preference: Nebraska (my #2 film of the year)


cuaron No matter the Best Picture winner, I fully expect Mr. Cuaron to win this award.  He was the driving force behind a technical marvel that raised the bar for future sci-fi films.  David O Russell once again proved he is a dream director for actors, while Martin Scorcese had the most fun he’s had in years. Steve McQueen directed the most powerful film, but Cuaron was ground-breaking.

Prediction:  Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity (yes, I am predicting a rare split between Best Picture and Best Director)

Preference: Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity


mm Matthew McConaughey has reinvented himself as an actor and is on quite a career roll.  If you haven’t seen him in HBO’s “True Detective”, you are really missing out. He has even inspired a new word, McConassaince. This is a ridiculously strong category with five worthy nominees, especially Chiwetel EjiforChristian Bale is the only one in the group who has won an Oscar. It’s been 35 years since Bruce Dern’s last nomination, and this is Leonardo DiCaprio’s 4th nomination (no wins yet).

Prediction: Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club

Preference: Matthew McConaughey (I thought he was even better in Mud)


cate Another very strong category, but one in which Cate Blanchett has been the favorite for months. Only a tidal wave of backlash against Woody Allen can stop her.  If that happens, 5 time nominee Amy Adams slides right in.  She is the only non-Oscar winner in the group.

Prediction: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine

Preference: Judi Dench, Philomena


jared leto This is one of the three picks closest to “a sure thing” on the ballot.  After touring with his rock band for 6 years, Jared Leto thought he would jump back into this acting thing. He delivered what is probably the year’s best overall performance from any actor.  Any other year, Barkhad Abdi or Michael Fassbender would have had my vote … they both frightened me!

Prediction: Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

Preference: Jaret Leto


lupito There is no wrong pick here (except of course, Julia Roberts). June Squibb stole every scene in Nebraska, Sally Hawkins brought humanity to Blue Jasmine, and Jennifer Lawrence was stunning in American Hustle.  Newcomer Lupito Nyong’o is the one who captured our heart in 12 Years a Slave.

Prediction: Lupito Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave

Preference: Jennifer Lawrence (this would be back-to-back Oscar wins for the 22 yr old)


frozen This is another of the 3 picks closest to “a sure thing”.  It’s been 14 years since Disney has won this category, and this year they have a $1 billion box office, critical raves and many entertained families. Anything other than Frozen will be a shocker. I am abstaining since I have not seen any of the nominees, though I am a fan of animation.

Prediction:  Frozen

Preference: abstain


20 feet 20 Feet From Stardom is my favorite movie of the year, but it has tough competition from critic favorites The Act of Killing and The Square.  Both of these are extremely powerful and should be seen, but my pick is both insightful and crowd-pleasing. The prediction is based on the strong word-of-mouth and the all-out marketing blitz… including The Super Bowl.

Prediction: 20 Feet From Stardom

Preference: 20 Feet From Stardom


gravity Yet another impressive category, this time featuring the legendary John Williams with his 49th Oscar nomination.  Yes, 49!  Also on the ballot are two who are long past due for a win, Alexandre Desplat (6 nominations in 8 years) and Thomas Newman (10 nominations). Riding the expected wave of Gravity, look for Steven Price to take the win.

Prediction: Steven Price, Gravity

Preference: Alexandre Desplat, Philomena


Neither celebrities nor pop/rock stars have a strong track record with the Oscars, so don’t expect the hot-on-the-charts Pharrell Williams or rock gods U2 to eclipse “Let it Go” from Frozen.  While I have heard all the songs, I did not see all the movies, so I am abstaining (the category is supposed to reward the best use of song within the movie)

Prediction:Let it Go“, Frozen, sung by Idina Menzell

Preference: abstain


Gravity is the odds-on favorite to win this award since it was so extraordinary to look at on screen, and none of us are smart enough to know how much was special effects.  My personal favorite is Roger Deakins, whose fantastic camera work elevated Prisoners from TV movie to nail-biting thriller.

Prediction: Gravity

Preference: Prisoners


gatsby If the voters can get over the divisiveness brought on by Baz Luhrmann’s interpretation of The Great Gatsby, and not get caught up in straight-lining their ballot for Gravity, the obvious choice here is Gatsby.  However, there is no way to know if either of those things will happen.  Gravity may continue its roll and well, Old Sport, Gatsby could get shut out.

Prediction: The Great Gatsby

Preference: The Great Gatsby


am hustle Another of the incredibly tough categories to predict with three worthy nominees. 12 Years a Slave could get some love here just to offset the Gravity blitz, but American Hustle and The Great Gatsby were absolutely spot on in capturing their eras.  Any of these three would make worthy winners, as would The Grandmaster.

Prediction: American Hustle

Preference: The Great Gatsby


capt phillips Oscar voters tend to favor the rapid-fire cuts of action movies, but my preference was the expert and story-enhancing editing on display during American Hustle.

Prediction: Captain Phillips

Preference: American Hustle


lady in no 6 Alice Herz-Sommer was 109 during filming and passed away last week at age 110. Her story is fascinating and blends her indomitable spirit, her world class piano talent and her Holocaust survival story.  Would you vote against this lady?  I certainly won’t.  I’m not sure how, or even if, this one will get distribution, but I highly recommend you track it down.

Prediction: The Lady in Number 6

Preference: The Lady in Number 6


get a horse I didn’t find the nominees to be as strong as years past, but it’s pretty hard to imagine Disney’s Get a Horse not winning.  It has the advantages of retro-Mickey Mouse and showing prior to the mega box office hit Frozen.

Prediction: Get a Horse

Preference: Room on the Broom (charming bedtime story with a message)


Again, not as strong as other years, but I expect the Oscar voters will defer to the project featuring the well known actors, rather than the touching and hyper-sensitive story of a terminally ill boy.

Prediction: The Voorman Problem

Preference: Helium


dallas Since somehow the wig expo known as American Hustle did not receive a nomination, let’s go with the great work in Dallas Buyers Club … rumored to have a make-up budget of $250 (or a week’s worth of lipstick for Sandra Bullock)


Prediction: Dallas Buyers Club

Preference: Dallas Buyers Club


The sound editor gathers the ingredients; the sound mixer makes the soup.  Gravity had very unusual sound needs … we had to believe the characters were in space.

Prediction: Gravity

Preference: Gravity


The sound editor gathers the ingredients; the sound mixer makes the soup.  The sound of Inside Llewyn Davis perfectly captured the Greenwich Village feel for me, while I have serious doubt about how much on set sound Gravity actually used.

Prediction: Gravity

Preference: Inside Llewn Davis


The single biggest “sure thing” of the night.  This category describes the movie Gravity.  It is a unique and revolutionary viewing experience (in 3D, on a huge screen).   For those who are waiting to watch it on their home TV, I predict much disappointment.

Prediction: Gravity

Preference: Gravity


her This looks to be a close race between Her and American Hustle. Her seems to be the most unique, but I had zero connection to the film, the characters or the story (yes, I am the only one on the globe who feels this way).  Nebraska seems so small in comparison, but the genius is in appearing effortless while so many emotions are flying.

Prediction: Her

Preference: Nebraska (Bob Nelson’s personal project)


Four very powerful and personal stories: a free man turned slave, a woman’s quest to find her son, a ship captain’s horrific ordeal, and a despicable con artist on the road to ruin.  I think this comes down to a toss-up between Soloman Northrup vs Philomena Lee.

Prediction: 12 Years a Slave

Preference: 12 Years a Slave


great beauty Italy’s entry The Great Beauty is the most visually stylish, and the other four are pretty much downers in tone.  Still, I found The Hunt (Denmark) with Mads Mikkelsen (a great performance) to be mesmerizing.

Prediction: The Great Beauty

Preference: The Hunt

If you would like to see my “BEST of 2013” list, please visit:  https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/annual-bests-2/best-of-2013/

As always, your feedback is welcome.  Enjoy the Oscars!

OSCARS recap (2013)

February 25, 2013

oscars5Seth MacFarlane was awesome!”  “Seth MacFarlane sucks!”  “Who is Seth MacFarlane?”

No matter which of the above reactionary groups you fall into, the members of the Academy are beside themselves with happiness today.  You might ask why.  The simple answer is RATINGS!  TV Ratings in the coveted 18-49 demo jumped up 19% over last year.  However, since you and I are not in the TV ratings business, it’s more fun to discuss The Oscars from our perspective as viewers and movie lovers.

As previously stated in my Oscar Predictions, outside of a couple of “no brainers”, this was a particularly difficult year to predict.  No single movie was positioned to “run the table” and in fact, nine different films were named winners in 18 different categories featuring wide releases.  Life of Pi led the way with 4 Oscars; Argo and Les Miserables had three each; Lincoln, Django Unchained, and Skyfall had two apiece; and Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty and Anna Karenina each had one.  Bruce, a loyal and informed blog follower from San Antonio, pointed out the rare result of a different film winning for each of the “Big 6” categories: Best Picture (Argo), Best oscar3Director (Life of Pi), Best Actor (Lincoln), Best Actress (Silver Linings Playbook), Supporting Actor (Django Unchained), Supporting Actress (Les Miserables). Given all of this, I feel quite satisfied with correctly predicting 19 of the 24 categories.

In addition to host Seth MacFarlane, also new to the Oscar presentation were show producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron.  They were Executive Producers on Best Picture winner Chicago (2002).  There was an awkward pre-show opening with Chicago star Queen Latifah, followed by a bizarre gag with William Shatner appearing from the future as Captain Kirk from Star Trek … evidently the purpose of which was to make advance apologies for a weak show that was just beginning.  Later, an inordinate amount of stage time was allowed for a Chicago musical number by Catherine Zeta-Jones; and then Mark Wahlberg and the bear (voiced by MacFarlane) from MacFarlane’s summer hit Ted took to the stage.  If all that wasn’t enough, the Chicago cast reunited to present two awards.  While we are accustomed to excessive narcissism in Hollywood, but this was just too much “Hey, look at oscars4me!”

My favorite performance of the evening was when 76 year old Shirley Bassey brought the full house to their feet with her rendering of the great James Bond theme from Goldfinger.  Her still powerful voice saved the 50th Anniversary celebration of the Bond franchise (after a weak montage), and later Adele delivered a soulful version of the Skyfall theme, the first Best Original Song winner from a Bond film.

Other good and not so good (I’ll leave it to you to categorize as you wish):

* Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln) became the first 3 time Best Actor winner, and gave a very classy and gracious acceptance speech

* Barbra Streisand performed on the Oscar stage for the first time in 36 years

* Sally Field got her moment in the spotlight thanks to a strange segment paying tribute to her old TV show “The Flying Nun” (1967-70)

* Seth MacFarlane served up tasteless jokes on Chris Brown/Rhianna (neither a movie actor) and Abraham Lincoln (the President, not the movie).

* Quentin Tarantino paid tribute to actors and also proclaimed this the year of the writer

* Ang Lee showed again what a nice man he is, though he missed an opportunity to show support for Rhythm and Hues

* There was no shortage of Oscar winning men with hair longer than Alexander Gudunov in Die Hard (1988)

* Tommy Lee Jones smiled on camera less than 2 minutes into the ceremony

* The Sound Editing category produced just the 6th TIE in Oscar history

* Anne Hathaway purred “It came true” … the most contrived prepared line of the evening

* The producer of the Oscar winning Animated Short Film Paperman was ejected from the ceremony … for throwing paper airplanes (a key component in the film)

* Ben Affleck stated no matter how many times you get knocked down, what matters is getting back up … proof that millionaire movie stars think starring in a bad movie (Gigli) or two (Jersey Girl) or three (Daredevil) actually qualifies as getting knocked down.

* The first Oscars featuring sock monkeys in an integrated cockpit

* Nine year old Quvenzhane Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild) spoke for women everywhere when she admitted selecting her dress because “it was sparkly and fluffy” (she accessorized with a puppy purse!)

* Ann Rutherford starred in 60+ movies, including Gone with the Wind but didn’t warrant inclusion during the In Memoriam section

* Andy Griffith starred in one of Elia Kazan’s finest movies (A Face in the Crowd) but didn’t warrant inclusion during the In Memoriam section

* Harvey Weinstein flexed his enormous Hollywood power-player muscles and arranged for First Lady Michelle Obama to present the Best Picture Oscar from the White House … A perfect ending to a show that, at times, seemed to treat movies as an afterthought.

After The Oscars, Jimmy Kimmel ran a tribute/spoof of Life of Pi that featured singer Psy:




February 23, 2013

oscars1 Every year I boldly offer up my Oscar predictions prior to the ceremony.  This seems like a good year to rant a bit about my perception of the Academy Awards. As a guy who spends an inordinate amount of time in movie theatres, and then takes that obsession even further by spending hours writing about those movies, I’ll admit that I enjoy the Academy Awards ceremony as a celebration of movies.  That said, what I find absurd is the “competition” and the ridiculous designation of “Best” in any category.  I view movies as an art form and while I often select my FAVORITE movies, I find judging the “best” to be as ridiculous as selecting the best sculpture or painting. Admittedly, I feel the same about Olympic sports that are decided by a panel of judges.  When judging is involved, then opinions are involved.  When opinions are involved, then politics and personal vendettas become involved. Whatever your feelings toward Hollywood, you probably acknowledge no shortage of opinions, politics and vendettas in that world.  To think that these emotional, artistic beings can be objective when voting is naïve at best.  Enough of the rant, let’s discuss the movies!

It was a huge year at the box office.  Six of the nine “Best Picture” nominations have gone over $100 million at the domestic box office, and another, Zero Dark Thirty, is almost there. As a comparison, of last year’s nominations, only The Help reached $100 million domestically. Most surprising, the indie hit Beasts of the Southern Wild actually provided the best financial return of all the nominees, as its $12.5 million box office is 8 times its measly production cost of only $1.5 million (over 700% return!).  Life of Pi is approaching $600 million worldwide, while Les Miserables and Django Unchained are nearing $400 million. What’s really impressive about these numbers is that none of the nominated films cracked the Top 10 Worldwide Box Office for 2012 releases.  Three movies eclipsed the $1 Billion mark: The Avengers, Skyfall, The Dark Knight Rises (plus, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey will get there in the next couple of weeks).  In all, 69 releases went over the $100 million mark in worldwide box office.

So let’s talk Oscars.  There are a few “obvious” picks, but an unusually high number of categories that could go two or three different ways.  There will be surprises and it’s a very challenging year for predictions; but that doesn’t frighten me … especially since I have nothing at stake. Some specifics of the Oscar politics this year include the scandals revolving around the three historical dramas: Lincoln, Argo, and Zero Dark Thirty. Somehow the dramatic license taken by Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty has created a storm of controversy for those films, while the Hollywood-created climax to Argo has it being adopted like a wet puppy.  Similarly, a “Saturday Night Live” gag by Jennifer Lawrence escalated into a “she hates Jessica Chastain” campaign by the media. And in a bizarre twist, a stoic face amidst Golden Globes laughter has caused Tommy Lee Jones to be labeled as the guy who just doesn’t care enough.  And none of those match the outrage voiced by critics when Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow did not receive Best Director nominations. Movie Critics are not known for their math skills.  Nine Best Picture nominations and five Best Director nominations equates to four Directors who aren’t nominated despite their films being named. The “I guess the movie directed itself” argument is lame and misplaced. Still, there is a good chance that Argo wins Best Picture in a year when its director was not nominated.  That’s only happened 3 previous times.

oscars2 This year’s Oscar event is being hosted by the very talented and somewhat strange Seth MacFarlane.  If you don’t know the name, he is the creative genius behind such money-makers as “Family Guy” and Ted.  He has voiced an incredible number of characters including Peter, Brian and Stewie from “Family Guy” and Ted from Ted, and is even nominated for an Oscar for co-writing a song from Ted. MacFarlane’s humor can run to the crude and rude, but he is also a classically trained singer, so expect a song to go with his many voices. The program will also feature the first Academy Awards performance from Barbra Streisand in many years, but what’s much more exciting than all that is that the show will feature a 50th Anniversary James Bond tribute.  All of the actors who have portrayed 007 have been invited (expect some no-shows), and as a special bonus the great Shirley Bassey is set to perform.  She belted out my favorite all-time Bond theme with Goldfinger, as well as Diamonds are Forever and Moonraker.

As is my tradition, you will find both my PREDICTION and my PREFERENCE for each of the 24 categories.


argoPrediction: ARGO Ben Affleck’s true life drama has swept the Guild’s: Producer, Director, Writer, and Screen Actor.  Lincoln and Silver Linings Playbook would be the only possible surprise winners, but anything other than Argo would actually be a shock!

Preference: Lincoln.  It leads all films with twelve nominations, but its best chances are in Best Actor and Best Supporting categories. On the bright side, the DVD is being shipped to every middle school and high school in the United States.


ang leePrediction: ANG LEE (Life of Pi).  With Argo a likely winner and its director (Ben Affleck) not nominated, this category is wide open.  Expect the beloved Ang Lee to edge out Steven Spielberg (Lincoln) and David O Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)

Preference: Ang Lee (Life of Pi)  While Lincoln was my favorite movie of the year, Ang Lee directed the one movie that was based on an “unfilmable” book … and did so with breath-taking flair.


DDLPrediction: DANIEL DAY-LEWIS. The one absolute this evening.  DDL will become the first ever three time Oscar winner for Best Actor.  Katherine Hepburn was a four time winner for Best Actress, but no man has won three times. His performance was transcendent.

Preference: Daniel Day-Lewis.  I will say that Joaquin Phoenix was terrific in The Master and it’s wonderful that Bradley Cooper became a “real” actor in Silver Linings Playbook.


jenniferPrediction: JENNIFER LAWRENCE. This is a three way race that includes Emmanuelle Riva (Amour) and Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty). If the SNL gig didn’t cost Ms. Lawrence too many votes or Ms. Riva doesn’t capture too many “last chance” votes, the most exciting young actress working today will win her first Oscar.  If Ms. Riva wins, she will be the oldest ever Oscar winner, and if Quvenzhane Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild) wins, she will be the youngest ever Oscar winner … though she would never win if Oscar voters had to correctly spell her first name without looking.

Preference: Jennifer Lawrence.  I thoroughly enjoyed all five performances in this category, and in many other years, Naomi Watts (The Impossible) would have been the frontrunner.


deniroPrediction: ROBERT DENIRO.  The frontrunner since the nominations were announced has been Tommy Lee Jones, so this is a risky prediction.  All five nominees have previously won an Oscar, but incredibly, it’s been 32 years since DeNiro last won. What a talented group!

Preference: Robert DeNiro or Christoph Waltz. It was thrilling to see DeNiro engaged again, and those who claim Waltz simply reprised his Inglourious Basterds character really missed out, though the argument could be made that Samuel L Jackson was the key support role for Django Unchained.


anne hathawayPrediction: ANNE HATHAWAY. Aside from Best Actor, this is probably the next sure thing.  It’s remarkable to think she may win based on one scene and one song and one haircut. Some have Sally Field in an upset here (hope not!), and Amy Adams and Jacki Weaver are two of my favorite actresses.  Unfortunately, neither of their nominated roles really pushed them.

Preference: Anne Hathaway.  The song was outstanding, even though her couple of other scenes were very distracting for me. Still, her song is more impressive than Sally Field’s 25 pound weight gain.


bravePredictionBRAVE. It’s a two film race between Brave and Wreck-it Ralph, and the demographic breakdown of the Academy leads me to believe the “safe” pick will win over the more impressive one, but this could go either way.

Preference: Frankenweenie. While this has been Tim Burton’s pet project for two decades, I have an emotional attachment to it as well. It’s a shame more people didn’t give it a chance. It’s a beautiful film with terrific characters.


sugarmanPrediction: SEARCHING FOR SUGARMAN. A wonderful feel-good story of re-discovery and second chances that did very well at the box office and with its soundtrack.  The movie has a surreal feel to it, and face it, we need upbeat stories coming out of Detroit these days.  The Gatekeepers or How to Survive a Plague could sneak in, but it’s doubtful.

Preference: Searching for Sugarman.


Prediction: Mychael Danna (Life of Pi).  Alexandre Desplat (Argo) and John Williams (Lincoln) could easily win, but much of Life of Pi depended on the score, while the others were more complimentary and traditional.

Preference: Mychael Danna (Life of Pi).  It was nice to see Thomas Newman nominated for Skyfall because the score was crucial for that film as well.


adelePrediction: SKYFALL by Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth. One of the best ever Bond themes and probably becomes the first to win.  The original Les Miserables song was lame and I’d venture a guess that you don’t remember the other 3 nominations.

Preference: Skyfall by Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth. Mostly I want this to win so that my son will have it stuck in his head for a few more days. Plus the first Bond song win as the Academy celebrates 50 years of Bond is just perfect.


life of piPrediction: Claudio Miranda (Life of Pi). Contrary to popular belief, this is not just a special effects movie. Mr. Miranda helped created a beautiful and visually seductive film.  His competition is probably the great Roger Deakins (Skyfall) who inexplicably is 0 for 9 in Oscar nominations. It’s doubtful that the Academy would vote two Oscars for a Bond movie, but Deakins deserves recognition.

Preference: Claudio Miranda (Life of Pi). Mr. Miranda earned it for the movie, but Deakins deserves it for his body of work.

PRODUCTION DESIGN (formerly Art Design)

Prediction: David Gropman and Anna Pinnock (Life of Pi).  This movie is a technical marvel, and Lincoln also had some fantastic attention to detail.

Preference: David Gropman and Anna Pinnock (Life of Pi).  They have earned it, but a Lincoln win would not be disappointing … which I can’t say about Les Miserables, Anna Karenina, or The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey


Prediction: Seamus McGarvey (Anna Karenina).  Costume dramas are historically Academy favorites in this category, though Lincoln and Les Miserables could both be factors.

Preference: anything but Mirror Mirror.  I have nightmares that Julia Roberts might make an appearance onstage if this one wins. (Yeah, I know … my dreams aren’t what they used to be)


argoPrediction: William Goldenberg (Argo) in a close one over Dylan Tichenor and William Goldenberg (yes, the same one) for Zero Dark Thirty. Mr. Goldenberg is a rock star editor.

Preference:  Dylan Tichenor and William Goldenberg (Zero Dark Thirty).  The bin Laden fortress sequence was one of the most compelling things I’ve ever seen on screen.


Prediction: Open Heart.  Only like 9 people vote in this category, so three votes wins.  Yes, I’m kidding, but predicting this category is a total guess.

Preference:  a quick acceptance speech


papermanPrediction: PAPERMAN by John Kahrs.  This one has a nice behind the scenes production story but will have to take down Pixar and Disney and Maggie Simpson to win.

Preference: Head Over Heels by Timothy Reckart and Fodhia Cronin O’Reilly. Evidently I’m the only one who appreciated this one.  Yep, I’m a rebel.


curfewPrediction: CURFEW by Shawn Christensen in a race against Buzkashi Boys.  Another tough category because so few voters watch them all.

Preference: Death of a Shadow by Tom Van Avermaet and Ellen De Waele.  This one is even darker than Curfew. There was a real shortage of upbeat live action shorts this year.


Les miserablesPrediction: Lisa Westcott and Julie Dartnell (Les Miserables).  They deserve it for bravely working with Helena Bonham Carter’s hair and chopping off Anne Hathaway’s long locks.  Hitchcock and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey leaned heavily (that’s not a fat joke) on appliances and prosthetics, while Les Mis created a distinct feel through traditional hair and make-up.

Preference: Lisa Westcott and Julie Dartnell (Les Miserables).


Prediction: Eugene Gearty and Philip Stockton (Life of Pi) should eke out a win over five outstanding nominated films.

Preference: Eugene Gearty and Philip Stockton (Life of Pi).


Prediction: Andy Nelson, Mark Peterson, Simon Hayes (Les Miserables).  How many other films featured live singing on set for the entire movie?  Half a movie?  A single scene?  That’s right … none.  Whether you enjoyed Russell Crowe’s singing or not, “live” singing for a quality movie is very impressive.

Preference: Andy Nelson, Mark Peterson, Simon Hayes (Les Miserables).


life of piPrediction: LIFE OF PI Should be a slam dunk.  This is the most visually impressive film in quite some time.  Plus, I don’t even like 3D and yet the 3D effects left me in awe.

Preference: Life of Pi.


zero dark thirtyPrediction: Mark Boal (Zero Dark Thirty).  This one qualified as original because of the independent research conducted by Mr. Boal. Much of the film has Jessica Chastain sitting at a desk and yet the tension is palpable.  That’s quality writing.  And the two key tension-filled action sequences will have you squirming in your seat.

Preference: Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained). This is not my preference just because I love watching Tarantino speak in public, but this along with Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom were the most unique fiction seen on the silver screen this year.


argoPrediction: Chris Terrio (Argo). If it wins this award, the Best Picture Oscar is in the bag.  If David O Russell (Silver Linings Playbook) pulls an upset, then Best Picture is up for grabs.

Preference: David Magee (Life of Pi).  This book was deemed unfilmable for years, yet Magee drafted a script that allowed Ang Lee to bring the story to life. That’s a monumental achievement.


amourPrediction: AMOUR (Austria) in a narrow win over Kon-Tiki (Norway). Amour is also nominated for Best Picture, which is an unusual occurrence for a foreign film.

Preference: Amour (Austria).  It’s a very tough movie to watch and even tougher to recommend, but director Michael Haneke delivers a stunning look at slow death.  Doesn’t that make you want to rush out to see it?

*NOTE: I certainly don’t expect Life of Pi to win as many Oscars as I have predicted; however, I have based my predictions on the individual categories and not the total number of wins.  In other words, I expect to be wrong, I’m just not sure in which categories.

If you would care to see my Best of 2012 list (yes, I realizeit’s hypocritical for me to use “Best”, but old habits are hard to break), here is the link:   best of 2012

As always, I welcome your thoughts, comments and predictions!

OSCAR NOMINATED SHORTS – Live Action and Animated (2012)

February 21, 2013

Greetings again from the darkness. In what has become an annual ritual, I got to take in all of this year’s Oscar nominated short films.  It really is enjoyable and it reminds me of a mini-film festival.  Taking in so many films by so many different filmmakers in a short period of time is pure joy for a movie lover.  This yearthere was the added bonus of having each of the presentations (Live Action and Animated) “hosted” by previous short film Oscar winners William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg (The Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore) and Luke Matheny (God of Love).  The best short films all share one obvious trait … the care and love that goes into the making of each.

Below is my recap by category, in order of preference (not my Oscar predictions):


short death of a shadow Death of a Shadow (Dood van een Schaduw, Belgium) Directed by Tom Van Avermaet.  Very odd story of an “art” collector who captures souls through the shadows of those in their moment of death. Nathan is a former soldier who agreed to capture 10,000 shadows for the collector in the hopes of re-discovering his long lost love Sarah. Jealousy and disappointment lead to undesired consequences.  There are many life lessons crammed into this short film.  This one has a unique look and pace.

Henry (Canada) Directed by Yan England. Henry is an old man who has flashbacks as he tries to make sense of his current life.  He was a concert pianist who met his wife, a violinst during the war. These visions are clear in Henry’s head, but he doesn’t know why this lady keeps showing up … then he recognizes her … and then he doesn’t. It’s easy enough to figure out, but very touching with a top notch performance by Gerard Poirier.  The End card has a quote that is apparently from the director’s father.  It goes something like this: “The worst thing about being an old man is realizing you are losing memories”.

Curfew (USA) Directed by Shawn Christensen, who also stars as Richie, the slacker brother who his sister stoops to calling in a moment of desperation.  He agrees to look after his niece Sophia (Fatima Ptacek).  To do so, he has to climb out of the suicide tub he was in when the phone rang. Is this his chance at redemption? Sophia is very smart and fascinating to watch, but it’s tough to shake that opening image of Richie.  Dancing, a bowling alley and some special flipbooks add a level of poignancy to this one.

Asad (South Africa) Directed by Bryan Buckley, who is world renowned for his commercials – especially Super Bowl ads. Here we see that life in Somalia means you are either a Sea Pirate, a Street Thug, an old fisherman, or one of the scared, faceless masses. Asad is a smart, charismatic young boy too young to join the pirates and too smart to get killed by the thugs. His fishing trip would be among my worst days ever, but for him it’s a coming of age.  Did you catch that?

Buzkashi Boys (Afghanistan/USA) Directed by Sam French. My first exposure to the rough sport of Buzkashi … free-for-all polo played with a dead goat.  Ahmad and Rafi are young boys and good friends set against the backdrop of war-ravaged Afghanistan. It’s a tough world for Ahmad, an orphan who hustles on the street for a little food and small change. Life’s not much better for his more reserved friend Rafi, the son of a harsh blacksmith, who is no fan of Ahmad or wasting daylight hours. The ending is not what you might expect, but it’s beautifully shot and well acted by the boys.


short head over heels Head Over Heels (UK) Directed by Timothy Reckart. Expert claymation depicting an aging married couple that have grown apart emotionally, but have a seemingly comfortable arrangement – despite the visual loss of equilibrium. The husband tries a simple gesture in an effort to re-connect, but the wife misunderstands and it turns their crazy world upside down (again). It’s a heart-warming story of re-discovery.

Fresh Guacamole (USA) Directed by Adam Pesapane aka PES. At 1 minute, 45 seconds this is the shortest short ever nominated for an Oscar. It’s a visual feast as it uses everyday items such as a pool ball, baseball, dice and poker chips to create a stunning bowl of fresh guacamole. Of course, there is no dialogue but it’s colorful to look at and will generate a smile.

Maggie Simpson in “The Longest Daycare” (USA) Directed by David Silverman, producer of the TV series and director of the feature length The Simpsons Movie (2007) and Monsters, Inc (2001).  Marge drops off Maggie (yes, with pacifier) at The Ayn Rand School for Tots.  Kids are divided into “Gifted” and “Nothing Special”. Maggie desperately wants the zen-like environment offered by the gifted area, but instead is hounded by a brutish boy who loves to stomp all living things.  Maggie’s mission is to save a poor butterfly and she uses much trickery in the process.  The short has no dialogue and seems like a segment pulled directly from the brilliant and long-running series.

Adam and Dog (USA) Directed by Minkyu Lee, also nominated for artwork in Wreck-it Ralph. This is a story of Adam in the Garden of Eden and his making friends with a dog. There is no dialogue in this short and it employees my least favorite type of animation. Still, it’s a nice treat watching Adam and the dog bond … well, until Eve enters the picture.  The dog remains loyal until it’s clear to him that Adam has not.

Paperman (USA) Directed by John Kahrs, an animator at Pixar for 15 years.  A chance meeting at the train station between an office clerk and a lovely woman lead to lipstick on the page and a feverish hunt to track down his dream girl.  Rarely have paper airplanes been so vital to a man’s day or the success of a film.  Serendipity and destiny are key players.

TMI (3-29-12)

March 29, 2012

TMI (Today’s Movie Info)

Oscars trivia





Not including “no-show” winners, the record for the shortest acceptance speech is shared by William Holden (above)and renowned director Alfred Hitchcock (below). They both simply said, “Thank you.”

TMI (3-16-12)

March 16, 2012

TMI (Today’s Movie Info)

Oscar trivia

 Oscar winners don’t really own their statues. Upon being presented with their award, winners must sign an agreement stating that should they wish to sell their statuettes, they must first offer them to the Academy for $1.00 If they refuse to sign, they cannot keep their trophy. The rule has been in effect since 1950, which means that older statues do sometimes appear on the open market. If you feel like bidding, be prepared to pay a lot more than $1.00, though: Steven Speielberg bought Bette Davis’ Oscar for $578,000 in 2001 and donated it back to the Academy, and Michael Jackson paid over a million dollars for David O Selznick’s award in 1999.

TMI (3-7-12)

March 7, 2012

TMI (Today’s Movie Info)

Oscar trivia

Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro are the only two actors to win Oscars (Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor) for playing the same character in different films: Vito Corleone in The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather, Part II (1974), respectively.

TMI (3-6-12)

March 6, 2012

TMI (Today’s Movie Info)

Oscar trivia

There are five writers who have each won 3 Oscars for their screenplays:

WOODY ALLEN: Annie Hall*; Hannah and Her Sisters; Midnight in Paris
CHARLES BRACKETT: The Lost Weekend*; Sunset Boulevard; Titanic (1953)
PADDY CHAYEFSKY: Marty*; The Hospital; Network
FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA: Patton*; The Godfather*; The Godfather: Part II*
BILLY WILDER: The Lost Weekend*; Sunset Boulevard; The Apartment*

*Best Picture Winner