Friday, February 27, 2015

Movie Review: Bad Turn Worse


Bad Turn Worse
Directed by: Simon Hawkins & Zeke Hawkins.
Written by: Dutch Southern.
Starring: Jeremy Allen White (Bobby), Logan Huffman (B.J.), Mackenzie Davis (Sue), Mark Pellegrino (Giff), William Devane (Big Red), Jon Gries (Sheriff Shep).

If you are making a Texas-set noir, you know you are going too compared to the work of Jim Thompson – the great noir writer, who set much of his work there, among the low level criminals and regular folk who become criminals in an attempt to get out of their dead end lives. Bad Turn Worse, directed by Simon & Zeke Hawkins and written by Dutch Southern, knows they are going to be compared to Thompson – and they don’t try and hide the influence he had on their film. In the film’s first dialogue sequence, Sue (Mackenzie Davis) gives Bobby (Jeremy Allen White) one of Thompson’s books, and tells him to read it. “You’ll like it – it’s about here”, she tells him. The pair of them are in the summer between high school and college – and they cannot wait to get out. Sue is the smartest of the pair – she has outgrown this town a long time ago, and isn’t really trying to hide that anymore. Bobby is not quite as intellectually curious as Sue – but he doesn’t want to stay in town and work in the kind of dead end job that everyone he knows does. Sue’s boyfriend is Bobby’s best friend – BJ (Logan Huffman) – who is a lunk head, but is putting on a brave face knowing that his “best friend and best girl” are about to leave him behind. BJ decides that what the trio really needs is one last blowout before the pair leave him behind – and he has a wad of bills in his pocket that will pay for that weekend in Corpus Christi. Bobby and Sue don’t ask questions about where the money came from – and just go out and help him spend it. We know where BJ got it though – he has stolen it from his and Bobby’s boss, Giff (Mark Pellegrino) – a low level criminal who thinks he’s a little smarter than he really is. But what he lacks in smarts, he makes up for with meanness – returning from their weekend, BJ and Bobby find Giff kicking his Mexican employee who was supposed to guard the money. Even after Bobby – for something his friend did confesses, Giff still shoots the Mexican, who should have guarded his money better. Giff may not be overly smart – but he’s sharp enough to figure out that anything Bobby did, BJ and Sue would also be in on. And instead of killing the trio – he tells them that to make it up to him, all they have to do is rob Giff’s boss – a mobster called Big Red. According to Giff, that will be easy – but of course, nothing goes according to plan.

Bad Turn Worse is by no means a great film – but for its first hour, it is a good modern noir. It is a clever twist to set the movie in the summer between high school and college – which has been the setting for countless teen movies, of course, but never a noir like this (at least to my recollection). What’s remarkable is how easily that oft-documented time suits a noir like this. The three main characters are bored – in different ways – but basically their life is in a holding pattern. Sue knows she is going on to bigger and better things – the types of things she has read about in all of her books. She fancies herself the smartest person around – and to an extent she is, but she isn’t quite as smart as she thinks she is. Bobby is acting the part of a guy excited to leave town – but a scene late in the second act with his family (a quiet one, that happens so quickly, I almost I missed it) suggests that he is hiding more than it seems – and that part of what he is doing is putting on an act to impress Sue, which works, to a certain extent. Neither of them take BJ that seriously – but they should. He isn’t quite as dumb as he seems.

Unfortunately, Bad Turn Worse comes apart in its final act – which has one twist and turn after another, and involves multiple instances of the talking villain featuring them say things like “It was all part of the plan” – and then proceed to explain their plan, only to realize that someone else has double crossed them, and will eventually have to explain what they did. It gets to a point where in all honesty, I just stopped caring, and wanted the film to end.

But the film does work for most of its runtime – and shows real promise from the first time directors and writer. They were smart enough to try not to be overly ambitious their first time out – and basically have constructed a solid noir – with some fine performances. It may not be the most original film of the year – but it’s a fun little noir for most of its runtime.  

Monday, February 23, 2015

Oscar Reactions


Oscar Reactions

 

So, another Oscar year is in the books – and I have to say, I’m kind of relieved. They show last night wasn’t particularly good – either in terms of the show itself, or the winners, but it wasn’t a tragedy either. So, let’s have a look back at what happened last night – in three categories – my predictions, the winners and the show itself.

 

Predictions

 

To put it mildly, I did awful in my predictions this year – getting only 13 out of 21 correct. With the benefit of hindsight, I will admit that I probably looked into my predictions too early, and was too stubborn to change them even when evidence suggested I was wrong. I got three top categories wrong – Picture, Director and Actor. I am not shocked that Birdman won either Picture or Director – but I was kind of expecting a split in those two awards between Birdman and Boyhood – it would have been safer to bet on Birdman for both, but I stuck with Boyhood for both thinking the split would happen, and I’d get one of two. Didn’t happen. I’m still mystified at how Birdman became the big Oscar winner of the night – and yet Michael Keaton lost Best Actor to Eddie Redmayne. Still, the writing was on the wall, so I should have seen it coming. I also got Original Screenplay wrong – thinking that Academy would not see a reason to give Birdman everything, so that would go to Grand Budapest. Once again, wrong. I got two of the Whiplash wins wrong – thinking that Editing for Boyhood was going to happen, and betting on American Sniper for both sound awards (hell, it won one). I got Foreign Language wrong – it was a tossup, but I thought Leviathan had more audience appeal than Ida – and clearly, I was wrong. I got animated film wrong – thinking How to Train Your Dragon 2 was going to win, and instead they went with Big Hero 6. If The Lego Movie couldn’t win – and the two smaller nominees couldn’t either, it was a tossup. I tossed wrong.

 

This was as bad as I have ever done predicting wise. Most of the time, when I lock in around the time of the nominations, I am normally right. This year, changes happened in Phase 2 – post nominations – and I didn’t react enough to them. Lesson learned.

 

The Winners

 

In terms of the actual awards, I was happier in the first half of the program than the second half. The two supporting acting races went as expected – but both Simmons and Arquette were more than deserving, so that was good. The Grand Budapest Hotel (rightly) dominated the “below the line” categories – picking up Oscars for Costume, Production Design, Makeup and Score (the last one finally giving the great Alexandre Desplat his Oscar). Whiplash and American Sniper splitting the Sound awards was fine, and Emmanuel Lubezki winning his second cinematography Oscar in a row was ok with me (even if I would have picked Grand Budapest or Mr. Turner there instead). Ida is a fine Best Foreign Language Film winner – one of the best in years really – and I have no strong feelings about Big Hero 6 winning animated film, or Citizenfour winning Documentary. Neither was my choice – but my choices weren’t nominated. Selma winning Song was also a fitting tribute to that movie – that should have been nominated for a lot more. How can anyone be upset about Interstellar winning Visual Effects – even if you didn’t love the film?

 

It was when Whiplash won editing that things started to turn. Any chance of Boyhood holding on to win either Picture or Director (or even screenplay) seemed to go away when Whiplash won. If the Academy didn’t love the editing of 12 years’ worth of footage together to make a coherent movie, than they clearly didn’t love the movie very much. I say this as someone who thinks Whiplash was a worthy winner – better than most winners in this category really – but still, when that happened, I knew what was coming.

 

It got worse when Birdman won Original Screenplay. If there was one category that Birdman really didn’t deserve to win – it was here. What was worse, is that I thought this would be Wes Anderson’s consolation prize for Grand Budapest – which was my favorite of the year. If Richard Linklater had won for Boyhood, I also would have been happy. But if there was any doubt that a Birdman sweep was coming, it was when it won here. Its eventual wins for Picture and Director became a foregone conclusion. (I’ll circle back to Birdman in a moment).

 

The awards for the two lead acting categories were anti-climactic. I don’t know how anyone can be upset with Julianne Moore winning an Oscar – she should have at least two or three at home by now. I just wish it had been for one of her better performances than Still Alice. Eddie Redmayne’s win is still strange to me – how the hell did the Academy love Birdman THIS much, and not give this award to Keaton? Redmayne’s win is the kind that will be held up for mockery in years to come when people say they always give Oscars to actors playing in biopics and people with disabilities. It was a fine performance – WAY better than the movie itself, but it doesn’t come much more Oscar clich├ęd than this one.

 

So back to Birdman in a moment. I’m not going to insult a movie that I really like. I watched it again (with my wife, on DVD) the night before the Oscars – and while the things I didn’t like bugged me even more the second time through, it’s still a really good film that I think is very much of its time and place (perhaps a little too much, but whatever). For me, it fits right in with recent winners like Argo, The Artist or The King’s Speech – fine films all, but nothing I would say is a masterpiece. Yes, it makes the Academy look even more ego-maniacal than normal – as for the third time in four years they have given a film about Hollywood the Best Picture Oscar. But it’s a fine film just the same.

 

What bugged me a little bit though was just how much they loved Birdman – how by giving it Picture, Director and Original Screenplay, the Academy is basically saying that Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu deserves three Oscars for Birdman, and Richard Linklater and Wes Anderson deserve zero for Boyhood or The Grand Budapest Hotel. I have a feeling that Wes Anderson may be entering the post-Fargo Coen brother period of his career, Oscar-wise (that is, a long time, quirky, critically acclaimed auteurs that the Academy ignored for a long time that they finally come around on. Perhaps he does have an Oscar win at some point in his future. I’m not as convinced with Richard Linklater – who has probably done the most acclaimed film he will ever make in Boyhood, and they still basically shrugged their shoulders at the film. We’ll most likely see a clip of him receiving an honorary Oscar thirty years down the line.

 

But Birdman is far from an embarrassment. It would not have been my choice, but it’s a decent one just the same. They’ve done both better and worst in the past –and will do so again in the future.

 

The Show

 

I’m not going to say too much about the show itself – which by and large was the kind of long, boring slog that some people think every Oscar show, although usually I defend them. I cannot really defend this one. I don’t know what happened – Neil Patrick Harris is talented – he can sing, dance and is funny – and yet for the most part, he fell flat for me last night. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and say it was the material and not him – especially since he has been good as hosting other things in the past. Still, I won’t be sad if he doesn’t host again – and if he does, that he’ll leave poor Octavia Spencer alone.

 

The musical numbers were, for the most part, underwhelming. Everything is Awesome was fun – but that was because is was a complete and total mess (or at least seemed like). The one exception was John Legend and Common – who killed it on Glory. The odd tribute to The Sound of Music – which didn’t start until well after 11pm my time, was overlong, and I just wanted to see Birdman win so I could go to bed – but damn it, Lady Gaga can sing.

 

Strangely, the best thing about the show were the speeches – many of whom were memorable in that they didn’t just list off a bunch of names and bore us, but actually were heartfelt and meaningful. No, Graham Moore shouldn’t have won for The Imitation Game – but that was a great speech. As were the ones by J.K. Simmons, Patricia Arquette, John Legend & Common and several others. No one was better than Pawel Pawlikowski, who outlasted the orchestra that was trying to play him off – and it was glorious. Years from now, the speeches will be remember from this year’s Oscars – and not much else.

 

And so, that does it. In the end, it was a great year for movies – and you know something, the Academy recognized some of the best of them. Yes, more so in the nominating round than the winning round, but any year that films as wonderful and diverse as Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, American Sniper, Selma, Whiplash and, yes, Birdman, got nominated for Oscars, is a good year. Yes, it ended with a whimper, but you cannot win them all.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Best "Lone Director" Nominees of All Time

When the Oscar nominees were announced this year, we saw something that we had not seen since 2007 – the “lone director” nomination. That is someone nominated for Best Director, whose film was not nominated for Best Picture. This used to be an almost yearly occurrence – the years where all five Best Picture nominees had their directors nominated were the exception, and not the rule. Still, it happened in 2008 – and then in 2009 the Academy expanded their list of Best Picture nominees to 10 – and a few years later, a floating number between 5 and 10, and since then, all five directors nominated had their films in the Best Picture race as well. This year though, Bennett Miller got nominated for Foxcatcher – which didn’t crack the Best Picture lineup. Exciting times indeed.

For years, we could always count on this – with the directors, a smaller branch of only a few hundred compared to the thousands of Academy members, usually given a lone director nod to a auteur, a foreign director, or just someone else. More often than not, to me anyway, the lone director had made a film greater than at least a few of the nominees for Best Picture. So, I decided to look back at the 20 Best Lone Directors in Oscar history – but I limited myself to one spot per director, or else this list would simply be dominated by a few names. Enjoy.

20. Spike Jonze for Being John Malkovich (1999)
Being John Malkovich was a wholly original film when it came out in 1999 – a shock to the system really, as it was funny, mind bending and somewhat profound. As the years passed, screenwriter Charlie Kaufman got the bulk of the praise for the film – and he deserves it no doubt, but Jonze’s direction is also excellent at every step of the way – going to strange, surreal places, and coming out with something hilarious and original. The nominees for Best Picture that year included The Cider House Rules (which also had director Lasse Hallstrom nominated) and The Green Mile (which didn’t have director Frank Darabont nominated) – but what film has lasted longer in our memories? I think we know.


19. Steven Spielberg for Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
The video of a young Spielberg being bitterly disappointed for not being nominated for Best Director for Jaws (1975) is infamous now (his disbelief that they chose Fellini over him is priceless). The next time Spielberg made a film it got the opposite response as Jaws – he sneaked into the Best Director race, but Close Encounters of the Third Kind  didn’t crack the Best Picture lineup. This could well be that his good friend George Lucas made a little film called Star Wars, and that did crack the Best Picture lineup (and you cannot have two sci-fi films in the race, that would be ridiculous). All these years later, Close Encounters still ranks among Spielberg’s best films – and it easily could have replaced The Goodbye Girl or The Turning Point with no one caring.


18. Atom Egoyan for The Sweet Hereafter (1997)
It is important to remember before his current string of disappointments, Atom Egoyan was a legitimately great filmmaker – and The Sweet Hereafter is his masterpiece. A melancholy film about a tragic school bus accident, and its aftermath, Egoyan made a profound, heartbreaking film that still ranks among the greatest Canadian films in history. To some, this was his last great film – but I quite like Felicia’s Journey, Ararat and even Where the Truth Lies (and to a lesser extent, Adoration) – but there is no question, Egoyan’s best work seems years behind now – but he did do great work. The film was always too small, too intimate for the big race – although wouldn’t you rather it be nominated than As Good As It Gets, Good Will Hunting or The Full Monty?


17. Michelangelo Antonioni for Blow-Up (1966)
Legendary Italian filmmaker Antonioni had a long, brilliant career – and he eventually did get a lifetime achievement Oscar in 1995 – but he only received two Oscar nominations in his career, for writing and directing Blow-Up. In 1966, the studio system was dying, American directors were just starting to emulate their European peers – like Antonioni – but they hadn’t quite done that yet. Blow-Up must have seemed revolutionary at the time. It has aged – more than Antonioni’s other masterpieces like L’Aventurra, L’Eclisse or Red Desert for example – but it’s still and excellent directorial effort – certainly more than eventual winner Fred Zinneman for A Man for All Seasons – another film that has aged more than a little bit.


16. Bernardo Bertolucci for Last Tango in Paris (1973)
It would inconceivable for a film like Last Tango in Paris to be nominated for anything today – but back in 1973, they gave Bertolucci a director nomination (and Brando an actor nomination) for their infamous art film, about a lonely widower using and abusing a young woman for sex. It is a great, mysterious film –a hugely critically acclaimed one at the time, and even if it has aged a bit, I still love it – and admire the director’s branch for giving Bertolucci a richly deserved nomination. He would eventually win two Oscars – for writing and director The Last Emperor (1987) – but this is the better film.


15. Lina Wertmueller for Seven Beauties (1976)
The first female director nominated would mark this as a landmark no matter what – but the fact that she made a truly great film makes it even better. Her film, centered on an Italian womanizer (the also nominated Giancarlo Gianni) and his experience in WWII – most notably in a Nazi prison camp – is still shocking and brilliant today. She was a pioneer in many ways, and deserved this nomination – even if she did take Martin Scorsese’s spot, whose film Taxi Driver got nominated for Best Picture, but he not nominated for director.


14. Richard Brooks for In Cold Blood (1967)
In Cold Blood is Truman Capote’s true crime masterpiece, who Richard Brooks turned into a cinematic masterpiece – an examination of senseless violence, and the men who committed it. The film came out the same year as Arthur Penn’s masterpiece, Bonnie and Clyde, and the two films couldn’t be more different in their depictions of the outlaws – although both are equally brilliant – the final scenes in this film are as good as anything ever put to film. Brooks had previously been a lone director nominee for The Professionals (1966) – a fine, entertaining Western (although that film wouldn’t have made this list) – and had previously won an Oscar for his screenplay for Elmer Gantry. But this is his masterpiece.


13. Otto Preminger for Laura (1944)
Otto Preminger had a great directing career – but I’m not sure he ever made a better film than Laura – his 1944 film noir, murder mystery where detective Dana Stevens falls in love with the murder victim as he tries to piece together what exactly happened. It is an expertly crafted film – the direction is better than the screenplay (I remember images more than the plot here) – and it’s one of the best films of its kind. Nearly 20 years later, Preminger was once again a lone directing nominee for The Cardinal (1963) – although since I have not seen that film, I cannot say where it would rank here. But his 1959 film, Anatomy of a Murder, which got into Best Picture, but not director, should have landed him an Oscar win.


12. Billy Wilder for Some Like it Hot (1959)
Some Like it Hot is one of the best screen comedies in history – a rather daring look at sexuality for 1959 that goes well beyond its premise of having Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis dress like women. The film has some of the best gags, best performances, and best direction of any comedy of its time, and it’s unthinkable that it didn’t get a Best Picture nomination, although it didn’t. Wilder had previously won an Oscar for directing The Lost Weekend (1945) and would win the following year for The Apartment – and was actually a lone director nominee for two other films, Stalag 17 (1953) – which probably would have made this list on its own, and Sabrina (1954) – which most likely wouldn’t have, even though I quite like it.


11. Carol Reed for The Third Man (1950)
Carol Reed’s The Third Man ranks as one of the greatest films ever made – with a masterful performance by Orson Welles as Harry Lime, one of the screen’s all-time great villains. Reed’s direction is masterful throughout – the infamous scene near the end in the sewers is one of the greatest chase sequences of all time, but there is a lot of great work here throughout. Reed pulled off the lone director nominee thing the previous year as well for the wonderful The Fallen Idol (1949) – and he would eventually win a directing Oscar for Oliver (1968) – a film I despise. But the Third Man is one of the best directed films of all time – and clearly deserved more love.


10. Robert Altman for The Player (1992)
Robert Altman was off in the indie film, TV film wilderness for most of the 1980s, after directing the bomb Popeye (1980). He continued to work, but no one much paid attention. That all changed in 1992 when he came back in a big way for The Player – his merciless skewering of Hollywood greed and shallowness, that features a brilliant, extended long take at the beginning, and does great work throughout. On another day, I may well have put his lone director nomination for the following year’s Short Cuts (1993) on this list instead – it may be an even better film, but his nomination for The Player seems like a more important one.


9. Martin Scorsese for The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
In 1988, Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ was far and away the most controversial movie of the year – hell perhaps of the decade. The film was greeted by protests from religious groups, and even threats of violence if the film came out. Unsurprisingly, the Academy as a whole ignored the film – they nominated it for nothing else – but the director stood behind Scorsese and nominated him. And he deserved it – The Last Temptation of Christ is a masterpiece – far less controversial in terms of content than the fury around the film suggested. Good for the directors for sticking by Scorsese.


8. Woody Allen for Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)
As more time goes by, I think more and more that Crimes and Misdemeanors is Woody Allen’s best film – a brilliant examination of a man (Martin Landau) who commits murder, and finds he can live with himself because of it. That is deep, dark stuff – and it is brilliantly well handled by Allen and his cast. The other half of the film, with Allen as documentary filmmaker and his martial issues, and his asshole brother in law, Alan Alda (who has never been better in a movie). The film is brilliant, funny, dark, disturbing and one of the greatest films of the 1980s – and it didn’t get in for Best Picture. Allen was also a lone director nominee three other times – for Interiors (1978), Broadway Danny Rose (1984) and Bullets Over Broadway (1994) – although none are among my favorite Allen films.

7. Ingmar Bergman for Fanny & Alexander (1983)
Ingmar Bergman was actually one of the Academy’s favorite foreign directors – he was nominated for three Best Director Oscars – the first for Cries and Whispers (1973) – that was nominated for Picture, the second for Face to Face (1976) – which wasn’t (but I haven’t seen, shamefully, although for a long time it was unavailable). He also had several foreign language film wins. The best film that he made that got Oscar consideration was his final masterpiece – the epic Fanny & Alexander. The film won a few Oscars – and got Bergman a richly deserved director nomination – but couldn’t break into the Best Picture race – even though it was significantly better than anything nominated.

6. Akira Kurosawa for Ran (1985)
Akira Kurosawa was one of the greatest filmmakers in history – and even though he enjoyed a very long career, he only ever got nominated for one individual Oscar – for directing his final masterpiece, Ran, in 1985. (Two if his films, Rashomon -1950 and Dersu Uzala – 1975 – won foreign language Oscars, which usually go to the director, although officially, the country of origin is the winner – not the director). Ran, which is a samurai version of King Lear, is one of Kurosawa’s very best films – a masterpiece, the best film of the year, and one that puts the eventual winner – Out of Africa – to shame. He was 75 at the time, and had survived at least one suicide attempt, but he made a masterpiece – and the directors finally recognized him.


5. Federico Fellini for La Dolce Vita (1961)
Fellini was one of the Academy’s favorite foreign filmmakers – he had numerous films nominated for and winning the Foreign Language film Oscar, and numerous screenplay nominations as well. He also received 4 best director nominations – and none of them got nominated for best picture (I believe, along with Woody Allen, he has the most “lone director” nominees at four). My favorite of his films is La Dolce Vita – which got him his first best director nomination back in 1961 – the film is a masterpiece about a man living what he thinks is the perfect life, when in reality it is a shallow, meaningless existence. Most others think his masterpiece is 8 ½ (1963) – another lone director nominee (which likely would be in this exact same position had he not been nominated for La Dolce Vita). Amarcord (1975) would also be somewhere on this list as well had I not limited it to one place for director. I am not a huge fan of Satyricon (1970) – but I admire the guts of the directors for giving such an insane film a best director nomination.

4. John Cassavetes for A Woman Under the Influence (1974)
John Cassavetes is one of the best – and most influential – American filmmakers in history – an indie filmmaker, before there was such a thing as indie filmmakers. He ended up getting nominated for three Oscars during his career – for his supporting performance in The Dirty Dozen (1967) and writing Faces (1968) – his real breakthrough as a director. His masterpiece though was A Woman Under the Influence – a maddening, brilliant, exuberant, two and a half hour long epic about a woman with some issues – brilliantly played by Cassavetes wife Gena Rowlands. Cassavetes was an outsider for his entire directing career – but they nominated him once – and he deserved it. There was stiff competition that year – with two Coppola masterpieces (the Godfather Part II, The Conversation) and a Polanski one (Chinatown) – but they still should have found room for this masterwork.

3. Alfred Hitchcock for Rear Window (1954)

Alfred Hitchcock got nominated for five best director nominations – including for Best Picture winner Rebecca (1940) – although he lost to John Ford for The Grapes of Wrath – and Best Picture nominee Spellbound (1945). The best of his three lone director nominations was for 1954’s Rear Window – a voyeuristic masterpiece with Jimmy Stewart delivering one of his best performances as a wheelchair bound man who thinks he has witnesses a murder. It is an absolute master – one of the best films ever made, and one of Hitch’s best. Another lone director nomination for Hitch that would have gotten him this exact same spot would be Psycho (1960) – another absolute masterpiece. Much further down the list would be his first lone director nominee Lifeboat (1944) – as much as I love it. The fact that arguably the most famous (and inarguably in the top two) director of all time never won an Oscar for directing is embarrassing – but the did nominate some of his best work.

2. David Lynch for Mulholland Dr. (2001)
Nearly three years ago when I did my top 10 list of all time, David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. was on that list. The Academy as a whole didn’t love the film – it got nominated for a total of zero other Oscars, not even for Naomi Watts brilliant performance, or the screenplay, or the score or anything else. Mulholland Dr. is my favorite Lynch film – one that he turned into a cinematic masterpiece out of a failed TV pilot – an ever mysterious, every involving, surreal, nightmarish masterpiece. Don’t believe those online who will tell you that they “have it all figured out”. Who cares? The film is brilliant. And for the record, Lynch’s other lone director nomination, for Blue Velvet (1986) would be in this exact spot if Mulholland Dr. wasn’t – hell, sometimes, I think it’s the better movie.


1. Stanley Kubrick for 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
To me, the ultimate lone director nominee was never in doubt – it has to be Stanley Kubrick, one of the greatest directors in history, for his greatest film – 2001: A Space Odyssey. 1968 was a horror show for the Oscars – the horrible Oliver won Picture and Director, Cliff Robertson’s awful performance in Charly won Best Actor. None of the nominees for Best Picture are all that great – I liked A Lion in Winter, but really. Meanwhile, they had one of the greatest films in history in 2001 – and they didn’t nominate it for Best Picture, which has to be among the biggest embarrassments in Oscar history. At least the directors got it right, and nominated him. Kubrick did win an Oscar for 2001 – for visual effects. But he damn well should have won for Director as well.

If your favorite Lone Director isn’t listed above, here are some other names that made the spot, that I also quite liked. Pedro Almodovar for Talk to Her (2002) was really the last nominee of the kind the directors used to give often – the critically acclaimed foreign auteur. Charles Crichton for A Fish Called Wanda (1988) got in for a looney comedy, and I love that. Michael Curtiz for Angels with Dirty Faces (1938) had some great moments, including that finale. Mike Figgis for Leaving Las Vegas (1995) did far and away his best work – and made a film much better than any of the nominees. Milos Forman for The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996) was a two time winner, who couldn’t get his porn king biopic into the big race. Stephen Frears for The Grifters (1990) made neat incestuous, neo-noir. John Huston for The Asphalt Jungle (1950) made a great, prototypical noir. Elia Kazan for East of Eden (1955) did some of his best work in color here. Kryztof Kiewslowski for Red (1994) probably got in because the directors loved the whole three colors trilogy – and nominated his best film. Gregory LaCava for My Man Godfrey (1936) made a great screwball comedy, and I have no idea how it didn’t crack the Best Picture lineup. Mike Leigh for Vera Drake (2004) is one of his best directed films. Fernando Meirelles for City of God (2003) was pure, shocking joy when it was announced. Bennett Miller for Foxcatcher (2014) the latest recipient, deserved to get into the Best Picture race. Wolfgang Peterson for Das Boot (1982) is the greatest submarine movie ever made. Sydney Pollack for They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969) made a film with a ton of nominations, that somehow didn’t get in. Gillo Pontecorvo for The Battle of Algiers (1968) is a masterclass in political filmmaking. Jean Renoir for The Southerner (1944) is nowhere near the master’s best work, but deserves praise just the same. Martin Ritt for Hud (1963) made a film that won two acting Oscars, and was far better than anything nominated. Tim Robbins for Dead Man Walking (1995) did his best work behind the camera here. Richard Rush for The Stunt Man (1980) was gloriously insane. John Scheslinger for Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971) made a sensitive, daring film that the Academy as a whole wasn’t ready for. Barbet Schroeder for Reversal of Fortune (1990) is an amazingly good movie – his best in America. Ridley Scott for Black Hawk Down (2001) is sustained directorial brilliance (and yes, I know he pulled off the same thing for Thelma and Louise – I just don’t like that film), John Singleton for Boyz in the Hood (1991) was the first black filmmaker nominated – something the Academy as a whole clearly did not embrace. Robert Siodmak for The Killers (1946) made one the best noirs here. John Sturges for Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) is incredibly entertaining, and contains some of Spencer Tracy’s best work. Francois Truffaut for Day for Night (1973) was a love letter to cinema – and the directors got that.  Peter Weir for The Truman Show (1998) gets more relevant each year. William Wyler for Detective Story (1951) and The Collector (1965) is the most nominated director in history – and delivered two excellent films that didn’t find favor higher up.

And for the record, these following acclaimed lone directors are films that I have not seen, so I couldn’t consider them for the list (I exclude the ones from directors above, that I already noted: Jules Dassin for Never on Sunday (1960), Pietro Germi for Divorce, Italian Style (1962), Lasse Hallstrom for My Life as a Dog (1987), David Lean for Summertime (1955), Claude Lelouch for A Man and a Woman (1966), Edouard Molinaro for La Cage Aux Folles (1979), Mike Nichols for Silkwood (1983), Hiroshi Teshigahara for Woman in the Dunes (1965), King Vidor for The Citadel (1938) and War & Peace (1956).

This still doesn’t cover everyone – so if they’re not above, I either didn’t think too much of their films, or overlooked them. If you want to make a case for any of them, let me know.

Oscar Winner Predictions - Recap

In case you don't want to read the entirety of the posts, here in one easily one are my picks on how is going to win.
 
Best Picture: Boyhood
Best Director: Richard Linklater for Boyhood
Best Actor: Michael Keaton, Birdman
Best Actress: Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Best Supporting Actor: J.K. Simmons, Whiplash
Best Supporting Actress: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Best Adapted Screenplay: The Imitation Game
Best Original Screenplay: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Cinematography: Birdman
Costume Design: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Film Editing: Boyhood
Makeup & Hairstyling: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Original Score: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Original Song: Selma - Glory
Production Design: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Sound Editing: American Sniper
Sound Mixing: American Sniper
Visual Effects: Interstellar
Foreign Language Film: Leviathan
Documentary: Citizenfour
Animated Films: How to Train Your Dragon 2

Oscar Winner Predictions: Picture, Director and Writing


Final set of predictions - Picture, Director and the two screenplay categories.
 
Best Adapted Screenplay
5. Inherent Vice – Paul Thomas Anderson
For Him: Paul Thomas Anderson has been nominated for four writing Oscars at this point – and lost the first three. Out of all the authors to adapt, trying to do that to Thomas Pynchon must have been daunting – and he did it brilliantly.
Against Him: All of that got him the nomination – but he’s up against four Best Picture nominees, and his film didn’t get in. One day, it will look ridiculous that he hasn’t won already – but in the here and now, he doesn’t have a chance.

4. The Theory of Everything – Anthony McCarten
For Him: The Academy clearly likes the movie quite a bit – and his work is understated and sensitive, finding the people beneath the surface.
Against Him: Truly, the only elements of the movie that have received universal praise has been the acting – the writing seems like an afterthought – so I think he doesn’t have much of a chance.

3. American Sniper – Jason Hall
For Him: He was friendly with the subject, knew it inside out, and crafted a movie that both pays tribute to him, and allows you to question him at the same time. The film has become a huge hit – and in many ways, Hall has become its principal spokesman, since Clint hasn’t said much.
Against Him: The fact that the film has become a huge hit with the Fox News crowd (who I think misrepresent the film, but I digress) – but that may not sit well with the mainly liberal academy, which will walk away for it.

2. Whiplash – Damien Chazelle
For Him: They obviously really like Chazelle’s film – a Best Picture nominee, and likely winner for Supporting Actor. He didn’t have a chance when everyone thought it was an original screenplay – but since moving to the adapted category (he made a short last year with this premise), he all of a sudden has a chance. He is the only writer-director in this category who has a chance.
Against Him: I think many will think giving Simmons the Supporting Actor Oscar will be enough for Whiplash. It will have a lot of support, but also some detractors. Of all the elements of the film, the screenplay is probably the least praised element of it.

1. The Imitation Game – Graham Moore
For Him: They really do like the film, which for a while people thought was the frontrunner to win the Best Picture Oscar. Now that it’s not, this is likely the only big Oscar the film could get – and most likely will.
Against Him: A lot of people do not actually love The Imitation Game – they like it, they respect it, but they don’t love it. I think Inherent Vice, Whiplash and American Sniper all have passionate fans – so that could push it out.

Who Will Win: The Imitation Game. Consensus usually trumps passion at the Oscars – so this film with broad support will beat the ones with smaller, more passionate fanbases. A genuine four way race though – anything expect Inherent Vice wouldn’t be shocking.

Who Should Win: Inherent Vice. This truly is one of the best writing jobs in years – taking a book that many thought was unadaptable, and turned into a great movie.
Least of the Nominees: The Theory of Everything. I really thought the movie was rather straight forward and uninteresting – and it stems from the screenplay playing it safe all the way through.

Who Should Have Been Here: Gone Girl. It boggles my mind that Flynn’s screenplay, from her own novel, didn’t get in to this category this year. It was already a weak category, and she wrote arguably the most talked about film of the year – and did it brilliantly. It’s clear now that the Academy just really didn’t like the movie.

Best Original Screenplay
5. Nightcrawler – Dan Gilroy
For Him: It is a great screenplay – the work of a longtime screenwriter finally doing his best work. The film had a lot of industry support, before slightly disappointing on nomination day.
Against Him: The Academy clearly didn’t like the film as much as critics groups and guilds did. It is the only nomination the film got – so the nomination is the award.

4. Foxcatcher – E. Max Fyre & Dan Futterman
For Them: The pair got a lot of praise for their work here – taking a complex, true story and widdling it down to its bare essentials, and crafting three great characters out of it as well. They clearly really like the film.
Against Them: But I don’t think they truly love the film. When Foxcatcher gets praised, it’s mainly for the performances and the direction of Miller – not the screenplay.

3. Boyhood – Richard Linklater
For Him: He wrote this film over a 12 year span, one year at a time, and crafted a universal movie about growing up and family. It is likely the Best Picture and Director Oscar winner – and they often win Screenplay as well.
Against Him: But if wins those, Linklater will already get his Oscar. The screenplay, while brilliant, was not written quite the same way they normally are – crafting the whole film at the outset. He did it one year at a time. His direction has been more praised than his screenplay. 

2. Birdman – Alejandro G. Inarritu & Nicolas Giacobone & Alexander Dinelaris & Armando Bo
For Them: The single biggest group in the Academy – the actors – loved the movie, and may well want to award the screenplay that gave so many actors great roles. If Linklater is winning Best Director, this would be a chance to give Inarritu an Oscar as well. It won the Golden Globe. It may well be the Oscar frontrunner for Best Picture.
Against Them: Does anyone really talk about the screenplay. The direction, the performances, the cinematography, etc. are what people talk about with Birdman – not really the screenplay.

1. The Grand Budapest Hotel – Wes Anderson & Hugo Guiness
For Them: Wes Anderson has been a well-respected filmmaker for nearly two decades now – and the writers have liked him more than the other branches (this is his third nomination). The film is the nomination leader, and while it will almost certainly win some of the Below the Line Oscars, this really is its only chance to win a major Oscar.
Against Them: It is competing against the two Oscar frontrunners for Best Picture – either of which could easily beat Anderson – a director they have not really embraced before. He won the WGA – although Birdman was ruled ineligible there.

Who Will Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel. It could go any of three ways – but I think Anderson wins here, just like Jonze did last year. It will be close.

Who Should Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel. This was the most memorable, inventive, funny, quotable screenplay of the year – and so this is what I would go with.
Least of the Nominees: Birdman. I like the screenplay for Birdman – it really is a strong lineup this year – but yes, it would rank fifth for me.

Who Should Have Been Here: Winter Sleep. No, it had no chance to get nominated – but how wonderful would it have been if the Academy had found room for a three hour, twenty minute Turkish film – with a lot of talking in it. I would have loved it.

Best Director
5. Bennett Miller for Foxcatcher
For Him: Foxcatcher was one of the best directed films of the year – and the Academy quite clearly loves Miller, as he has picked up his second nomination in just three films (and the one he didn’t get nominated for, Moneyball, did get nominated for Best Picture).
Against Him: You simply do not win the Best Director Oscar unless your film is also nominated for Best Picture. Miller’s isn’t, so his campaign is done before it starts.

4. Morten Tyldum for The Imitation Game
For Him: He has directed a film that is quite clearly one of the Academy’s favorites – and with Harvey Weinstein behind it, the film has a decent shot at some awards – including Best Picture, which may just pull Tyldum along with it.
Against Him: But that’s not likely – even if The Imitation Game does win Best Picture, its unlikely Tyldum actually wins Best Director. He has almost no name recognition, and he hasn’t really won any precursors.

3. Wes Anderson for The Grand Budapest Hotel
For Him: A longtime beloved auteur has finally broken through with the Academy – having scored the most nominations (tied with Birdman) of anything. No one can deny Anderson’s directorial hand here, and even if he hasn’t won before, some will still think he’s overdue.
Against Him: Anderson may well win an Oscar this year – but it’s for Original Screenplay, not director. He just doesn’t quite have the buzz or the precursor support of the top two.

2. Alejandro G. Innaritu for Birdman
For Him: His film is a dazzling, technical achievement – the long, unbroken takes, the seamless editing, the highly original score – to go along with great performances – three of them were nominated, more than any other film. Innaritu has been a favorite with the Academy since his first film, Amores Perros, a decade ago – and he’s never won before.
Against Him: While Birdman has passionate supporters, it also has some who just downright hate it – which in a close race, could kill him.

1. Richard Linklater for Boyhood
For Him: He spent 12 years making this film, a massive undertaking that Linklater made into one seamless film – more a feat of directing, than writing. He has won every precursor he possibly could. He is a well-respected vet that the Academy has finally embraced.
Against Him: Some see the film as a gimmick – as if every film isn’t on some level or another. The winner of the DGA award almost always win here – and he didn’t do it.

Who Will Win: Richard Linklater for Boyhood. Again, the smart money probably says Innaritu – but my gut still says Linklater. I actually can easily foresee the two movies splitting the top two prizes – but I cannot decide which will win what, so I’ll stick with Boyhood for this and Picture, and assume I’ll get one right.

Who Should Win: Wes Anderson for The Grand Budapest Hotel. The other auteur, who has refined his style, in his greatest film made my favorite film this year – so I would go for Anderson easily –as much as I loved Linklater.
Least of the Nominees: Morten Tyldum for The Imitation Game. The film is a competently directed to be sure – but are we really giving out Oscar nominations for competence?

Who Should Have Been Here: Ava DuVernay for Selma. It’s sad for that DuVernay didn’t get nominated for two reasons – the first, and least important, is that it would have made history as the first African American woman ever nominated for this award. The second is that she deserved it, for a stunning directorial job.

Best Picture
8. Whiplash
For It: Nearly everyone who sees Whiplash enjoys it – it is viscerally entertaining – and should get fairly broad support, since it’s below the credits are as fine as the above the lines one. It’s probably the darkest of the 8 nominees, so that will attract some.
Against It: Money doesn’t matter as much as it once did in the Oscar race – but it still matters, and Whiplash doesn’t look like it’s going to crack $10 million at the box office, which would make it far and away the lowest grossing winner in a long time. No director nominated hurts it. Many will feel that the award for supporting, that it will win, is going to be enough for this small film.

7. The Theory of Everything
For It: This is really the only love story in the mix – hell, sadly, it’s the only film nominated with a lead role for a woman – and that may attract some people. It’s inoffensive enough that I don’t see that many people outright hating the film.
Against It: But how many people actually love it either? The acting has gotten far more kudos than the film itself – and there is another film about a British genius that got more overall nominations. No best director hurts it too much.

6. Selma
For It: The biggest story in the days following the nominations was how poorly Selma did – with many people outraged. That could rally the support of its many fans – to place it high on their ballots. There was talk that many didn’t see the film – which probably hurt its nomination total – if that changes, it could rally more support. Everyone seems to love the film – except the voices shouting it down.
Against It: Really, it would take a hell of lot of support for a film to win that was only nominated for one other nomination – for Best Song of all things. The lack of nominations will probably kill its chances – no matter how much people love it, they don’t want to vote for a film they feel cannot win.

5. American Sniper
For It: It has become a genuine box office phenom – grossing more than $100 million in the opening weekend alone – which is more than any other film in total. It is Clint, who is royalty, and Bradley Cooper, who has now been nominated three years in a row. They have awarded war films in the past.
Against It: The tremendous controversy around the film and its embrace by conservatives (not the biggest group in Hollywood) probably means they are staying far away from actually giving it the Best Picture Oscar. Clint may be royalty – but he didn’t get in for Best Director.

4. The Imitation Game
For It: The safest choice that has a serious chance to win. A modest box office hit, respectful reviews, Academy friendly subject matter, a massive Harvey Weinstein run campaign. It’s hard to hate The Imitation Game.
Against It: For me, it’s also hard to love it. It’s probably far too safe, perhaps even for the stodgy Academy. If it was going to win, you would think it would have won a major precursor – which it hasn’t.

3. The Grand Budapest Hotel
For It: It is tied for the most nominations of any film – which can be a sign of broad support. It is also one of the highest grossers among the nominees – another sign. It has support from many different branches. They have finally embraced Wes Anderson – and done so in a big way.
Against It: The fact that they have never embraced Anderson before could point out that they still are not ready to do so for the big prize. The one branch that didn’t embrace the film is the actors – and they are the biggest ones. Anderson is on his way to more Oscar support in the future (and he may well win in the screenplay category this year) – but for the big one, he’ll have to wait awhile.

2. Birdman
For It: Actors love films about actors – just look at The Artist a few years ago. This film is an acting showcase, but also a technical one – which is why it is tied for the most nominations. It’s a great comeback story for Keaton, and the most popular film yet by a director the Academy has embraced before – although not for the win quite yet. It won the SAG Ensemble award – a good sign, but one everyone saw coming, and the PGA Award – a better sign, that no one saw coming.
Against It: Among the top contenders, it is far and the away the most love it or hate it film – it will be ranked #1 on a lot of ballots, but I can see it being ranked # 8 on quite as few as well. With the Oscar systems we know have, consensus trumps passion. (then again, it did win the PGA, which is the only other awards group who uses the Academy’s ridiculous ranking system for the win).

1. Boyhood
For It: The film has quietly chugged along all season – debuting at Sundance, releasing in the summer, becoming the quiet frontrunner while seeing all the other contenders come and go while it’s just kept on going. The massive ambition of the film, the 12 year undertaking, etc. will have many in awe. It is clearly the critics favorite as well.
Against It: Linklater has never been an Oscar favorite before – and Boyhood is every inch a Linklater film. It didn’t make a ton money either. It isn’t the most Oscar friendly movie. Birdman came on much stronger than I expected down the stretch.

Who Will Win: Boyhood. I thought through much of the fall that something would come along to knock it out of the top spot – and nothing really did, until the late surge by Birdman. The smart money is probably with Birdman – but my gut still says Boyhood.

Who Should Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel. I have been a long-time fan of Wes Anderson – and I think this is his best to date, and the best of the year. It’s a beautiful, funny, brilliant film.
Least of the Nominees: The Theory of Everything. I still say the two lead performances are top notch – but the nothing else about the movie really is. If you want to know why Stephen Hawking was a genius, you won’t find out here. It’s so safe, so stodgy, so bland that if it hadn’t become an Oscar film, I would have forgotten about the film by now.

Who Should Have Been Here: Gone Girl. I don’t get why the Academy didn’t embrace Gone Girl. Do they not realize that this is precisely the type of adult hit that they need to make them more relevant. Was there a more talked about, or argued about film, of the fall. And everyone saw it. And it’s also a legitimately great film too boot. Don’t get this one.