Thursday, February 27, 2014

86th Annual Academy Awards Winner Predictions

It's been a fun and interesting race for sure, which has come to a head with three major movies in contention. All three acting categories are set and have been for months, save for supporting actress which is now in flux with Jennifer Lawrence gaining ground on Lupita Nyong'o. It's unlikely best picture will go to anything other than "12 Years a Slave," but the possibility certainly exists. With virtually no buzz about the actual awards ceremony since the announcement of Ellen DeGeneres hosting, we're probably looking at a snoozefest of a telecast unless there are some real surprises in store.

Best Picture: It's a tight three-way race between "American Hustle," "Gravity" and "12 Years a Slave" but historical importance (yes, that's a factor) says "12 Years."

Director: All signs point to Alfonso Cuaron for "Gravity."

Actor: Matthew McConaughey for "Dallas Buyers Club" - locked.

Actress: Cate Blanchett for "Blue Jasmine" - locked.

Supporting Actor: Jared Leto for "Dallas Buyers Club" - locked.

Supporting Actress: Jennifer Lawrence for "American Hustle" currently has the edge, but for my own sanity I am literally forced to still go with Lupita Nyong'o for "12 Years a Slave."

Animated Feature: Disney's smash hit "Frozen"

Original Screenplay: It's likely 100% going to be "American Hustle," but I'm putting my heart on my sleeve for this one (and considering its WGA win): Spike Jonze for "Her."

Adapted Screenplay: John Ridley for "12 Years a Slave"

Sound Editing: "Gravity" - it's a technical marvel.

Sound Mixing: "Gravity"

Film Editing: Could be "Gravity," but Paul Greengrass behind the camera suggests "Captain Phillips" for this one.

Documentary Feature: "20 Feet from Stardom"

Foreign Language Film: "The Great Beauty"

Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki for "Gravity"

Makeup & Hairstyling: "Dallas Buyers Club"

Costume Design: "American Hustle"

Visual Effects: "Gravity"

Original Song: "Let It Go" from "Frozen"

Original Score: Steven Price for "Gravity"

Production Design: "Gravity"

Documentary Short: "The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life"

Live Action Short: "Helium"

Animated Short: "Get a Horse!"

So this has "Gravity" going home with a whopping six wins, and the winner of the night "12 Years a Slave" heading home with three while "American Hustle" comes in at one measly win for costume design. (In my dreams.)

Tune in to watch the telecast of the 86th Annual Academy Awards on Sunday, March 2 at 4 p.m. PST on ABC.

Sunday, February 9, 2014


Alain Guiraudie's "Stranger by the Lake" is a strange and unique creation, one that is at once quietly humorous and observant and then dark, disturbing and menacing. In the world of this summertime cruising spot for men in France, an isolated shore of lakeside beach surrounded by woods, there are only three locations: the parking lot, the beach, the woods. The film is both numbing and fascinating in its repetition of these locales, never leaving this spot for its full 100 minutes; but such a decision works to mirror the daily, ritualistic world of cruising it portrays. And as the film's climax comes into focus, it takes the location's calm and tranquil surface and unearths a sinister air. The rustle of the trees and roll of the waves turn ominous.

Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) visits the spot every day, thwarting off most of the occupants' carnal glances and passes. He spends most of his time sitting on the shore with a larger man, Henri (Patrick d'Assumçao), with whom he strikes up a friendship. The man is outwardly lonely but has no intentions of cruising when he visits this beach, instead addressing the act's frivolity but also not believing any man is completely gay. Franck soon becomes transfixed on a Burt Reynolds-looking man, Michel (Christophe Paou), who appears to have a boyfriend. Late one night, however, Franck witnesses Michel drown the supposed boyfriend.

Viewing the act from afar in a drawn out sequence, it echoes the voyeuristic styles of Alfred Hitchcock's "Rear Window" and Michael Haneke's "Caché." After seeing the man commit murder, instead of staying away, Franck becomes more attached, and they begin an affair together, meeting up to have sex every day. In such, Guiraudie builds dread with the precision of a horror movie, linking sexual desire and death in intriguing ways. It marks the film as an art house exotic thriller. Yet the explicit sex and unrelenting frontal male nudity of "Stranger by the Lake" goes beyond mere provocation.

There are conversations on intimacy and relationships vs. pure sex that happen, which resonate beyond the wooded secrecy of a hidden cruising spot. While physical cruising may be less prevalent and inching its way into an obsolete gay culture, there's the ever-present digital cruising: Grindr. After a mousy, slinky inspector (Jérôme Chappatte) starts poking his nose around the crime scene, things take a turn. Guiraudie ends his film on a sinister note of solidarity, perhaps encapsulating the loneliness that's behind the act of cruising all along.


Christopher Miller and Phil Lord, the guys behind "21 Jump Street" and "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs," prove a perfect fit for taking the Lego toy property to the big screen. Instead of just a cash grab and launching point for another lucrative franchise (there's no doubt it's also that, but keep reading), its big heart and sense of creativity and imagination make "The Lego Movie" way more than just that. By completely embracing the spirit of the Lego toy brand itself -- something irreverent, goofy and colorful which both children and adults can enjoy -- it becomes an exhilarating piece of work both timeless and ageless. High praise for a movie about a bunch of building blocks, right? Let me keep going. "The Lego Movie" recalls the awe-inspiring originality that became the Pixar standard, and is the freshest, funniest, most audaciously weird and wacky, surprisingly emotional animated film to come along in years.

To quote the song that all the citizens of Bricksburg joyously sing in unison: "Everything Is Awesome." Indeed it is, vibrantly animated by Animal Logic, a visual effects team who has created such lush and tactile animation to the point of almost appearing to be stop-motion. It's both retro and cutting-edge. All the textures of each piece and all the blocks, the way they move and shatter and explode and build and interlock and interact within this world, it's all eye-popping.

The story follows ordinary construction worker Emmett (Chris Pratt, heading the exuberant cast of voice actors) who stumbles across a relic of extraordinary power, which labels him the one to save the universe against the evil Lord Business (Will Ferrell). It's all bombastic and heroic-sounding, but the writing satirically skewers such a hero story premise. The old, grey-bearded wizard named Vitruvius (spot-on casting of Morgan Freeman) spews the prophecy with pointed self-mockery, deeming what he says must be true because it rhymes.

Emmett is used to his hometown of Bricksburg where everything follows an instruction manual, there are no original creations, everyone watches the mindless sitcom "Where's My Pants?" and drinks $37 coffee drinks because that's the way Lord Business has deemed it to be. No alternatives. So, once Emmett gets thrust into his hero tale and meets the rebellious Wildstyle (Elizabeth Banks) and the world of Master Builders, he gets thrown for a loop. There are realms outside his own -- humorously referencing other Lego themed construction sets -- including The Old West, Middle Zealand and Cloud Cuckooland which is just one big free-for-all, much like "The Lego Movie" itself.

In their freewheeling and highly energetic style, Lord and Miller have made the movie way smarter and more clever than it has any right to be -- and it's all the better for it. The jokes come flying freaky and fast, zany and whip-smart, eliciting the need for a repeat viewing to catch everything. You'll also be too busy laughing to probably hear it all. I'm not kidding: it's that funny. Sly references and fun character cameos abound, the storyline incorporates all of the Lego properties like "Star Wars," "Harry Potter" and "Lord of the Rings." Batman (Will Arnett) is a hilarious parody of the low-growling superhero while Bad Cop (Liam Neeson) is basically a parody of Neeson's now full-blown status of go-to action hero.

"The Lego Movie" is very obviously Lord and Miller's brainchild, and it's no wonder it's so good. They even tackle issues of corporate branding and the threat of conglomerate (a la "WALL-E") erasing voice and individuality, which is a hefty message to deliver, but hey, they do it with panache and no preachy undertones. And how fitting, too, for a franchise whose entire premise is based on limitless possibility and a world where anything goes and everything is, in a word, awesome.