Oscar Nominations will be announced tomorrow at 8:30am EST by 2013 Oscar Host Seth MacFarlane and Emma Stone.
It’s early, but this is the official start to the season.
Watch it live : http://www.popsugar.com/2013-Oscar-Nominations-Live-Stream-Video-26659108
Crossing my fingers for Leonardo DiCaprio, David O. Russell, and Judi Dench.
In a shaky present with an uncertain future, the Oscars choose to cast it’s sights to the past, remembering the pleasures of sweeter and simpler times. The impulse to remember an era long gone was most embodied by Best Picture winner “The Artist,” yet most of the nominees had at least one eye facing the past.
Best Original Screenplay winner “Midnight in Paris” was Woody Allen’s love letter to Paris in the 1920’s and a reminder that loving the past can be wonderful as long as we don’t surrender to it. ”Moneyball,” a great film that unfortunately received no honors, recalls a major shift in baseball thinking and managing, engineered by Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics. “The Help” probes racial prejudices of not so long ago and the friendships that were forged in overcoming hate.
"The Descendants," winner for Best Adapted Screenplay, takes place in the present, but is most concerned with the past mistakes of George Clooney’s Matt King in his relationships with his wife and daughters. Steven Spielberg’s "War Horse" not only takes us back to the battlefields of World War 1, but recalls a majestic style of film making. "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" reminds us of the sorrow we could never have imagined before September 11th.
"Hugo," which won 5 Academy Awards, is Martin Scorsese’s masterful love letter to film and personal declaration of how films can change people’s lives and hearts. Adapted by John Logan from the popular children’s novel, "Hugo" appeals to all ages and reminded me why Scorsese is my favorite director. "The Tree Of Life" goes farthest into the past, to the beginning of time in fact, to try and make sense of the despair from losing a loved one.
Each of these films beautifully re-creates its period and presents characters we can relate to, even in 2012. Yet, it was “The Artist” that took top prizes for Best Picture and Director. Out of all the backward glancing films, “The Artist” takes the premise to the extreme by going silent and black & white.
With the anxiety building around video streaming keeping film goers at home and dominance of blockbusters with guarenteed fans; maybe the Academy needed to remind itself that what worked in the past can still be good. Further proof of that was handing the Oscar hosting duties back to Billy Crystal for his 9th time as Master of Ceremonies. On that score, I believe Oscar made the right call. Crystal calibrated his jokes for each crowd, making a Flomax crack on one end and an incisive Tyler Perry joke on the other.
Through it all, my Oscar guests and I were charmed by the ceremony and pleased with many (not all) the winners. Despite worries about the future of film and the multiplex; the Oscars are alright and the movies are still my greatest love.
In a year which brought Viola Davis, Michelle Williams, Glenn Close, and Rooney Mara all giving electrifying, fully-developed and fascinating female characters, it was Meryl Streep, my goddess, my queen, who deservedly took home Oscar gold. Her performance in “The Iron Lady” was considered a front-runner even before it was released. Yet, when I saw the film I was completely blown away by her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher.
Beyond a detail perfect imitation of the British Prime Minister, Streep imbues the role with such emotion, grace, and courage. In the scenes where Streep plays an elderly Thatcher, I was moved to tears thinking about the plight of the elderly who ache for the past and loved ones long gone. As Thatcher the Prime Minister, I found her formidable and persuasive. i had to take several minutes to remind myself that I’m against the flat tax after her stirring speeches.
When Colin Firth read Meryl Streep’s name, my brain froze in shock that my dream of seeing Streep win was coming true. Her speech was everything I could have wanted as she thanked her long time husband, her devoted hair and makeup artist, and the entire Academy that she holds as dear friends.
Streep has two interesting projects coming up. First “Great Hope Springs,” a comedy with Tommy Lee Jones and Steve Carell about a middle aged couple going for marriage counseling. David Frankel who directed Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada” is at the helm. Second, she’ll be starring with Julia Roberts in film adaptation of the stage play “August, Osage County.” Whatever Meryl Streep does is golden and all I can say is more please.
Against four Hollywood greats, including Gary Oldman, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, and Demian Bichir, giving career defining performances the charming Jean Dujardin took home the statue for Best Actor for his work in “The Artist.” Dujardin’s win was expected after winning at the SAG Awards, BAFTAs, and Golden Globes. The announcement of his win was so devastating to me (a hard core Gary Oldman fan) that I had to leave the room. Days later, I can say Bravo to Mr. Dujardin and I hope Uggie gets a piece of that Oscar too!
From the moment I saw Mike Mills’ “Beginners” I knew Christopher Plummer would be picking up an Oscar for his portrayal of Hal. Plummer is so refreshing, real, and wonderful in “Beginners” and his performance has stayed with me. Hal feels real to me, like a person I’ve know for years and miss dearly. Whenever I think of “Beginners” and Plummer’s role I feel as if I should be embracing life, trying new things, and taking chances as his character did. Hal’s love of life is contagious and I am grateful to Christopher Plummer for bringing him to life.
Plummer will appear next in “Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight” directed by Stephen Frears.
When it comes to Supporting Categories, the Oscars got it completely right. The Best Supporting Actress category was stocked with 5 diverse and talented women. Octavia Spencer took home the gold for her standout performance in Tate Taylor’s adaptation of “The Help.” The graceful Spencer has been a bright spot in the awards season with her heartfelt speeches and elegant fashion choices. Even though Spencer was the clear front-runner, her unbridled shock and awe after winning the Oscar made her even more admirable. Spencer’s joy at wining reminded me of why I love the Oscars. It remains my delight to witness a person reaching a career high and receiving praise from their peers.
Following her Oscar win, Octavia Spencer has four features in production including a Diablo Cody directed picture.
Problems are easy to spot, often they lie on the surface so big that looking at them seems defeating. Many turn away, keep doing things as they’ve always been done. A few experiment with slight diversions from the original path, only to return to the “devil you know.” Even fewer have an actual solution and the courage to lead others to change. Moneyball, directed by Bennett Miller, is about the latter and is one of the most compelling, gripping, and substantial films to come out this year. All that and it manages to also be completely hilarious and winning.
Brad Pitt plays Billy Beane, the manager for the struggling Oakland Athletics. Like he says, “There are rich teams and there are poor teams…and then there’s 50 feet of crap, and then there’s us.” Beane, a former player, knows there’s something wrong with the game. You can see him inwardly twitching and stewing knowing that recruitment, strategy, and money have all fallen in on itself to keep rich teams rich and everyone else irrelevant. Beane’s notion is confirmed and emboldened when he meets Peter Brand (played wonderfully by Jonah Hill), a genius in love with baseball who recognizes the same problems in baseball through the statistics. He knows the potential of every player, on every team. Together, the man of experience and the man of numbers, decide to turn the Oakland Athletics around, recruiting players based on their stats alone and building a team they can afford and that could win- solely based on data.
What really connected with me about Moneyball was the central story of two people, one informed by experience and the other by statistics, who see the world in a completely different way and have the courage to change it. They’re attracted to each other because each represents the missing link in what they know is true. Billy knows from his experience as a failed baseball player- traded to a half-dozen different teams after being touted by so-called expert recruiters he was a 5 tool player- that the system is broken. Pete, a mathematical genius in love with baseball, looks past the glamour of star players to what a player can actually do. Players who can achieve runs are being undervalued for quirks- a weird throw or ugly girlfriend- while the shinning stars are completely over-valued. By taking on players that are viewed as damaged goods by the old model, Beane shines a light on unorthodox talent. His faith in the players, something that has never been bestowed on them before, acts as a catalyst for their performance.
The relationship Pitt and Hill form on screen was the most wonderful part of the film. They’re exact opposites, yet form this perfect unit- completing each other’s sentences and thoughts. Also, Beane grooms Peter, training him to make the decisions necessary to run a team. In another way, the two actors mirror their characters with Pitt as the experienced veteran star and Hill as the rising up start who might have been overlooked for a role in a blockbuster drama. Hill more than rises to the material and should be cast in more mainstream, serious roles. His Peter is an obvious geek and shy, but incredibly passionate about baseball. That devotion came through in his performance and made me invested in the story.
Pitt is great here, perhaps one of my favorite performances by the actor. He’s restrained, but magnetic as Beane. From his expressions and sly grins, he always gives you the sense he’s three steps ahead of every conversation he’s having. He looks with amusement at the naysayers on the Oakland A’s, agitating them further against his campaign. Only in scenes with Jonah Hill and his daughter, played by Kerris Dorsey, does he break to a more open and relaxed demeanour. With those people, he wants to be stimulated and knows he can trust their criticism and advice.
Pitt also holds scenes, of which there are many, of Billy Beane stewing alone while listening to the games. Pitt conveys in these private moments what it’s like to really love something and invest your entire being in it. His performance draws the difference between professionals who take an interest in their jobs and people who love their jobs. In the latter, the triumphs are taken with hesitancy while failures hurt with the force of physical injury. I’ve felt that about the things I care about and could immediately relate to the character’s struggle. In all, Moneyball really hit me. In the days after my screening I kept turning over the film in my mind and I plan to read Michael Lewis’ book. Not that baseball stats could ever get me riled up, but the idea of taking a chance on under-valued talent is an interesting aspect of the film that I would love to delve into further.
The end of summer brings many new beginnings and reunions. Seeing friends again and hearing about exciting travels brings the grace needed to transition from heaps of sunshine to cloudier and colder days ahead. In one such catch up talk with one of my Jesuit friends, we both experienced what we termed a “Tree of Life” moments. We had both seen the film early in the summer and felt moved by it’s beauty and lyrical storytelling. For my friend, the quiet, peace of enjoying nature during his break called him back to the experience of seeing the film.
For me, it was stepping into the Basilica of the Sagrada Familia by Antoni Gaudi in Barcelona, Spain. Walking into the church, I caught my breath taking in the magnificent beauty of the space. The bright stained glass windows, the sculpted turrets, and floating balconies along the high walls were all demanding my attention and praise. Eyes dizzying, mind soaring, heart swooning; all this at once made me think how beautiful this place was and wonderful God is. I think in many ways Terrence Malick’s film prepared me for that moment. As a looked at the windows in Sagrada Familia, my mind floated by to The Tree of Life and like my friend, made me even more grateful for having seen it.
I resisted writing my review for a long time, partly because the film evoked in me raw, undigested thoughts, memories, and feelings I couldn’t quite distill into coherent words. Also I thought Fr. James Martin SJ summed the film up for me perfectly in his essay found here. His piece captures everything I thought and felt right after seeing the film. My experience in Barcelona and others since has given me a bit more to add to the discussion. I found Tree of Life to be film that glorifies interiors as well as nature and explores relationship between grief and memory.
The first is simple, the experience I had in Sagrada Familia, transfixed by the elemental beauty of the church, the carvings depicting foundational scenes of my faith, and imagining having mass in that heavenly place transported me to something beyond that day and time. So too did Malick’s shots of Jessica Chastain and the three boys playing her sons running through their Texas home in the morning light, or Sean Penn rushing in a glass office building, or Brad Pitt playing the organ in a lofted, dark church balcony. Finding God in the created interiors, the places where we celebrate, dine, and commune with each other is as important as loving creation itself.
The second point has more to do with the “plot” in Tree of Life. I suspect if 5 people saw the film, you’d get 5 vastly different plot descriptions. Well, here’s my stab at it. In the beginning we know someone has died- the son of Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain’s character. Sean Penn, their oldest son begins to remember childhood, trying in some way to bring his relationship with his brother into better focus. We see his father, a stern man insistent his sons respect him and not repeat his mistakes. Pitt’s character is a musician without an audience, an intellectual without a degree, and an entrepreneur without a business. He takes out his frustrations on his wife and sons, especially the eldest who dares to challenge him.
Chastain is the lovely counterforce to Pitt representing love, light, and beauty. She encourages and supports her sons, keeping the household in balance. Sean Penn’s younger brother, in memories seems like the best of the bunch. He brings a rare smile to his father’s face playing the guitar while he plays the piano. He trusts his older brother, submitting to his mild abuse and forgiving him after. Losing this good soul causes each family member a deep sorrow. Pitt wonders if he should have been kinder. Sean Penn revels in memories of their soft brawls in their Texas lawn.
Yet Chastain’s mother character experiences a grief so deep that it stretches to the beginning of time. We cast our sights to the creation of the world, dinosaurs, and the origins of human life to find out why this great human life is no longer with us. The loss of her son is so painful it changes the course of time itself so it is necessary to start anew, at the beginning of creation to heal. These three responses all mingle around each other, meeting on the beaches at the end of time- reuniting the family in a peace that escaped their mortal experiences together. That’s my take and I’m sure you’ll have your own response to this beautiful film.
I would not measure The Tree of Life by its greatness, it may not crack my top 20 of the year. However, more than most films I’ve seen this year, it sharpened my own awareness of the beauty around me and those transcendent moments that arise from being truly present. I would instead measure the Tree of Life in gratefulness. For it allowed me to ponder great questions and see great beauty. For that, I thank Mr. Malick for his imagination and artistry.
From the sprawling fields of Devon to the dank trenches of WWI, Steven Spielberg keeps the courageous steed Joey at the center of “War Horse.” Despite having a fleet of the finest British actors, no one (save Tom Hiddleston *yum*) holds the screen or your heart like this majestic horse. The sequence where Joey speeds through No Man’s Land as cannons blaze perilous fireworks overhead may one the most beautiful film scenes of the year.
We learn about Joey in how he incites awe and greatness in the people he encounters. To the Narracott family, he is their most desperate hope. Instead of buying a sturdy, hulking work horse Ted Narracott (Peter Mullan) brings home this elegant, young animal. His wife Rose (Emily Watson) berates her drunken husband’s poor judgement, but allows her son Albert (Jeremy Irvine) to train the horse. Albert forges a bond with Joey, teaching the horse to answer to his unique call and preparing him for hard and impossible work. Under threat of eviction, Albert and Joey plow the rocky Narracott field and save the family farm for another season.
As war comes, Ted sees an opportunity to make money off of Albert’s extraordinary horse. Fortunately Captain Nichols (Hiddleston) sees the horse’s rare qualities and Albert’s devotion to the animal. Nichols readies Joey for battle, honing his speed and drawing courage from the fearless animal. Joey meets many others in his travels across Europe; two brothers looking to escape death on the front lines, a young girl looking to make a family after her parents are killed, and an unexpected friend in the brutal lines of the German army. Joey inspires these people to be a little more brave and loving.
The most beautiful example of this is the meeting of two combatants who must work together to free entangled Joey from barbed wire. In this brief encounter the German and British are allied around Joey, working to save something instead of destroying each other. Together they name him War Horse, neither Allied or Axis, but a symbol for what each solider strives for: fearlessness. Against great odds, Joey and Albert are reunited in a series of scenes that will surely have you grabbing your hankie. All the tears are earned because both boy and horse have been through so much suffering, they deserve to go home and live in peace.