Monthly Archives: January 2014

GrabBag – What if ‘Her’ were ‘Him’? also, Famous Film Locations and a Printable Oscar Ballot

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Another week, another bagful of random stuff. Time to open this week’s GrabBag…

  • The folks over at HitFix have built an excellent printable Oscar ballot. (I may try to make my own before the big day.)
  • Don’t think you know enough about this year’s Oscars to hold a conversation? Well hopefully The Screen Life will fix that, but just in case you still feel the need to cram for a party, Vulture offers this cheat sheet to “fake your way through.” I’m not sure I agree with everything they say (there’s no way Amy Adams has a chance at stealing best actress from Cate Blanchett), but at least it can make you look like you know what you’re talking about to others who don’t know what they’re talking about.
  • Phillip Glass talks about Visitors, his new collaboration with cinematographer Godfrey Reggio. Their previous work together, The Qatsi Trilogy, is a breathtaking masterpiece.
  • A documentarian close to Woody Allen counters the criminal allegations against him. It’s a complex issue. We will probably never know the whole truth. But his private life aside, Allen remains one of the greatest directors of all time.
  • Funny videos! There appears to be a wealth of YouTube parodies re-imagining Her as Him. Though never quite as good as you want them to be, they’re still pretty fun. But none of them hold a candle to comedian Peter Handelman’s spot-on impression of Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club.

Fair warning: the Seth Rogan impersonator in this one starts out as impressive, but quickly gets annoying…

If you’ve seen Dallas Buyers Club, this will be hilarious. Not sure how well it plays if you haven’t, but either way it’s a fantastic impersonation…

Alright, another week’s bag is emptied. If you have any suggestions for future editions of GrabBag, please email me or post them in the comments. And once again, here’s my plea for any designer willing to donate their skills to help create an original GrabBag logo. It doesn’t need to be all that professional or anything. Just something simple. Anybody?

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AMPAS Rescinds Oscar Nomination for Song

alone movie

Remember that one song that got nominated for an Oscar a couple weeks ago? The one you’ve never heard of? Of course not, why would you? “Alone Yet Not Alone” is a crappy faux-hymn from the Christian-market-only film of the same name. Apparently one of the songs composers, Bruce Broughton, is a former head of the Academy’s Music Branch, and as such he has the entire voting membership in his contact list. He emailed the song to that list asking for votes, and viola! The most obscure nomination in Oscar history.

It was an embarrassing nomination, and yesterday the Academy decided to undo it. Broughton and his wife responded to the news quite indignantly and defensively on Facebook. (See below to read both sides of the argument.)

Honestly I can see their point about not being able to compete with the massive campaign funds of the bigger contenders, and I would argue in defense of them, if it wasn’t such an obviously terrible song! Even objectively there is no way a voter could listen to that alongside, say, Lana del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful” from The Great Gatsby, and think the silly little hymn is better. The only way it could have gotten votes is from thinking “Oh hey, that guy’s my friend. I’ll vote for him.” Or, “Oh hey, that guy has a lot of influence in this industry. It’ll help my career to vote for him.”

Here’s the Academy press release….

“On Tuesday night, the Academy’s Board of Governors voted to rescind the Original Song nomination for “Alone Yet Not Alone,” music by Bruce Broughton and lyric by Dennis Spiegel. The decision was prompted by the discovery that Broughton, a former Governor and current Music Branch executive committee member, had emailed members of the branch to make them aware of his submission during the nominations voting period.

“No matter how well-intentioned the communication, using one’s position as a former governor and current executive committee member to personally promote one’s own Oscar submission creates the appearance of an unfair advantage,” said Cheryl Boone Isaacs, Academy President.

“The Board determined that Broughton’s actions were inconsistent with the Academy’s promotional regulations, which provide, among other terms, that “it is the Academy’s goal to ensure that the Awards competition is conducted in a fair and ethical manner. If any campaign activity is determined by the Board of Governors to work in opposition to that goal, whether or not anticipated by these regulations, the Board of Governors may take any corrective actions or assess any penalties that in its discretion it deems necessary to protect the reputation and integrity of the awards process.”

An additional nominee in the Original Song category will not be named. The remaining nominees in the category are:

“Happy” from “Despicable Me 2”
Music and Lyric by Pharrell Williams

“Let It Go” from “Frozen”
Music and Lyric by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez

“The Moon Song” from “Her”
Music by Karen O; Lyric by Karen O and Spike Jonze

“Ordinary Love” from “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom”
Music by Paul Hewson, Dave Evans, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen; Lyric by Paul Hewson

 

And here’s the response from Broughton…

“What’s on my mind? The mess of this afternoon’s news and the positive responses of so many friends. If you want to really vent your feelings in a positive way, one that transcends your lovely notes to me, you can let the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences know.

“How do I feel? I feel as though I’m the butt of a campaign to discredit a song, the nomination of which caught people by surprise. As many of you have noted, the campaigning on the other songs is epic compared to my simple email note. The marketing abilities of the other companies before and after the nomination far outstrip anything that this song was able to benefit from.

“We learned this morning that the song will appear on Billboard’s charts shortly. Somebody’s listening to it. Somebody likes it.

“But most of all, I feel sullied, and I feel disappointed not only for me, but for Dennis Spiegel, who wrote a lovely (and although hardly anyone has noticed), truly ecumenical lyric which helped drive the story in the film, and for the unassailable Joni Eareckson, whose vocal on the song breathed real life into it.

“So, if you’re really upset by this miserable turn of events, I appreciate your notes enormously (I also read Belinda’s page), but let the Academy know.”
– Bruce Broughton, evening of Jan. 29.

And his wife…

 “I cannot believe that the Academy just did that to Bruce. Bruce has given hours and hours of his time to the Academy over a period of 30 years, has tirelessly fought for composers, is the only top composer I know who will generously lend out his scores to composers, spends hours having lunches giving advice to up and coming film composers. These poor huge production companies who had their noses put out of joint by a little song. All I can say is, they must have been terrified by the song and it’s one damn good song too. Well, they are happy now, they can play together in the same sand box again. Shame on you Motion Picture Academy for taking the low road, saving your own butts and doing this to one of your former Governors and Head of the Music Branch. Maybe a phone call to Bruce, from one of the Academy Governors of the Music Branch would have been nice too? (Angry wife!)”
– Belinda Broughton, evening of Jan. 29

 

 

 

 

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Review – Lone Survivor

Lone Survivor

Lone Survivor is devastating, which as war-is-hell movies go is high praise. Like the best of this season’s many films examining impossible choices, director Peter Berg eschews ham-fisted sentimentality by filling the screen with nothing but the naked gory truth and letting the audience choose their own individual takeaways.

In this case the impossible choice involves a 4-man Navy Seal Team operation in the mountains of Afghanistan who gets inadvertently discovered by a family of Afghan civilians. The soldiers have to decide whether to let the family go, thereby giving away their position to the local Taliban army, or to slaughter innocent people and save their own lives. They make a decision, but as the title suggests, it doesn’t go well for the team.

[ WARNING: The next paragraph is arguably a bit spoiler-y, though it’s nothing that isn’t already given away by the film’s title. It won’t affect your enjoyment of the film either way.]

Mark Wahlberg does a fine job starring as the real life Marcus Luttrell, who survived to come back and write the memoir the film is based on. But the highlight of the cast is the fantastic Ben Foster as a warrior who, in the most literal sense, refuses to give up the fight until his last breath. The SAG-winning stunt team earned every ounce of their award, repeatedly throwing themselves down sharp rocky cliffs over the course of several of the films most cringe worthy scenes.

My biggest issue had to do with an overlong tribute sequence before the end credits showing pictures and video of the real life soldiers involved, which, though it feels heartless to say, I found a bit distracting at the time. In retrospect, however, it actually perfectly bookends a similar home-video opening credit sequence of real (not staged) Navy Seal training routines.

This had been a long-simmering passion project for Berg, who in order to secure a studio greenlight, agreed to helm last year’s dismal Battleship first. He’s a talented man, but there’s not a director alive that could’ve saved that script.  I’m glad he did it, though, because as bad as it was, the excellence of Lone Survivor more than makes up for it.

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Sundance, We Hardly Knew Ye

Native Forum Party - 2011 Sundance Film Festival

Last week The Sundance Film Festival came and went, culminating in the awards announced Saturday. You might have wondered why this blog, focused as it is on film and, currently, awards season, hasn’t really mentioned it before now.

Honestly, I’d love to be able to talk about Sundance and all the great sounding movies that come out of there. The big problem with film festivals like these is how insular they are. Of course, I’m not a professional journalist and not likely to be invited to attend. I certainly don’t have the means to pay for it myself.

But on top of that, I live in the Midwest. 90% of these festival films will never end up with a theater release wide enough to make it to St. Louis. The few that do won’t show up until several months later. By the time I get to see them, everything will have already been said by the “big city critics.”

This is a problem with the independent film market in general. For example, the film Her began winning award after award and making everybody’s “Top 10” lists in mid-December. I had a feeling it could factor heavily into my own list, but it didn’t open in St. Louis until well into January. I couldn’t wait that long. It already felt late not publishing it before New Year’s. A few weeks later I ended up updating it with an awkward add-on after I finally got a chance to see the movie. But it sure would have been nice to be able to include it in the original draft.

Inside Llewyn Davis was worse. It premiered at Cannes in May. I had been hearing how wonderful it was ever since but didn’t get to confirm it for myself until after Christmas. It turns out I wasn’t quite as gung-ho about it as other critics, but I would’ve loved to discover that sooner. Was it so over-hyped by the time it got to me that it couldn’t meet expectations? Maybe, maybe not. But that six month wait certainly didn’t do anyone any good.

Of course, St. Louis does have an excellent film festival of its own. I wouldn’t have been able to catch the excellent Ernest & Celestine if it weren’t for the SLIFF. But being able to really experience a film festival in full requires an enormous commitment of time and money. It’s nearly impossible to juggle something that huge with a life and family and job and hobbies and all the other things that whisper in your ear, “Are these movies really that important?”

In the end my situation is what it is; I like living in the Midwest. The scope of what I cover is limited to what I can research, and I can only give opinions on what I can see and observe for myself. But there’s still plenty that fits under that umbrella: I have the internet at my fingertips, and those who know me know there’s no end to my opinions. So what if that doesn’t include Sundance?

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Alfonso Cuarón Wins DGA, Gravity Takes Lead for Oscar

Gravity-2Alfonso Cuarón won the Outstanding Director of a Motion Picture prize at the Director’s Guild Awards last night. With that win we now have a frontrunner for Best Picture at the Oscars, but it’s still a tenuous lead.

The DGA’s were the third of the three most important guild awards to announce, after last week’s SAG and PGA ceremonies. In a sense, my outrageous prediction that each of the top three films would win one of those – American Huslte for SAG, 12 Years a Slave for PGA, and Gravity for DGA – actually proved true! But that’s not the whole story, as the PGA awarded a tie to both 12 Years AND Gravity. That means instead of a 3-way tie, the latter has a narrow half-point lead going into the home stretch.

History tells us that whatever wins the DGA will win BP at the Oscars. Recent history tells us the same for PGA. On top of that, we know Picture/Director splits at the Oscars are extremely rare and hard to predict. With that in mind, after straying out on a limb to predict that crazy guild split, I’m going to quit while I’m somewhat ahead play it safe for my Oscar prediction. I predict Gravity will win Best Picture and Best Director.

Still that is a very tough call to make. Its lead is slight at best. It’s also missing an all-important screenplay nomination. (It’s very rare for a film to win BP without being at least nominated for its screenplay.) Many pundits are still predicting a split, with 12 Years taking BP. But going back to history again, usually when there’s a split, the DGA winner actually ends up going on the win Picture, not Director.

This is an unprecedented quandary. Hell, even Hustle could still slip in and steal all the glory. But in the sea of uncertainty, I feel safest anchoring my predictions to Gravity.

The next most important guild awards are the ACE Eddies (American Cinema Editors). Being a very showy technical piece, Gravity is expected to win that too. Going forward it looks like it’s lead will get continually stronger as it expectedly sweeps the more minor technical guilds – Cinematography, Sound, etc.

Here’s the full list of DGA winners…

Feature Film – Alfonso Cuarón, “Gravity”
Documentary – Jehane Noujaim, “The Square”
Movies for Television and Miniseries – Steven Soderbergh, “Behind the Candelabra”
Dramatic Series – Vince Gilligan, “Breaking Bad” – “Felina”
Comedy Series – Beth McCarthy-Miller, “30 Rock” – “Hogcock!/Last Lunch”
Variety/Talk/News/Sports — Regularly Scheduled Programming – Don Roy King, “Saturday Night Live with Host Justin Timberlake”
Variety/Talk/News/Sports — Specials – Glenn Weiss, “The 67th annual Tony Awards”
Reality Programs – Neil P. DeGroot, “72 Hours” – “The Lost Coast”
Children’s Programs – Amy Schatz, “An Apology to Elephants”
Commercials – Martin de Thurah, Epoch Films
“The Man Who Couldn’t Slow Down,” Hennessy VS – Droga5
“Human Race,” Acura MDX 2014 – Mullen
Robert B. Aldrich Award – Steven Soderbergh
Frank Capra Achievement Award – Lee Blaine
Franklin J. Schaffner Achievement Award – Vincent DeDario
Diversity Award – Shonda Rhimes & Betsy Beers

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GrabBag – Star Wars, Shorts, and Preferential Balloting Explained

grabbag

Tonight the DGA awards may finally give us a frontrunner in one of the tightest Oscar races ever. Tomorrow the Grammy Awards will be resoundingly ignored by yours truly. It’s too cold to go outside, so here’s a handful of distractions for your weekend…

  • Apparently the new Star Wars VII will NOT be shot in IMAX. Maybe the use of standard (can we say “old-school” yet?) film will help give it that warm, lived-in, epic feel of the old ones that the prequels so sorely lacked. Either way it’s fun to hear the script is complete.
  • The Oscar for Best Picture and Producer’s Guild Award both use a complicated preferential ballot, or “instant run-off,” to determine their winners. Basically the ballots are organized according to the first place votes, and then the one with the fewest… OK, there’s no way I can explain it, myself. Here, watch this 4-minute video instead. It seems crazy and unbelievably impossible to me that with 10 films and 4,700 votes that system somehow ended up in a tie
  • The Onion “reports” that all 10 of this year’s Oscar nominated screenplays were written during the same continuing education screenwriting class. I want to take that class!!!!
  • “Let It Go” from Frozen, sung in 25 different languages, and it’s still gorgeous. 
  • “100 Films / 100 Behind the Scenes Photos” is exactly what it sounds like. Except it’s a 3-part series, so that’s actually 300 photos. Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3

Ok, that’s all for this week. If you have any suggestions for future editions of GrabBag, please email me or post them in the comments. And once again, here’s my plea for any designer willing to donate their skills to help create an original GrabBag logo. Any takers?

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Canceling Cable, Part 2: Should You?

lg-tv-off-small-18634

(This is the second in a 2-part series. Part 1 was posted posted yesterday. Read it here.)

It’s the common wisdom that we are entering a Golden Age of Television, that the best quality filmmaking is now happening on the small screen more than the large. The most talented moviemakers are flocking to TV in droves. Steven Soderbergh gave a speech last year talking about the current crisis-state of the movie industry, and why he’s only going working in the TV sphere going forward. (Or so I have read; I haven’t actually had a chance to listen to the speech myself, yet.)

It’s worth noting that even in the face of all these feature filmmakers jumping ship, we have just had one of the greatest years in recent memory for outstanding quality films, and the spectacle that is Gravity has reminded us that the small screen still cannot compete with the scale of possibility that the big screen affords us.

But it’s true. There are far more options for excellent quality on TV than ever before. (There’s far more everything on TV than ever before.) Most of the best shows are on cable channels. So it would seem that for any lover of quality filmmaking, having cable TV would be a must. But I would consider myself part of that demographic, and I would argue the opposite.

The biggest problem with cable is that the decades old channel-package model just doesn’t make sense anymore. The multiple streaming options I listed yesterday, and countless others, let you pick and choose what you want and when you want it for a fraction of the cost. Cable companies and their channels need to go back to the drawing board to compete. They could start by letting people pick and choose channels a la carte. It would be absolutely the least they could do. They could even work that into the basic structure of their old package model.

But remember that one streaming service I use? The one for an unnamed premium channel that requires a cable subscription to use? That I can only use by borrowing a friend’s password? Well, despite the excellent quality of those shows, if I didn’t have those awesome friends, it still wouldn’t be worth it to pay for cable. Even if I could pick and choose my channels, I would just wait for the DVDs. Unless I could get that channel and only that channel, just for the use of their streaming service, I would be wasting my money.

To really meet the needs of the modern public, the channels need to move away from the idea of a schedule. Life doesn’t fit into perfect 30 minute blocks that begin and end at the same time. People don’t want to be tied to that. When TiVo and similar devices first came out, people first had the option of recording a show and then watching it whenever they wanted. Ever since, cable companies have offered renting similar recording devices with your cable box. But that’s just a fix to a woefully out-of-date structure. They need new ideas.

You know who has new ideas? Netflix. They have been leading the charge against the old guard. They were the first major streaming option for TV shows, and recently the first to create original programming exclusive to a streaming service. I’m not saying they’re perfect by any stretch, but they’re paying attention to what their customers want. Now Hulu and others are following suit. This is where cable companies need to look if they don’t want to get left in the dust.

The cable companies are getting old. They are run by the most deeply entrenched corporate capitalists. But suddenly their precious free-market is scaring them. People are beginning to move away from what they’re offering. Well? Let’s let that free-market do its thing. Cancel your cable. Support the companies who are actually giving you what you want, the way you want it. Maybe they’ll get the message. Maybe they’ll change. And maybe we’ll come back if they do.

I hope so, because there really are  some great shows to be seen.

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Canceling Cable, Part 1: Why I Did It

My bedroom TV at home

My bedroom TV at home

Let’s break for a moment from the glut of Awards Season news, and movies in general, and look at some other screens. This is The Screen Life after all, not Awards!Awards!Awards! There is broader scope to be explored. Today: Cable TV (or lack thereof).

(Never fear, however: Movie awards are fun and this is the season for them, so expect a lot more news and analysis to come.)

I don’t have cable TV. With the exception of one 6 month experiment early last year (more on that later), I’ve been without cable since 2006, one year after I left college. At first it was a conscious decision to help my time management. I would get easily addicted to TV and watch it for hours, to the detriment of my work and sleep. I preferred movies anyway and still blew through precious hours staring at screens. But at least it was directed, scheduled watching, instead of wasting half my life watching whatever happened to be on Cartoon Network even though I could care less about it.

It turned out that the only 2 shows I really cared about – The Daily Show and The Colbert Report – were becoming available online. I would watch them from my work computer during lunch. Everything else I was interested in was available on Netflix. This was before Netflix Streaming, but I would get the DVDs. Honestly I preferred that to traditional TV. I always used to hate shows with ongoing stories that you had to watch every week, because invariably I would miss a week and then be out of the story. I’d have to wait for the DVD anyway to pick it back up.  Watching those shows all at once is just easier.

Since then, as I’m sure you’re well aware, multiple streaming services have popped up. The Netflix boom, gave rise to Hulu, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant, Vudu, and a host of others. My family gets all our TV shows from these, plus one other. I’ll leave it unnamed, because our use of it may not be, strictly speaking, entirely legal. It is owned by a cable channel and requires a premium cable TV account to get a password. Luckily, we have awesome friends.

Our own TV area is a tangle of wires and machines: Smart Blu-ray, Wii, Roku, our new Google Chromcast. Each of these connects to several streaming sites, and admittedly they’ve all got some serious drawbacks. The Wii doesn’t have high definition and uses my TV’s crappy sound rather than my surround system. The Roku is a little older and was only working intermittently, so I relegated it to our secondary TV in another room (seems to be a little better these days; I might move it back). The Blu-ray was great until it stopped streaming Neflix randomly. And the Chromecast, our current go-to, is a little glitchy and still doesn’t support very many services.

Still, all of that is preferable to dealing with and paying for cable TV. We proved that to ourselves last year. We decided to sign up for cable and try it out just for a month or two. We actually did this for network TV because our reception is terrible for some reason, despite living in the heart of St Louis. We usually host an Oscar party, so wanted to make sure we could actually watch the show without extra antenna interference from all the people. At the same time we thought we might enjoy some of the other perks.

We didn’t. There were so many options, all crap, that we couldn’t ever decide what to watch. We ended up streaming our same shows from our same other devices, all the while paying for a cable box that sat unused. The only time we turned it on was for sports and other one-off live shows, which were generally on the network stations anyway. We were throwing our money at nothing, so we cancelled. (Just cable TV, that is. Cable internet seems to be the only option strong enough to handle all our streaming, so Charter still gets our money, just less of it.)

Of course, everybody is different, and my situation may be unique. Check back tomorrow for Part 2, to examine the bigger picture and whether you should follow suit.

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Review – Her

her-movie-joaquin-phoenix

In the near future, a lonely sad sack falls in love with his artificially intelligent computer operating system. From a description of the synopsis it would seem Her’s thesis is all about our increasing connection to our technology, but in fact it has far more to say about the very nature of relationships. The film examines their very concept and how we form them and what it means to fall in love. It explores the expansive grey spectrum between platonic and romantic.

In doing so, writer/director Spike Jonze completely reinvents the romance genre. Up to now “Romance” has mostly become a tired, clichéd amalgam of tropes that rarely provides its passions with a foundation of true heart or warmth or depth, and hasn’t had anything new to say in ages. But Jonze digs deeper and uncovers a world of untapped beauty and complexity. His characters – despite the ostensibly “fantasy” setting – ring truer than most as they hold up a mirror to those of us sitting in the audience.

Joaquin Phoenix gives a remarkable performance. He is on screen the entire movie, and in a sense he has to carry the emotions of two characters in his face, as Samantha the operating system doesn’t have a face to express. That said, Scarlet Johansson finds a way to telegraph those wordless emotions expertly through a voice-only performance. Amy Adams, as the best friend, is fantastic as well. (I far prefer her here than her super-sexualized role in American Hustle.)

Arcade Fire’s score is more subtle than I would’ve expected from them, and perfectly complements the tone and atmosphere. But the real behind-the-scenes star is the work by production designer K.K. Barrett. It’s a simple subtle vision of the near future. Fashions, with the exception of a penchant for high-waited pants, aren’t all that different from today as you would expect from a “futuristic sci-fi.” Art and décor has a minimalist beauty. And the technology mixes modern and natural, from a brown leather-backed pocket computer to a gorgeous sleek wood-paneled desktop monitor. (Apple, get on this – I want that desktop for myself!!!)

Her received 5 Oscar nominations for Original Screenplay, Production Design, Score, Song, and Best Picture. All are richly deserved, and I would be excited if any of them won.

When I published my Top 10 list at the beginning of the year, this was the film I was most concerned about possibly leaving out, but it hadn’t opened in St Louis yet. Now that I’ve seen it, I know my concerns were warranted. If I can change my list (and I can, because it’s mine!), Her would tie with Nebraska for #2, right behind The Wolf of Wall Street and ahead of Gravity.

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Weekend Wrap-up: The Producers Keep It Interesting

Gravity-debris-2

This weekend the first two all-important film industry guilds announced their winners: the actors (SAG) and the producers (PGA). Next weekend the directors (DGA) will follow suit. Usually between these three a frontrunner emerges which goes on to take the top prize at the Oscars.

This race is one of the tightest in years, with essentially three frontrunners. Last week I predicted that each of those three would take one of the three main guild awards: American Hustle – SAG (ensemble), 12 Years a Slave – PGA, Gravity – DGA. It was a fairly wild guess, since that kind of thing never happens. One film always takes two, if not or all three, and then goes on to win Best Picture

On Saturday night SAG Awards (scroll to the bottom to see the complete list of winners) appeared to stick to the script. All their film winners were pretty well expected. Cate Blanchett and Jared Leto continued their respective steamrolls through Best Actress and Supporting Actor. They are the 2 surest bets for winning gold on Oscar night, as nobody has been able to beat them in any of the precursors. Matthew McConaughey continued to strengthen his frontrunner status for Best Actor. The biggest excitement was Lupita Nyong’o winner for her supporting performance in 12 Years over Jennifer Lawrence. But even that wasn’t really a surprise – the two have been neck and neck all season, and many pundits (not yours truly, though) think Lawrence will have a hard time winning back to back Oscars.

Hustle took Best Ensemble, as I and many others predicted. 12 Years surely provided stiff competition, but the former was the more obvious acting showcase. And in a very tight race, that was all that was needed to pull ahead for an award that honors the actors rather than the movie itself.

Still, the SAG ensemble very often goes to the eventual Best Picture Oscar winner, so without word yet from any one else in the industry, Hustle essentially took the lead. But in a race so tight anything could happen, literally that – “anything” – was about to.

The PGA awarded an unprecedented 2-film tie! If Hustle had been one of those two films it might have held onto its frontrunner status, but it wasn’t. Gravity and 12 Years split the prize. In a sense my prediction was correct that all three films would win a major guild award, but there was no way I could’ve imagined that would happen a week before the third would even announce.

Over the last 4 years the PGA (for comparison: the Best Picture Oscar is also awarded to a film’s producers) has become THE most predictive of the guilds, since they are the only ones besides the Academy to use a complex “preferential balloting system” (as opposed to a simple weighted ballot) to determine their winners. In this system getting 1st place votes is important, but so is getting 2nd and 3rd. So a winning film has to evoke passion in a much broader cross-section of voters. “Love-it-or-hate-it” films don’t weather this process well.

Given that complex process and the PGA’s 4,700 voting members, one would think a tie is statistically impossible to come by. Yet that’s what happened, and suddenly our best predictor is useless. (Ok, not useless, but you know…)

Of course now the DGA is the key. Whoever wins that will have 2 to everyone else’s 1, and will become considered the frontrunner. I still suspect that’s going to be Gravity. Alfonso Cuaron has been picking up director prizes more consistently than other film, making his film the safest bet. But at this point the race is so convoluted that even that safest bet wouldn’t necessarily be a safe bet.

That said, Oscar voting hasn’t even started yet. By the time they do, that frontrunner, however tenuous, will be known. AMPAS, just like everyone else, likes to rally behind a winner. Chances are the majority of voters will get behind the perceived leader, making it the de facto leader, and the eventual winner.

So, while it’s still early and I reserved the right to change my mind several times in light of new information, I am now prepared to make my first official Oscar Prediction of the season:

Gravity will win the Oscar for Best Picture.

Still, it could easily go any direction, and that’s what’s so exciting. That’s why I may be having the most fun I’ve had since I started paying attention to awards season more than 15 years ago. This is fantastic!

Here is the complete list of SAG and PGA winners. (Check them against my predictions here.)

SAG

THEATRICAL MOTION PICTURES
Actor – Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club”
Actress – Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine”
Supporting Actor – Jared Leto, “Dallas Buyers Club”
Supporting Actress – Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years a Slave”
Ensemble – American Hustle

TELEVISION PROGRAMS
Actor, TV Movie or Miniseries – Michael Douglas, “Behind the Candelabra”
Actress, TV Movie or Miniseries – Helen Mirren, “Phil Spector”
Actor, Drama – Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad”
Actress, Drama – Maggie Smith, “Downton Abbey”
Actor, Comedy – Ty Burrell, “Modern Family”
Actress, Comedy – Julia Louis-Drefus, “Veep”
Ensemble, Drama – Breaking Bad
Ensemble, Comedy – Modern Family

STUNT ENSEMBLES
Stunt Ensemble in a Motion Picture – Lone Survivor
Stunt Ensemble in a Comedy or Drama Series – Game of Thrones

 

PGA

Theatrical Motion Pictures -TIE- Gravity and 12 Years a Slave
Animated Theatrical Motion Pictures – Frozen
Documentary Theatrical Motion Pictures – We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks
Long-Form Television – Behind the Candelabra
Episodic Television, Drama – Breaking Bad
Episodic Television, Comedy – Modern Family
Non-Fiction Television – Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown
Competition Television – The Voice
Live Entertainment & Talk Television – The Colbert Report
Sports Program – SportsCenter
Children’s Program – Sesame Street
Digital Series – “Wired: What’s Inside” (http://video.wired.com/series/what-s-inside)
The Davie O. Selznick Achievement Award – Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli
The Norman Lear Achievement Award – Chuck Lorre
The Stanley Kramer Award – Fruitvale Station
Milestone Award – Bob Iger
Vanguard Award – Peter Jackson, Joe Letteri and Weta Digital
Visionary Award – Chris Meledandri

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