Get Ready for the Dog Days: August 2016 Movie Preview

M: Um, yeah. Last month, for the first time in years, we missed a monthly movie preview. Our bad.

E: Which is a shame, because we’re left with the spottiest month of the summer to review.

C: But in happier news, I’m back! After knocking a few items off my to-do list (got a PhD, got married), I finally have time to devote to the really important things, like lamenting the absurdity of a Ben Hur remake with my siblings.

E: Or the poor quality of this year’s August releases.  But even that paucity is sweeter with you.

C: Aww. Anyway, it’s really just a normal August, with one potential blockbuster, one or two looks-good-but-could-wait-for-video quality films, and the rest pretty humdrum fare. By which I mean, a great time to see what’s still in the theaters from July. Like Ghostbusters, which is delightful!

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Civil War Apocalypse: May 2016 Movie Preview

M: So, it’s rainy and cold (high 40’s, low 50’s), and promises to be about the same for the next five days. It snowed a couple weeks ago. This means, clearly, that it’s summer movie season! Well, at least, that’s what it means in New England, where spring generally fluctuates between “extended winter” and “hotter than hell”.

E: I’m pretty sure this is how we started the May preview last year, too. Doesn’t feel like spring here, let alone summer, but that’s what Hollywood considers it.

M: Well, that’s depressing. I’m sure I blamed Al Gore then, so I’ll lay off him this year.

E: Yes, I’m sure you did. I’m amazed at your forbearance.

M: Weather aside, with May come summer blockbusters, and this May is no exception. Now, we only have a couple, and there’s an overall lack of depth to the month’s offerings, but we’ve got at least the two comic-book tent poles to get us through.

E: And a couple of high profile adaptations which seem likely to generate big box office, as well as a low profile literary adaptation that I’m absolutely salivating over.

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The Sweet Triumph of Getting It Wrong: Oscar Reactions, 2016

E: Well.  It’s been a long time since I’ve been so happy to be wrong.

Honestly, I’m generally pretty happy to be wrong because it means that there was a surprise.  Though it looked like last night’s awards had settled into complete predictability, there were a few surprises and a couple of truly shocking moment (good and bad) alongside all of the expected wins.  Let’s take a quick look. Continue reading

The Craziest Boring Show In Town: Oscar Predictions, 2016

E: Or at least, it’s starting to look like it might be a boring year after the complete insanity of this year’s precursor awards. For all that it’s been unsettled – who would be nominated, in which category, for which film — the uncertainty may have just settled into a typically predictable rut. This year’s race shows up pretty much everything that has always been dissatisfying about Oscar (the groupthink, the lack of racial and gender diversity, the penchant for awarding certain people because they’re due), while also managing to highlight some fantastic films.

Now, okay.  A three-way race is inherently unstable, so it’s certainly possible that there could be a surprise in Best Picture, and maybe even in Best Director.  The latter is particularly unlikely, but not impossible.  So let’s all hope for the unexpected as we prepare for the opposite.

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Gearing Up for the Rodeo: SAG Awards Preview 2016

E: Saturday night the Screen Actors Guild and it’s 160,000 members weigh in on the year’s best films.  Their choices are a little quirky, and this year unusually distinct from Oscar’s slate.

In some categories, the show will merely confirm what we know: Room‘s Brie Larson and The Revenant‘s Leonardo DiCaprio ought to lock in their frontrunner status by winning the lead acting races.  DiCaprio seems like the biggest lock in the bunch; most pundits agree that if Larson were to lose, it’d be to Brooklyn‘s glorious Saorise Ronan, but Larson just doesn’t seem to lose.  Critics Choice winner Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl) will either cement herself as the frontrunner, It Girl and likely supporting actress Oscar winner, or fall victim to Carol‘s Rooney Mara or Steve Jobs‘ Globe winning Kate Winslet.  I think she’ll triumph, but it will certainly be interesting to find out.

Then on the other hand, there are the more confusing races, the first of which is supporting actor. Sylvester Stallone, who has so far accepted the Golden Globe and the Critics Choice to riotous applause, isn’t actually nominated in supporting actor.  Will respected theater and TV alum Mark Rylance take the prize?  SAG likes him so much they nominated him twice, both for supporting actor and for his role in the television drama Wolf Hall.  Or will the SAG membership seek to prove they’re no white Academy and choose the also twice-nominated Idris Elba (Luther) instead?  We know they liked his film Beast of No Nation, and since voting only closes Friday the 29th, the membership has had ample time to rally around Elba as a great opportunity to right a wrong.  Of course Elba was famously snubbed for the Oscar, so that’s probably still Stallone’s to lose, but with SAG, it’s up in the air.  Even Christian Bale could win for his oddball turn as a visionary fund manager in The Big Short; his film is in contention for the win, and many pundits guess that might put him over the edge.

It’s Ensemble (SAG’s Best Picture equivalent) where the real confusion comes in, however, and this is in part because there are only two films (The Big Short and Spotlight) which overlap between SAG and Oscar.  The thing about awards season in Hollywood that you have to know is that nobody likes backing a loser; that’s why the same films tend to be nominated everywhere.  That’s what people mean by “buzz” and “momentum” — they mean groupthink.  This year, for whatever reason (and some of it might be weird subverted racial bias stuff) the groupthink is just not being groupthunk, especially with this list. Neither of the two Golden Globe winning films, The Revenant and The Martian, are up for the big prize.  Critical and festival favorite Spotlight seemed to have the edge, especially when it was one of two overlapping films between SAG and the Hollywood Foreign Press list; it’s smart, its impeccably made and acted, and tells an inspiring story of ordinary people telling truth to power and making an enormous change in our world because of what they discovered.  And then it lost the Globe.  It did pick up the Critics Choice, but the Broadcast Film Critics don’t overlap much with Oscar; it’s the guilds turn to tell who the industry, and not the critics, prefer. Accordingly, the Producers Guild made their choice, and it was The Big Short.  So does that mean that The Big Short is the winner?  I’m not so sure it’s that satisfying a narrative.  After all, what it boils down to is white guys making money off the white guys who cheated America and almost destroyed the world economy.   Not crusading against the frauds, but profiting from their overweening pride and foolish avarice.  It’s relevant, and does a great job of breaking down the mortgage crisis into layman’s terms, but it’s not exactly either classic entertainment or inspirational.  Oh, yay, let’s watch these guys get rich because they saw in advanced that the average person was going to be royally screwed!  As far as I’m concerned, anyone who finds it inspirational is part of the problem, part of the entrenched system of privilege.

Most pundits discount African child soldier drama Beasts of No Nation, NWA music biopic Straight Outta Compton and Hollywood blacklist story Trumbo because they haven’t made any other precursor list and because none of them has been nominated for Oscar; I’m not so sure this is safe to do, especially in the year of #Oscarssowhite.  I think it’s entirely possible we could get a protest vote for Beasts or Compton.  If either Spotlight or The Big Short wins, however, they’ll certainly be annointed the favorite and frontrunner — at least until the BAFTA awards air on Valentine’s Day.  You can bet I’ll be tuning into the results here with particularly rapt attention.

So don’t forget to tune in at 8 Saturday night (Eastern Standard Time) on TBS or TNT, and find out who the Actor goes to.  There’ll be plenty of great dresses, probably a decent amount of strange facial hair, and no doubt a series of serious and funny anecdotes to start the show, all ending with SAG’s typical phrasing: I’m  ____, and I’m an actor.  And hey, maybe best of all, no Ricky Gervais!

Morning Dawns: Oscar Nomination Reactions 2016

E: Well.  That wasn’t so bad after all.

There are a few big stories to start with here, before we check out the individual categories.  Most importantly, there’s an utterly unnecessary lack of minorities both in the acting categories and in Best Picture.  In a year that brought us Beasts of No Name, Chiraq, Concussion, Creed, Dope, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and Straight Outta Compton, there’s no reason that the acting nominees had to be all white. Beasts and Compton both made the SAG slate, and yet no Best Picture love at all?  Similarly, 5 of the top 10 moneymakers of the year starred women, but only 3 of the 8 nominees do, when the Academy had Carol and Sicario and The Force Awakens and Inside Out to choose from? Nominating Carol or The Danish Girl would have added another layer of diversity as well. And no, I don’t want there to be quotas. I wouldn’t care about this particular instance if this didn’t happen virtually every year.  It’s so hard to get movies about women and minorities made, and Hollywood seemed to finally be waking up to the fact that those movies make money.  In fact, if you look at The Force Awakens, they make money hand over fist.   And critics have loved them.  There were choices.  You could have done better.  That’s all I’m saying.  In fact, if you look at The Force Awakens, you had the biggest blockbuster of the century, with female and minority leads.  Big missed opportunity.

With that, we’re off to the snubs, the surprises, the boring choices, and the really unexpected bits.

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Searching for Light in the Darkness: Oscar Nomination Predictions, 2016

E: Most years, predicting the Oscar nominations requires merely a boatload of information and the ability to decode it dispassionately.  That sounds like a lot, maybe, but generally, it’s pretty simple to anticipate 4 out of 5 nominees correctly given all the precursor awards, the critics and the guilds guiding the way.  Sure, nobody’s charting is perfect, but it’s serviceable enough to get me to the right harbor, or help me snare the right fish.  These are waters we know, those of us who pay attention, who put in the work.  This year, I’m afraid, that boatload of information won’t help me set my course; there are too many conflicting directions, too many great films and performances, too many distractions.  There’s not one clear winner anywhere. The Oscars are usually an exercise in groupthink, but this time the pertinent people are all thinking different things.  The school of fish we’re following hasn’t thinned out and it’s not pointed in the same direction.  We can’t even tell what we’re looking at most of the time; is it tuna or dolphins?

But in some ways, that makes this the great white whale of prediction years.  This is the big one. Get this one more right than not, and you can rest well.

And that’s where that leaves me — searching for answers and a metaphor.

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