The 82nd Oscars, Revisited

“THE OSCARS GOT IT WRONG!” – everybody, every fucking year.

That statement, while incredibly simple and selfish, is always true. Whether the Oscars get it right or wrong is just, like, a matter of opinion, man. It’s different to argue that the awards were objectively correct, because there’s no foolproof way to argue that. The loudest people are currently espousing their view that Boyhood was better than Birdman. I happen to share that view, but it’s only true to you if you believe it. I’m sure most every living soul enjoyed Boyhood more than Let’s Be Cops (I’ve seen both!), but there’s some infinitesimal slice of humanity out there somewhere that drew the opposite conclusion, proclaiming to no one in particular “THE OSCARS DON’T RECOGNIZE COMEDY.” That statement is true, too, but not for purely subjective reasons, and is the subject for another screed. But on the whole, a “wrong” Oscar choice isn’t as clearly wrong as awarding Gold Gloves to Derek Jeter. We can measure defense now!

This isn’t to stop me from saying that, with the benefit of hindsight, I would prefer that some movies and actors received accolades or others. The shine of the Oscars awarded Sunday hasn’t begun to fade, and we don’t have as clear an idea of what movies’ critical consensus will hold, build or diminish with time. Boyhood‘s probably will remain, if I’m allowed to wager, but maybe Birdman‘s will increase. Some people—people I like and trust!—liked Birdman more! I myself liked Birdman quite a bit. So yes, I’m disappointed Boyhood (and The Grand Budapest Hotel) didn’t garner some of those Major Awards (costume design, supporting actress, who gives a shit) that Birdman won. But that’s not to say Birdman shouldn’t have won any nor that, while it’s okay to have an opinion now, I can expect my opinion to change a little or deepen with time.

Five years is an arbitrary marker for me to say “I’m comfortable saying this movie or actor should’ve won,” but it’s better than one year or one day and it’s the timeframe I used when I ran through this exercise a year ago. THEY GOT IT WRONG IN 2008.

Anyway, let’s run through the Oscars handed out and five years ago and see if we think, well, maybe time has looked a little more favorably on some than others. It’s not (really) objective at all.

Best Picture (winner in bold):


The Blind Side

District 9

An Education

The Hurt Locker

Inglourious Basterds

Precious: Based on Lee Daniel’s The Butler as Adapted into the Earlier Novel Push by Sapphire

A Serious Man


Up in the Air

Who I would’ve picked: I would’ve picked The Hurt Locker here, so BRAVO, ACADEMY. (In fact, it was my number-one rated film of that year.) When watching American Sniper earlier this month, I kept returning to The Hurt Locker. Both films tread similar themes, most prominently PTSD and a veteran’s inability to completely reintegrate after returning from a war zone. I much preferred The Hurt Locker‘s concise treatment of this troubling phenomenon, containing the homecoming and isolation of its bomb-defusing protagonists to one extended, near-wordless segment in a way that spoke to the movies’ ability to use images to convey quiet power.

Runner-up: Speaking of quiet power and near-wordless scenes, that opening montage from Up is my favorite from any Pixar movie and among the most heartbreaking few minutes in any film of recent vintage. Contrary to its tone (and my girlfriend’s eye rolling when I say this) I’m pretty boisterous in letting people know that this is my favorite Pixar movie (featuring dogs with talking collars helps). I’ve heard claims that Inglourious Basterds and A Serious Man are the finest outings of their respective directors, but I’d disagree. Both are true to Tarantino’s and the Coens’ style but are rather digressive and, for me, lack a commitment to story (though not to characterization) when their best films are direct and blunt, if still creative. I suppose I’m “that guy” with Up, but it’s what stands out most to me, here.

What should’ve been nominated: The only year under the new rules when all ten slots were used, I should technically knock one of these from the list of nominees, but in honor of Parks & Recreation ending its run today, I don’t want to be all that mean. Please note I haven’t seen The Blind Side or Precious, and God I have no interest in ever seeing Precious unless I turn suicidal. I could argue for the addition of a film I’ll write in more detail about in the supporting actor and adapted screenplay sections, but it’s a bit idiosyncratic. Remember that the Best Picture field expanded to ten in part to capture movies that had success with the broader public. No doubt Up‘s and probably The Blind Side‘s inclusion helped satisfy that goal, but there is a glaring absence considering its omnipotence in 2009: The Hangover. I have purposefully avoided watching either sequel, so perhaps The Hangover still holds more cache for me than for any other living human. I still laugh when I watch it! Guys being dicks, played for laughs, has the potential to get old fast, and for many it probably has (again, not watching the sequels here), but The Hangover benefits most from yes, Bradley Cooper, who straddles the line between asshole and annoying magnificently. Many have tried but no other film in its subgenre has matched The Hangover, and honestly it seems like a perfect “Tenth Nominee,” especially after winning the Golden Globe for Best Comedy / Musical.

Best Actor:

Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart

George Clooney, Up in the Air

Colin Firth, A Single Man

Morgan Freeman, Invictus

Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker

Who I would’ve picked: It’s hard to argue with Jeff Bridges winning an Oscar for any role. I bet a bunch of Oscar voters figured this would be their last chance to give him some recognition for his long career. Only of course, none of them had the foresight to peer forward just one year, when he’d be nominated for True Grit (a more enjoyable performance in my view). Many often play the “they’re just playing themselves” card with Bridges (and Clooney and Freeman), but that evades highlighting the charisma of Bridges’ naturalism. I feel uncomfortable weighing in here because I’ve heard that Firth gives a particularly strong performance in A Single Man, I just haven’t seen the film. Maybe after that I’d posit that we should begin recognizing Firth’s Oscar (also given a year later) for that film and Bridges’ for True Grit. Of the performances I’ve seen, my pick would be Renner, as much for his stoicism as anything else.

Who should’ve been nominated: Again, avoiding meanness here. I’d add Michael Sheen in The Damned United as a sixth nominee. For some odd reason, Sheen’s best performances (or at least his most prominent ones) are those in which he inhabits famous people (or at least famous British people). That’s a particularly hard gig and us stateside folk surely benefit from lesser familiarity with Tony Blair or Brian Clough, a prickly soccer coach taking over and clashing with a new team in The Damned United. Part of Sheen’s gift for playing public figures stems from his aversion to being too showy; he does most of his work through subtext and facial clues. Because I’m in a good mood, I’d also add Matt Damon in The Informant!(!!!!) as a seventh nominee here (or we could do what critics do and combine it with his Invictus nomination below). A weird and layered performance in a weird and layered movie that I’d like to revisit soon.

Best Actress:

Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side

Helen Mirren, The Last Station

Carey Mulligan, An Education

Gabourey Sidibe, Precious: Based on the…fuck it

Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia

Who I would’ve picked: Five minutes after running through Best Picture, I still haven’t seen The Blind Side or Precious, but of the three I’ve seen I’d pick Meryl. I am no fan of Julie (Amy Adams could not have been playing a more selfish character) but I was a fan of Juliaand Meryl hit all the ticks and comedy, intentional or not, needed to play Julia Child, in a physical yet tender performance.

Who should’ve been nominated: Penelope Cruz in Broken Embraces (Abrazos rotos). Look, it’s Penélope Cruz in a Pedro Almodóvar movie. That pairing bats about as close to 1.000 as you can get. Unlike with Damon, I feel no need to consolidate her totally fake nomination in my book with her actual one for Nine, much as I have affection for Penélope Cruz.

Best Supporting Actor:

Matt Damon, Invictus

Woody Harrelson, The Messenger

Christopher Plummer, The Last Station

Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones

Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds

Who I would’ve picked: No hiding my love for Woody Harrelson, one of our most underappreciated actors, here. The Messenger is not funny in the slightest (Harrelson plays one of the soldiers who shows up to the doors of a KIA soldier’s family to inform them of his or her death) but captures what makes Woody unique: the below-surface, seething anger he plays so well and his characters’ commitment to principles, however far-fetched (here, not as far-fetched). It’s hard to pick against Waltz, who was LITERALLY born to act for Quentin Tarantino, but I think Woody’s brooding is hard to match here. With the benefit of hindsight, we know Waltz is back here in a couple years (for a role that’s perhaps a little less complicated)—I just like to be a bit different.

Who should’ve been nominated: This one’s easy, given the Oscars’ predilection for nominating ornery male characters who get all the good lines. Too bad they only made room for one following 2009, because Peter Capaldi should be up here for In the Loop. Playing a British political spinmaster who works at Downing Street, I will only be the five millionth person to say that the man takes swearing to an art form. And given the idiots he works with, you can tell he’s had plenty of practice.

Honorable mention goes to Niels Arestrup in A Prophet (Un prophete) as the leader of a Corsican prison mob.

Best Supporting Actress:

Penélope Cruz, Nine

Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air

Maggie Gyllenhaal, Crazy Heart

Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air

Mo’Nique, Precious

Who I would’ve picked: Well, let Mo’Nique be the first to tell you that it shouldn’t have been Mo’Nique! This is a tough call as I’m no huge fan of any of these movies, but Anna Kendrick made the best impression on me here. Her youthfulness and outward vulnerability helped make Up in the Air relatable and bearable for me. I felt her wounds more deeply than Farmiga’s or Clooney’s.

Who should’ve been nominated: Not that I expected Emma Stone to pick up her first nomination for Zombieland but I would’ve thrown a nomination her way. Stone, like Jesse Eisenberg and yes, Woody Harrelson, imbue an appropriately minimalist story with humor and chemistry. It often takes special actors to make silliness this entertaining and complete.

Best Director:

Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker

James Cameron, Avatar

Lee Daniels, Precious

Jason Reitman, Up in the Air

Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds

Who I would’ve picked: Yeah, no surprise here, I’m going with Bigelow, a director whose approach to war movies I find both provocative and engaging, engaging intimately and uncomfortably with the day-to-day in a war zone. In some critics’ eyes, this served her for ill in Zero Dark Thirty, but I’d argue exactly the opposite; Bigelow maintains less an intellectual distance than a verbal distance from the action. A good maxim to follow with filmmaking: show or do, not say. Bigelow applied this in both The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, just with less controversial subject matter in the former. Think of the above-mentioned homefront scenes in The Hurt Locker along with any scene where Renner’s character is taking apart a bomb. The drunken fight between the three members of Renner’s crew is yet another example. True, The Hurt Locker didn’t cost nearly as much as Avatar, but I think it condenses more story and more of the essence of a time and place than Cameron’s broad but rather shallow exercise in world-building. (Cameron was seen as her competition for this award.)

Best Adapted Screenplay:

Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell, District 9

Nick Hornby, An Education

Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci and Tony Roche, In the Loop

Geoffrey Fletcher, Precious

Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air

What I would’ve picked: Without knowing for sure what’s improvised and what’s not, I’m content in my view that Iannucci and his writing team behind In the Loop are geniuses. It’s refreshing and disturbing to see their disdain for government officials’ two-facedness and unmasked (and unprincipled) ambition play out so amusingly on screen. In the Loop is so funny because it doesn’t demand disbelief that low-level politicians could be so dumb, rather implying bemusement at their always being dumb. That shit never changes, whether in the UK or the US—these are the acerbic guys behind Veep.

What should’ve been nominated: Gonna go a bit foreign on you here with The Secret in Their Eyes (El secreto de sus ojos), a classical Argentine crime film that weaves in examination of the country’s all-to-recent tortured past and decades-spanning romance. This film did receive the foreign language Oscar this year (in a very strong year, beating out A Prophet and Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon), but it’s not unheard of for foreign films to score a screenplay nomination in addition (see Amour and A Separation for two recent examples). The Secret in Their Eyes plays like a beautiful little pulp detective novel come to life and benefits from the strong, assured presence of Ricardo Darin (who is likely the most recognizable Argentine actor to US audiences).

Best Original Screenplay:

Mark Boal, The Hurt Locker

Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds

Alessandro Camon and Oren Moverman, The Messenger

Joel and Ethan Coen, A Serious Man

Tom McCarthy, Bob Peterson and Pete Docter, Up in the Air

What I would’ve picked: Probably no surprise here that I’d have selected The Hurt Locker here, too. This despite my affinity for all things Tarantino, as I intimated earlier I find his Inglourious Basterds script his least focused, though I grant that it’s worth revisiting soon. I never go too long without rewatching Tarantino movies. Same goes for the Coens, A Serious Man was bleak and funny, but felt more like an exercise than other work (a good contrast might be True Grit, which might read on the page as an exercise in remaking a John Wayne movie but succeeds as a standalone film because it develops the relationships between the characters as much as the characters themselves). The Messenger was enjoyable but stands out more due to Woody Harrelson than its story. I’ll close by adding that I did not care for Up in the Air, mostly because of his stupid backpack.

What should’ve been nominated: Diving back into the foreign well to champion A Prophet. An epic film that touches on French history and their own difficulty in reconciling their past as a colonizer, as played out in a harsh prison setting. My mom LOVED it (she will never see it). A mob movie that’s stripped of all charm and stereotype (the foreign setting helps), it features strong acting from Tahar Rahim as a young Muslim inmate and Niels Arestrup (That French Guy).

Now, looking back over all of this, see how right I am? There’s probably plenty I’m forgetting, plenty I still haven’t even seen, and most importantly, plenty with which you disagree. Let me know and we’ll have a nice long chat.

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Top Ten of 2014

My writing output and moviegoing diminished in 2014 for actual if slightly depressing reasons, but that will not deter me from telling you what were the best movies of 2014. More accurately, the best movies from February 2014 to February 2015. Even more accurately, the movies I thought were the best from February 2014 to February 2015. It’s a fact totally my opinion. But my opinion means a lot to me and at least a little to, like, five other people, and because it means a lot to me and a little to almost no one else I accept the obligation placed on me by no one to list in reverse order my ten favorite movies from the last year-ish. They, along with some honorable mentions and superlatives at the end, are:

10. Two Days, One Night, directed by the Dardennes Brothers

C’est dire, Deux jours, une nuit. I took a year of French in law school, which had two effects. One, my parents became even more proud of me. Two, anything I read in French I immediately say out loud in a ridiculous French accent, which is better than my Spanish accent, and after taking Spanish for nine years that’s not saying much, but I like presenting myself as a Francophile now…MARION COTILLARD IS GREAT. My first Dardennes movie, and a harrowing modern take on Italian neorealism (yes, in French).

9. Snowpiercer, directed by Bong Joon-Ho

Along with The Grand Budapest Hotel, the most artful act of world-creation in movies last year and definitely the weirdest. Despite its multiple homages to Terry Gilliam, Someone I’m Just Not That Into, and despite its insinuation that society can be reduced to one allegory, it’s a colorful and darkly entertaining film that’s cringeworthy both because it’s gross and because humanity just sucks. Hey, sometimes you imagine that society can be reduced to one class allegory, and you can imagine all the time that humans aren’t doing wonders for the world. At the same time, it’s still a fucking movie, man, and an eccentric and enjoyable ride.

8. Mr. Turner, directed by Mike Leigh

Remember those Magic Eye books? This film features the best visual stunt I saw on screen in 2014, a cut from one of J.M.W. Turner’s paintings to what at first looks like a close-up of that same painting but is revealed, after your eyes adjust, as a rocky cliffside in some remote part of the country. CRAZY SHIT. A biopic that avoids the genre’s clichés by avoiding exposition altogether. Half the time its subject, played masterfully and so, so Britishly by Timothy Spall grunts instead of speaks, letting the inflection or the amount of phlegm he coughs up talk for him. A movie that spans a life while offering an intimate and satirical glimpse into the British art scene of Turner’s time. Thanks to AP Art History I most appreciated his disdain for Constable.

7. The Overnighters, directed by Jesse Moss

Sin is inevitable, and sadly is even more noticeable in those who openly espouse their Christianity. Jay Reinke, a Lutheran pastor in North Dakota, overrun by single men looking for work in its booming fracking industry and for shelter in its towns whose infrastructure is incapable of housing them, soon confronts the limits of his neighbors’ and his own ability to forgive, love and trust. Riveting and above all empathetic, this is my favorite documentary of the year, and the best I’ve seen in several years.

6. Timbuktu, directed by Abderrahmane Sissako

Like The Overnighters, this film stands out for its humanism. A fictional snapshot of the titular Malian city during its recent takeover by an Islamist militia, Timbuktu emphasizes the humanity of those townsfolk who resent the encroach on the historic cultural center proper and on their culture itself, which has coexisted with Islam for centuries. The film equally emphasizes the humanity of the Islamists, too. For example, a young rebel who used to be a rapper struggles to convey the forceful solemnity needed to record one of those ubiquitous home videos—he’d rather emulate Jay-Z. The result is not sympathy, though. As Bilge Ebiri noted, their brutality is more disturbing because it arises naturally. Stubbornness in certainty is quite human, and potentially quite scary.  GO SEE IT IT’S STILL IN THEATERS.

5. Inherent Vice, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

It only took until his seventh movie for PTA to avoid harping on fathers and sons, but Inherent Vice fits perfectly within his oeuvre, another elegy for his native California. It also happens to be one of the funniest movies of the year and one I suspect that I’ll have a different reaction to every time I see it. A postmodern successor to great noir like Chinatown and The Long Goodbye, PTA deftly adapts Pynchon for film, the density of the prose contrasting with the smoky haze that permeates its characters bungalows. Inherent Vice is an enveloping 2.5 hour experience.

4. Ida, directed by Pawel Pawlikowski

In the black and white aftermath of the Holocaust and stuck in the corrupt communist present, and young Polish nun learns about her family’s history. Fun for everybody! It’s not as dark as it seems, and the two lead performances (the nun and her aunt, a woman with a reputation as a coldhearted judge) have much to do with that, as does its short running time. Rather than trolling for Oscars (though it’s likely to win one!) it’s inquisitive and honest in acknowledging history rather than whitewashing or ignoring it.

3. The Grand Budapest Hotel, directed by Wes Anderson

When I first saw Grand Budapest, I was not expecting to rank it this high on my end-of-year list. I wasn’t even convinced it would crack the top ten. Much of that had to do, I think, with the film’s trailer giving away some of its funniest lines. In the months since, I’ve thought a great deal about Ralph Fiennes’ performance, one I’d argue is the most layered one given in a Wes Anderson film. Matt Zoller Seitz, probably the foremost Wes Anderson scholar, highlighted the film’s signature joke: underneath the suffocating air of M. Gustave’s perfume is a man, a vulgar, giddy, strange and lonely man who just can’t help himself. The joke, then, is not without sadness, as indicated by its abrupt and stunning coda. And again, Anderson, who works so frequently with young actors, succeeds in imbuing a film with maturity.

2. Boyhood, directed by Richard Linklater

A film that transcends its gimmick and is a beautifully written film. I wrote this summer that Linklater constructed an anti-coming-of-age story, focusing less on Big Moments (virginity, injury, getting into college) and instead on daily life, though one of Boyhood‘s best touches involves Linklater’s running up against some of these clichés before pulling away, leaving those Big Moments offscreen. The mundane details on the surface combined with the passage of time allow us to empathize with all main characters, from the boy to his parents, sister and relatives. A fine encapsulation of Linklater’s career that of course displays his gifts with actors professional or otherwise.

1. Under the Skin, directed by Jonathan Glazer

A stunning avant-garde meditation on humanity and femininity, seen through the eyes of someone who a passerby would first think exhibits both but actually possesses neither. While less than forthcoming with answers, Under the Skin is far from impenetrable because it prompts so many questions, including asking us about the essence of our interactions with each other. Can we adapt? Doing so means finding a self-control we probably don’t possess. The movie’s chilling and strange omniscience is deepened by Scarlett Johansson’s performance and Mica Levi’s evocative score.

Honorable Mentions, in alphabetical order:

Birdman, directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. Not as pretentious as you think, and does justice to the Latin American magic realist tradition.

Force Majeure, directed by Ruben Östlund. Impotence of a male-model caliber Swedish father as fodder for black comedy.

Foxcatcher, directed by Bennett Miller. Haven’t heard anyone mention that this film is actually about dynasties and families, and the power that a name has over the individual.

Leviathan, directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev. Never move to Russia.

Manakamana, directed by Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez. An exercise in visual anthropology, the film consists only of fixed shots of travelers, pilgrims or tourists, to a Nepali shrine. Some of them don’t even talk. I am so fucking weird.

Nightcrawler, directed by Dan Gilroy. Fully aboard the Jake Gyllenhaal train after this seedy L.A.-at-night film.

Nymphomaniac, directed by Lars von Trier. As crazy and hectored as you’d think, but it morphs by Part II into a strong argument in favor of obscenity. I’m on board with any strong argument in favor of obscenity.

Obvious Child, directed by Gillian Robespierre. Hopefully the first of many starring roles for Jenny Slate and a funny movie that wisely avoids moralizing.

Selma, directed by Ava DuVernay. Well first of all it’s FICTION and having read the first three Caro on LBJ volumes it accurately characterizes LBJ! Introduces a few too many side characters just to have them die, but on the whole is a moving and incredibly timely picture not just in light of Ferguson but in the shadow of the Shelby County ruling.

We Are the Best!, directed by Lukas Moodysson. I’m a sucker for good movies about kids, and these three misfit Swedish girls who form a punk band despite two of them having no musical talent whatsoever were so ebullient.

Special Honorable Mention: Life Itself, directed by Steve James. A bit ironic I suppose that I don’t feel right ranking a movie about a guy who had to rank movies all the time, but sentiment creeps in. Also, Siskel was the man.


Best performances of the year: Ralph FiennesThe Grand Budapest Hotel; Jake GyllenhaalNightcrawler; Scarlett Johansson, Under the Skin.

Best screenplays of the year: Wes AndersonThe Grand Budapest Hotel; Paul Thomas AndersonInherent Vice; Richard LinklaterBoyhood.

Best cinematography / funniest awards show name of the year: Dick PopeMr. Turner.

Best score since The Social Network: Mica LeviUnder the Skin

First movie I’ve ever seen from Mali: Scroll back up, it’s on the list and you should see it!

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Under Review: Birdman

I’ll admit, I wasn’t expecting to like Birdman. I’ll run through the previous films of its director, Alejandro González Iñárritu: Amores perros21 GramsBabelBiutiful. The conventional wisdom goes like this: “Well, Amores perros was cool and inventive, but man don’t the rest of these make me wanna blow my brains out?” I shared this conventional wisdom, though please note that each of these titles holds a positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes. (Our memories are selective.) Finding his more self-serious, moribund, and preachy than their immediate predecessor, I’d grown incrementally weary, to the point where I avoided Biutiful altogether. As a sample of what I’m likely missing, Michael Phillips’ review of Biutiful began by asking, “[w]hen is ‘too much’ just right?” More and more, Iñárritu was exchanging self-seriousness for self-parody, his efforts at introspection and philosophy transformed unwillingly into selfish and ultimately shallow attempts at epic filmmaking. Amores perros was the only film on his résumé with any lightness of touch or any sense of humor, until now. With Birdman, Iñárritu has deftly taken criticism but maintained independence of thought, using comedy and the magic realist tradition of his native Latin America to transcend the suffocating results of his previous melodramas.

Birdman is timely, positioned as we are on the precipice of a paradigm shift in Hollywood. Perhaps that shift is already complete. As Mark Harris recently noted, superhero movies aren’t just the future of movies, they are the movies, constituting an increasing share of the major studios’ output as the studios themselves continue contracting the number of films they produce annually. One wonders if we’ll tire of this trend before the 2019 releases of Avengers: Infinity War – Part IIJustice League Part Two, and Shazam!, but by then it might be too late. Paradigm shifts don’t occur overnight, and reversing them might take even longer.

Riggan Thompson, Birdman‘s protagonist, had a reason to fatigue of the superhero trend long before an Iron Man franchise was a glimmer in the eyes of Robert Downey, Jr. and Jon Favreau. Riggan had the shrewdness to anticipate the fad by a couple decades, starring as the eponymous Birdman in a prior trilogy, but the misfortune both to cash out before the returns skyrocketed and to have too many wrinkles and too flabby a stomach to capitalize on the current demand. I’d fear a Birdman 4 would sooner pay Riggan a relative pittance for a brief cameo than put him back in a suit and at the head of the bill. To reclaim his artistic credibility, Riggan has staked his dwindling fortune on staging his adaptation of a play adapted from Raymond Carver, basically the opposite of what he’s known for. Michael Keaton plays Riggan, in a brilliant touch of meta-casting. Downey, now our highest-paid actor, could afford to present an infinite number of passion projects. Keaton, having seen his Batman films rewritten and with fewer starring roles, and by extension Riggan, believably might have more to lose even though they’ve got comparatively fewer dollars to invest. What if we’ve moved on?

Keaton is definitely underappreciated, and hopefully Birdman helps us remember what he brings as an actor. As the self-appointed greatest promoter of the film Jackie Brown, I’ll turn there for a little insight:

Keaton is full of potential energy, antsy, unable to sit still, unable to focus his eyes. And like a coiled spring, given to short bursts and blow-ups before reverting back to that same edginess, liable to blow up again thirty seconds later. Iñárritu uses Riggan’s stress as a delivery device for Keaton’s abilities as Keaton’s restlessness is usually so ridiculous as to be pretty damn funny. Conversations become brawls at a moment’s notice, a father-daughter chat a battle of wills. If anything the film errs on Riggan losing his cool on too few occasions. Though the filmmakers wrote Riggan as sullen and self-flagellating, it does channel Keaton’s energy to fit the comic beats it wants to hit. It also helps that other actors who have shown a gift for timing (Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton) are cast, and the deliberately long takes provide a convincing illusion of spontaneity and improvisation by which Birdman instantly becomes Iñárritu’s funniest endeavor.

I think the casting is one indication of an awareness previously lacking from Iñárritu’s films. One might notice that some of these comic actors have appeared in superhero movies, too. And surely Iñárritu is aware of his own opinions on superhero movies, labeling them a “cultural genocide,” an epithet Norton’s character also hurls in the film. The omnipotence of the superhero paradigm is fodder for some of Birdman‘s laughs, as when Riggan needs an immediate placement for his play’s second male lead, but Downey, Woody Harrelson, and Jeremy Renner are all unavailable. You know why they’re busy.

Critically, though, Iñárritu is aware of his own reputation, however warranted. The film portrays the New York Times film critic as a jealous and pretentious crank, yearning for bullshit like “super-realism” and exalting The Theatre as an elitist shibboleth. With this character, Iñárritu manages to take a shot at critics but satirize high-minded artistry. The joke is not vengeful but clever. The Iñárritu who directed the previous movies would’ve constructed a critic who lambasted Serious Films while betraying ignorance at what those Serious Films conveyed rather than a critic who disregarded a washed-up star in a perceived attempt to grovel for respectability. Iñárritu himself seems to recognize his moment of reinvention, credited as “Alejandro G. Iñárritu” rather than his full name, it being common for individuals with Spanish surnames to use both or the first surname, rather than the second alone. (Naming custom is for the father’s surname to come first.)

Now, we have Iñárritu wondering aloud, through Riggan, whether movies that make money and entertain a bunch of people are so bad. What matters is less the means to make yourself happy and more that very result. Happiness often comes from doing work you care about, and debasing yourself in a cape and logo and the hubris of adapting Raymond Carver represent extremes by which happiness is more difficult, but not impossible, to achieve. A useful representation from the movie is Naomi Watts’ character, making her debut on Broadway, and who’s just thrilled to be included, even during moments when the play’s opening is in jeopardy. The feeling of gratitude is one her more veteran colleagues have forgotten or have resigned to not pursue.

The film mirrors this mindfulness with its astute use of magic realist touches, honoring the literary tradition most associated with Iñárritu’s region of origin while allowing Iñárritu to ask questions without shoving answers down our throats. The genius of the best works of magic realism is in their grounding supernatural and fantastical flourishes in a very specific representation of the present and the political and social problems that afflict it. Hence, when Riggan appears to deploy certain extraordinary powers, we’re cognizant of the real-world context and milieu in which he’s using them.

Rather than confusing, magic realism should be liberating. I wouldn’t focus too much on whether Riggan actually possesses these powers, though the film explains in several BUT NOT ALL instances, including some before the final scene (a detail that has been missed in several reviews), that Riggan is imagining them, but instead on Riggan’s belief that he possesses them. The ironic fact of Riggan’s belief (including his communication with a physical Birdman that apparently exists only in his head) has two consequences. First, it’s funny, especially when the film reveals that Riggan’s acts have a much more logical and lame explanation. Second, it helps Riggan and us try for a greater level of understanding, through questioning our own likes, dislikes, hopes, and regrets. But this questioning is not esoteric because we understand most of the rules and facts governing this fictitious world. Sure, many of Riggan’s powers may not exist, but the chance that they might is less abstract because we hear the characters namecheck actual actors, watch them perform on an actual stage on which we can see a Broadway production, and hail cabs on the same streets we would.

By emphasizing questions, Iñárritu backs away from the moral certitude of his previous work and from one of the extremes that Birdman targets. You might’ve heard that most of the film is designed to appear as one consecutive take. (Hey, another magic realist touch!) That many of these shots of narrow hallways recall movies as tonally disparate as The Shining and Ghostbusters shows that Iñárritu is capable of using his tools to occupy a much more palatable middle ground.

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Under Review: Gone Girl

Gone Girl is a perfect stylistic match for David Fincher’s brand of filmmaking, probably too perfect in fact. The risk with Fincher’s filmmaking, as always, is with storytelling. Fincher doesn’t write his own scripts, so the question is whether the plot moves along with the same crispness as his striking visuals. When the details marry what the camera captures, the result can be nothing short of entrancing and creepy—see 2007’s masterful Zodiac (still Fincher’s best, for my money). Too often Gone Girl falls flat in ways comedic and dramatic, laying duds in several attempts at humor early on and dallying before introducing some truly engaging characters and storylines that could have deepened the material or made it more sickly. Based on the 2011 novel of the same name and adapted by its author Gillian Flynn (I haven’t read the book), I came away with the feeling that Flynn’s script was missing more than just a missing wife. I encountered most of my problems with Gone Girl in the film’s first half.

I’ll try avoiding major plot points, but suffice it to say that the film hinges on a major twist occurring halfway through. For me, given the film’s focus during its first hour, I would’ve preferred resolving the mystery clarified by the twist much sooner, mostly because I was annoyed that the film cared little if you bought into the mystery. You’re probably aware that the film involves a sort of he-said-she-said accounts of a marriage before a wife’s disappearance (he and she being Ben Affleck’s Nick and Rosamund Pike’s Amy, respectively).

The film is less cryptic about who is behind Amy’s disappearance than whether Nick killed her, and while I’m not sure if this was a poor choice, I’m absolutely positive that the film was incredibly unpersuasive in selling this enigma. Plausible alternative suspects are either discovered too late or revealed as innocent too soon. Key facts that would throw your guess into doubt are withheld until you’ve already made up your mind, and one of the pair’s narrations “comes perilously close to tipping the film’s hand,” as Genevieve Koski wrote. Too often, especially in this first hour, I was rolling my eyes (at least once my girlfriend and I could finish a joke before a character could) or antsy and frustrated, just waiting until the central mystery would give way to something more interesting.

It didn’t help that insights into Amy’s past where unhelpful, both to the police investigating her disappearance and to the story at large. One in particular, that a thinly veiled version of Amy was the subject of a book series, felt like a rip off of a similarly infuriating storyline on Six Feet Under. In another flashback, of Amy’s description of the first time she met Nick, the film (as indicated by Amy’s enthusiastic voice-over) is keen on depicting the spark of romance, but that first encounter is utterly ridiculous and felt devoid of chemistry, not least when she tells Nick that her job is to write personality quizzes in tabloid dreck. This isn’t to say that Affleck and Pike are out of their element. Quite the contrary obviously—I think what are otherwise solid and interesting performances are undone by the fact that their characters are almost acting in two separate movies. Amy, for example comes across frequently as a robot, and the film could’ve used a buffer between her and the other characters.

Luckily, after the twist some of these bothersome early scenes begin to make much more sense from the characters’ perspectives, but if I saw Gone Girl again I’d still be agitated to sit through that first hour. Much better is its second act, where some characters start to appear and fill the chasm (emotional and story-wise) between Nick and Amy—the most welcome addition, surprisingly but wonderfully cast, is Tyler Perry as Nick’s celebrity criminal lawyer. It took a while, but it was mostly after Perry’s arrival that I finally cared about the film’s outcome.

From a filmic perspective, Fincher is also more comfortable in the second hour, not shockingly when blood is shed. A late murder is staged with the classic, clinical coldness for which Fincher is justly famous, bloody crimson staining the film’s eerie yellow glow. Another encounter with some Missouri hillbillies is unsettling. These scenes were too brief, however, and if the story could’ve headed sooner in this direction we could’ve spent more time with them, perhaps discovering a hidden layer of horror beneath. The film needed a splash more color—Fincher doesn’t shoot (what’s supposed to be) Missouri with the same affection as his native San Francisco (see Zodiac and The Game) and some eccentricity would have livened the proceedings. A good example of this I think is Neil Patrick Harris’ character—Harris is splendidly cast but his character’s presence is barely hinted at until he finally shows up, and it’s too little, too late. I had a similar criticism for True Detective; like that series I felt the film edged close to genuine creepiness and backed away before it could provide any.

Also only hinted at is any semblance of social commentary. Lots of reviews have described that Gone Girl is a portrait of a marriage, which misses the fact that there is almost nothing naturalistic or reminiscent of truths about relationships in Gone Girl. Though the film is set in post-recession America and Nick and Amy (and other Missourians, presumably) are struggling to find work, the film discusses this unpleasantness only on a surface level, and again it doesn’t help that I was supposed to think Amy wrote relationship quizzes. More cloying still is the film’s view of broadcast media, channeled repeatedly, ad nauseam through a Nancy Grace impersonator. If your idea of media criticism amounts to “Nancy Grace is crazy,” that’s not much more profound than a fourth grader could come up with after watching Nancy Grace breathe air for thirty seconds. Gone Girl is better described as a noir, but it’s sadly a rather shallow attempt at noir, lending me less engrossment than boredom.

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Some Thoughts on Boyhood

The summer has been a busy one for me—largely busy with soulcrushingly monotonous tasks. Instead of writing 2000-word blog posts, I spent May writing a couple 10,000-plus-word papers. Instead of going to the movies every few days, I spent June and July watching bar exam lectures. Instead of finishing the third volume of Robert Caro’s Lyndon Johnson biography, I am pleased to report that I thoroughly studied and then immediately forgot on July 31 the minutiae of New York domestic relations law. But the bar is over, as is my post-bar trip to Peru, and I’m back to my normal routine. I shouldn’t complain too much, however, as the summer’s true hero is my cousin Nate, who has bravely soldiered on despite my inability (and despite his requests) to provide fifteen minutes’ worth of extra reading material to help his work day pass a little less slowly. I hope this review finds him well. My Spanish has improved (an incredibly high bar to clear), my film analysis likely hasn’t, but I finally got around to seeing Boyhood (timeliness is still my forte) with my girlfriend Taylor about a week ago.

It met expectations.

What isn’t shown. I’m guessing most reviews of the film* have discussed that Boyhood skips some of the usual beats you’d expect a coming of age movie to hit. At over two and a half hours, Boyhood sure doesn’t lack in scope, which perhaps makes its avoidance of some hackneyed clichés that much more admirable, or at least surprising. Mason Jr. (Ellar Coltrane), the titular boy whose ‘hood is on display, isn’t shown losing his virginity, getting drunk for the first time, hitting a game-winning homer in Little League, or other milestones a typical bildungsroman following a kid from ages six to eighteen (as Boyhood roughly does) would probably cover. 

*I haven’t read any reviews of the film but the Slate Spoiler Special on Boyhood did discuss this stuff.

The story choices hinted at above were clearly the conscious decision of the film’s director, Richard Linklater. On several occasions, Linklater uses suspense briefly but heartstoppingly, flirting with some clichés before letting a scene play itself out or inserting a punchline. At one point, a young Mason scores an invite to hang out and drink in an unfinished basement with some “cool” high school seniors (they aren’t that “cool,” as one of the younger invitees notes, because they’re hanging out with eighth-grade or freshman-age guys), and the attendees start karate-chopping wood and throwing blades around. Taylor and I heard virtually every cotheatergoer of ours hold their breath for a second or two, surely this sequence of events would lead to a trip to the hospital, which would lead to a nice opportunity to impart an explicit life lesson. Not so. The scene ends naturally, or at least we’re given no evidence of someone bleeding from his carotid artery. A later scene had a similar effect—Mason’s sister Sam (Lorelei Linklater, the director’s daughter), now a college student, conspicuously announces that she’s sick, but thankfully she’s not pregnant, just really hungover.

Avoiding these clichés, playing with the audience’s expectations—Taylor and I decided Linklater has made something like an anti-coming-of-age film.

What is kinda shown. The title might imply that we approach Boyhood solely through Mason’s eyes, but conceptually boyhood isn’t limited to boys. Boyhood instead is symbiotic with sisterhood and parenthood (and grandparenthood, and we could keep going), too, depending of course on your unique situation. Linklater acknowledges this truth by subtly staging the film’s point of view. Yes, it is largely seen from Mason’s perspective, but it is rarely first-person, a choice which allows us to empathize with Samantha’s thoughts and feelings, as well as with their divorced parents’ (Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke). Because know neither Mason nor Samantha as adults, much is left to the audience to intuit using our own experiences. Consider an early shot from the kids’ bedroom window of Mom and Dad yelling, where we don’t hear a word (nor do Mason or Sam) but understand that Mom doesn’t trust Dad with the kids. Or another where a garage door is open before the kids just enough to show Arquette’s character prostrate on the floor and her alcoholic second husband’s feet. The man’s voice is crystal clear, and we can only guess that Arquette’s character was the victim of abuse, even if the kids can’t perfectly translate this image for themselves. When the film shifts perspective to one of the parents, Linklater with only one or two exceptions late in the film includes one or both of the children in the scene. To wit—a shot from the mom’s POV is of her kids greeting her at the front door.

What is shown. What we’re left with is a series of short scenes that by themselves communicate very little but taken together document the growth (physical, philosophical, etc.) of a boy and the family around him.

While the film’s subject is ostensibly universal, I am very thankful that the film allowed Mason to develop and mature in his own particular and peculiar way. Again, Boyhood is a rather long film, even though it goes by quickly, and frankly, had Mason become an open book of a person you could See Yourself As or Identify With, the film would’ve been a let down. Certainly I share some of Mason’s thoughts about the NSA and Facebook, and as the film closed I recognized a college freshman’s smugness and righteousness, not much changed from a twenty-five year old’s. But my youth only barely paralleled Mason’s, and I’m glad Linklater allowed the audience to reflect on childhood and parenthood through the lens of one specific family rather than insisted that the audience think about those topics as if Mason’s family were some universal stand-in. Linklater focuses on idiosyncrasies, whatever overarching thematic flourishes you believe Boyhood conveys are actually your own as much as, if not more than, the film’s.

This strength of Boyhood‘s could’ve suffered if the film came across as a gimmick, but Linklater managed to avoid this in spite of the film’s premise. Surely he was aided in this by omitting several clichés, because the effect is to watch Mason develop gradually rather than in a manner punctuated by Big Moments. The film thankfully lacks title cards—Linklater uses thirty-second bumper music, including some funny inclusions thanks to time’s passage like Sheryl Crow’s “Soak Up the Sun”—further emphasizing gradual (natural) change over the usual way Hollywood condenses adolescence, to the point where it’s often not entirely obvious if another year has passed, unless Mason’s hair is different. Linklater’s visual style has never been showy, and though Boyhood has some stunning shots of Big Bend at twilight, that’s about as close (not very) to Terrence Malick as Linklater’s ever liable to come. But crucially, Linklater’s setup never distracts from character development, which, with Linklater’s more talky movies, basically substitutes for plot. His scenes are extremely well-choreographed—Boyhood contains not a couple lengthy one-shot conversations, similar to his Before series—and have a smoothness that balances nicely with his dialogues and monologues.

It’s no surprise that Linklater is an actor’s director, and finally I’d point out that Boyhood encapsulates his capacities in that facet of filmmaking. He’s always shown a deftness for directing kids (School of Rock), and this latest effort permitted him to work in depth with two actors when they were both precocious youngsters and on-edge teenagers (to the point where his daughter rather regretted chaining a part of her childhood to her dad’s ambition, a feeling which was all too palpable when watching), which must’ve required some outstanding patience and curiosity. It’s no surprise, either, that Arquette manages to show desperation and determination without ever resorting to hysteria, despite what turn out to be poor choices in men. It might come as a surprise that Taylor and I were most captivated by Hawke, an actor I confess to have had little patience for on screen except when working for Linklater (most prominently in the Before series). Linklater manages to let Hawke’s characters ramble but simultaneously not take those ramblings too seriously, which affords Hawke a lightness and likability that is strongly appealing. Mason is on the receiving end of a few lectures from adult figures in his life, his dad not excepted, but Hawke’s character doesn’t hector so much as joke around, and he’s the only male figure who really takes the time to ask his kids what they’re up to, even if he doesn’t remember all the details.

Then again, remembering all the details and moments isn’t as imperative as you might imagine. Spend a little time watching somebody experience a part of life’s journey, and you might find an actual character rather than a Hollywood paper cutout. 


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Under Review: Noah

Three days ago marked the one-year anniversary of Roger Ebert’s death, and in thinking of how I’d write my review of Noah, Darren Aronofsky’s latest film, I keep returning to how I’d think Ebert would review it. I’d wager he’d have loved it, and possibly given it a four-star review. For one, it touches directly on subjects that he discussed over and over again, especially in his final years and mortality was on his mind; perhaps Ebert would’ve found some common cause with Noah’s willingness to face death, even if Ebert wouldn’t have shared Noah’s (Russell Crowe) bleak opinions of humanity. For another, Noah is a a religious film that focuses less on faith than it does on doubt; one can read Ebert’s glowing reviews of Terrence Malick’s two most recent efforts, The Tree of Life and To the Wonder, for a possible template gauging his opinions towards works of great scope undergirded by faith but that raise more questions than they do answers. Best as I can tell, Ebert was an agnostic who never fully shed his Catholic upbringing, and these stories seemed to fascinate him throughout his career.

I’m an agnostic, too, and though I wouldn’t identify as a Christian though I was raised one, I think religion is a natural evolutionary tool (humans’ way of explaining the unexplainable) worthy of study and consideration. And I’m still someone who dwells quite frequently (and too heavily) on religion and bigger-picture (and open-ended issues) like existence, life and death, our place in the universe, and all that jazz. Because I can’t—and won’t be able to—tell you whether God exists, much less the form God would take whether God can communicate with us or whether we fit into some divine plan, I admire Noah‘s ambiguity on such inquiries. The film itself features fallen angels banished from heaven, left to roam Earth’s purgatory as rock monsters still inclined to protect “the Creation”; by contrast, the film depicts Noah kneeling in knowing acceptance of his Creator’s plan for him (and for all living creatures), though the God who has supposedly just confirmed Noah’s interpretation is shown to be a silent, ordinarily gray sky, the sun (and perhaps any divine edict, if there is one) clouded from view. And what Noah assumes are visions might just be dreams, their coming to pass either a ridiculous coincidence or a coincidence so beyond ridiculous as to be a communiqué from the Creator in whom Noah has placed all of his faith. This uncertain secularity elevates Noah above cloying fable, and its humanism is ironic because its title character believes his mission to be securing the death of humanity in the flood—his own family will have the added benefit of passing the storm in an ark they’ve built, but in Noah’s contemplation the species will die out with them, to beget no more. Even if Noah deciphers God’s message as one of preserving an idyllic state for innocent animals, “animalism” seems too cheeky a term to invent here.

I’d argue Noah nails down two main theses. The first is that our planet, though the product of an imperfect experiment, deserves conservation. Let me skip ahead through all the haughty global warming deniers’ whining to note that Aronofsky makes this point only tangentially and to remind you that whether you trust science or are ignorant, we share the world with a lot of other things that live and breathe but amount to shit on the living-being power structure. If you’ve read the New Testament, you’d recall that Jesus championed care for those marginalized by such power structures. It’s a small logical step from there to the recognition that we should protect that which was left to us, whether it’s our fellow women and men or the flora and fauna we like to gawk at on nature hikes. I use “left to” considering that even if there is a God in charge of all this, the dude checks in pretty rarely, and if so it’s usually to admonish the hell out of us, knowing we can’t retreat from our sinful ways. God gave us a shot, and like any good scientist didn’t destroy the evidence of nor tamper with the experiment. It’s just a stretch to say that Earth was “entrusted” to us—there’s not much to trust in Man’s duplicity.

The second is what comes after the flood, that even if humanity should survive and attempt an accounting of its imperfections, there’s not much hope that we can transcend our foundational sin. It’s quite an interesting point of study, I think, but while I like where Aronofsky is headed I’m a little befuddled at some of the story choices he uses to bring this argument to life. For one thing, I think this dilemma that Noah faces—he loves his family and thinks they’re better behaved than the rest, but understands God’s plan for Man’s death as encompassing even them—would carry more dramatic heft if some key plot points wherein Noah confronts what it means for his family to keep on living, like one involving Emma Watson’s character or another in which Noah’s son threatens to cash in on some antipathy for his father, had occurred after landfall rather than in the ark. It doesn’t help that the only truly riveting character to watch is Noah, once he becomes committed carrying the Creator’s plan out to extreme ends. (The other interesting character being God or, simultaneously, God’s absence.) Crowe is well cast, certainly, but the ark as locus for a lot of Noah’s hyperbole and violence adds the wrong kind of intimacy, hurrying up the conflict to a time that makes little sense in service of Aronofsky’s point, and leaving Jennifer Connelly (as Noah’s wife) and Watson (as his adopted daughter and love interest to one of his sons) with little to do but dart their eyes worrisomely.

Unfortunately, I spent too little time with Noah after the flood, and though the seeds for Noah’s radicalism were planted before the rains came, it was reductive of Aronofsky to permit his movie to devolve into a second-rate, Lord of the Rings-perverting orc orgyThe rock monsters I mentioned earlier are superfluous non-biblical inventions, really just plot devices for the building of the ark (which Aronofsky could care less about, frankly) and the fight sequence to come, as barbaric hordes descend on the ark’s door. Moreover, their rendering in CGI is not fearsome and in contrast with the rest of the effects’ commitment to naturalism—none of the animals look like creatures you couldn’t find at the zoo. Their presence also inhibits the film’s agnosticism. As intimated above, I found the film more powerful when, ironically, Aronofsky’s omniscience couldn’t confirm whether the God in which Noah believed existed, though maybe this quibble is more reflective of my own belief system than detrimental to the film’s ambiguity on this score. Still, if we’re not meant to know the true source of Noah’s visions, I’d posit that Noah would benefit from jettisoning the rock monsters.

I’d also posit that the film would benefit from using that void to shift focus onto other humans’ perceptions of Noah, which Aronofsky confusingly neglects. Those related to Noah evince no befuddlement at why he would embark on such a massive, crazy project. Okay, you might say, they’re his family, and the times would dictate obedience to their patriarch. But what of Noah’s friends and neighbors? In the movie, every non-family member is someone lower than the dregs of society, seemingly engaged in rape and violence all day and all night. More troublingly, I think, is that even all these barbarians believe Noah is right and that they must get on the ark. That strikes the wrong chord—remember the protagonist’s acquaintances in Field of Dreams or Take Shelter, who think the guy building the baseball diamond or the tornado shelter is a fucking NUTJOB. They’d view Noah, like many marginalized biblical heroes, the same way. I’d think Noah was crazy, too, because the ark is an absurd undertaking, and the grandfather he visits for advice (played by Anthony Hopkins) is a senile old man who hilariously just rambles on about berries in all his scenes. (NOTE: Anthony Hopkins’ scenes are not played for comedy.)

It’s probably saying something that Noah is probably not Aronofsky’s most grandiose or operatic movie. He is, after all, the director of Requiem for a Dream (a film I thought was awesome and DEEP when I was sixteen and find overwrought and pretentious now), The Fountain (I haven’t seen it, but it follows a couple in three completely different time periods), and Black Swan (like Noah, fascinatingly shot and with pangs of great feeling but, in my opinion, a lack of follow-through on its central conceit). My favorite film of his is The Wrestler, possibly because it’s his most private, preventing any larger distractions from lessening the film’s final heartbreak. (I also love Mickey Rourke.) I don’t want to say, though, that Aronofsky should stay away from existentialism or the unanswerable, because I think Noah indicates that his head is asking some beguiling and alluring questions, nor would greater minimalism be commensurate with his filmmaking scale. But I would caution him to take a lesson from his dramatization of Noah. People might think he’d be crazy for not leaning on fantasy and CGI, but I’d rather see a clearer and more confident articulation of the consequences of such destruction, shown or not shown, on the more intimate, individual level.

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Live Oscar Blog 2014

12:05 Buckeye: Looking forward to next year when PT Anderson’s new movie won’t win anything! Thanks for reading and indulging—despite what we’ve said tonight it was a great movie year.

12:02 kyra: Pretty much no surprises. Happy to see Spike Jonze sneak in the upset. It’s been long, but fun. Good night everybody!

12:00 Buckeye: Steve McQueen not as good a speaker as Lupita. Lot of shockers tonight!

11:57 Buckeye: God didn’t fare well, kyra

Also to shamelessly retweet another of yours, you are right to raise this:

11:54 kyra: Hey Rovell, how was God’s brand affected by that speech?

11:52 Buckeye: I love McConaughey, but you’re telling me this wasn’t the performance of the Best Actor in a Leading Role?

11:49 Buckeye: Pretty sure there isn’t anything Cate Blanchett doesn’t do well

11:48 kyra: Cate Blanchett mentioned Woody by name. SO BRAZEN

11:44 Buckeye: My problems with Gravity mainly involved George Clooney and also this

11:41 kyra: Personally, I didn’t like Gravity. Thought it was boring and predictable. Having said that, it was visually stunning. Easily the coolest 3D IMAX movie since Avatar, so Best Director is fitting.

11:35 Buckeye: We’re doing Director before the lead acting stuff now? That’s really my only comment. Gravity is awesome and I hope it’s saying something that it’s only my third favorite film by Cuarón. Y tu mamá también and Children of Men are classics. And the dude also hired El Chivo

11:33 kyra:  

11:32 kyra: Her?

11:29 Buckeye: Spike Jonze baby! Cared most about this category since it was the one where my rooting interest wasn’t a runaway favorite with the best chance. If Before Midnight isn’t gonna be in this category, this is so, so fucking deserved.

Like kyra, I’m really glad we got to rehash The Avengers earlier so that we couldn’t hear/see what made some of these screenplays so great.

11:25 kyra: Really disappointed they aren’t reading lines from scenes while they show it on the screen. That’s the coolest part of these categories. Anyways, chalk continues to roll.

11:22 Buckeye: We need to do everything in our power to get Trey and Matt an EGOT

I also think Adele Hazeem is due for one

11:19 Buckeye: Youngest EGOT ever!

11:18 kyra: WOW! An EGOT! That’s rare company

11:14 kyra: LOL nice one Jamie!

11:12 kyra: Please welcome two time male masseuse handjob recipient John Travolta!

11:11 Buckeye: Is there a person alive more difficult to take seriously than John Travolta? I like how Ellen had to say the Frozen singer’s name twice after Travolta butchered it

11:10 Buckeye: If Jason Alexander had run over Bette Midler on stage that would’ve done PSH justice

11:05 kyra:

11:03 Buckeye: I have to say if you were offended that Bette Midler came on to sing that cheesy song I can’t blame you. LOOK AT THOSE NAMES. We couldn’t have seen some PSH clips, or Siskel & Ebert arguing, or Fast 6? Come on. At least Bill Murray got his Ramis shoutout in.

11:00 kyra: Hahaha so true. This is a stellar lineup, you didn’t even mention Elmore Leonard, Harold Ramis who just snuck in, Paul Walker, and obviously PSH.

10:58 Buckeye: Honestly the ’27 Yankees of death montage honorees this year. They LED OFF with Gandolfini and threw Roger Ebert and Peter O’Toole in the middle of the pack.

10:53 Buckeye: Since Glenn Close is wearing black this is definitely the death montage right? Hero night continues! #heroes

10:50 kyra: Pepsi really on top of their pop culture with Cuba Gooding Jr. and a “show me the mini” joke

10:49 Buckeye: Definitely the right call to highlight Man of Steel in the superhero montage instead of Superman

10:47 kyra: “the forgettable er I mean talented Chris Evans”

10:45 Buckeye: If you needed any reminder that The Great Gatsby sucked, I refer you to Leo’s complete indifference to its second win tonight

10:38 Buckeye: On a personal note, this Robin Williams-narrated commercial features prominently The Best Damn Band in the Land:


10:33 kyra: where’s the fast forward button?

10:33 Buckeye: What I meant to say was: Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Emanuel Lubezki, #heroes

10:32 kyra:

10:28 Buckeye: Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Emanuel Lubezki. Three outstanding and incredibly talented men.

10:25 Buckeye: MEET YOU AT THE MOVIEDONG IN 2017!

10:23 kyra: Missing a golden opportunity here to order a big sausage pizza

10:18 Buckeye: No way an American could be that eloquent.

10:16 kyra: girls with eating disorders everywhere are running to the bathroom after looking at Lupita for a few minutes

10:11 Buckeye: Just in time for Twitter crashing a big fucking award. Go Lupita.

Huge upset in that the “science oven” scene was not used for JLaw, and the Julia Roberts clip made me REALLY happy I didn’t see August: Osage County

10:10 kyra: Who’s hotter, Theron or Hemsworth?

10:07 kyra:

10:06 kyra: Kristin Be-el. Wait what?

10:02 Buckeye:

Glad “Steve McQueen” found a second job. Those glasses aren’t fooling anybody:


9:59 Buckeye: I just confirmed what I thought I heard, which is that The Great Beauty director thanked Diego Maradona right after he thanked Fellini. Incredible

9:57 kyra: Bono clocking in at a healthy 80 Courics tonight.

9:55 Buckeye: //U2 announced //bathroom break

9:51 Buckeye: I will add that at the first bunga bunga party in The Great Beauty (and at several successive such parties), the main character played by Toni Servillo hangs out with a dwarf who happens to be his boss. A later scene features the dwarf and Toni Servillo trying to talk to a 90-year old nun who basically just drools all over the place. The Great Beauty could not have been more Italian.


9:43 Buckeye: You know what this ceremony could’ve also used right about now is actually giving Steve Martin his award in person so I could hear someone funny (h/t Mark Harris on this score)

9:41 Buckeye: I am sure 20 Feet from Stardom is an awesome movie. I mean the “RAPE…MURDER” part of “Gimme Shelter” might be the greatest 20 seconds in rock history. But we’re here to honor movie history, and I swear to you The Act of Killing is one of the most brilliant and horrifying movies of recent years.

9:36 Buckeye: Ellen didn’t go back to a Jonah Hill dick joke right there? Biggest upset of the night so far

9:35 Buckeye: Dana Stevens of Slate saw this winner for Documentary Short about the 100+ year old Holocaust survivor who played the piano every day and swore it was not depressing

9:31 kyra: I’m really proud of us for stepping us our Seinfeld game this year Buckeye. In other news, I did not see the live action short films this year, but heard they were all terrible.

9:27 Buckeye: Dude learned from the best:


9:25 kyra: GREAT hustle in the pleated pants game by the Vampire Weekend guy, except that pleated pants went out of fashion like 50 years ago

9:23 Buckeye: 

I will bother commenting on the technical awards when something other than Gravity wins. I have tongued Alfonso Cuarón’s balls enough in my life already.

9:21 kyra: All that montage did was remind me that Colin Firth hasn’t done anything in the past 3 years.

9:19 Buckeye: And Maya from Zero Dark Thirty is a “hero”? Maybe to Bill Kristol, I mean people saw that movie, right?

9:18 Buckeye: Jackie Robinson, Gandhi, and Lincoln count as “ordinary” heroes? Who is extraordinary then, just Jesus?

9:16 kyra: Kim Novak is so old she’s dead.

9:15 Buckeye: Did everybody get their #truedetectiveseason2 jokes out of their system? Just checking because 10 showed up on my Twitter feed just now.

9:12 kyra: I saw the animated shorts again this year, and they were all terrible. Mr Hublot, which won, was one of the two least terrible I guess.

9:11 Buckeye: This woman has “no experience” with animation? Look at that face

9:09 Buckeye: All these Mercedes commercials only reinforce my impression that Jon Hamm should be the Oscars announcer

9:06 kyra: Can we take a moment to think about the casting of Rob Reiner as Leo’s dad in Wolf. On what planet does Leo escape the genes from Rob’s ugly mug? AND he’s supposed to be a Jew! #suspendeddisbelief

9:04 kyra:

9:03 Buckeye: The theme of Harrison Ford’s speech, and of his earring, is BLOOD, and also struggling to read good

9:01 Buckeye: Another one of my sentimental picks this year was for Bad Grandpa. That movie absolutely had the best makeup of those three, but the old people didn’t vote for it simply because it’s a Jackass movie. And that’s bullshit, which is to say that’s the Oscars for you.

And how completely NOT shocking was it to learn the costume lady was married to Baz Luhrmann? I think she literally walked off The Great Gatsby set yesterday.

8:58 kyra: Naomi Watts is FIREFLAMESSMOKEMACHINE

8:57 kyra: Oh great, Ellen’s already going back to the well on the dick jokes.

8:54 Buckeye: HOLY SHIT LOOK AT THAT!! Pharell might be a god.

In case you were wondering why there are only four nominated songs this year, there were five! But the fifth was from a legit Jesus freak movie that only played like the Christian festival circuit and then was un-nominated because of some improper influence by the guy who wrote it. Fun Fact #1!

8:52 kyra: this is as good a time as ever to remind everyone that Pharrell is 40 years old.

8:51 Buckeye: #happy #blessed #hat

8:49 Buckeye: A quick search on the google alerts me to the fact that one of Jim Carrey’s go-to impressions is Bruce Dern? Another example of Jim Carrey being capable of catering only to the under-10 and over-70 demographic.

8:47 kyra: #blessed #humbeled

8:44 Buckeye: Boy, nothing says “Thank you, Mom” or “I support freedom in the Ukraine” quite like plugging the next 30 Seconds to Mars album.

8:40 Buckeye: kyra she needed to repeat it for June Squibb. Did you get that joke too?


8:36 Buckeye:

8:33 Buckeye: Thank you for that, kyra. Which low-talker paid Ellen to wear this?

8:31 kyra: Ellen Degeneres or this?

8:30 Buckeye: I’d make a joke that you couldn’t pay me to watch Revenge, but I am also watching the Oscars for free. SHOW’S STARTING!

8:28 kyra: 

8:25 kyra: Two observations from the last commercial break. Some show “all of Twitter agrees” is great. No one on Twitter agrees about a fucking thing. Secondly, Revenge is back at a new time, and it’s “bigger, sexier, and revengier!” Kill me now.

8:23 Buckeye: I, too, despise Will Smith. But I forgot about all of that once I caught a glimpse of Roland Martin proudly displaying that beautiful ascot.

8:20 kyra: Love the ascot, but it’s offset by how phony Smith’s general enthusiasm is. Also, we all know that Roland Martin has a monopoly on black guys wearing ascots:

8:15 Buckeye: kyra what are your thoughts on Will Smith’s ascot?

8:13 kyra: It’s a red, strapless little number. Don’t worry you’ll see it plenty I’m sure.

8:09 Buckeye: I still haven’t seen what JLaw is wearing. Please show. Not Jimmy Kimmel

8:04 kyra: Hey Barkhad, you’re nominated for a fucking Oscar I think it’s time to get the teeth fixed. You look like they legitimately took you off a Somalian pirate ship and threw a tux your way.

8:02 kyra: Who’s taller: Jonah Hill or Adam Schefter?

7:57 Buckeye: I see that Tyson Beckford is commenting generically on fashion for ABC this year. So generically that he forgot Julia Roberts’ name. I assume that Tyson Beckford’s qualifications for this role stem not from his career as a male model but prior work in the film industry:


7:53 kyra: I am making the objective move to switch to ABC, which is having live interviews with nominees and other stuff. Meanwhile on E the girls are all fumbling over each other to make the next dull point while they can’t stop talking about Jennifer Lawrence falling AGAIN.

7:51 Buckeye: I would like to note that the theme of tonight’s show is “HEROES,” which kyra and I clearly are for watching the red carpet venality. And if you thought that Heroes was a shitty theme, please remember that last year the theme was Musicals.

7:45 kyra: “Paul Rudd is in the house! Also, Adam Scott. It’s a mixed bag.” Ouch, stick to the Emmy’s Adam.

7:38 Buckeye: I also realized why Kristin Cavallari is on, and that’s because it’s time to switch to ABC. Though can we discuss whose brilliant idea it was for the Oscars to begin at 8:30 ET? Who fucking thought people on the East Coast would wanna be watching the Oscars past midnight?

7:37 Buckeye:

7:35 Buckeye: YES

7:31 Buckeye: Jesus Christ Jay Cutler’s Laguna Beach wife is a correspondent? I will open my first beer now. And I don’t wanna see JLaw fall down again. I saw that last year. I wanna see if she looks as great as always.

7:30 Buckeye: McConaughey is going to win Best Actor tonight but qualifies as Worst Actor Trying to Act Like He Knows What a Selfie Is

7:25 Buckeye: Great question:

7:23 Buckeye: Seacrest is speaking with Sarah Paulson and why wasn’t Sarah Paulson nominated for anything this year? Holy shit was she scary. She was the scariest person in that movie. There were not enough heads she could crush with decanters.

7:21 Buckeye:



7:09 Buckeye: Serious question, is this club music on in the background on E! something that Ryan Seacrest and the people he’s interviewing can hear, or am I just having my pulse constantly throttled until I convulse and die? I didn’t know I was supposed to be on ecstasy for the 2014 Oscars presented by Deadmau555555.

7:04 Buckeye: Ryan Seacrest is speaking with Naomi Watts, who looks fucking stunning, and all he wants to know is, and I quote, “Where is Ray Donovan?” And then he proceeds to ask how often Liev Schreiber works out.



6:58 Buckeye: I am really glad that Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, and Richard Linklater are present at the awards even though World War III will start before they win. Actually that’s not implausible. But they’re there, and they were in the best movie from last year, and they should be allowed to accept something and speak for 20 minutes. What they shouldn’t have to do is speak to Ryan Seacrest.

6:50 Buckeye: Settling in here and just want to, like kyra, say a sincere (rare for me) “Thank you” for reading the two of us over the past year. We’ll try to give you even more to think about in the coming months and are really appreciative that you’d even click on our posts, let alone read them—we do this for ourselves but also for anybody who has suggestions for us or thinks we’re moderately insightful or funny (like tonight! We’ll be snarky!).

I’ll begin the snark soon as I finish cooking my chili and try to find E!!!!!!!!!! on DirecTV.

6:27 kyra: The night is finally here! Tonight essentially marks the one year anniversary of Buckeye and myself writing Room Eleven. I’m sure Buckeye will have his own thoughts, but I want to say personally that I am truly humbled by the dedicated readership we have had over the past year. The fact that y’all care enough about our opinions to continue to read us on a weekly, monthly, or whatever basis makes me happier than you likely realize. Last year’s Oscars Blog still represents the high watermark of viewers we had in one day (801 views), so tell your friends, settle in, and let’s have some fun on Hollywood’s big night. Our predictions for the big categories are below.


kyra: I think that most of the major categories are gonna go with the favorites. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb saying both Best and Supporting Actor will go to the boys from Dallas Buyers Club, on the female side Cate Blanchett is a virtual lock, and I think Lupita Nyong’o takes home Supporting. For Screenplay, I’m going with American Hustle for Original and 12 Years A Slave for Adapted. Finally, I think that Director will go to Cuaron, with Best Picture being taken home by 12 Years A Slave.

As for who I think deserves to win, it’s a whole different story. I agree that both male acting awards should come from the same movie, but that movie is not Dallas Buyers Club. Rather, it’s The Wolf of Wall Street, where both Leo and Jonah Hill delivered excellent performances. On the other side, I would still vote for Cate Blanchett, who made Jasmine her own. They say Woody Allen has a certain magic ability to get something out of his actresses, and Blanchett fills the role of muse flawlessly. As for Supporting, I’m happy with Nyong’o getting the nod, although I thought Sally Hawkins was also very good. If you haven’t seen Blue Jasmine, I would highly recommend it–a very good watch at home movie. For Screenplays, I’m going to fudge the rules a bit. I would give The Wolf of Wall Street, which is adapted from the book of the same name, Best Adapted. The way I’m fudging is that I want to give Best Original to Before Midnight. The movie is actually nominated for Adapted because it’s a sequel, and according to Academy rules all sequels are adaptations from the original source material, which is really stupid. If I had to pick one of the actual nominees, I would go with Her, which is a thought provoking love story set in a modernesque digital age. For Directing, I would give the Oscar to Marty Scorsese, who directed the shit out of that film. Think about the wild party scenes, when Leo fake hits that baseball that the camera then travels with across the room, the quaaludes scenes, and plenty of other iconic moments. As for Best Picture, let me just say I really have a 3-way tie at the top with Wolf of Wall Street, Before Midnight, and Inside Llewyn Davis. Since only one of those is actually nominated, I will choose Wolf. The movie is a brilliant indictment of the Wall Street culture in the 1980’s shown through a biopic lens. It is scarily accurate, and I loved every minute of its 3 hour running time.

Buckeye: I am going to stay chalky with my picks as well, with one exception that’s purely heart-driven and bolded below:

Best Picture: 12 Years a Slave; Best Director: Alfonso Cuarón; Best Actor: LEO; Best Actress: Cate Blanchett; Best Supporting Actor: Jared Leto; Best Supporting Actress: Lupita Nyong’o; Best Original Screenplay: Her (note that I’m also predicting differently from kyra here); Best Adapted Screenplay: 12 Years a Slave.

If you put a gun to my head, do I think Leo would win? No, but you also don’t have a gun to my head, because this is the fucking Oscars, and there’s no bet I’d rather cash in than a victory for Leonardo DiCaprio after delivering the best performance of the year.

If I were Academy dictator, like kyra I’d choose Wolf for almost every category in which it’s nominated—in my Top 10 of the year I ranked it 3rd, one spot ahead of 12 Years and two ahead of Her. So I’d pick Scorsese for Director, though to be honest I’m totally cool with any non-David O. Russell director winning this year. I’d hand Jonah Hill an Oscar, too, for his bravery in jacking off at a packed pool party. THAT is true courage right there, not losing weight or playing “full retard” or a Holocaust victim. And I am grateful to kyra for shedding light on the arbitrary original/adapted screenplay distinction. Before Midnight, as my favorite film of 2013, obviously has my heart, and just as obviously has no place in Adapted Screenplay, but since it won’t win I’d definitely be thrilled for Terence Winter to take home the Oscar (barely any more likely than Delpy, Hawke, and Linklater doing so). The awards I really care about this evening are: Supporting Actor (God, he’s going to, but Jared Leto in NO WAY deserves this award, especially where Hill and Michael Fassbender are concerned); Original Screenplay (Her has a good shot at winning over American Hustle here, and that should happen because I’m 90% sure American Hustle didn’t even have a script); Documentary Feature (because The Act of Killing is a legitimately great movie, but it’s debatable whether enough voters could even stomach it).

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