Monday, February 25, 2013

85th Annual Academy Awards Recap

Last night's Oscars proved once again that the Oscars are exactly what they are: the Oscars. Nothing more, nothing less and likely never will be anything else. Seth MacFarlane as host was neither a success nor failure. He was there to fill space. He was energetic about being on stage and held a great charisma throughout but didn't commit to being a real host. He was a meta-host.

His 17-minute opening montage brought on a Star Trekked William Shatner from the future telling him he would be panned as the worst Oscar host in history in tomorrow's headlines. The self-referential moment to the skepticism around his hosting gig was a cop-out from him taking on his hosting duties 100 percent. Splashed in between, however, were fun dance routines by the inspired pairings of Charlize Theron and Channing Tatum and then Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Daniel Radcliffe. And that "We Saw Your Boobs" number was playful enough.

Throughout the rest of the show, however, introducing presenters and cracking small jokes, MacFarlane fell flat. He tossed out jokes as if he was still testing them, and nothing stuck. And a crack about Rex Reed and Adele was borderline uncalled for, and this was followed by a series of repetitive jokes about how long the telecast was running. We get it. The Oscars are long and boring; stop pointing it out to us.

Meanwhile, the show actually ended right on time. Exactly three 30 minutes. And it ended right after Ben Affleck gave a frantic but heartfelt acceptance speech on behalf of the widely expected best picture win for "Argo." This was preceded by Jack Nicholson appearing on stage to present the award, which has a fun side note all its own. The last time Nicholson presented the final award of the night was in 2005 for "Crash" when Ang Lee won best director for "Brokeback Mountain." That was the last time we've seen a best picture/director split as it happened again this year with Lee's director win for "Life of Pi" over Steven Spielberg for "Lincoln."

First lady Michelle Obama was the surprise presenter who appeared above Nicholson's head on a screen in a live stream from the White House. She gave a moving speech about importance of the arts before ripping open the envelope and revealing "Argo" as the winner.

All of this was a fantastic finish to the 85th Annual Academy Awards telecast. But no. Our host teamed up with a screeching Kristen Chenoweth to close out the show with a horrific musical number commending all the night's losers, a wholly unnecessary exercise in bad taste and ignorance after an otherwise very classy end to the evening.

With best picture, "Argo" also took awards for best editing and Chris Terrio's surprise win for best adapted screenplay over close competitors David O. Russell for "Silver Linings Playbook" and Tony Kushner for "Lincoln." With a total of three awards, the film tied with "Les Miserables," which had wins including Anne Hathaway's predicted best supporting actress win along with best makeup/hairstyling and sound mixing.

"Life of Pi," however, walked away with the most awards of the night at four total. Along with Ang Lee's best director win, the film won best cinematography, visual effects and score. "Skyfall," "Django Unchained" and "Lincoln" all tied with two wins each.

"Silver Linings Playbook" got only one award, which went to Jennifer Lawrence for best actress. The humbled Oscar-winner took the stage in a flurry of an acceptance speech just after tripping on her way up the steps. Undeniably precious.

In a tribute to the 50th anniversary of James Bond, a montage was followed by a performance from the 76-year-old Shirley Bassey who belted out "Goldfinger." Adele later appeared to sing her Oscar-winning "Skyfall" for best original song, but unfortunately a sound issue muffled her performance. Her bubbly acceptance speech made up for it later, though.

Best sound editing marked the second award for "Skyfall," which it shared with "Zero Dark Thirty," that film's sole win of the night. The tie in the category marked only the sixth time a tie has ever happened in Oscar history.

Daniel Day-Lewis accepted his best actor win for "Lincoln" with a great speech we would know to come from the three-time Oscar-winning actor. The second win for "Lincoln" was for production design over expected front-runner "Anna Karenina." The latter won for best costume design. Disney's "Brave" took the award for best animated film over "Wreck-It Ralph" while "Amour" won best foreign language film and "Searching for Sugar Man" won best documentary.

Best supporting actor went to Christoph Waltz for "Django Unchained" while Quentin Tarantino took the award for best original screenplay over Mark Boal's "Zero Dark Thirty" who took home the WGA last weekend.

The telecast's theme was the movie musical as the night paid tribute to the past decade's musicals, of which there were apparently only two. Jennifer Hudson performed her show-stopping number from 2006's "Dreamgirls" unleashing her voice which felt even more seasoned than when she originally sang the tune. Catherine Zeta-Jones, on the other hand, lip-synced her way through a rendition of "All that Jazz" from 2002's best picture winner "Chicago."

The live singing redux of "One Day More" from "Les Miserables" was a musical highlight of the night bringing the cast all together again. The academy producers were clearly salivating over the idea of a nominated musical to revolve the night's theme around. The reliance on the returning cast of "Chicago" sure was heavy-handed, and one couldn't help but wonder why Renee Zellweger was acting like that?

Perhaps the most bizarre moment of the night was somebody's apparent decision to make the cut-off music of acceptance speeches to be the "Jaws" theme. Talk about campy and tasteless.

What's really left of last night's telecast is a feeling of deflated hopelessness for the Oscars to never be truly exciting again. Maybe we really do just need Tina Fey and Amy Poehler to host everything from now on. Lord knows that joke was required to be made last night, too -- and so early on, yeesh.

But hey, at least it truly was a great year in film, an unexpected awards race for most of the way and a night that closed on FLOTUS nailing best dressed without even being there and a tearful, choked up Ben Affleck getting the acknowledgement he deserves. I'm going with pretending that last musical number didn't happen. I think it's really for the best.

Friday, February 22, 2013

85th Annual Academy Award Winner Predictions

Sunday's telecast of the 85th Annual Academy Awards is guaranteed going to give us some surprises.

Could Ang Lee top Steven Spielberg for best director considering he took a novel widely considered to be unadaptable and turned it into an Oscar-nominated triumph?

Could best supporting actor go to Robert De Niro for a veteran actor who hasn't seen a good role in years?

The screenplay categories are also very much up in the air. In adapted, either David O. Russell for "Silver Linings Playbook" or Chris Terrio for "Argo" could grab the win away from assumed front-runner Tony Kushner for "Lincoln." And in original, don't be surprised if the love for "Amour" sneaks into a win out from under Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained."

And speaking of "Amour," there's always the possibility of votes for Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence canceling each other out allowing Emmanuelle Riva in for the win.

In spite of all the crazy dark horse possibilities, I've nailed down my final predictions below.

Best Picture: All signs point to "Argo."

Director: With Ben Affleck down for the count, looks like Steven Spielberg is the favorite to take it for "Lincoln."

Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis for "Lincoln"

Actress: Jennifer Lawrence for "Silver Linings Playbook"

Supporting Actor: Tough call between Christoph Waltz for "Django Unchained" (BAFTA win) and Tommy Lee Jones for "Lincoln" (SAG win), but I'm going with Waltz.

Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway for "Les Miserables"

Animated Feature: Kind of open, but recent Annie wins say "Wreck-It Ralph."

Original Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino for "Django Unchained"

Adapted Screenplay: Tony Kushner for "Lincoln"

Sound Editing: "Skyfall" because respected action movies always take it.

Sound Mixing: "Skyfall" for the same reason.

Film Editing: "Argo" because it'll validate the best picture win.

Documentary Feature: "Searching for Sugar Man"

Foreign Language Film: "Amour"

Cinematography: Claudio Miranda for "Life of Pi"

Makeup & Hairstyling: "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey"

Costume Design: "Anna Karenina"

Visual Effects: "Life of Pi"

Original Song: "Skyfall" by Adele

Original Score: Mychael Danna for "Life of Pi"

Production Design: "Anna Karenina"

Documentary Short: "Inocente"

Live Action Short: "Curfew"

Animated Short: "The Paperman"

With only two wins, "Argo" will take the top prize of best picture along with best editing -- funny because it'll tie "Anna Karenina" for two wins. It will be topped by "Lincoln," which I predict will win three awards: best director, supporting actor and adapted screenplay. This also means "Skyfall" and "Life of Pi" will each land at three wins for technical awards.

Tune in to watch the telecast of the 85th Annual Academy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 24 at 8:30 p.m. on ABC.

Thursday, February 7, 2013


Melissa McCarthy is the new queen of R-rated comedy. After her raucous bit in last year's "This Is 40," now "Identity Thief" and later this summer "Heat" opposite Sandra Bullock, we'll be seeing a whole lot of her. Unfortunately for this laugher in particular, the movie doesn't do the comic actress justice. The slapstick road movie from director Seth Gordon ("Horrible Bosses") is a fun teaming of McCarthy and Jason Bateman, but it ultimately harkens back to better attempts at the genre.

Bateman plays a mid-level accountant named Sandy Bigelow Patterson whose name, and entire identity, falls victim to McCarthy's female criminal, Diana. She makes a living by stealing people's credit cards, going on wild spending/drinking sprees and committing crimes in other people's names. When the Denver-based Sandy gets arrested for skipping his court hearing in Florida, he knows something isn't right. The cops explain his situation, which also threatens to ruin his job, and the only way to clear his name is to take matters into his own hand by collecting his identity thief from Florida and force a confession out of her.

Commence the road trip. McCarthy inhibits hilarious physical comedy, throwing herself around like a big rag doll. The initial brawl between Sandy and Diana is a hoot as he tries to bring her into his custody. And there are plenty of cameos sprinkled throughout to keep the journey interesting, including Eric Stonestreet as a rowdy cowboy named Big Chuck, Ellie Kemper as a southern belle waitress and Jonathan Banks of "Breaking Bad" as a hardened crook. The side plot of Sandy and Diana being chased by both a bounty hunter and a random pair of hot-headed criminals, however, grows tiresome and increasingly unfunny.

Some of the slapstick comedy later on also gets a little too outrageous, most notably a scene involving a snake in the woods that's downright fake and stupid. The movie is a string of weird encounters in the style of Gordon's Reese Witherspoon/Vince Vaughn holiday flick "Four Christmases." It also channels the Tina Fey/Steve Carrell comedy farce "Date Night" but with lesser results.

"Identity Thief" starts with great momentum, but the script provides meager material for the actors with a lot of gags falling flat. But then it also ends surprisingly well as McCarthy brings a sentimental soul to an otherwise seemingly brute and soulless criminal character. Thank god for her because otherwise the movie would be downright unendurable.