Steve’s Oscar Predictions – Part One

The big night is almost here! Sure, it could be argued that the Oscars are meaningless or even worse than meaningless, but isn’t that true of most things in life? Does it really matter who wins the Super Bowl? The World Series? The World Cup? The Nobel prizes? Whether or not such things are truly important, they still are a lot of fun. Part of the fun is predicting the winners, so over the next few days I’ll take my shot at picking the winners of this Sunday’s Oscars. I’ll skip the technical categories because they are just a shot in the dark. For each category I’ll let you know which films I have actually seen, who I think will win, and who should win. With no further ado…lights, camera, action!

Best Original Screenplay

Seen: Midnight in Paris, The Artist, Bridesmaids

Haven’t Seen: A Separation, Margin Call

Will Win: Midnight in Paris – the best Woody Allen movie in years deserves to win something! The Artist will win its share (maybe more than its share) of statues on Sunday, but it’s hard to imagine a silent film winning best screenplay. That just wouldn’t seem right, but I won’t be too surprised if it happens. I’m still pulling for Woody, though.

Should Win: A Separation – I know I just said I’m pulling for Woody, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I think he should win. No, I haven’t seen A Separation yet (it takes a long time for Iranian films to make it to Montana!), but, from everything I’ve read, it sounds like it deserves this award.

Shouldn’t Even Be Nominated: Bridesmaids – I’m in danger of making enemies here, but I simply didn’t think Bridesmaids was well written. It wasn’t particularly funny or clever.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Seen: The Descendants, Hugo, The Ides of March, Moneyball

Haven’t Seen: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Will Win: The Descendants – This won at the Writer’s Guild of America awards, so I think it will follow suit here, but I’m not sure it deserves it. Some of the writing was the best of the year, but I also thought that some of the writing was near the worst of the year. O.k., that is a bit harsh. None of it was as bad as what I saw in Thor and a few other movies, but some of it simply rang so untrue that I’m not sure it merits the Oscar.

Should Win: Moneyball – this script wasn’t perfect either, but it didn’t whiff as badly as Descendants. It also managed the difficult task of taking a book about using statistics to put together a ball team and made it into a very entertaining film, so it gets my nod.

Best Animated Feature

Seen: Rango

Haven’t Seen: A Cat in Paris, Chico & Rita, Puss in Boots, Kung Fu Panda 2

Will Win: Rango – Am I even qualified to make a prediction having seen only one nominee? Well, few people have seen A Cat in Paris or Chico & Rita, so I’m not alone there. Even though I haven’t seen either Puss or Panda, I certainly feel confident in predicting that Rango will win.

Should Win: Rango – Here I suppose I am even less qualified to offer an opinion, but Rango was one of my favorite movies of the year (it should be up for Best Picture!), so I stand by my uninformed, but wildly enthusiastic, opinion that it should win!

Best Original Score

Seen: The Artist, Hugo

Haven’t Seen: The Adventures of Tintin, Warhorse, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Will Win: The Artist – Alright, alright, I’ve only seen two of these, but I’ll be surprised if The Artist doesn’t win. For starters, it is a “silent film” so the score is vitally important and overall it works well, although I thought it could have been a bit more subtle in a couple of scenes. I also think the split votes for John Williams (Tintin and Warhorse) will help The Artist. Hugo could be the dark horse in this race.

Should Win: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Yes, I know it’s not even nominated, but I think that is one of the biggest snubs of the year. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ music was incredible! I didn’t see another movie this year where the music so powerfully became a part of the storytelling. Reznor and Ross are outsiders, so after their surprising win last year for The Social Network, I think the Academy made sure that wouldn’t happen again by seeing to it that they weren’t nominated this time.

Coming Attractions: Check back soon for my predictions on the acting categories and then director and best picture.

Steve’s Initial Reactions to the Oscar Nominations

Today’s a big day for us movie fanatics. The Oscar nominations have been announced. We rejoice when the movies and performances that touched us in a special way this past year are recognized with a nomination. We lament when they are snubbed. We scratch our heads and wonder how that received a nomination. Should we  even care what the Academy says? Should there even be awards for movies? Is art meant to be a competition? Woody Allen doesn’t think so, but I bet he’s at least a little bit pleased that Midnight in Paris was nominated for best picture and that he was nominated for best director. I know they made me happy. Here are few other random reactions.

Best Picture

I’ve seen 5 of the 9 nominated films. Of those, Moneyball, The Tree of Life, and Midnight in Paris hold the top three spots in my rankings for the year, so I’m obviously glad to see them here. I’m especially pleased that The Tree of Life was nominated. Yes, it’s self-indulgent at times and the creation stuff should have been much shorter, but it is a deep and rich film that demands multiple viewings. I enjoyed it much more the second time and will definitely watch it over and over through the years. I thought that Hugo was quite good, but not great. Maybe it was that despicable 3D that ruined it for me. The Help is way overrated, but it’s no surprise it was nominated. The Descendants comes to Bozeman on Friday, so I’ll be seeing that soon. I hope The Artist makes it here before the Oscars, but I’m not holding my breath. I’m skeptical about that one. It seems a bit slight, but I’ll withhold judgement until I see it. At least it looks worthy of seeing in a theatre. On the other hand, War Horse came to town, but I didn’t bother going to see it. I’ll wait for it on DVD. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close? Really? A 46 at Metacritic? I have a feeling it was nominated for the wrong reasons. I’m so, so, so glad that Bridesmaids wasn’t nominated!

Acting Categories

I’m simply delighted that Rooney Mara was nominated for Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I have some issues with the film overall, but I thought she was fabulous! Glad to see Brad Pitt nominated for Moneyball, he was great in it, but he was even better in Tree of Life. I think the aforementioned self-indulgence by director Terrance Malik cost Pitt here. Get the DVD and just watch Pitt’s scenes. You’ll see the best acting performance of the year! I’m definitely not a Jonah Hill fan, but I thought he was also brilliant in Moneyball, so glad to see him nominated. Haven’t yet seen Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy but I was pleased to see Gary Oldman get a nom. I’ve been a fan of his since Sid and Nancy. Jessica Chastain had such an incredible year that she had to be nominated for something! Her performance was one of the things I liked about The Help, but, like Pitt, she should have been nominated for Tree of Life. (Haven’t seen Taking Shelter yet). There was much that I loathed about Bridesmaids but I did like Melissa McCarthy. I haven’t seen Drive yet (next week on Netflix), but I’m intrigued by the many comments about it being snubbed, especially Albert Brooks for supporting actor. I would have loved to have seen Elle Fanning nominated for supporting actress in Super 8. That movie failed in many ways, but she was fabulous! Take a look at the scene where her character is giving her first try at acting in the zombie movie the boys are filming. Fabulous! Fabulous! Fabulous!

Animated

Rango is not just my favorite animated movie of the year, it’s one of my favorites over all, so I was pissed when The Adventures of Tin Tin stole the Golden Globe! It won’t steal the Oscar. It wasn’t even nominated!! A shout out to my co-blogger Bill who just posted a reflection wondering whether it even made sense to do Tin Tin as an animated film. Was he anticipating the Oscar snub?

Biggest Disappointment

Speaking of snubs, I can’t believe that Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross weren’t nominated for Original Score for Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I’m a big Nine Inch Nails fan, but beyond that I thought their music was perfect. I can think of few movies where the music so powerfully enhanced the action on the screen. Their music made you feel the tension. Shame on you, Academy! This was your biggest mistake of the year. I have a feeling they see Reznor and Ross as outsiders and didn’t want to give them the chance of winning an Oscar two years in a row.

That’s it for now. Check back for more Oscar musings (and predictions) as  I see more of the films and as the day draws closer. Until then, happy viewing!

Rango: a Lenten Reflection by Steve

Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.  Many Christians heard those words recently as a black smudge in the shape of a cross was placed on their foreheads.  As I observed Ash Wednesday this year and pondered again those words about dust from the fall story in Genesis 3, my thoughts went to the town of Dirt.  If you’ve seen the movie Rango, you know that Dirt is the town where most of the story takes place.  Rango offers plenty of food for thought as we journey through the Lenten season.  If you haven’t seen it, I will warn you that this reflection will contain some minor spoilers.

Rango is the story of a chameleon’s journey of personal discovery, just as Lent is meant to be a time of personal examination.  However, as the movie reveals, if that examination remains self-centered, it will end in failure.  God spoke the words about being dust as Adam and Eve were being evicted from Eden.  They had just eaten the forbidden fruit in order to gain the wisdom of God, in an attempt to be something that they were not.  The danger of  attempting to pass one’s self off as something greater than you truly are is played out in Rango.  As the movie begins, Rango has his Eden,  a terrarium where all his needs are provided for, but then he finds himself cast out into the wilderness where he will have to learn how to survive and, in the process, discover who he is.

When Rango (who is still unnamed at that point) arrives in the town of Dirt, he realizes that since no one knows him he can present himself in any way that he desires.  Rather than blending in, which would seem to be a natural move for a chameleon, he decides to cast himself as a tough as nails gunslinger.  It is at this time that he gives himself the name Rango, undoubtedly thinking that it sounds like the name of someone you shouldn’t mess with.

As he presents this bold and false front, one of the critters in the saloon asks him if he is the one who killed the bandit brothers.  He sees this as an opportunity to solidify his new persona and therefore claims that he is indeed the one who killed them.  However, he is not content to stick with that simple lie.  He adds to it by claiming that he killed them with one bullet.  My guess is that he was assuming that there were two bandit brothers.  Rango was surprised, along with the rest of us, to find out that there were seven of them.  Now Rango must spin a tale to cover up his original lies.  That’s how it is with lying, isn’t it?

During this season of Lent it might be good for us to ponder the dangers of getting caught in a web of lies, but Rango doesn’t need to worry about that, at least not yet.  The townsfolk buy into his story, as outrageous as it is.  Their need to have something to believe in as they face the struggles of life, including the shortage of water, is as great as Rango’s need to have them believe him.  His position of honor is quickly confirmed when he manages to kill the hawk that harasses the community, using just one bullet.  The death of the hawk is clearly the result of dumb luck, not Rango’s skill or bravery, but the critters of Dirt only see what they want to see.

Rango is given the title of sheriff and he proudly wears that badge, the symbol of justice in the West.  However, he (and we) are soon reminded of the instability of any security based in human institutions when the tombstone of the former sheriff is shown.  It reveals that he managed to hold the office from Thursday to Saturday!  As the dark forces that threaten the community mount, the townsfolk begin to lose faith in Rango, but he reassures them that as long as the Sheriff sign hangs in front of his office there is hope.  At that moment shots ring out and the sign is blown to pieces.  The gunman turns out to be Jake the Rattlesnake, who then proceeds to blow Rango’s cover.  When his lies are exposed, Rango leaves Dirt in disgrace.

As my co-blogger, Bill, points out in his reflection on this movie, what happens next could be seen as death and resurrection.  Although Rango does not literally die, he does cross over to the other side.  His encounter with the Spirit of the West is the turning point of the movie.  When Rango laments that he was unable to live up to the role of hero, the Spirit says, “It’s not about you, it’s about them.”  Taking those words to heart, Rango is able to return to Dirt and to be a hero, no longer as an act of selfish grandiosity, but as a servant to those he has come to love.

Our Lenten journey needs to take the same turn that Rango’s takes.  Self-reflection is an important part of the season, but the truth is that we find ourselves by losing ourselves.  The Spirit’s words, “It’s not about you, it’s about them,” remind me of Jesus’ command to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.  Rango’s sheriff badge proved to be an empty symbol, but we return to the sign of the cross, recently marked on our foreheads with ashes.  As long as we have that sign, we have hope.  Rango named himself, but we remember how God has named us his children in the waters of baptism.  As the townfolk of Dirt celebrate the return of the water that brings life to their community, we celebrate those waters of baptism and the resurrection life that they promise to us.

Rango: a Recommendation from Steve

If you love westerns, you’ll love this movie.  Actually, if you love movies, you’ll probably love this movie, but maybe not.  It does have some drawbacks that I’ll get to later.  Rango pays homage to westerns, but also makes reference to many other movies, such as Pirates of the Caribbean (not a surprise given the presence of Depp and director Gore Verbinski), Star Wars (which is really just a western set in outer space, isn’t it?), Chinatown, and even Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.  The animation is marvelous, rich and detailed, and, thankfully, NOT in 3D!  Although this is an animated movie, it is not for children, not younger ones, anyway.  My guess is younger children will alternate between being bored and scared.  If you bring a younger child to the movie, let me know how it goes.  Actually, if you see the movie, let me know how it goes.

This is not quite a love it or hate it kind of movie, but I can easily imagine a number of folks being underwhelmed by it.  As much as I liked it, I was not drawn in by it.  A plot line that includes a character trying to discover who he is and finding out what it truly means to be a hero will usually have me crying my eyes out by the end, but this one evoked barely a mist.  My 13 year old son knows me and knows movies well enough that I noticed him leaning over to look at my eyes at the point in the movie when the floodgates should have opened.  Sorry, no water (which is actually a key element in the movie).

A related problem is that, despite the requisite shootouts and chases, much of the movie is quite subtle.  The best of its humor is found in little details and tossed off lines.  I found myself laughing at times when the most of the nearly full theater remained silent.  I won’t claim greater intelligence or wit.  I think I just caught references that others missed.  I’m guessing I missed some, too.  For instance, when Rango first goes to the saloon, the camera shows the cards one of the poker players is holding, revealing an ace and an eight.  A wonderful little detail, if you know the place of aces and eights in western lore.  I look forward to seeing this again to see what else is revealed, but maybe I’ll rewatch a few of the old westerns first.

With those drawbacks in mind, I still do highly recommend Rango.  My son, who hasn’t seen many westerns, and didn’t even know what a spaghetti western is, still thoroughly enjoyed the movie.  Since seeing it, we have enjoyed imitating the voices and tossing lines back and forth.  This is one of those movies that I appreciate more after thinking about it for a few days than I did right after leaving the theater.  That, too, fuels a desire to see it again.