Oscar Talk: No Surprise

E: Last night, the Directors Guild bestowed this year’s award for feature film direction on Alfonso Cuaron.  Cuaron was the likeliest choice, and his win leaves the Best Picture race as confused as ever.  Does this mean Gravity has a leg up, or that Best Picture and Best Director will split – a true split, where unlike last year’s odd debacle all the frontrunners are nominees.  Does it knock David O. Russell out of competition?  Even if it does, I’m not sure the same can be said of his film.  And 12 Years a Slave is certainly still in the game as well. 

So to sum up, it’s no surprise that Best Picture is still the most surprising category of the year. 

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Oscar Talk: The Directors Guild Awards

E:  Of the remaining major precursor awards, the Directors Guild may be the least revelatory in terms of Oscar, and no, it’s not just because the DG awards only direction and not the over all work.  And it’s not simply because there’s more crossover in membership between the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the British Academy of Film and Television than there is between AMPAS and the Director’s Guild. No. What we have to consider is that while there is no frontrunner when it comes to Best Picture, there is definitely one for Best Director.  The precursor awards point us pretty firmly in one direction.

If so, why do we care?  I think there’s something to be prized from this bit of prize-giving; in a year where the Best Picture race is so completely crazy, any little bit of information helps.   Let’s take a quick walk through a few scenarios.

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Castle: “Under Fire,” “Deep Cover” and “Limelight”

E: It’s been a while since the three of us have been able to talk Castle together, so we thought we’d catch up in one fell swoop.  Up for some swooping?  Please join us!

“Under Fire”

E: For a “serious” episode, I actually rather liked this one.

M: That’s actually been a running theme recently, serious episodes that are still good episodes of Castle. I like it; I prefer not to be annoyed with the show.

E: Well, I still prefer it when Castle is funny, but I’ll certainly take episodes like this over most of the serious eps of the past.

C: The team’s on the trail of an arsonist, and the Wonder Twins find themselves trapped in a burning building while Ryan’s wife goes into labor. Sounds like the stuff of hammiest melodrama, but actually it was a pretty gripping episode.

E: Probably my favorite bit was not the dramatic birth of the long awaited Sarah Grace Ryan, even though that was enjoyable, but the fact that I genuinely started to wonder at the end if they had enough time to get Javi and Kevin out of the basement.  I found myself questioning why the show hadn’t just kept Beckett with Homeland Security if they were really going to kill off her fellow detectives.

M: As I mentioned at the time, I watched this episode a day or two after it aired, and had seen friends on Facebook commenting in shock about the episode, though without detail. Because of that, I thought that one or both of the Wonder Twins were legitimately in peril, and the episode kept me on the edge of my seat up to the very end. Well done.

E: And any time a show can threaten main characters and make you believe it, I count that as a good thing.  Unless it’s Game of Thrones, at which point it’s par for the course.

M: I don’t watch Game, but since everyone that does tells me that everyone dies, I’ll agree with you there. And I do not usually fall for the “main/supporting character in mortal peril” plots on shows like this, so yes, big props.

C: It was genuinely tense! But I think my favorite moment was when Ryan, in a fit of near-death sentimentality, suggests naming the baby after if his good old partner it’s a boy. Espo, though obviously touched, can’t help mocking the idea of a pasty-white Irish kid named “Javier Ryan.”

E: While that was all kinds of adorable, that made it immediately obvious that the baby was going to be a girl.

M: See, in my mindset, that to me meant that Espo was going to die, and Ryan would survive and name his kid after him. I’m glad, both for the show and for the fictitious kid, that that’s not how it worked out.

E: But you gotta give kudos to Kevin for finding the perfect way to win the “what do we name the baby battle”: being on death’s door!  Jenny couldn’t have objected even if his choices were insane.

M: Or if her objections were insane.

C: Readers, I assume you’ve already picked up from this that Mr. and Mrs. E had prolonged difficulties agreeing on baby names.

“Deep Cover”

E: Look, I know I should be extra excited because Daddy Castle is back, but — but — I fell asleep.  That doesn’t mean it was a bad episode, but, yeah.

C: I’m not sure why that should make you extra excited; when they first introduced Daddy Castle I worried that the show had jumped the shark. This episode was an improvement, but even so… serious spy stuff isn’t Castle‘s forte.

M: I was not as worried about the show as C was in the first Daddy Castle episode, I thought they just tried to fit too much into one episode and lost their way because of it. However, and not surprisingly, I’m with C. Nothing about that first episode with him made me want Castle’s father to return.

E: Okay, then let me rephrase.  I know the show wanted me to be excited that Senior is now a recurring character, but that was just meh for me.  I went back and watched afterward, but still.

M: I didn’t fall asleep, however, and thought that like “Under Fire,” this was a surprisingly acceptable “Serious Castle” episode. It had humor, it had a decent mystery, and we got some interesting family time.

C: Yeah, it wasn’t the most memorable, but it was interesting. I did giggle at the part where Castle had to not react to seeing his father in disguise — for Castle not reacting is like not breathing!

E: That’s true, there was some nice mugging going on. I just wish we had a little less of the serious and lot more of the funny.  Three episodes without a quotable line between them?  That’s kind of painful.

M: They do need to ramp up the funny, but in these serious episodes they at least had a touch of the usual humor of the show, even if it was only at the start of the episodes.

C: Some nice Martha moments in this one, though.

M: Pair that with the next episode, and we’re starting to get back to one of the things we siblings have always loved about Castle: his family.

“Limelight”

E: At first I thought “ugh, not another dead pop star,” but I just plain liked this one a lot.  And no, not just because someone finally saw the light, and despite the fact that I called the killer from pretty much moment one.

M: Well, they did dip back into the classic Castle formula, where the most recognizable guest star (in this case former Criminal Minds star Lola Glaudini) is introduced early in the episode but either is not a suspect or is ruled out, and then BAM! turns out to be the killer right at the end. They haven’t relied on that as much lately, but like you I did call it from the start (or at least when I didn’t recognize any of the other guest stars).

C: When they IDed some other guy at the second-to-last minute I was like, “What? But we haven’t seen him before! That’s not allowed by the formula.” Of course, it wasn’t him.

E: I actually haven’t even seen Glaudini before; I just knew that, once it was proved that the double was dead and not the bad girl singer, the stage mom would be behind it.

M: That’s fair, too.

C: Having recently read The Cuckoo’s Calling, J.K. Rowling’s detective novel written under a pseudonym, I enjoyed some parallels in the way the plot here centered on the paparazzi and the intricate workings of family and fame.

M: I loved, loved, loved how they turned Castle’s considerably smaller amount of fame into a running gag.

C: That was hilarious. Especially as he grudgingly had to admit it himself.

E: Agreed.  And I actually really liked pop star Mandy.  I wanted to strangle her for answering her phone, though.  Much as they joked about her Hannah Montana-like character using only glasses as a disguise, I loved that she slapped on a pair of sunglasses and just assumed no one would recognize her.  Cute.

M: She was likable, with that one stupid exception, but you knew that was a plot device to put Alexis in harm’s way.

C: I liked her too. They gave her surprising depth, after making her seem rather shallow and inhuman to begin with. But the biggest thing to love, of course, was the Return Of The Real Alexis! Her total absence in “Under Fire” and “Deep Cover” felt like a relief, given how awful the writing of her character has been lately. But suddenly here she was, not only with an interesting part to play (befriending Mandy unexpectedly) but acting like herself! What a blessed relief.

E: The clouds parted and the choir of angels sang!

M: I agree, it was good to have her back, especially the real her, as you put it. The way they’ve been writing her this year had reminded me of the third season of Veronica Mars. For two seasons you completely bought the show’s tagline of “Veronica Mars is smarter than you”… and then they had her go and not only make bad decisions, but make about the dumbest decisions anyone in her situation could possibly make.

C: And be snotty about it. It wasn’t just the poor decisions, for me, it was the abrupt personality change.

E: Yes, exactly. For Alexis to go from the girl who second guesses everything to make sure she makes the smartest, most perfect, most responsible decision ever, to one who blithely decides to shack up with a virtual stranger?  Who’s also an idiot she has no visible chemistry with?  I can see what the writers were going for (“she thinks she’s more mature and ready to take this step than she is”) but I don’t buy it; Alexis processes her emotions verbally, like her (much less responsible) father does, and I will always maintain that her making a big choice like that without any debate is uncharacteristic. I could really go on ad nauseum about how inconsistent and annoying and awful this plot line has been and how much I hated it.

M: Alexis was smart and mature and wise beyond her years for the better part of five seasons, and suddenly she’s behaving like an air-headed 16-year-old? I’m glad it looks like smart Alexis is back. The funny thing was, this was the first time I can remember not being annoyed by Pi.

C: That’s true — he wasn’t actively dis-likeable this time.

M: That said… buh-bye!

E: Don’t let the door hit you on the way out!  To sum up — even without quotable lines, this one felt more like Castle, which I appreciate.

M: Totally, this was a classic Castle episode: family drama and comedy, murder that takes out cast into an interesting subculture, quippy one liners and twists in the investigation, fun moments at Castle’s expense, and a killer that we all saw coming a mile away. It’s good to be back on familiar ground.

E: Sing it, brother.

Oscar Talk: Wait, Did That Just Happen?

E: Here’s the thing.  By this time of the year, the best picture Oscar is usually all sewn up.  That may sound weird if you don’t follow awards, but it’s true.  When you follow the awards leading up to Oscar, you know. Occasionally there’s a dominant film like Schindler’s List or Return of the King which everyone knows is going to win almost before it’s released in theaters.  Some years, you think something’s the favorite with the critics awards (think The Social Network), but the guilds identify a more audience-friendly winner (The King’s Speech).  Either way, once both the critics award groups and then the Producers Guild and the Director’s Guild and the Actor’s Guild all have their say, we know.  Or at least, every other year we’ve known. By now, the only major awards giving bodies that haven’t weighed in are the Director’s Guild and the British Academy (BAFTA), and there is still no consensus.  There remain not merely two but actually three films fighting for frontrunner status.

Now, before you ask, it’s possible for the frontrunner to lose.  Sometimes we think we know and we don’t.  Shakespeare in Love beats Saving Private Ryan; Crash beats Brokeback Mountain.  But in order for the favorite to lose, you have to have a favorite to begin with.  And in 2014?  You don’t.  Let’s review the evidence.

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The Good Wife: We, the Juries

E: Maybe it makes me a less sophisticated television viewer, but I can’t stand cases where we were don’t get a real look at the clients.  I have a lot of trouble getting invested in the case when the people whose fates are at stake are just cliches, just cartoons.  Usually this show excels at packing insane amounts of plot and crystalline characterizations into their 43 minutes.  Heck, last week Matthew Lillard gave us his character complete in one bumbling, stammering line. This time there was too much going on, and they didn’t do service to what they had. Between the preposterous double jury, the weak and frustrating dynamics of the actual case, and the bewildering mess between the attorneys, this is my least favorite episode of the season.  Oh, there was some serious movement on the direction of the show and season.  Big events.  But altogether, I wasn’t a fan.

And since I am ranting, I’m really annoyed that they even aired this episode this week.  Up against the Golden Globes, Downton Abbey and HBO’s new True Detective?  Um, CBS, you know who your audience is, right?  Why the hell would you waste this episode up against competition like that?  Somehow I doubt it’s because it didn’t rise up to the show’s usual level of competence.  If I worked in CBS’s marketing department, and I had the single network show to be nominated for Best Drama at the Emmys and the Golden Globes and the SAG over the last several years, I would be promoting the hell out of it!  I would be doing my damnedest to make sure people knew this was the best show on network television. Seriously, I don’t know why we’re not hearing about this all the time. You can’t help but feel the show doesn’t get the nurturing it deserves. For the last decade at least, these awards shows have been dominated by cable – Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire, Sopranos, Six Feet Under, the list goes on.  The networks may still have a stake in the comedy game, but they’ve almost completely ceded drama to cable.  In fact the only other show to break through with the critics has been PBS’s Downton Abbey (and guess what? That aired last night too).   And I’m sorry, but the kind of people who care about that – who are already the kind of people who watch The Good Wife –  are going to be watching the damn award shows.

On the other hand, the season is still amazing, Melissa George got to play something more than sexy or pregnant (even if it’s mostly just disgust), and really everybody but Diane got to have a dramatic little moment.  So that’s something.

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Oscar Nomination Predictions 2014

E:  Who will the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences choose to reward with film’s highest honor? Or at least with their second highest honor, Oscar nominations?  That’s the question for today, and come Thursday morning, we’ll find the answers.  Here’s the thing that happens every year; we don’t know what we think we know.  Every year, somebody who looks like a lock gets dumped.  Some other worthy comes out of left field.  It’s so tough a job that Nate Silver can perfectly predict the presidential election down to county totals, and yet he can’t figure this out.

So is it a lost cause, predicting the nominations?  Not really.  With a research into the various precursor awards, a attention to the buzz and the controversies surrounding various films, experience and good gut instincts, you can anticipate much of what’s to come.  Precursor awards, in case you’re wondering, come from a welter of sources, beginning with the National Board of Review and spiraling out to include a bunch of straight critical group prizes – the L.A. Film Critics, the New York Film Critics, the American Film Institute, film critics groups from every other major city and region in America, and then the groups with nominations like the Independent Spirits, the Screen Actors Guild, the Broadcast Film Critics/Critics Choice, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, and the Golden Globes. And together, those awards help tell a story.

This is what I think that story is.

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