The Good Wife: Dark Money

E: This show spoils me for everything else and even, ironically, itself; the bar has been set ridiculously high.  When there’s an episode that’s just good instead of amazing, it’s hard to remember that we still get the usual tight plotting and investigation of Alicia’s nuanced moral world.  This week the problem is two-fold: first, it’s not a game-changing episode like Hail Mary, and second, it’s just really depressing to see Alicia so compromised and so unhappy.  Let’s all hope it’s building to something better.

Fun bits of the episode?  A kind of meta-conundrum in which our team sues a television show with ripped-from-the-headlines plots for defamation.  Ultimately, however, it’s not in TGW‘s best interest to actually prove the plausibility of defamation, is it?  Because then who knows – Aaron Sorkin or Mark Zuckerberg or Ryan Murphy might send a few lawyers their way.

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Oscar 2015 Wrap Up – Winners and Losers

E: There’s something a little deflating about an Oscarcast when you don’t really like the film that wins.   I don’t expect it to be my favorite film of the year (though obviously that’s the ideal), but it’s still good to like the movie. It’s been since No Country For Old Men that I’ve felt so deflated; this year might be a little more disappointing, even, because while I liked Birdman more than No Country, I loved Boyhood, and was hoping against hope that it could pull out a better showing. Maybe it was that the marvelous Neil Patrick Harris wasn’t as consistently funny as I hoped, or maybe it’s just that the mad season of trying to see all the nominees is done with, but I’m feeling a lot tired, and a little melancholy.

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Striving for Greatness: Who Will Win at the 2015 Oscars?

E: This year’s Oscar nominees, all of them, are born along on a relentless tide of ambition. Be someone; do something; make your mark. Figure out how to live, and live up to your promise.  Struggle against your ultimate irrelevance to history. Each of the 8 stories nominated for Best Picture show men (and a few women) struggling to better their own lives or impact the lives of others, from a civil rights leader on the verge of historic change to a lobby boy turned hotelier, from a professor’s wife and caretaker to a college drop out turned professor, from a once-famous actor trying to change his creative legacy to a drumming prodigy hoping to make good on his promising talent, from a scientist attempting to stop a war with a computer to a soldier trying to protect his brothers-in-arms with a sniper’s scope.

Though the critics have been united in their favorite picture of the year, Richard Linklater’s beloved Boyhood, the guilds have spread the love around.  Each of the acting winners will come from a different film, and it’s quite possible that the film that takes best picture could lose all the acting awards and director.  This we know going into the awards ceremony; the acting awards feel pretty solidly set, at least three of the four, but Best Picture and Director are up in the air.  Last year, we waited the entire season for confirmation that Gravity and Twelve Years A Slave‘s picture/director split really would go through; it was an odd separation, but very clear from the critics and guild awards who was going to take home which hardware.  This year, on the other hand, it’s a real toss up.  There’s no consensus, and that makes things pretty interesting.

For your reading pleasure, I have created for you below a comprehensive discussion of the most prestigious Oscar categories.  Who’s going to win the acting awards?  Who will win Best Picture?  Which desperate dreamers, reaching out their hands, will grasp their own little piece of theater immortality?

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Oscar Talk: Boyhood, Staying Alive

E:  Looks like there’s a little uncertainty left in this year’s awards race!  Here were all were thinking that the BAFTA — Britain’s Academy Awards — would put the nail in Boyhood‘s coffin, would prove it to be 2015’s version of The Social Network, and show us definitively that Birdman had almost inexplicably won the love of every guild and would sweep the Oscars.  And what happens?  Boyhood, virtually given up for dead, nabs BAFTA’s best director and best picture.  Don’t let my brother and his talk of American Sniper‘s box office ascendancy fool you; this is the race right here. And with all the major precursor awards given, there’s no saying which way Oscar’s going to go.

It’s a little less clear why this is so. Boyhood has dominated the critics groups, and that type of movie rarely wins best picture; all season I’ve been looking for the film that would replace it, thinking perhaps epic Selma or cerebral British dramas The Theory of Everything or The Imitation Game. Sure, the whole “filmed over 12 years/labor of love” headline is a compelling one, but is this gentle film really writ large enough for Oscar?   On the other hand, Birdman‘s the type of backstage story about the Artistic process and Artistic integrity (and the lack there of) that actors love, but that’s not generally the type of film that wins best picture, either: you tend to get a more popular beast, something more sentimental and accessible that audiences will enjoy like The King’s Speech or A Beautiful Mind.  Mostly Oscar-winning films are crowd-pleasers or something that screams Important Cinema, like 12 Years a Slave and Schindler’s List.  Birdman just doesn’t fit either bill.  Though I can’t explain it’s rise, however, there’s no denying that it’s a top contender for the big prize.

Perhaps, like last year, we’ll see a split between director and film.  Two years ago, Ben Affleck’s snub in director guaranteed his film the best picture win but put Ang Lee over the top for the directing prize.  Last year, though 12 Years was a shoe-in to win best picture, voters couldn’t resist showing their love for Alfonso Cuaron’s effects marvel Gravity by giving him the direction prize.  Perhaps this year Richard Linklater will get rewarded for his lengthy commitment to Boyhood without the film itself taking the big prize; I don’t think we can even be sure once the winning director takes the stage just which picture will triumph.  And there’s a lot of fun in that.

BAFTA did give us a little bit of clarity, though.  Michael Keaton, veteran though he be, seems destined to make way for fresh faced Eddie Redmayne losing his body to the ravages of ALS.   Much as Hollywood loves a good comeback story (and Keaton’s is almost embarrassingly on the nose) they’re just as fond of physical transformations.  After taking home the SAG and the BAFTA, Redmayne has to be considered the frontrunner.  He may not be a prohibitive favorite like Arquette, Simmons or Moore, but he’s almost as inevitably got his fingers locked around the award.  Will it stay a fight until the end?  I can’t wait to see.

 

Bad Date Movies: February 2015 Movie Preview

E: Readers old and new, welcome to the February movie preview!

M: Now wait. Before we get to the February, a quick note on a potentially major development from January. For those not up with the usual cycles of movie releases, there are typically only a few big movie months out of the year. The summer (which, in Hollywoodland, starts in May and ends somewhere around the start of August), October (horror movies) and the holiday season (November through Christmas). However, that all may be changing. In recent years movies like The Hunger Games and Divergent have come out in March, and done exceptionally well, making the early spring more viable.

E: Let me stop you there: there have always been outliers in March.  Silence of the Lambs — the rare blockbuster and thriller to also win the top five Oscars — opened in March.

M: Yes, that’s fair, but recently March seems more a target than just having occasional outliers.

C: And last year, The Lego Movie came out in February. Or do kids’ movies not count, even when adults go to see them?

E: It totally counts as an outlier.

M: Moving on to my point, though, the last couple weeks have seen what could be a seismic shift. Oscar contender American Sniper has been put into wide release (it technically opened in December, but that was in literally FOUR theaters) and has shattered January box office records. Not only did it shatter the single-weekend monthly record, but it put up the 8th biggest second weekend of all time. Not January all time, all time all time.

E: I’m not willing to call it a shift; lots of Oscar movies open to wide release in January, and plenty of them make money.  It’s just that American Sniper happens to be making a lot of money.

C: Unlike — no offense — most “Oscar movies” (aka depressing critical favorites of the sort that usually went wide in January).

M: Obviously it’s too early to say for sure, Miss Not Willing. The question is, what does this mean for January moving forward?

E: I’ll admit, if it were a shift, I’d be pretty happy about it.  There should be good movies out all year long, and the fact that people are willing to brave the terrible weather much of the north has been having to see American Sniper ought to show the studios that.  It’s ridiculous to compress them all into a few months, and you’d think the great box office slump of 2014 — not to mention the massive competition movie theaters face from home theaters — would help convince the industry that they can’t take time off from giving us good options.  What a revolution that would be!

M: So say we all. Okay, on to February, and another crapshow of new releases.

C: But sort of a fun crapshow!

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Hot Damn: SAG Just Made It A Race!

E: Maybe, anyway.

As you likely know by now, most of the Screen Actor’s picks went as anticipated: Boyhood‘s Patricia Arquette for supporting actress, Whiplash‘s J.K. Simmon’s for supporting actor, and Still Alice‘s Julianne Moore for best actress.  That’s as far as collective wisdom went, however. Presumptive favorite Boyhood was knocked aside by Birdman for best cast, but Birdman‘s star Michael Keaton was passed over for The Theory of Everything‘s Eddie Redmayne.  And while the Birdman cast fluttered about for a cohesive subject in their speech, Redmayne was sweet and affecting, dedicating his win to all people with ALS and their families and praising their resiliency of spirit. (I thought it was a lovely touch, too, that he mentioned not only his fellow nominees but many of the terrific performances that didn’t get nominated this year, like Timothy Spall’s in Mr. Turner.) These events may say more about best actor than they do about picture, but either way it’s hard to know more than the fact that the community is spreading their love around this year.

Which means there’s still a little left to wonder about and learn this year, and that’s just how I like it.  Just when I thought things were getting dull, SAG-AFTRA came charging in to the rescue.

Oscar Talk: Selma, Whiplash and the High Price of Achievement

E:  Back in high school I had a good friend who was determined to compete as an athlete despite her asthma.  It was nearly a weekly occurrence to see her taken off the field hockey pitch in an ambulance; when she ran track in the spring,  a teammate was apparently assigned to catch her at the end of each race.  Though I respected the bravery involved, and her commitment to her team, and her desire to be the best she could, there came a point where I and many others started to wonder: how much of this can be good for her?  When does pushing your body become punishing it?  How much suffering is worth that goal?

And that, in turn, made me think about the lives of martyrs and various great men and women throughout history. Chances are good that they were similarly unreasonable.  Would sacrifices like my friend’s seem more worthwhile given a greater end game than just winning a high school meet – a college scholarship, perhaps, or a professional athletic career?  Or something even loftier, the pursuit of art, scientific breakthrough, the defense of one’s principles or religion or country?  How many of us, given the choice between a normal, rational life, and a great one, would rush past that societal norm to reach the goals only we can imagine?

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, that old friend and all her ambulance rides and the way she made me question the mixed messages society sends its children; strive for excellence, but not so much that you hurt yourself doing so. And maybe it’s because I saw Selma and Whiplash two days in a row, but they speak to me together on this same subject, that push past the reasonable into achievement.  On the surface we can all see their dissimilarities; one, the story of a civil rights tragedy turned to triumph, and the other the story of an abusive teacher/student relationship.  But a closer look reveals similar questions about the cost of human endeavor. At what price greatness?

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