Wednesday, January 28, 2015
One of the lesser known footnotes to modern Olympic history is the relationship of John Du Pont to the Olympic wrestling gold medalist brothers Mark and Dave Schultz. It’s a funny thing that no one pays much attention to the sport of wrestling outside of the quadrennial Olympic cycle, but there’s something so quintessentially American about the sport Of course it’s been around since the ancient games of Greece and eastern Europeans often excel at it, but the American ideal is intrinsically bound to it. It’s a sport based on physical confrontation one-on-one. You succeed based on your own abilities. It is a total make-it-or-break-it scenario. It’s about a fiercely intense combination of brute strength and cunning strategic skills. You have to be tough and strong, but also to outwit your opponent.
Tuesday, January 27, 2015
Maybe I’m just not easily impressed anymore. Maybe it’s because I rarely see any of the really bad movies anymore and so by comparison, the stuff that is really good seems so ordinary. The Imitation Game is supposed to be one of the year’s best movies, but it is so utterly conventional, I just found it sort of dull. This is the story of Alan Turing, the British mathematician who helped decode the messages churned out by Enigma, the Nazis’ communication device, which should be a ripe subject for a fascinating story. The machine Turing developed to break the code laid the foundation for modern computing.
It’s not very often I get turned around on an issue from a documentary film. I didn’t think much about Edward Snowden when his name was big in the news for revealing that the NSA was collecting data on everyone’s phone calls and emails. It struck me as suspicious that, of all places, he wound up in Russia, after first spending significant time in China. Was some foreign government supporting him? And why? I thought, at the very least, he had committed a crime by leaking classified documents. Laura Poitras’s documentary Citizenfour allows us to spend lots of time with him, giving us the sense of really getting to know the man and make a decision for ourselves about him.
Thursday, January 15, 2015
One prediction I got right was that my predictions would not be very good. I don't have records going all the way back, but I'm pretty sure this is close to my worst prediction year. I got a perfect score for only one category - Original Screenplay - and missed on all five (!) in the Sound Mixing category. That's the first time I've ever gone 0/5 in any category. Pretty bad. Anyway, getting 4/5 in a major category is not really a significant accomplishment. Most of the time there's a pretty solid selection of four actors or actresses, four directors, four screenplays. It's the fifth spot that's the hardest to nail down.
In the top eight categories I went 34/43 for a 79%, a full ten percentage points below last year. I should give myself an extra point for correctly predicting there would be only eight Best Picture nominees.
Across all categories that I predicted (so excluding the three short film categories) I scored 72/106 for 68%. Ouch!
So here are the nominees and how I fared...Nominees marked with an asterisk were the ones I missed.
Pretty surprised that Whiplash made the cut and Foxcatcher didn't. I wasn't wild about either movie, but that Bennett Miller was nominated for Best Director is quite an accomplishment considering his film isn't even one of the best eight of the year.
The Imitation Game
predicted but not nominated: Foxcatcher
Tuesday, January 13, 2015
Let me just start by saying that I will not do better on my predictions than last year, when I scored my best prediction rate ever with close to 90% in the top eight categories and better than 75% across all categories.
One of the biggest factors affecting my abilities this year is that I still have a pretty long list of things to see. My predictions are based on a combination of seeing the films and evaluating them, thinking about Hollywood politics, thinking about what other people are likely to respond to emotionally, and also a kind of gut instinct which is really just about bringing the former factors together.
I don't think 2014 was a very good year for film. A lot of what is likely to get a nomination for Best Picture is pretty mediocre. And that follows on down the line through all the technical categories and a lot of acting performances that just failed to blow me away.
The major things still on my list to see are Into the Woods; Unbroken; American Sniper; Selma; The Hobbit; and A Most Violent Year in addition to a bunch of lesser films that could score technical nominations.
My prediction lists are all in order of likelihood. So in most categories, at least the first three spots are dead locks.
I'm calling only eight nominees this year. Since they went to a range of 5 - 10 nominees, there have always been nine nominees, but I just feel like 2014 was a bit weak.
The Imitation Game
The Grand Budapest Hotel
7. The Theory of Everything
8. American Sniper
If there are more than eight:
9. Into the Woods
Wednesday, January 7, 2015
My personal politics are irrelevant when it comes to evaluating a movie. At least I do my best to make it so. Of course sometimes you can’t help it. Doing my best to look objectively at Citizen Koch, the documentary by Carl Deal and Tia Lessin about the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission on American politics, I would say this is a film that fails to thoroughly examine the very issue it claims to be about.
The Citizens United case, as you may or may not know, was the 5-4 split decision that essentially ruled that, when it comes to campaign contributions, corporations are individuals protected by the First Amendment. The result of that decision has been the funneling of enormous amount of corporate money into political actions.
In The Trip to Italy, comedian Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan re-team with director Michael Winterbottom for a sequel to The Trip. This time, instead of a food tour of the north of England, they are following in the footsteps of Percy Shelley and Lord Byron from Piedmont to Capri.
The two are slightly older now and in their advancing age and settling careers they have become more melancholy. Though they still laugh and smile and enjoy the beauty around them, there is a wistful quality beneath that reveals their dissatisfaction. Playing fictionalized versions of themselves, Steve has a teenage son who lives with his ex-wife. Rob has a wife and young daughter. His wife never seems to have time for him and Rob falls into a little dalliance with a woman he meets.