Author Archives: thethirdrevelation

And How Can This Be? For it IS the 90th Academy Awards; or, We Demand Better Hallucinations

I don’t know about you, world, but sometimes I just want to turn my brain on.  You know, snap on the old Videodrome Youtube Word Processor, take a load on, think about the future.  Let the mind just drift.  And so I bestow upon you, once again, that rare and most elusive treasure: ranked lists from the internet.


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 I think, maybe, the thethirdrevelation should be taken to a doctor.

As always, the following lists are pretty gauche, mostly unintelligible, and potentially most relevant to the sort of degenerate cinephile who makes life choices such as seeing most, if not all of the films nominated for major Academy Awards in a given year.  They’re also a boon companion if you want to know who’s going to win.  Chiefly for that reason, spoilers await, sweet ones.  All nominees are loved unconditionally, and have been pre-approved for five bags of popcorn.


Deployed in a Support Role: All Female Edition?!

5. Octavia Spencer– The Shape of Water

Back again after last year’s nomination for Hidden Figures, Spencer is given somewhat less to do here as our straight woman and primary source of bemused incredulity among sexy, fishy zaniness.

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4. Allison Janney — I, Tonya

One of the two prickly mom roles expected to duke it out for the win (I asked you to keep the children quiet today, and for Christ’s sake get them out of the garden!). It’s a fun role. And while one always ought to keep one’s perspective on what constitutes true madness, I like that she never goes softy in the end.

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3. Mary J. Blige — Mudbound

One of many strong performances in a picture with a huge cast delivering all around.  A Netflix original, for what it’s worth.

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2. Leslie Manville — Phantom Thread

To kick off our non-stop gushing for Phantom Thread and everyone associated, Manville expertly renders a chilly and calculated business sentinel sprinkled with notes of subdued compassion and humor.  She is not to be crossed, but as with the English Channel (DunkirkDarkest Hour) we must do so by hook or by crook.


1. Laurie Metcalf — Lady Bird

Where Janney’s mean mom is a bold stroke in a project that exults in larger-than-life characterizations, Metcalf here is an expertly tuned high-fidelity every-day person.  She’s a working class creature grasping at the bygone dream of the middle class, not struggling in any hugely cinematic way, but pathologically fixated on means and status to a tragic degree.  Of all the roles in all the categories this year, she’s the person that I meet each day.

Shall win: Laurie Metcalf


Most Supportive Man

5. Woody Harrelson — Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri 

Harrelson is always a pleasure to watch, but in a film which caused me to raise an eyebrow in consternation more than once*, his inclusion here (on top of Sam Rockwell!) is a little bewildering.  The latest site of writer/director Martin McDonagh’s ongoing fixation with exploding heads, it feels like Harrelson ought to be perfect in the role of a law man wringing some dark humor and humanity from multiple hopeless tragic situations.

But something about many of the film’s attempts to wring humor out of hopelessness didn’t register for me, and while McDormand manages some sort of transcendence, Harrelson and Rockwell are left in awkward positions that don’t seem to quite cohere.  Well, comedy is subjective: in my showing of Billboards, his character’s folksy suicide note musings got the biggest laughs by far.

*I grew up playing in the woods unattended and was in no way under-supervised, but in a film where the central premise is “homicidal rapist is at large,” is parking your little girls at the river for an hour while you have a bottle of wine with the wife the game plan?   Or is that the joke?

4. Christopher Plummer — All the Money in the World

Not a bad avatar of pure fiduciary ethical insolvency, but not exactly John Huston in Chinatown high holy malevolence.  I would love to see Charles Dance in a role like this, where he’s the main character.


3. Richard Jenkins — The Shape of Water

Jenkins is sweet but undeserved by a somewhat thinly sketched role, especially when one can easily imagine a version of this story where he has a more primary viewpoint.  He could do more with his wry delivery a lá Cabin In the Woods, another genre-mashup creature feature.

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2. Samuel Rockwell — Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri 

Rockwell, too, is always an asset, and, exactly as with Harrelson, this is a role that kept me at some distance for just seeming to add up to less than the sum of the scenarios at play.  Rockwell brings his signature fun, offbeat verve with gusto, but without a good bead on his head space, I’m left with a bit of a shrug.

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1. Willem Dafoe — The Florida Project

Your winner by a mile, and truly a “Supportive Man” role/category synergy champion.  From the sense one gets of hearing him speak in interviews, Dafoe may not be far from playing himself here, apparently with experience hanging out among some rough and colorful communities.  He can nearly decapitate me with a paint can any day, before scintillatingly dispatching pedophiles to the soda machine and off the premises (sorry I can’t find the scene online).  I wish I, too, had the power to sweet talk large, roaming birds from driveways.

Shall win:  Samuel Rockwell


Queen of the Castle

5. Margot Robbie — I, Tonya

As with Allison Janney, a fun role with some big broad strokes.

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4. Sally Hawkins — The Shape of Water

Hawkins is underrated, particularly in Blue Jasmine, where she’s touching as a woman who’s on terms with a relatively happy if less than perfect life.  Here she gets a character whose dreams and fantasies can and do come true.  She does a convincing job with the ASL, and no knock, but one wonders if any deaf or mute actors were seriously considered.

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3. Meryl Streep — Sweet Sheep Chronicles: What’s News is Real

The S. S. is perhaps on *auto-pilot* here, but when you’re this good, why wouldn’t you be?  She’s like the Sully Sullenberger of actors, landing planes on Hudson rivers, wondering what all the fuss is about.  Speaking of, pour a chilly one out for Tom Hanks, who is a tasty side of ham here, but alas is not invited to the party.

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2. Frances McDormand — Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

For all the misgivings I have with the screenplay, McDormand is an unstoppable force, and I would imagine the single biggest driver for Billboards’s acclaim.  When you’re primarily with her and her perspective, the tone really clicks.  I feel like the best version of the film would focus even more on her character’s background.

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1. Saoirse Ronan — Lady Bird

As with Metcalf, just a high-fidelity life rendering, among the best one could ever hope to see from a “coming of age” film.  She brings such an eclectic mix of emotes and reactions that most of her performance feels candidly captured, improvised, and, along with really solid editing, she delivers a film that manages to mix the funny, real, and difficult in a way that (mostly) avoids the clunky, writerly notes that so often crop up in similar fare.

Shall win: Frances McDormand


Leading Children of Men

5. Gary Oldman

Listen, I love Gary Oldman.  He’s practically the oldest.  But let’s bestow career awards on top career achievements.

That achievement is Tiptoes.

Tiptoes (2003)

Otherwise it’s just awkward for everyone.

4. Denzel Washington — Roman J. Israel, Esquire

“You know, there’s a job by the ocean makes maple glazed turkey bacon donuts people sit under palm trees and eat them while the breeze is a-blowing and dolphins are playing I’m gonna go there.”

–Roman J. Israel, Esquire

If sentences like this make you smile, you are going to enjoy Roman J. Israel, Esquire.  It is a joy. This is an abundant film.

3. Timotheé Chalamet

The spotlight burns bright on the young man in a role with a pretty high degree of difficulty as he’s on screen for most of the film and in varying states of undress.  He’s charged with performing an act or two that could potentially be construed as a bit silly in less sophisticated corners.

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2. Daniel Kaluuya

I would say this is also a role with a high degree of difficulty, where Kaluuya has to convey a lot without saying anything, in a way that really dovetails with Get Out‘s themes of intractable situations where you’re dammed if you do say something and damned if you don’t say something.

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1. Daniel Day-Lewis

Stop bullying me, Daniel!  Seriously though, a lovely genteel shade from the world’s best that we haven’t seen in a while.  If there’s anything to be said, it’s that he isn’t given quite enough time to charm us.  But I’ll argue that’s a feature, not a bug.  The tea’s going out, but the interruption is staying right there with him.

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Shall win: Gary Oldman — Tiptoes


Direction, in a Filmic Sense

5. Guillermo Del Toro

As I was saying to some writer on this very blog, Del Toro is at this point a dude I really like, but whose reputation has maybe gotten a touch inflated, to the point where this nomination has the narrative of being a career award.  To be sure, there probably aren’t many who would count The Shape of Water as Del Toro’s best, where set design and cinematography—his calling cards to be sure—are ahead of plot and character.

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4. Jordan Peele

Really impressive, and I agree that he brings a unique affinity for capturing the look and feel of genres and other projects to the film.  A next level pastiche-man extraordinaire, cleverer and cleverer.  I’ll be the wet blanket who didn’t need the incredulous friend comedy side-plot.

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3. Chris Nolan

Kind of thrilling to see the Prestige-man play on his proclivities and style without the signature ostentatious plot twists (though I suppose we did throw in a time passage conceit).  His actors are well served, especially Mark Rylance.

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2. Greta Gerwig

We’ve said it before, great director’s film, with that pace and specificity one always craves.

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1. Paul Thomas Anderson

Who also writes and directs photography.  What more can one say about cinema’s most involved, meticulous and singularly humorous director since Kubrick?  One has to say, this is a pretty impressive category overall, with all of the directors nominated being deeply involved in all aspects, and bringing an intensely and wonderfully signature style and voice to their projects. Many years only one or two nominees can say that.

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Shall win: Chris Nolan


Finest of All Motion Pictures

1. Tiptoes

Tiptoes is a film where Peter Dinklage portrays a communist, and Matthew McConaughey is very mean to Kate Beckinsale.  I believe he is Jewish.  Aaaand a fireman.  Matthew is upset because he’s afraid the baby he made with her might be born with dwarfism.  So he abandons her and the child, but then almost comes back, but in the end, nope.

But: guess who doesn’t abandon her.  Did you guess Willem Dafoe?

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That’s a good guess, but nope, it’s actually Old Gary Oldman.  Who is a little person and happens to be Matthew McConaughey’s brother.  And he shares a pretty romantic kiss with her, after she’s had the baby :).   Hey, what’s more attractive: Matthew McConaughey, who doesn’t even support you, or the most supportive AND best actor, sweet Gary of Old’?

And the thing is: it’s all real. None of that CGI bullcrap Hollywood is always trying to shove down the throats of real Americans.  Hey, you Hollywood liberal dumbos: America has spoken: we don’t like movies with a bunch of fake computer graphics.  We like practical effects, the real magic of tinseltown, and Gary Oldman: always real, always a classic.

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[Editorial: at this point let us take care to point out we really do love Gary Oldman, and Darkest Hour wasn’t that bad.  It wasn’t The Theory of Everything.    But someone has to come in last.  So the rest of us can survive.]

8. The Shape of Water

The premise, reductively: E.T., but it’s the fish guy from Del Toro’s Hellboy, and also his liberator is Ariel, but she doesn’t even know she’s actually a mermaid.  And darling it is better, down where it’s wetter.

It just doesn’t have anything to do with its villain, for all the screen time it gives him.  Our man Shan is oddly wasted as an avatar of 50’s American toxic masculinity, stinky rotten fingers not being a sufficiently engaging quirk.  He’s good per se, I mean it’s Shannon, but it takes too much focus away from a deeper dive into Hawkins’ protagonist (ahem), and/or even Tim Fishman.  (Am I the only one who thought he’d be more fetching?)   To contrast with E.T., one has to appreciate Steve Spielberg’s G-men of the ’80s, who were always truly menacing in their eerie blankness and unrelenting ubiquity, even if they were pretty bloodless.  Here we’re waltzing in and out of top-secret labs with relative ease.

This is also an example of the more rote way to be “a love letter” to older films (which is likely the biggest factor propelling this Oscar campaign): here we just have actual silver screen footage that comes up with little context beyond that the protagonists seem to enjoy it.  There are evocative routines (the tap dancing, the tossed in black and white dancing sequence), but the film’s not as deeply invested in them as with something like last year’s La La Land, or even this year’s Phantom Thread.

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7. Call Me By Your Name

Who among us hasn’t frolicked through a summer in the Italian Riviera, lounging at the southern Palazzo, sun dappling our rippling nubile forms?  Danced the night away in a moonlit Piazza, drunk on a love that dare not speak its name, sweat flush with mostaccioli primavera?

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Who among us hasn’t huffed the short shorts of a beloved, lungs inflaming with musky intoxicant?  Hasn’t ejaculated in a peach, or even a blueberry?  Ah yes, the maid was always cross. But kind.

In the end, you said it Michael Stuhlbarg: eventually, no one wants to look at you, much less even be near you.  But at least we’ll have the cinema.


6. Three Billboards Over Ebbing, Missouri

From playwright as well as In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths writer Martin McDonaugh comes a project that’s about as ostentatious as its name would suggest.  It gets as far as it does on gumption, and an admirably heady theme: that really bad things happen for no good reason, and there’s no catharsis or cosmic justice in store.  The Coen Bros. have made a career in part out of exploring that, often with scintillating dark humor (perhaps even with a certain Frances McDormand), and the screenplay seems to be reaching for that tone.

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That this seems to be a potential front-runner despite no directing nomination may point to the sense that this feels a bit like a best picture sort of feature, but something didn’t line up in the end.

  • The scene with a CG deer, was it not supposed to be humorously surreal? When I hallucinate deer, I hallucinate deer.  Gary Oldman does not use digital deer.
  • Sam Rockwell, not detained after throwing a dude out of a window in broad daylight to the witness of many? Just turn in your badge? I feel like the movie’s trying to say something about systemic police brutality, but I’m just nonplussed here from a basic plot level.  What year is this taking place?  If this has something to say about America, why does the setting feel not particularly American?
  • Why are we so viciously mean to John Hawkes’ young girlfriend off the bat? At least let her demonstrate that she’s an idiot before we assume it.
  • Literally, the last thing the daughter says to her mom is to the effect of “I hope I get raped”?

If the film worked for you, most if not all of the above didn’t register as off.  Which is great!  I think this would be a pretty cool stage play.


5. The Post

It’s Spielberg by-the-books, but as with Sweet Sheep, it’s a warm comfort.  Soul food, one might say.  The machinery of the Press, rumbling to life, cigar chomping cowards, money-grubbers and naysayers deposed.  I was even a bit more engaged with this than Bridge of Spies, and, free of the crushing expectations that came with Lincoln, left a Spielberg film with more pleasant surprise than I can remember since War of the Worlds, which is based on a true story that Tom Cruise read to me in a dream before throwing a half-made peanut butter sandwich at a window.  I told him, hey, you should put that in the film.

Washington Post

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4. Dunkirk

Again, nice to see Nolan apply his sensibilities and signature toolbox to a project that isn’t all twisty or Batman, or the twisty Batman where Marion Cotillard turns out to actually be Liam Neeson’s daughter.  Whom I wouldn’t take liberties with.  And you might say I’m quite taken, with this film.

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Anyhow, sorry good buddy, you’ve been scooped of your own best speech.

3. Get Out

You’ve got your treachery: check.  Imprisonment: check.  Gaslighting: check.  Murder: check.  Now we’re getting somewhere.  Timely.

Pretty exciting project to come from one of the creators of Key and Peele, which deconstructed the Valley of the Unreal with the best of them.  While I can’t access the themes of specific cultural and identity appropriation as directly as black viewers, I think we can all relate to a sense of warped reality at times. I mean, a little bit.  The occasional inkling that powers mean to steal your brain, so they can put their brain in your brain pan, and control you like a doll that’s aware, but not fully aware.

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2. Lady Bird 

Very much of the slice of life genre, sub folder coming-of-age, this manages to be a lot funnier and lighter than the vast majority.  But I do think you should really keep to your given name (the name you give yourself).

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Tim Roundman

1. Phantom Thread 

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Look guys, it’s not for everyone.  At my theater showing, I felt from the audience a general sense of mild disappointment as credits rolled to a lovely Jonny Greenwood score: one man remarked he wished they had seen The Post, another lady remarked in exasperation, “I don’t want to have mushrooms for dinner!”

So. Is it anti-romance or something?  This is a reasonable and probably not uncommon response: a big feature is a heavy dose of “why the hell does she put up with this guy, what exactly am I watching?”  But this is, among other things, a true throwback, and I’d argue that sentiment can be levied at quite a few if not most classic cinematic romances (we could again bring up last year’s throwback La La Land.)  I’ll admit, Anderson may have slightly overestimated the sheer charm of a dapper Daniel Day-Lewis, and could have afforded him another exhibit or two to put in the likable column.

I don’t think it’s anti-romance. Rather, it’s very skeptical of marriage as, in one respect, a sort of formal declaration of co-dependence.  One person’s takeaway: it’s about the institution’s more ludicrous, morbid presumptions, about one’s expectations and responsibilities towards one’s partner and their immortal soul, in sickness (and Woodcock is a sickly boy) and in health.   He says he will never marry because marriage would make him deceitful (sincerity also being a prime excuse for being insufferable).  Some would say a little deceit is necessary to grease the rails in a relationship.  Alma, defying our expectations by copping to the mushroom routine–both to Woodcock and some doctor, a cipher for the audience–is not deceitful. Little, if any compromise is made. And from that everlasting pause on his proposal, it’s fair to imagine she quite understands the severity of the transaction she’s entered into.

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In most romances about difficult couples, one person changes the other, breaking down some barrier to them being together.  One makes the other find something “true” they didn’t know was there, or couldn’t admit, and then they can be together.  Here, marriage changes nothing, nor does either character change to suit the other.  Romantic?  Not in any way we’re conditioned to root for!  It’s a crazy sort of co-dependence, which, in an unvarnished way, is kind of what marriage is–spoken through the traditional vows, anyway.

If this is a bit fuzzy, I for one am still working through all of what’s going on here: curses, ghosts, mothers.  The most disappointing thing for me is that we’re set up to imagine this is going to have more to say about art and artists, where that turns out to be more a medium for other messages.  Maybe.  And a lot here may have been covered before, but rarely this intricately in the same film, paying off in surprisingly strange ways. For example: eccentric, successful men being obsessed with their mothers is a topic that’s common enough, but here we get a singularly spooky scene where Woodcock hallucinates his dead mother is standing by the wall. Deftly set up earlier in the film, it’s electrifying when it dawns on you that the phantom is being portrayed by a real human. Horror films, take note.

This is all to say: mushrooms are a solid choice as far as dinners go.  And if they should cause you should see a phantom standing by the wall, well, at least it’s your brain conjuring it and not The Man’s.  Right?

I hope you can trip this Sunday Oscars night with someone you love, and if not, thanks for tripping with me.

Should Win: 

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Shall Win: Better be…

Oh Dear: The 89th Academy Awards; or, We All Pee the Same Color


The Oscars come but once a year.  Who shall, shalln’t, and shouldn’t win that sweet, sweet Oscar gold?   It’s time to put some shrimp on ice, grab a crisp porter ale, and watch the thrills, shills, probably a La La Land medley, and big Jim Kimmel tell us a consoling thing or two about Dan Trimp!  Buckle up your britches, sweet ones!

To the lists!!

(Some spoilers ahead)

Finest Direction, in a Filmic Sense

5. Melly Gibbons

From Metacritic:

TrevorsView  Jan 13, 2017

This is what Spider-Man should have been all this time. Here is what Ben Affleck should have done with Batman. Here is a true hero that outshines anyone wearing a colorful, shiny million dollar suit. In fact, all he has to suit him up and protect him from death is the holy word of God. He won’t even dream of laying either an eye or a finger on a rifle. If today’s superheroes can’t help us through gun control, then this real-life hero of Hacksaw Ridge can.

Gib.  You’ve won the game.  You’re a gibbon now.


4. Denis Villeneuve

Other than the noisome dead girl plot device there’s nothing too unethical going on here, and I applaud anyone trying out something like a cool sci-fi that thinks about how your language informs your thought processes.  It’s just such a fumble on the narrative logic and character interaction fronts.  Not much feels intuitive.

3. Damien Chazelle

Some good production design and cinematography.  I’m just in the camp that would have preferred some more song and dance. Either that or a more layered story.  And perhaps it was a fool’s errand to expect the pace and specificity that made Whiplash what it was to have been in La La’s DNA.  Still, Simmons’ presence in both films underpins my theory that they take place in the same universe, wherein Simmons is some sort of Two-Face like villain that alternately goes around dumbing down and heightening jazz to its furthest extremes.


2. Kenneth Lonergan

I agree with everyone who liked the subtle black comedy elements and clever little touches that make Manchester breathe with authenticity.  I also agree that there’s something of a built in ceiling with how closely it hews to its one terrible event informing just about everything with regards to Affleck’s lead role.  But that’s more of a feature than a bug in a project that works at a high level at what it wants to do.

1. Barry Jenkins

There’s always something of a pendulum push-back effect when a critical darling like Moonlight is so characterized by the prominence of its cinematography (that critic’s delight) and a camp decries it as critic bait.  Sometimes they’re right.  When they’re right, it’s often because the film lacks clarity or panders to a fault.  I don’t think either is the case here, this is potent human stuff.  One note: the chair that broke the bully’s back really shatters pro-wrestling style.  We need better chairs, DeVos.

Shall Prevail: Barry Jenkins(!)

The idea seems to be that Moonlight is the only real dark horse to the La La Land Juggernaut, so let’s go out on a limb and say this year they split Director and Picture honors, thus spreading the wealth.  But yeah, probably Chazelle.


Most Supportive Man

5. Dev Patel

Very standard role in a very typical awards season biopic, Patel is an ol’ hunk emoting a great deal, just what the doctor ordered.  It’s just a tough film to love.  As with Viola Davis, hard to tell how this ends up in the supporting category.  He’s on screen for almost all of his half of the two hour running time.  And that…probably means they should’ve branched out a little.


4. Lucas Hedges

I don’t know if the film sets up the role to be all that dynamic, with a lot filmed over his or Affleck’s shoulders, or outside the car as they bicker in the car.  Definitely convinces as a young man right at the center of mourning and puberty, leaves nothing wanted.  Would like to know what position he plays on the hockey team. He seems like a defenceman.

3. Mahershala Ali

Very memorable in a small role, and in a very dialogue-light film, delivers the best lines.  Would like to have seen some more of him, but his absence after the first act is deliberate, any more and Moonlight is a very different film.

2. Jeff Bridges

He’s somewhere on the spectrum of witty disaffection he’s been playing over and over now, and that mode may be wearing a little thin, but I for one am still having fun.  It’s a shame his half of High Water’s narrative is the more rote, but he does sell the pivot from comedian to revenge seeker well.  It’s a shame his story doesn’t seem to quite contribute to the film’s more interesting takeaways at first glance, but then again, the politics of revenge is not a bad way of putting what the film seems to be thinking about.

1. Michael Shannon

A Juggernautish favorite and a true champion in general, Shannon brings his effortless charisma and a Cohen Bros.-ian jolt of dark humor to the project.  He starts off seemingly untrustworthy, dismissive and antagonistic, only to inevitably reveal himself as a fierce knight of pulpy justice.  He’s exceedingly well-cast.  It’s a real shame Nocturnal Animals ends on an ill-advised, reductive twist.


Shall Prevail: Mahershala Ali


Supportive Women in Cinema

5. Nicole Kidman

No complaints, she’s just not given much to do.

4. Octavia Spencer

Hidden Figures has as charismatic a cast as you could ask for.  Taraji Henderson, Janelle Monae and Kevin Costner are all pretty good too. I think this nomination kind of works as one for the entire team.  Teamwork is what it’s about.

3. Michelle Williams

Strong work in a small role, very effectively simulates the process of crying while trying to communicate in words that just want to jumble out at random; the panic and despair as an inevitable parting inevitably arrives.  I think it’s shrewd that we see her so little throughout the film before, makes that moment more powerful.

2. Naomie Harris

Delivers in a big way on the volatility front, including a scene that seems to want to evoke a panic attack on the part of the protagonist, and boy does she make a catalyst.  As Moonlight is set up as to depict the protagonist’s mindspace, she’s not allowed to reveal a ton of unexpected layers.  She’s remote, but she’s supposed to be because that’s how her son feels about her.

1. Viola Davis

Where the film is mostly shot in a minimal way evocative of the stage, which can sometimes leave actors to struggle when they’re not speaking or directly engaged by who is, does a really impressive job communicating without words.  And when she is speaking, look out.  Classically done.


Shall Prevail: Viola Davis


Best Baby Boy

*Viggo Mortensen

Role unseen as of today.  The light of thethirdrevelation’s life reports, however, that’s he’s fine, just doesn’t have much material worth elevating to Oscar gold realms.

4. Ryan Gosling

Not to knock, but one wonders with both him and Stone how the whole project may have resonated differently with lesser known actors as Hollywood unknowns.  Narratively, I never got what turned Stone’s Mia on to Seb given the Debbie Downer routine she receives, short fusing the whole romance.  Whether that’s on the director or the actor is anyone’s guess.

3. Andrew Garfield

For what it’s worth, I did appreciate Garfield in Hacksaw, he certainly exudes what he’s asked to.  Not kidding, Spider-man had to be a good experience to be able to draw from for the hero’s tale.  I would say let’s hope Hollywood gets its ‘based on true events’ obsession out of its system, but that’s probably a pipe dream.

2. Denzel Washington

You can tell he’s spent time playing the character, I can only imagine seeing him live.  Perhaps the biggest feat is his ability to leave you any sympathy for the character despite allowing himself so little in the performance to elicit it.

1. Casey Affleck

He’s seems a little one note but that’s exactly the idea: he’s a man left hiding in a note. He’s a tough onion to peel, yet peel he does.  Tears ensue.  For those new to the actor, do yourself a favor and check out the excellent and little seen The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.  Take a wild guess who Affleck plays.


Shall Prevail: Denzel Washington

Which is also a great choice.


Queen of the Castle!

5. Natalie Portman

For someone perhaps under-educated as to the Kennedy family and the finer details surrounding the assassination, Jackie came off at times a touch hollow, perhaps geared toward the expert?  Portman’s shock, seething bitterness and despair register impressively, but I found myself regularly wondering if I was lacking context knowledge to understand layers of meaning behind why she emphasizes or chooses certain turns of phrase just so, leaving the screenplay feeling scattered as often as arch, especially when ruminating on legacy.  As far as simulation, which seems to be our raison d’être, the remake of the 1962 White House tour and production design generally is fairly captivating, though Portman’s approximation of Jackie’s accent and manner feels a little over-played.


4. Emma Stone

Stone has one of the most expressive faces in Hollywood and it’s certainly on display here.  She’s deceptively great with the audition line readings, easily my favorite part of the film: some seem perfectly fine, some are a just little flat so you can see why casting would pass, and some are delightfully clunky.

3. Meryl Streep Sweet Sheep

I went into Florence Foster Jenkins with little knowledge of the woman or her singing.  The key bit of Streep’s performance is spent caterwauling incredibly badly, and for the uninitiated, it sounds impossibly over the top, and not as singularly hilarious as her audiences seem to find it (she couldn’t have been that bad).  Then, the film ends with a brief snippet of the real Jenkins’ singing and… we really would have been well served with that as a prologue because it turns out she was exactly that bad, and Streep is basically nailing it.

If one can ignore that the film portrays Jenkins as more oblivious than she may have been for effect, I actually enjoyed it.  Before things end with an inevitable melodramatic cudgeling, there’s a lot of razor sharp comic timing, along with a good balance of silly and sweet.  It mostly earns its warmness, and Streep is a treat.  Hugh Grant is also very good, resembling thirdrevelation favorite Patrick McGoohan in feature, regal posture and clipped intonation.


2. Ruth Negga

Loving may be one of the most underappreciated films of the year, at least, coming from a fan of Juggernautish favorite director Jeff Nichols.  It’s fascinating how motifs from earlier Nichols films–here the paranoia is finally 100% clearly justified–naturally fit this story.  Negga is working with a high degree of difficulty, hitting home completely without the benefit of anything in the way of showcase moments.  She doesn’t need them.

1. Isabelle Huppert

I don’t speak a lick of French and this is a dialogue-heavy film so I’m limited in my appraisal, but even so, Huppert  is mesmerizing while owning the strange core of a Verhoeven project that seems to want to subvert every trope it can imagine and then double back again (maybe fecklessly at times).  None of it works if Huppert doesn’t command both such authentic and variously affected beats.  I’m not sure if any specific light bulb went on for me as far as agency, sex, aging, role playing, or any of the myriad themes at play in Elle, but that seems to be by design, for worse or better.  While I’m not sure how I feel about the film at the end of the day, Huppert is damn engaging.


Shall Prevail: Emma Stone


Finest Picture, for All Mankind

For this section, we’re employing the first annual On Cinema At the Cinema style rating system, for your enjoyment and an enriched context, and so you know what to watch and what to skip.  All are champions of Oscar glory, they were nominated for Best Picture were they not?  It’s a 1 to 5 scale.

9. Lion — Five bags of Popcorn, and maybe an Oscar, I think that’s the idea

The less known about it going in the better, as Weinstein co.’s true-story biopic comes with a ceiling on its dramatic stakes to begin with. Half Calcutta tourist flick about a lost little boy in an incredibly dangerous situation that seems hellbent on always pivoting away from implying real peril as quickly as possible, half gauzy award performance showcase, it at least benefits from not dealing with a major figure and the associated mangling of history (see The Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game, The King’s Speech, etc).

Like with so many biopics, it’s a shame there isn’t time to characterize anyone much beyond their immediate relation to Brierley’s central conflict. His girlfriend and adoptive family never suggest much of a life beyond, so their incredibly steadfast support feels neither here nor there.  The same lack of context goes for Bierley’s specific conflict—what’s he like when he’s not Googling his birthplace, nuzzling post coitus, or brooding (“We swan about in our privileged lives!!”)?  Does he have a dog?  A little…chow or something?


8. Hacksaw; or, Dip and a Ridged Chip — Five bags of Popcorn, and maybe a Bible–you forgot yours

Hacksaw Ridge just scans as too silly to gain any dramatic traction, coming off as propaganda, at least to the uninitiated.  I always appreciate a reluctant warrior story and a man sticking to his guns, so to speak.  Desmond Doss’ is a story worth knowing.  But this is rote and perfunctory to a surreal degree, kind of a time capsule from the conservative 50’s.  The stalker romance, the way he forgets his bible (of course he did!) just so.  Such a wonderful backlit boy.  The squad members who really terrorized Dodd reduced to lovable scamps.  The battles are well done in a sense, and the gore is appreciated insofar as, if you’re going to depict war, the more realism the better.  But this is consistently staged as a heart-pumping action flick: the two week campaign condensed into two days, the stormtrooper enemies that can’t hit our hero as he’s portrayed leaping from man to man just yards away, always at the nick of time, the force-fielded edge of the ridge where he keeps doing his pulley thing.  We seem to be closer to playing army guys than a Saving Private Ryan, which earned its melodrama more convincingly through the unflinching-take-on-war idea.  Garfield gives a strong performance for what it’s worth, he certainly exudes what was asked.


7. Arrival — Five Bags of Popcorn, and maybe a Copy of David Bowie’s 1969 Album David Bowie, Featuring “Space Oddity”

Arrival is definitely to be applauded for the macro message on cooperation, and it tries to get there with some slick sci-fi imagery and the concept of linguistic relativity: the idea that language and thought processes influence one another, which is beautiful and true.  It’s gotten a lot of praise for being smart, and it is in a sense, but a disinterest in character building, along with multiple ticking-time-bomb scenarios there just to inject a sense of stakes that never feel credible, dulls things down.  Like Interstellar, another notably ‘smart’ sci-fi, it seems to want to turn you on to science (great!) but doesn’t trust the audience to follow along without an emotional gut wrenching it doesn’t really need.  If the dead little girl for the sake of pathos doesn’t ruffle you, fair enough, but at least a set up where the alien language grants Adams, maybe, keen foresight, or a new perspective on the situation, rather than full on reverse total recall would be welcome.  Arrival was adapted from a short story “Story of Your Life” and everything likely comes across more smoothly on the page, where I understand the action movie aspects are absent.  Hey,  at least now we know why McConaughey’s hero is himself five years in the future.


6. Hidden Figures — Five bags of Popcorn, and maybe enough fuel for the delta-V we need for re-entry burn

Four(!) years after Alfonso Cauron’s Gravity taught us to keep our heads down, we have a pro-space movie!  We could have trimmed a scene or two, but a solid ensemble cast and enough attention-capturing lines–“At NASA we all pee the same color”—leaves us in a stable orbit.  At $145m domestic, Hidden Figures was the top grossing film of 2016 that wasn’t a tentpole/franchise or animated sing-fest designed to become one.  Not incidentally, it’s also a standard-bearer for a year that saw a record number of top 100 films with female leads.


5. La La Land — Five bags of Popcorn, and a big ol’ dumptruck, for all that Oscar gold

One narrative on La La Land is that it’s largely a setup to quite a payoff of an emotional punch at the end, and where you stand will depend on whether that punch gets through to you.  Well, it didn’t, but I’m not a hater.  From production stills and Chazelle’s excellent Whiplash I came in figuring that if nothing else this would have a very specific voice to it, one that may or may not strike a personal chord (and please, no cheap nostalgia) but something clear.  It turns out any nostalgia going on is nicely embedded in the production design and the story’s nothing if not direct.  Any really harsh criticism of Stone and Gosling’s song and dance routines is off base—what do you expect, Danny Kaye?—but for a musical that’s in part a love letter to musicals (right?) it’s a little short on songs.  So we just don’t have many opportunities for “wow” moments, say, on the level of Anne Hathaway’s show stopper from Les Mis or even Channing Tatum’s elaborate dance sequence in Hail, Ceasar! this year.  The romance didn’t do much for me, largely as we’re never really shown why Mia responds to Seb’s rude Debbie Downer in the first place, but I do appreciate the theme of keeping alive the spirit of worthwhile things, and how difficult that is.


4. Fences– Five bags of Popcorn, and maybe a copy of Blue Oyster Cult’s Agents of Fortune album, featuring “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”

I’m no great student of the stage, but made comment while watching Fences that I hate how critics seem to knock stage to screen adaptations for leaving things stagey, as if it’s a sin in and of itself.  That can be a tool too, guys.  A less inside-out approach could have made some of the monologues sound a bit less like, well, monologues, but a monologue once in a while isn’t so bad. Washington and Davis are both superlative.  The depiction of the disabled brother comes off as a product of the 50’s in more ways than one, though, kind of dated at best and a clunky narrative contrivance at worst.  The arc with the football-playing son is surprisingly moving.

Broadway Opening Night Celebration For "Fences"


3. Moonlight — Five bags of Popcorn, and maybe a chrome grill, because I’m honestly still not sure how they work

Probably the best cinematography and command of texture and mood of the set, sometimes bringing Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life) to mind without the freaky-cosmic.  Moonlight is effectively restrained in its storytelling, and if the surreal and minimalist tendencies are a little showy, I still found it pretty sumptuous, especially with it’s knack for being quiet.  This is a story about a quiet soul.   It may be limited by the thee part structure, especially where a hell of a lot happens unseen between the second and third act.  Just a bit more connective tissue there may have gone a way toward helping the emotional payoff land, but, then again, the lack of it lends the last sequence a unique sort of mysteriousness.


2. Manchester by the Sea — Five bags of Popcorn, and maybe a funeral pyre like they used in Medieval times

Putting a ton of pressure on Affleck, Manchester comes off even more singularly about its particular damaged protagonist than Moonlight, which feels like it speaks to more universal feelings and experiences.  Idiosyncrasy is the name of the game here, and Affleck comes through quite impressively, even if the persona he creates is so interior as to be perhaps not as indelible as some of the classic depictions of damaged people.  Your mileage may vary.  As abashfulharvestman pointed out to me, Manchester may be limited by hewing so closely to its “terrible thing fulcrum”; at the least, I’d like to have seen the characters explored from some more inconspicuous life events.  Still, excellent screenplay in its way, and I was torn between Affleck and Washington for best baby boy.


1. Hell or High Water  — Five bags of Popcorn, and maybe a ticket to Westworld, because I keep having this dream I can’t wake up from and I’m not sure if I did something wrong

OK, in the end, I don’t quite know where to put Hell or High Water.  I’ll say this: it’s always nice to put something at the end of your list that strikes a personal chord, presenting something you noticed that maybe not everyone did.  Since we’ve been making these should-wins, Her struck that chord for me in 2013;  Whiplash, and even Amour almost did, Argo maybe not so much.

The revenge on the Banks angle is admittedly blunt as far as allegory, to start.  And I don’t know if the characters come to life perfectly: Pine is empathetic if not entirely convincing; Foster is exciting but maybe overacting; Bridges is very charming, but that particular mode of his is getting a bit predictable.  But the visceral takeaway for me, and I think it’s entirely purposeful, is the local civilians’ (who I think we’re to understand are also bank victims) universal and immediate eagerness to engage in high-holy ballistics.  To discharge their holy weapons, dispensing justice.  In this otherwise almost oppressively sparse, deserted, sleepy environment, they’ve been itching for it, for that posse. To be sure, this is in response to a bank robbery, with the pointing of loaded guns at people, so there’s a measure of balance here, some justification.  We’re not exactly demonizing.

Who’s being robbed?  Everybody?  So, some are robbing, and some are shooting robbers.  And even the robbers, for all we know, OK, probably, are voting for their banks, and their station, because at the end of the day, violence and mayhem is what we respond to and use.  I need to do a rewatch, but I believe the civilian shoots first in the botched bank job, not the cop or the robber.  The story of the cop partners may not tie into that theme as well as it could, but on the other end, it also ends up being a story about where and why you ought to point your gun.


Shall Prevail: La La Land

2015 Oscars: If I Get All the Way Out There and I Find that You’ve Been Lying to Me…I’m Going to Find You, and I’m Going to Take More than My Money Back. Is that Alright With You?

Best of all pictures:

  1. The Theory of Everything

What a real sweet treat, and a feat. Science: what a treat. What a timeless story of love, and a privilege to know. Sweet? Check. A treat? Check. This is a film you want to watch with the finest shrimp available to your community. One for the annals, and for the children as well. It made me look at the sky and think, “wow.” The ending kind of reminded me of, if you can remember, how on a VHS tape you would have to rewind it to watch it again, and you could actually watch the film in reverse if you left the TV on–kind of like going back in time. It’s like you were going through time. And sometimes you would pause it in the middle and it would kind of stop flickering between frames and you’d get a picture of a character about to blink and it would almost look like they were winking at you, like they knew you were there; like you were peeling back the veil of the universe to see the unthinkable machinery. It was really scary, kind of like a horror that nobody else would ever see.

  1. American Sniper

Brad the dad Cooper has been on the awards circuit explaining that American Sniper is about the neglect returning vets face. “We looked at hopefully igniting attention about the lack of care that goes to vets. Discussion that has nothing to do with vets or what we did or did not do, every conversation in those terms is moving farther and farther from what our soldiers go through, and the fact that 22 veterans commit suicide each day.” (NYT)

We’ve been swindled, Coop. We’ve been swindled. Swindled like babes left out on the driveway. Left out in the fallow field, for ‘coons to inspect. It was a wholesale job.

Such a film may have depicted:

  • A trip to a VA that has been constantly in a state of outright scandal due to mismanagement, resulting in thousands of veterans being wrongly denied benefits, having benefits delayed unduly, or being put through inordinate amounts of duress to claim them.
  • A spousal or parenting relationship that was affected more deeply and lastingly by tours of duty abroad than Kyle’s, wherein his wife–who is allowed to do nothing, nothing expect nag him for his absence the entire film–resolves the thread with the transcendental showstopper gush, “you are a wonderful husband, and you are a wonderful father.” Full stop.
  • A treatment of Kyle’s murder at the hand of Eddie Routh, a fellow PTSD sufferer and veteran featuring something more than a random demonic glare from said wife towards the actor portraying him, a hasty title card, and a congratulatory funeral montage.
  • A vet having difficulty finding his or her feet on returning to the U.S. in large part due to a lack of an internal or external training program that by and large provides veterans decent odds at gainful, stable employment after their service.

For a more fine-toothed look at the lack of care that goes to vets, see… Starship TroopersVideodrome? Eastwood is credited as director, and is not nominated for best directing ostensibly because the film was developed by Steve Spielberg with Cooper cast in the main role and over six months of principal photography having been shot before Spielberg bowed out due to creative differences. It shows in the tonal oddities. I have to imagine a significant set of spouses and families of veterans cringe at the depiction of Kyle’s wife as a creature whose seemingly only function in the world is to badger? The full reintegration into the family, especially for soldiers seeing extensive combat, deserving of so little screen time? Does Kyle himself depict things so simply in his book? The scene where Kyle successfully flirts with the wife by pointing a gun at her in front of toddlers? Is it possible Eastwood isn’t throwing us a curveball here? At any rate, two coworkers have, to date–unsolicited–imparted to me that American Sniper is in no uncertain terms the best film ever. But where was Tom Cruise? Get Tom Cruise in there.

  1. The Imitation Game

Biopic three: engage. Prestige piece B, 2015. Yet another biopic that would have been exponentially more interesting had it aimed for a remotely balanced portrait of the subject’s life. I was actually somewhat surprised they spared even a single scene directly addressing Turing’s subjection to chemical castration. Instead we focus on the faux romance and a delightful genius complex. “Sometimes it’s the people no one expects anything from who do the things no one expects”.

So. I continue to be a net fan of Cumberbatch, and the genius shtick is perfect for the solid BBC Sherlock series, but here without the implied campiness afforded by the TV format it just comes off as perfunctory. Threads of Turing’s landmark work on computers, minds and identity (do check out Turing’s work, it’s well written and impressively accessible given the ideas he’s working with) are suggested, but never really picked up. There is a much better film to be made of Turing’s work and legacy, too bad it’s not allowed to live here. Weinstein’s “Honor the Man.  Honor the film.” plea for awards recognition is the definition of beyond the pale.

  1. Boyhood

Was initially skeptical of the 12-year timespan, expecting it to be leaned upon overmuch so as to come off as a melodramatic gimmick.  Instead, I was surprised to see the film actually holds out against that pitfall until the last half hour or so. Mostly, things spool out organically, allowing the viewer to supply a lot of subtext; if anything, the passage of time is oddly unremarkable. I found myself appreciating the scene where the protagonist gets his head shaved, as the film had theretofore been using drastic hairstyle changes to accentuate the passage of time to the point where they started to become characters in and of themselves. The film is at its best when it’s comfortable being about ‘familyhood’ beyond ‘boyhood’, with some entertaining moments on that front especially in the early to middle stages. Finally succumbs to needing to explain/justify itself more and more towards the end as later teenage hangout scenes begin to feel wooden; boy begins to ask father “what’s the point of everything”; we begin to see the conversations I suspect parents have with their children in their heads and wish their children would solicit, rather than interactions that really happen. The last scene is a real thud as we’re offered a fuzzy glorification of “moments”: ah, yes, that’s what you’ve been providing us, you miracle of film you; thank you for that, thank you. The best film here tells the story of this boy’s boyhood, instead of flailing at a universal boyhood, particularly the implication that it is a suburban one.

  1. Birdman

Abashfulharvestman and I discussed Birdman at length. 

  1. The Grand Budapest Hotel

I’m not generally a big Anderson fan—his films too often consist of weak or excessively twee stories that seemingly exist as vehicles for the signature, highly specific to the point of high comedy motifs and aesthetics. I haven’t been fully into one since 2001’s The Royal Tenenbaums, which was early enough in the catalog that the fashion was fresh. This is a different film than Tenenbaums, attempting more to evoke universal sentiments of guilt, the putting on of airs, and the elasticity of memories, whereas Tenenbaums dove into idiosyncratic characters with very rich and specific inner lives.  The latter may be a more fertile ground for Anderson’s sensibilities, generally, but Fienes as our comedic lead and Tony Revolori as his straight man foil make a very strong central pair, seemingly agents in Anderson’s world rather than affectations of it. The wide supporting cast is hit or miss–Adrien Brody is miscast and Bill Murray’s appearance along with other Anderson-regulars’ cameos are tedious boxes checked. Jude Law, Tilda Swinton and Jeff Goldblum fare much better.

  1. Selma

The only film of the set that got me emotionally choked up. The one biopic that perhaps was jostled from the flaming wreckage of the Doomed Biopic Mothership on atmospheric re-entry. Remarkably little history revision done for the sake of convenience or entertainment (there is some), and the flourishes there tend to constructively elucidate patterns and situations. I’m largely in agreement with Mark Harris’ good piece on it, and with respect to the lack of attention it’s receiving would emphasize simply that 12 Years’ deserving accolades last year have sapped the industry’s puny reserves of focus with respect to ugly pasts, black disenfranchisement especially. This is a year for propaganda, for revision.

I like that Selma tries to bring in lesser-publicized factions of various, often competing, civil rights groups of the time, but the actual logistics of things are rendered a little bit unclear for those of us who aren’t experts. Oyelowo deserved a Best Actor nom over any of Cooper, Cumberbatch, or Redmayne.

  1. Whiplash

This is a real throwback, replete with physical performances, scenery chewing, and the old *setting the table/working hard, hitting adversity hard, redemption* three-act arc. Does an exemplary job at conveying with efficiency, such as showing the protagonists’ background and giving a good sense of his dating life without a single note beyond what’s needed. I think it does at the end of the day traffic in the myth that education through negative reinforcement is effective, especially at mastery levels—or at least that it’s acceptable in the “big leagues”. But there’s so much going on here within the characters that I’m willing to look past that and focus on this as the story of these particular two people. There is some room for the idea that our virtuoso could have flourished without the abuse, the question’s tugged. The one fly in the ointment is that the last scene’s tone is a bit too broadly suggestive of reconciliation–it probably would have been best left more ambiguous, or, to somehow imply the boy’s fulfillment of his own agency transcending the demon teacher. As is, things end on a bit of a shrug. Music itself absolutely a plus. Very strong editing throughout, heightening not just the most dramatic tussles but the lighter moments, too.

Shall win: Birdman

Should win: The Homesman


Best of all Directors:

5. Morten Tyldum — The Imitation Game

Where’s Tom Hooper?  Get Tom Hooper in there!

4. Alejandro Innaritu — Birdman

3. Bennett Miller — Foxcatcher

Foxcatcher‘s tunneled focus and near complete lack of external context to the events depicted at the Foxcatcher farm lend it a lot of its claustrophobic, intense feel. It also becomes a major narrative handicap given how things are framed around the climactic tragedy. The script is actually pretty good and the acting’s there…it’s just glaring how the film seems not to quite capitalize on a great thread about wealth and isolation and megalomania, and how it throttles the world at large.

2. Richard Linklater — Boyhood

A mixed bag. While Foxcatcher needed to widen the scope a bit and speak more to broader things, Boyhood struggles a bit with the opposite problem. Strong work early on gives way more and more to stultifying waves at universal themes that aren’t there and didn’t need to be.

1. Wes Anderson — The Grand Budapest Hotel

We’ll interpret “best directing” this year as the one leading a project that best maximized its potential. Grand Budapest Hotel, despite a relatively complicated plot, displays the most effective control of tone and drama here.

Shall win: Richard Linklater


Superlative Actor in a Leadership Role:

5. Benedict Cumberbatch — The Imitation Game

Sometimes you feel like a treat.

4. Eddie Redmayne — The Theory of Everything

Sometimes a treat feels like you.

3. Brad the Swindled — American Treat

Coop really nails the ending of scenes by staring at a point about two o’clock high from the camera. What is he lookin’ at? A tango? A goat? Moral fabric? Patrick Duffy, he could have sworn? Regardless, keep working those baby blues. Practice better gun safety.

2. Steve Carell — Foxcatcher

Wins the Tom Hardy annual Most Fun to Try and Impersonate in Random Situations award. Seriously, though, if you’ve spent any amount of time around a wealth baby that’s been raised in an at least partially self-imposed valley of unreality and witnessed the mysteries that they present, Carell is really doing some good simulation here.

1. Micheal Keaton — Birdman

Last year, on the subject of Actor in a Leadership Role, this blog wrote, “With Daniel Day-Lewis out becoming a stone mason for the next five years, I think folks like Bale, DiCaprio, and Michael Keaton have a real chance to break through.”

Ethics 101.

Shall win: Eddie Redmayne


Most Supportive Man:

N/A — Robert Duvall — The Judge (role unseen)

4. Ethan Hawke — Boyhood

3. Edward Norton — Birdman

Kind of disturbing now that I know his role was in many ways, and self-avowedly, Innaritu himself.

2. Mark Ruffalo — Foxcatcher

Really brings into the communication posture lexicon the little t-rex thing wrestlers apparently develop. Exudes brotherly concern at hypercritical levels.

1. J. K. Simmons — Whiplash

The obvious hook is his ability to go over the top, but as with all the great roles it’s the little off-beats and pauses that really bring things to life. Draws out and gives room to a strong performance from co-lead and relative newcomer Miles Teller.

Shall win: J.K. Simmons


Queen of the Castle:

5. Felicity Jones — The Theory of Everything

This makes Ms. Jones the first actress to receive a nomination for a role in a Horror film since Ellen Page in Juno (2007). Good show!

4. Reese Witherspoon — Wild

3. Marion Cotillard — Two Days, One Night

2. Julianne Moore — Still Alice

1. Rosamund Pike — Gone Girl

One of the things that doesn’t seem to get discussed about Gone Girl is just the degree to which it really is a vehicle for her performance. Everything else is furniture.

Shall win: Julianne Moore


Number 1 Better Half:

N/A Meryl Streep (role unseen)

4. Keira Knightley — The Imitation Game

Pip pip, old boy!

3. Emma Stone — Birdman

I often tell friends they should start making films with the title and simple concept of “Actor A vs. Actor B”. For example, “Michael Shannon vs. Willem Dafoe” or “Tom Cruise vs. Tom Hanks”. We almost got “Nic Cage vs. John Travolta” with Face/Off, but even that strayed a bit from the core man vs. man dialectic. “Emma Stone vs. Jennifer Lawrence” could be good.

2. Patricia Arquette — Boyhood

Such unhappiness!

1. Laura Dern — Wild

Continues to be the most effectively alarming presence in unexpected jump cuts in film today.

Shall win: Patricia Arquette

It Doesn’t End Like This: The 86th Academy Awards

If things fall out as many are predicting, there’ll be much ado about suffering amongst the winners this year. To the lists!

Best Picture:

9. Philomena

Without a Tom Hooper offering, this crop’s prestige (most British, most agreeably middlebrow) film is apparently Philomena. It’s not as irredeemably sappy or disposable as Coogan’s character (a watered down incarnation of his usual dry-witted lout) describes human interest stories…but you still kind of get some of what he’s driving at here.

8. The Wolf of Wall Street

Wolf is very much a drug/drug taking film, smothering any real attempt to delve into real-world unethics, or America, or really any idea in a sustained way.  As far as drug movie black comedies go, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is perhaps a spiritual forebear, a tough act to follow and also adapted from a sort of memoir.  But where Fear and Loathing captures something of movements and eras, this feels more purely snuff.   I have to believe the debauchery is meant to be stimulating or disgusting but it quickly gets tedious, too caricatured and stylized to evoke life, and too unfocused to crystallize as any clear metaphor.

7. Gravity

Holy anti-space exploration, regressive Fundamentalist bents!  Where Her takes a nuanced look at a humanity struggling to find its place in a technological world, Gravity sticks with the standard prescribed apocalypse scenario, with choice Space Odyssey rip-offs for good measure.

Hyep: outer space makes you a star baby.  Really, I was expecting the heart-pounding action, but not all the apocalyptic overtones with the sudden mysterious destruction of seemingly all man-made satellites, including an inexplicably deserted ISS.  If the space apocalypse wasn’t enough to put us in our proper place, we also have our leaky wayward woman rescued and redeemed by the literal patron saint of masculinity (I must admit, a very likable George Clooney as himself).  Yes, let’s do keep our hopes and dreams in the mud, the afterlife, and our better halves.

6. Captain Phillips

I seem to remember from the trailers that this seemed like it was going to be about Captain Phillips bargaining for the crews’ lives with his employers and insurers?  How much money is an American worth: the cargo, that is?  A good documentary about the real life incident exploring the contexts and causes of Somali piracy and maritime commerce law would have been more worthwhile.  Something deeper is hinted at with the opening conversation between Phillips and his wife about how tough kids have it today (ostensibly due to baby boomers such as himself) juxtaposed with Somalis being forced into piracy.  There’s an analogy!  But we get a straight up and somewhat belabored hostage story. I enjoyed Hanks’ Boston accent, and his surveying.   Somehow I kept imagining what Tom Brady would have done in Phillips’ situation.

5. Nebraska

Here’s a deliberate little story that’s meant to transcend the journey depicted, though it seems to work best when it just focuses on what’s unique about its quest, rather than what’s universal.  For any who take offense to what may seem like a gross simplification of Midwesterners, I can say coming from such a family that the television-watching scenes at least are pretty spot on.  Would this film be nearly as talked about if it wasn’t in black and white?  Will Forte is really in his Forte portraying an epic and universally trampled soul, so it’s sweet to see him save the day in the end.

4. Dallas Buyers Club

McConaughey and Leto drive the bus here in a by-the-numbers activism film that gets a bit more right than wrong–theatrically, anyway.  A scene where McConaughey’s character says that he feels like his all-consuming quest to live has ‘gotten in the way of him living’ is apropos wherein a stronger film would have delved a little more into aspects of his personal life.  In reality Woodroof had a daughter and sister who were written out in favor of the Garner and Leto characters, each of which play as cinematic types: Garner as the well-meaning square who won’t commit at first but is eventually won over to the cause, Leto as the charismatic, tragic hard case.  I can also see that writing out Woodroof’s bisexuality is on some spectrum of being like “making Solomon Northup white in order to reach a bigger audience”.  Honestly, my gripe is that the film’s depiction of policy doctors and their FDA masters paints them almost too sympathetically; the prescription writing pill-bot from Elysium still gets the 2013 ‘most accurate portrayal of a medical experience’ award.  While DBC stumbles in oversimplifying and tidying LBGT issues around both Woodroof and the ‘buyer’s clubs’ of the 80s by making Leto’s character a symbol for all, it also resonates in a time where more people than ever are being denied basic medical services under increasingly fatuous rationales.  Any film on the U.S.’s wholly unchecked, monopoly-based medical industry is picking a worthy fish to fry.

3. 12 Years a Slave

Along with Her, 12 Years stands out for transporting cinematography, and gets bonus points for a memorable score, too rare these days.  Above all, I was impressed by how the film portrays its ultra-heavy subject matter with some surprising range.  There’s a sort of lyricism to the best scenes which reminded me of something out of Paul Thomas Anderson’s recent films, where things seem almost overtly scripted, yet somehow all the more true-to-life because of it.  Given the source material there isn’t a problem with keeping this a very micro, personal story, but it’s frustrating how Solomon’s rescue–more or less by happenstance–comes off as incidental: just Brad Pitt happenin’ through.  True, the story is about the utter circumscription of agency, but I have to imagine the resolution could have been framed to resonate more with Solomon’s unique suffering and situation.

2. American Hustle

A film where you can’t help but root for almost everyone at once, benefiting from a trove of talent and recent Academy Award stand-bys.   Bale, Cooper, Adams, and Lawrence have 10 major Oscar noms between them in the last 4 years, a whopping seven as co-stars in Russell films.  They should play off each other quite well by now, and do.  The only thing holding things back a bit is a slight lack of impact… we might expect that in a film about how “everything’s a con” there are going to be big twists along the way, more surprise affiliations, heavy consequences.  If you haven’t seen it yet, go in expecting a high-end comedy with a great cast, not a crime epic.  Best con of all: Louis CK’s interminable ice fishing story.

1. Her

Her is about identity, and how we ascribe it: the personas of people we build in our minds, never the same as how they know themselves. Her. How love happens in the will to navigate the difference.  It’s about the voices we perceive: from people, from letters, from computers, from corporations.  It’s about depression, and unrequited desires to be touched and known, when technology makes so much accessible, anonymous, and long-distance.  It’s about a world where a man makes a living as a writer of poignant, heartfelt letters of love, regret, and sorrow for people who can’t find the words within themselves, yet are ready and willing to purchase them.

Any film attempting a premise like Her‘s runs a dangerous risk of feeling flatly satirical, and it’s possible that for some, a note here or there may feel contrived (does everyone in the future live in a NYC penthouse?)  For me, the clever sets, another irreplaceable performance by Joaquin Phoenix –Jonze supposedly wrote his script with him expressly in mind–and a pretty inspired screenplay overall keep any major plot-point objections at bay.   Things could be said to peter just a bit in the third act, but the resolution to the journey is a satisfying and a fitting one.  After all, no relationship culminates in unequivocal bliss, blessedly few in lasting apocalypse.

Should Win: Her

Much is made on this blog about much being made and fetishized about the apocalyptic lately.  In hopes of jinxing the film by picking it (worked last year when I picked Zero Dark Thirty) let’s again take this exercise to it’s most cynical possible conclusion.

Will win: Gravity

Best Director:

5. Martin Scorsese

I’m generally a fan of Scorsese, but where otherwise strong films sometimes bloat on him (see Gangs of New York, The Departed) this one totally gets away.  I think the at least somewhat warranted outcry that Wolf not only fails to criticize white collar crime but glorifies it comes through in part because excess for its own sake is so valued in our society.  In discerning the excesses depicted as glorifying we’re in part expressing a more general outcry that such behaviors are so valued at all.  See The Hangover and any number of recent films, songs and advertisements pushing the idea that it’s through excess and great irresponsibility that we truly find ourselves, that we truly live.  YOLO.

4. Alfonso Cauron

See above re: aversion to Gravity’s message.

3. Alexander Payne

Nebraska is, in a year of black comedies, a black and white comedy.  Payne serves Nebraska well in telling a story about earlier times and older people without being either pettily dismissive or merely nostalgic.  

2. David O. Russell

Probably his best film in what has become a career worth of very-solid to amazing stuff.  Why aren’t more people talking about him as an all-time great?  My only quibble is that American Hustle finds itself in an odd place where you are expecting something a little more heavy-hitting to go down… it’s at once a credit to the strong drama in what’s otherwise a comedy, and perhaps a bit of a tonal issue.

1. Steve McQueen

McQueen delivers almost all one could hope for out of a film adaptation of 12 Years A Slave and probably then some, though my reservations about the resolution stand.  I give him the slight nod over Russell because I feel Hustle succeeded so much based on the talent of its actors rather than editing, script or cinematography, while 12 Years is more of an all-around project.  We seem to live in a place where actors are given the vast majority of credit for their performances rather than those who direct them; if Hustle wasn’t so packed with sure stars, I’d be more inclined to give credit for putting them in position to shine.

Should win: Spike Jonze

What, Cauron for the fetus shot?!  Let’s rather give Kubrick a posthumous award.  McQueen and Russell both would be worthy picks.

Will win: Steve McQueen

Best Actor:

5. Bruce Dern

Dern renders his addled, Alzheimer’s afflicted man so compellingly it can feel almost impossible to imagine he’s not simply being himself.  All the nominations this year are well deserved, though I think this spot could likely have been filled by Joaquin Phoenix or Robert Redford for All is Lost.

4. Leonardo DiCaprio

DiCaprio is for my money on a very short list of our best and most entertaining actors.  He’s good here, maybe excellent.  He wrings out some memorable sequences, especially in the “Bond villain” yacht scene, which gives him a straight man to play off.  But in most of the film he’s rendered strangely inert, where while he’s usually so effective as the source of electricity in a scene (see last year’s Django Unchained), here he’s more of a conduit in something that’s trying to be the biggest thunderstorm ever recorded.

3. Chiwetel Ejiofor

Don’t think he has much of a chance due to relative anonymity: where McConaughey gets lots of acting points for breaking expectations not only in the type of character he portrays but frankly how far he’s come from vehicles like Sahara, Ejiofor’s equally difficult performance doesn’t afford the same “wow I can’t believe he came and did that” factor.

2. Christian Bale

So fun, and such a delicate performance!  Such a delicate boy that he presents.  With Daniel Day-Lewis out becoming a stone mason for the next five years, I think folks like Bale, DiCaprio, and Michael Keaton have a real chance to break through.

1. Matthew McConaughey

Here’s your prototypical impressive physical transformation, and McConaughey gets lots of points for being a known quantity transformed, someone we’ve seen many times before and can paint as finally reaching his apex and potential.  Of all the nominees, this feels the most like a Best Actor performance, with all the requisite seriousness.

Should and shall win: Matthew McConaughey


Best Actress:

5. Judi Dench

Pretty soft-serve stuff.  Philomena lacks anything approaching a real “Oscar scene” through no fault of Dench’s.

4. Sandra Bullock

Given the chauvinistic bent of the film I can’t be impressed by the terror, fragility displayed given the message it’s going toward.  You want a woman fighting existential battles in space?

Redeem that, George.

3. Meryl Streep

If some ding August: Osage County for being merely a ring wherein Streep and Roberts spew baggage at each other, color me very impressed and entertained by Streep here.

2. Amy Adams

Oh, that subtle greatness.  I must point out that American Hustle does not pass the Bechdel Test, as the scene where Lawrence makes out with her has them fighting over Christian Bale.

1. Cate Blanchett

Seemingly a role she’s been playing awhile: rich and eccentric, sometimes with a southern accent.  Overacting?  Of course!  How else does one play a character defined by her overacting?

Should and shall win: Cate Blanchett

If Adams does take it, consider that it may not just be due to anti-Allen sentiment: Blanchett’s Jasmine really shares similarity with her Katherine Hepburn in The Aviator, the role for which she deservedly took Best Actress.  Jasmine features a larger, more demanding, and even more impressive performance, but the similarity between it and an already recognized role only heightens Adam’s case for being “owed.”


Best Supporting Actor:

5. Jonah Hill

Hill has the property of somehow making any film or scene he’s in feel like a raunchy comedy, and Wolf is a raunchy comedy.  Somehow I feel I have to qualify that as just a raunchy comedy.

4. Barkhad Abdi

Not allowed nearly as much depth as he should have been.  Really can’t give Captain Phillips credit for any intended audience takeaway other than “Thank Jesus America rescued Tom Hanks from those scary black men.”

3. Bradley Cooper

Keeps getting better, this is his best performance yet.  Does anyone feel sorry for him in the end?  Is he not still Bradley Cooper?

2. Michael Fassbender

Fassbender does an amazing job portraying such rage and hesitancy at once.  His is such a commanding presence that it’s getting to a point where I just don’t buy him in roles where he’s not integrally an authority figure, such as this year’s The Counselor.

1. Jared Leto

It’s ironic that the most typic character of the list here is still arguably the most memorably and most impressively rendered.  Leto’s performance fits too perfectly into what we traditionally consider gold-standard as far as Oscars and acting performances go to lose this.

Should and shall win: Jared Leto

If anything, Leto’s a lock because his role is so much more Important than Cooper’s, and I think the voters have to be aware of a potential trend of giving awards to white actors in films about black issues after Christoff Waltz’s much deserved and surprise win last year.


Best Supporting Actress:

5. June Squibb

What a cute button nose!

4. Sally Hawkins

If we give an award to the most likable character, I might give mine to Hawkins, who is sneaky good and very much fits the term ‘supporting’.  Where Blanchett’s character is a modern update of Blanche DuBois in a world where class difference has become even more dizzyingly wide, Hawkins’ Ginger represents a more hopeful update of Stella.   Where Stella is a woman who is true to herself and suffers for it in the end, Ginger is a creature who may not really know where she belongs, but can find it in herself to be happy.

3. Jennifer Lawrence

Fierce again and undeniably commanding, Lawrence takes the award for most acting done, if not best.  She sets a very interesting dynamic in American Hustle where while all the con-artists are so coolly and subtly convincing, Lawrence as the what-you-see-is-what-you-get hellcat is the only one who comes off like she’s consciously putting on a performance.

2. Julia Roberts

Lawrence rules as Hollywood’s female id, imbued with all that carpe diem immediacy it needs now more than ever since we only live once and the apocalypse is so nigh, wrapped in that particularly all-American down-home body America responds to so much (all that is all-american and down-home being so embattled).  Yea, we hearken back to the reign of Julia Roberts, who reflected perhaps simpler needs: the courage to be ourselves, to be heard, to transgress gender roles just a little, as to ever more clearly define them.  Interesting that even still, Roberts continues to play the underdog, the ugly duckling, the misfit.  I seem to have enjoyed August: Osage County more than most, and thought Roberts was spot on.

1.Lupita Nyong’o

Another powerful portrayal of suffering, after Anne Hathaway’s in Les Mis last year.   Nyong’o doesn’t get that much screen time, but very few ladies do.

Should and shall win: Lupita Nyong’o

A corollary to “Behold the 85th Academy Awards”

As abashfulharvestman posted earlier, each of us created a list of our favorite Academy Awards won since 2000 in order to provide insight into what sorts of film and performances we tend to enjoy.  Here are my favorites:

1) There Will Be Blood (2007) Daniel Day-Lewis, Best Actor
2) Spirited Away (2002) Best Animated Feature
3) No Country For Old Men (2007) Best Picture, Coen Bros., Best Director, Coen Bros., Best Adapted Screenplay
4) Lost In Translation (2003) Sofia Coppola, Best Original Screenplay
5) The Dark Knight (2008) Heath Ledger, Best Supporting Actor
6) No Country For Old Men (2007) Javier Bardem, Best Supporting Actor
7) Bowling For Columbine (2002) Best Documentary
8) The Matrix (1999) Best Sound, Best Sound Effects Editing, Best Film Editing, and Best Visual Effects
9) There Will Be Blood (2007) Best Cinematography
10) Chicago (2002) Best Art Direction, Sound Mixing, Costume Design, Film Editing
11) Inglorious Basterds (2009) Christoph Waltz, Best Supporting Actor
12) Capote (2005) Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Best Actor
13) The Aviator (2004) Cate Blanchett, Best Supporting Actress
14) Sweeny Todd (2007) Best Art Direction
15) The Fighter (2010) Christian Bale, Best Supporting Actor
16) The Aviator (2004) Best Art Direction, Editing, Costume Design, Cinematography
17) The Incredibles (2004) Best Animated Feature
18) Milk (2008) Best Original Screenplay
19) Boys Don’t Cry (1999) Hillary Swank, Best Actress
20) Brokeback Mountain (2005) Ang Lee, Best Director
21) An Inconvenient Truth (2006) Best Documentary
22) The Hurt Locker (2008) Katherine Bigelow, Best Director, Best Film Editing
23) Man On Wire (2008) Best Documentary
24) Traffic (2000) Benicio Del Toro, Best Supporting Actor
25) Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) Best Art Direction, Cinematography, Art Design

Behold the 85th Academy Awards; or, “Total, Utter Bullshit”

Best Supporting Actor:

5) Alan Arkin – Argo

Arkin is perfectly up to the task but I’m a bit surprised he’s even nominated here as his role in the film is so small, and he’s not asked to do anything particularly remarkable.  He nails the wisecracking, worldly, “ah-whatta-ya-gonna-do” persona for his character, but he’s ultimately a pretty minor cog in a film that’s a lot more slick (appreciatedly so, mind you) than it is a buffet of classic acting.  Nothing against his performance, but the slot would have been better filled by someone who admirably filled a larger, deeper role, say Javier Bardem for his work in Skyfall or Michael Fassbender in Prometheus.

4) Robert De Niro – Silver Linings Playbook

De Niro—along with the rest of the nominees in this category—has more screen time to work with than Arkin, but his role is similarly more efficient than impressive.  De Niro has been playing gravel-y east-coast patriarchs for what seems like years untold by now, and I just don’t think he’s given anything in particular to stand out in the A-lister ensemble that is Silver Linings Playbook.  For example, as a character with an acute obsessive compulsive disorder one might imagine De Niro would have a show-stopping scene depicting him grappling with it—joyously, gut-wrenchingly,  whatever.  But, any demon he may harbor, like Cooper’s and Lawrence’s, is eschewed and made more-or-less an endearing little idiosyncrasy.

3) Tommy Lee Jones—Lincoln

I enjoyed TLJ here, as I am usually wont to.  He’s essentially playing himself in abrasive mode, really not much different from, say, the curmudgeonly Agent K from Men In Black.  Just with more witty repartee.  No one delivers it quite like Jones does.  But, tasked with being the film’s near-only source of levity, we may have a case here of an actor well-cast more than we do a virtuoso performance.  To compare, this is probably closer to Jack Nicholson playing himself in The Bucket List than it is Nicholson playing himself in A Few Good Men.

2) Christoph Waltz—Django Unchained

The most charismatic of a crop of nominees not lacking for charisma, Waltz follows up his role as a charmingly odd and more-than-slightly-deranged SS Commander in Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds with a role as a charmingly odd and more-than-slightly-deranged dentist in Django.  Waltz makes the subtle shift from villain to anti-hero with aplomb, elevating (along with Leo DiCaprio, who also may well have garnered his own Supporting Actor nomination) what could otherwise have been a fairly mixed bag of inspired and clunky elements to a rollicking, jolly experience with a dear friend.

1) Phillip Seymour Hoffman—The Master

Phillip strikes again with a masterful depiction of a clearly deranged, magnetic, repulsive, rapturous, insinuating man.  Whatever it was, The Master arguably served as this year’s foremost canvas for classic acting performances, demanding that its leads supply the feel and texture of a narrative that’s otherwise opaque.  Hoffman delivers a man that is at once larger than life and intimately delicate, commanding and commanded.

Should Win: Phillip Seymour Hoffman

Hoffman and Waltz’s performances were roughly equal in sheer impressiveness.  I’ll give Hoffman the nod because of the range his role demanded.  The fact that Waltz recently won an award in the same category for a similar performance, and for the same director, is also a small factor.

Will Win: Tommy Lee Jones

His character is exactly what I think your stereotypical Academy voter likes to see in his or herself: longer in the tooth than a walrus, sure, but dagnabit those teeth still have bite, and while days may be short, the wit is yet wicked.  Not only that, but Lincoln‘s Thaddeus Stevens is portrayed as progressiveness personified, a trait the Academy would like to be mistaken for.

Best Supporting Actress:

x-Helen Hunt—The Sessions

I did not catch this one, but did view trailers such as here and scenes here.  While the premise of the film is interesting, the trailer, at least, seems to suggest that any drama produced may be bogged down a bit by an acute predilection for inane one-liners regarding the protagonist’s situation.  Who knows?

4. Jacki Weaver—Silver Linings Playbook

Everything that applies to Robert De Niro’s nomination applies here.  Her role is supposed to blend comfortably in the back ground, and it succeeds well in pleasantly doing so, in no small part due to adept comedic timing.

3. Sally Field—Lincoln

A great weakness of Lincoln was its depiction of Mary Todd.  I just don’t think she is allowed to come off with any real nuance; she’s a tortured, torturing, wailing soul, and that’s about that.  Unhappily, the film fetters the magnitude of Field’s performance to just how cloyingly desperate she can come off.  Great performances are measured at least as much by subtlety and nuance as sheer volume of emotion, and whether through scripting or editing, Lincoln just doesn’t make allowances for the former.

1b. Anne Hathaway—Les Miserables

Nailing the emotional peak of a 157 minute film who’s emotional intensity is turned up to 11 for most of the duration, Hathaway’s role is short but climactic.  Too bad it comes just half an hour into the film. Hooper ratchets up the pressure on Hathaway’s rendition of the play’s signature  “I Dreamed a Dream” by filming the entire delivery about a foot from Fantine’s ruined face.  Hathaway absolutely delivers, turning a potentially awkward directorial move into something scintillating.  While Hooper’s decision to eschew the possibilities of cinema in order to attempt some simulation of a live performance fails Les Mis more often than not, Hathaway is so suited to the stage that for a brief, shining moment, it works.

1a. Amy Adams—The Master

A leader along with Hathaway if buzz is any indication, Adams has been widely lauded by critics for her portrayal as the shadowy influence behind Hoffman’s Lancaster Dodd.  Undoubtedly she portrays some of The Master’s most subtle and most memorable moments with great aplomb.  Very much unlike Hathaway’s performance, the nature of Adams’ role in The Master makes it tricky to pinpoint a particular moment where she shines through…but that’s kind of the point, isn’t it?

Should Win: Amy Adams…or Anne Hathaway

I’m hesitating on this, I think in part because The Master was released last summer and Les Mis is so fresh.  Give me either.  I have to believe this is a two actress race; neither Hathaway or Adams is a bad choice.

Will Win: Amy Adams…or Anne Hathaway

I’m thinking Adams has a strong shot based off an uneasy feeling that voters will feel Adams’ portrayal of a secretly domineering, controlling, rigid creature resonates as some sort of study in women.  On the other hand, Hathaway is the more classic go-to.

Best Actor:

X-Denzel Washington—Flight

Along with The Impossible and The Sessions, didn’t catch it.  Apparently nothing classic is here per se; that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a very strong performance.

4. Hugh Jackman—Les Miserables

Not a bad performance by the Aussie playing a Frenchman with a slightly British accent.  He certainly defeats his on-screen nemesis and fellow Aussie Russell  Crowe when it comes to sing-speaking.  I just don’t think he particularly owns the role—no doubt in part because he’s directed to play things pretty safe.  Jackman is asked to be a competent placeholder for Jean Valjean a bit more than he is to make a memorable impression on it.

3. Bradley Cooper—Silver Linings Playbook

I will be the first to admit I have not been a big Cooper fan so far.   In his larger roles he would seem to be cast as a sort of quintessential leading man a-la a George Clooney, or a Brad Pitt…but somehow he would come off as maddeningly bland, crowd sourced, lacking whatever Clooney-ness or Pitt-iness that makes those actors at once archetypal and distinct.  This is the first film where I thought Cooper’s acting acumen shined, finally given a role perhaps just dynamic enough to push him. To be sure, his depiction of a bipolar depressive falls far short of the classic Hollywood mental-illness-depiction, but SLP certainly doesn’t aspire to be One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.  It aspires to have Cooper speak a bit rapidly, and be a generally pesky, excitable boy.  This is accomplished.

2. Daniel Day-Lewis—Lincoln

Daniel is legend, and I can begin to see what people are imagining when they hail his performance as an uncanny channeling of the 16th president’s true intonations, register, posture, gait, and so on.  I’m only willing to go down this line of reasoning so far.  The ‘authenticity’ of the performance should not be the final say as to its strength: it cannot be robustly verified, and mimicry is not the epitome of acting greatness.  Instead, notice just how many of Lincoln’s great mannerisms here are Daniel Day-Lewis’ specifically: the way he slowly raises his voice as impatience is stoked, the pauses and hitches in his speech patterns, his little, seemingly unconscious nods of affirmation as he listens to himself speak.  In all, I left this performance ever so slightly disappointed, not so much in the performance itself as the surprisingly listless narrative it occupies.  That said, Day-Lewis remains a joy to behold, and a Best Actor win here will not be remiss.

1. Joaquin Phoenix—The Master

Never have I been so impressed with a performance, and so deeply appalled by the character depicted.  Phoenix creates dialects, intonations, expressions and gestures here that are so alien and yet so cohesive, he’s literally a man possessed.  As noted with Hoffman’s performance, The Master asks its performers to be the story itself.  File Phoenix’s Freddie Quell under stories no one could predict could or should be told.

Should Win: Joaquin Phoenix

By “should win” I mean “had the most impressive and impactful performance of those listed in this category” as Phoenix himself has termed the Oscars as total, utter bullshit.  I tend to agree.

Will Win: Daniel Day-Lewis

I think Day-Lewis and Tommy Lee Jones are this year’s locks.  This is one of the greatest actors ever at the top of his craft, and though he’s been better and in better films, this is just too mainstream, central, and strong a performance to be defeated.

Best Actress:

x-Naomi Watts–The Impossible

Didn’t catch it.  The fact that the end of the trailer is set to U2 disqualifies it in this particular exercise under the citizens against delusions of grandeur act of 2002, colloquially known as “the Bono Act”.

?. Quvenzhane Wallis–Beasts of the Southern Wild

Here the academy throws us its curveball of the year, nominating then 6-year-old Wallis for her role as Hushpuppy.  Was Wallis’ performance every bit as a compelling and transporting as the others on this list?  I say yes.  But this nomination calls into question what we mean when we talk about “acting”, perhaps not necessarily in a bad way.  Wallis’ effectiveness here lies in the sincerity and effortlessness she conveys as she navigates her world with a combination of faith and naiveté we all once had, and have since lost, probably not long after nine years old as Wallis is now.  Wallis displays what any aspiring kindergarten teacher will tell you children her age just have–a certain bursting.  Of energy and wonder and unabashed idiosyncrasy.  Do we build sets around these children, film them, and give them Academy Awards?  How you feel about that will determine where Wallis ranks for you in this silly exercise.

3. Jessica Chastain–Zero Dark Thirty

Zero ends up being a plodding procedural in the end, and Chastain’s role here doesn’t seem like enough to elevate the film overall.  I couldn’t help but view her character as a means to take attention away from the fact that Zero is essentially a gross oversimplification of a process leading up to an important historical event–instead framing it as the story of one strong, driven woman who cuts through red tape to get the job done.  Chastain is left playing a zero-sum game.

2. Jennifer Lawrence–Silver Linings Playbook

Our foremost Hollywood A-list actress in the year our lord 2013.  In 2011, Lawrence broke out with her performance in Winter’s Bone.  How far we’ve come!  I wrote highly of the role, and as time has passed, I think she should have won for Best Actress over Natalie Portman.  Silver Linings Playbook is a different bird, and Lawrence has made the shift from the wary, dogged big sister of WB to the sexy, winning lead SLP casts well.  Likethe rest of the cast, she displays a knack for comedy, and fulfills what the role demands.  That said, a win here would be less a celebration of a Great acting performance as it would be an affirmation of Hollywood’s ability to assemble beautiful people and have them do charming things for us.  Which is no particular fault of Lawrence’s.

1. Emmanuelle Riva–Amour

The synopsis of Amour stating that it is a film about the final days of an elderly couple can’t do it justice: this is a film about people doing little things.  Putting on reading glasses, and putting the case away.  Maneuvering an electric wheelchair for the first time.  Telling anecdotes.  All in specific rooms with specific things on the shelves and tables, all of which Amour allows us to pour over with its many extended still shots.  Along with her co-star Jean-Louis Trintignant, (who isn’t nominated at all, ostensibly because he isn’t also tasked with portraying the gradual loss of physical and mental faculties due to strokes, fair enough) Riva is wonderful to behold in a challenging role.

Should Win: Emmanuelle Riva

This is a difficult category to call, especially with Wallis as a wild-card.

Will Win: Emmanuelle Riva

The Academy has a thing for giving Best Actress to roles where the woman dies.

Best Director:

5. Steven Spielberg–Lincoln

I trust that history will show Lincoln was not one of Spielberg’s best outings.  It will be a bit awkward for all parties if he gets a Best Director for this to go along with his Director awards for the far superior Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan.

4. David O. Russell–Silver Linings Playbook

Russell’s knack for subtle comedy is well used here, and he allows bankable talent to do what it does well.  Still, while SLP isn’t aiming too high, I think it could have easily portrayed a much, shall we say, fuller depiction of the mental illnesses it appropriates for its narrative while still remaining feel-good and family-friendly.  I haven’t read the book the film is based off of, but I have to believe a deeper story could have been culled.

3.  Benh Zeitlin–Beasts of the Southern Wild

In terms of sheer volume of directing done, Zeitlin would seem to take the cake, as Beasts involved over a year of pre-production in rural communities, and much of the very memorable sets were handmade.  This is a somewhat rare independent film that doesn’t often fall over itself to portray that “indie” vibe, and the local, mostly untrained actors used were deftly captured.

2. Ang Lee–Life of Pi

This is a situation where behind-the-scenes intel is necessary to really judge the director’s true role in a work, of which I have little.  When so much of a film is computer generated, exactly what control does the director have?  Obviously he gives detailed instruction to the engineers who create the imagery of the film just so, there are storyboards and concepts, but at what point must Lee have said, “yes, that’s perfect!” in the same way we must say “that’s what I meant!” when Google guesses what we meant by a search string–partially determining what we feel we meant by what it retrieves? Life of Pi often had cinematic magic to spare.  It also had some clunky moments, especially with some of the dialogue when adult Pi tells his story.

1. Michael Haneke–Amour

Haneke does nothing to re-invent the wheel here, this is a classically filmed and transporting narrative with no end of long, still shots that allow the viewer to populate the narrative with his or her own memories or predispositions.  This is a sort of film that makes even an amateur like myself feel like a film theorist: you can see how and why an angle here and dialogue there works, and knowing how and why doesn’t diminsh the effect.  There are also some good literary convergances here that would reward a second viewing, and even a scary moment that trumps anything most horror movies have to offer.

Should Win: Michael Haneke

Will Win: Ang Lee

Director tends to be awarded based on legacy than most of the other awards, and Haneke has effectively none as none of his previous work has been screened to much fanfare in the US.  I can see the Academy awarding this to any of the five candidates, but I’ll guess that this is where it gives a nod to the new way of doing things and awards Lee for a film that combines box office notoriety with perceived artistry.

Best Picture:

This is an extremely difficult year to handicap best picture. Our floor is generally higher than it was the last two years as most of the nominees were enjoyable enough, and, unless Zero Dark Thirty wins, our Best Picture winner should stand the test of time better than The Artist or The King’s Speech.  As close as they are, I can’t bring myself to fully rank these so the following is a rough weakest to strongest list where entries could easily float up or down a few spots depending on the time of day.

Zero Dark Thirty

Ultimately a plodding procedural we all already know the outcome of, Zero just doesn’t have the chance to shine as The Hurt Locker so admirably did.  THL follows fictional soldiers evocative of real people in situations that work on immediate and metaphorical levels (i.e. literal bomb diffusions).  Zero fictionalizes recent history.  I’m a little surprised this film is taken as rife with so much “tension” as I felt more déjà vu where images and news items less than two years old drive much of the narrative.  The POV night raid at the end was nothing your average Call of Duty player hasn’t been through time and again.  For the record, this is pro-torture insofar as it portrays “enhanced interrogation methods” being critically helpful to Bin Laden’s assassination.  Knowing it would be a public referendum on the topic of torture and the “War on Terror,” I’m surprised Zero avoids even a hint of the complexity of the topic, instead depicting the detainers as ethically ironclad individuals who do everything they do for exactly the right reasons.  A more complex take would have made for a more interesting story, if nothing else.

Les Miserables

After reading advance reviews I went into Les Mis expecting a bit of a train wreck, only to find it awkward at worst, and at times actually endearingly so.  This year’s prestige nominee,  (disappointing that nary a French accent is to be heard; apparently, the French Revolution was a British affair) I can’t imagine this product is going to go down on too many all-time favorite lists beyond the self selected die-hard musical fan.  Hooper’s decision to ignore most of the options afforded by cinema in favor of attempting to simulate a live performance does the film in more often than not.  There are few who will tell you Les Mis is such a gripping work as to be effective without the power of a live performance–or the cinematic flourishes Hooper mostly denies us.  At least we’re dealing with historical fiction this year and not fictional history as in The King’s Speech.

Silver Linings Playbook

A calculatedly safe and agreeable vehicle for an A-list ensemble, SLP doesn’t aim too high, and hits its mark.  While this film is not out to educate the nation about the nature and difficulties associated with the mental illnesses it appropriates to entertain us, it falls a bit short of its responsibility not to actually misinform.  As depicted, Cooper’s bi-polarism, Lawrence’s sexual addiction, and De Niro’s OCD are an array of charming idiosyncracies, neatly managed or resolved.  A better film with a more well-earned feel-good victory could have been made.  I strongly encourage those interested in a fun story about romance, mental illness, and sports fandom to check out Vincent Gallo’s Buffalo ’66.


My most anticipated film of the year falls into an unhappy space between a historical biopic that’s actually historically accurate, and one that has been so adjusted as to make a riveting narrative.  Day-Lewis delivers with what he is given, but the threads of litigation leading up to the 13th amendment and Lincoln’s personal life never really coalesce into anything terribly compelling.  Spielberg seems to do better work when he’s dealing with the present or the future, rather than history.  As with Zero, this film is boosted by being perceived as a clever referendum on the current state of America; particularly, how divided it is.  Left at that, the takeaway is just as superficial and redundant as the mass media reports that constantly stoke and prop up shallow stories of social divide for the sake of ratings.

Beasts of the Southern Wild

This is a film about an off-the-grid community, and a girl with an alcoholic, abusive father, who, in a way, loves her.  I think it succeeds up to a point as a fever-dream about the people of the Bathtub, and there’s much about the film I found very memorable: Hushpuppy’s turns of phrase, the truck bed jerry-rigged into a boat, the way Hushpuppy’s father tells her to “get in the boat” (the boat being a filthy little chest) as their dilapidated trailer floods.  I think some issues it brings up regarding the societies of those people whom what we consider society has turned a blind eye to or left behind are important.  Are the people of the Bathtub in any way ‘free’?  When left to their own devices, they actively and criminally fail the children born into their society.  So are off-the-grid societies inherently unsustainable?  Unethical?  Why or why not?  How do the circumstances of Post-Katrina coastal Louisiana come into play?  Whatever the film was getting at with its end of the world/aurochs theme worked as a way to understand the survival-of-the-fittest mentality of the Bathub which Hushpuppy has been indoctrinated with, but fails as some foggy meta-narrative about coming of age, or perseverance, or whatever may have been intended.

Life of Pi

I saw this in 2d, and something about the film quality or lighting made it seem at times as if I were watching a venerable old VHS tape.  It had a net positive effect.  Overall the Odyssey-esque literary feel of the story goes down nicely, with all the textures of canvas and salt-water and the elements powerfully rendered during Pi’s time at sea.  I personally buy the little metaphysical twist at the end, although the Big Ideas of survivor’s guilt, god, religion, nature, et al. crowd at eachother to the effect that no one of them is articulated clearly, and Pi’s reminisces often come off more waffly than sagacious.  That said, the physical journey is a compelling one, particularly the middle act where big things go down and Pi is first acclimating to his life at sea.

Django Unchained

Tarantino follows up his last semi-historical jaunt in Inglorious Basterds with an even more id suffused and, overall, strong product.  Christoph Waltz is again the lynchpin, along with a great turn by Leo DiCaprio that makes one wonder what took so long for he and Tarantino to get together.  My chief criticism is that, as with IB, by the time the credits roll it seems as if Tarantino has thrown all his ideas at us rather than his best ones; what’s at first stylishly irreverent and rapturously unique starts to get redundant.  Mainly, just how this script got filmed without someone reworking the narrative to end at, or soon after the climactic scene where Waltz and DiCaprio–our strongest characters by far–are killed off, we may never know.  Relatedly, whether with respect to the race and agency issues the film brings up or just basic narrative technique, it’s a bit alarming that Fox’s titular character is ultimately left pretty pedestrian.  The Dark Knight faced a similar issue, where, so absolutely outshown by Ledger’s Joker, Bale’s Batman (our would be protagonist) is left incidental.  I think Django’s moment was supposed to occur during the rapturous bloodshed of the 40 minute coda after the first shootout at the Candyland mansion, but everything after climax #1 is dead on the screen.


The thoughts on Emmanuelle Riva and Michael Haneke’s nominations characterize the film overall.  It’s not for everyone, and like many good films, one likely needs to be in the proper mood to enjoy it.  I’ve always felt that of all the different ways a film may succeed, one that seems particularly relevent to the Academy Awards–where we enshrine certain films for posterity–is whether it commands multiple viewings.  More than any other film on this list, I’m confident I could re-view Amour and catch new things.


My chief complaint about most recent action and thriller movies is that they could have been made so much better with just a little trimming, a little focusing.  This is not one of those films.  About as slick and lithe a film as you’ll ever want to see, Argo is…perhaps even too slick as far as a Best Picture award is concerned?  Enjoyable and proficient as it is, not much stands out as particularly memorable or indispensible, no moments I feel compelled to go back and see a second time.  Again we have a film boosted by being perceived as Important because it depicts current cultural climates, with a re-play of the Iran hostage crisis standing in for American unease as we return to a world where outright American intervention in the politics of the Middle East is downplayed after the conclusion of the “War On Terror”, and the region is wracked by revolution in an Arab Spring which America’s influence over remains unclear.

Should Win: Life of Pi, Django Unchained, Amour, or Argo

I’ll have to say any of the bottom four on this list.  Django may have the highest highs, but also the biggest flaws; Amour is well rounded, but not for everyone; Pi is sweet but at times saccharine; Argo is strong, but perhaps a bit disposable to be a Best Picture.

Will Win:

Does the Academy dare choose a second-straight sentimental foreign film that not many saw, and go with Amour?  Does it go with the indie no one saw in Beasts?  Does it go with the “this is where America is today, cleverly” Zero or Lincoln?  The only choices that would shock me would be Les Mis or Django, and to say Les Mis would be a shock considering what Joaquin Phoenix so incisively describes the Awards as, would be a stretch.  In his honor, let’s take this exercise to it’s most cynical possible conclusion:

Zero Dark Thirty

Technological. Intellectual. Physical. Emotional.

If it’s been awhile since you’ve been aboard Prometheus, or if you’ve yet to see this stellar viral, check it out.  The viral is probably more impressive than any sequence in the actual film, and a lot of fun to revisit after having seen it.

Technological.  Intellectual.  Physical.  Emotional.


Critics and auds have pointed out that David shares more than a little of the DNA of any number of artificial boys, foremost the treachery of HAL, and the antagonists of a wide catalog of films depicting AI insurgence, including, of course, Alien.  This isn’t especially remarkable or impressive.  For self-reflexivity, perhaps only the Western and Horror genres rival Sci-Fi, where it’s nearly impossible to break from the motifs, conventions, and by now rather canned discourses first hashed out on screen in landmark works like Alien, Blade Runner, 2001.

One such discourse is invoked by David in the first words of the viral: “What is it about robots…that makes them so robotic?”

Well, for the ones allegedly designed to facilitate human interaction (Terminators and Agents being another, related category), usually:
·         They must abide by certain rules, a la Asimov’s laws.  These laws will be disastrously interpreted by the AI itself and/or will have been secretly tampered with by the manufacturer to facilitate a specific mission.
·         They have limited free will due to above laws, and a tendency to care only or overridingly about functional activities that facilitate their mission.
·         They have increased physical and cognitive prowess relative to humans, though they exhibit blunted affect and have some difficulty exhibiting and empathizing with emotions, and processing humor and figurative language.

Let’s just get something out of the way.  Prometheus is not a good film overall.  Taken in full context, it’s a ponderous, mythology overladen vehicle for questions to be explained in later installments, whence audiences can connect most of the dots, achieve catharsis, complain that it didn’t all mesh up with Alien quite as much as they were led to believe it would, and if they’re die-hard, buy some peripherals that answer gory details.  Yes, Mr. Scott, it’s a prequel, that’s how it was designed, regardless of exactly how you define “prequel,” and you let them do it.  Do you think God will save you because the film industry is risk-averse?

Still, David was remarkable, even inspired.  Fassbender of course deserves most of the credit for a terrific and essential performance, but the filmmakers deserve some credit too.  For all its shortcomings, David, quite miraculously, succeeds as a great character because of Prometheus‘s plot, rather than despite it.  He succeeds because neither Fassbender’s performance nor the film itself precludes him from being an original, compelling departure from the longstanding android archetype and story arc.

The role androids typically fill in mainstream sci-fi cinema is as a site where the laws guiding AI behavior either break down or are revealed to be nefarious, and chaos ensues.  The androids themselves are ethically neither here nor there.  They don’t have a will worth questioning, and the lesson learned time and again is on the hubris of creating beings we can’t control, or want to control for selfish ends.   That was great and exciting and canny when Dick was writing Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Clarke was writing 2001 while Kubrick was filming it, but by now it’s just a convention.  It’s been done, and done.   In Alien it still served as a legitimate dramatic development, but even then it was part of a film chiefly remembered for other things.  We haven’t had the whole “hubris, then comeuppance” story arc meaningfully updated in mainstream action-adventure cinema since Jurassic Park swapped out robots for dinosaurs in explication of our then burgeoning genetics industry.  More to the point, we arguably haven’t had a truly unforgettable AI character (that wasn’t obviously trying to kill us from the start) since HAL, and he came to us from a film old enough to posit that we’d have cryostasis and manned deep space travel by 2001.

Fassbender’s performance and Prometheus’s willingness not to explain or assert very much about David’s directives make him something new, and infinitely more compelling.  Physically, reviewers compare him to David Bowie circa Space Oddity, which I certainly see in the suave blonde space man with a bit of a British accent.  I actually saw someone else in him.  If you care to, go back to the viral and listen to how Fassbender enunciates David’s greeting, “Hello.  I’m David.”  Pause him at about 0:32.  Where have we seen those clinical, piercing and unpierceable eyes before?  Can you picture him wearing Hannibal Lecter’s mask?  I saw in David a young Anthony Hopkins, and more than a little Lecter.  While Bowie is known for that cosmic, effortless, sensual vibe, which David certainly has a bit of, he’s also played as calculating, devious, predatory, even supercilious.  Like Lecter, he has a superiority complex, and takes on a female ward–perhaps jealously.  He’s interested in her dreams.  Pathological.  In any case, David’s a very cool combination of mannerisms, and this necessarily flies in the face of the third archetypal aspect listed above: David very much betrays irritation, pleasure, a sense of irony, even joy.  Physical.  Emotional.  He’s a bit understated in his delivery, but that makes him all the more effective.  As far as allusions go, while David is visually and audibly descended from other performances, I love how the film–no doubt aware of connections that can and must be made with other works–has David explicitly model himself after a character of his own choosing.  It’s Peter O’Toole of Lawrence of Arabia that David is interested in alluding to, a film about the past, not the future, and he emulates Lawrence in more ways than his hairstyle.  It’s been awhile since I’ve seen the film, but I selected some quotes from IMDB that are dropped in Prometheus, and others that would suit David astonishingly well.

Quoted by David upon an excursion from the ship:
  Prince Feisal: …. There is nothing in the desert and no man needs nothing.

Scene depicted in-film (anticipating Dr. Shaw’s ordeal, and David’s high opinion of her survivability):
William Potter: Ooh! It damn well ‘urts!
T.E. Lawrence: Certainly it hurts.
Officer: What’s the trick then?
T.E. Lawrence: The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts.

Moments where David could stand in for Lawrence:
T.E. Lawrence: It’s my manner, sir.
General Murray: Your manner?
T.E. Lawrence: Yes. It looks insubordinate, but it isn’t really.

T.E. Lawrence: I killed two people. One was… yesterday? He was just a boy and I led him into quicksand. The other was… well, before Aqaba. I had to execute him with my pistol, and there was something about it that I didn’t like.
General Allenby: That’s to be expected.
T.E. Lawrence: No, something else.
General Allenby: Well, then let it be a lesson.
T.E. Lawrence: No… something else.
General Allenby: What then?
T.E. Lawrence: I enjoyed it.

Jackson Bentley: What attracts you personally to the desert?
T.E. Lawrence: It’s clean.

General Allenby: You acted without orders, you know.
T.E. Lawrence: Shouldn’t officers use their initiative at all times?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                General Allenby: Not really. It’s awfully dangerous.

Prince Feisal: You are an Englishman. Are you not loyal to England?
T.E. Lawrence: To England, and to other things.

David, like Lawrence, finds himself an intermediary between factions with conflicting interests (corporate interests; scientific inquiry; folks who just want to get paid and go home already) and a disastrously untamable “desert” that’s equal parts deathtrap and trove of ancient, powerful relics.  Also like Lawrence, he’s debonair, a bit conceited, eloquent, and pragmatic.  He draws from and exhibits keen interest in a film known perhaps above all for a lot of rather inspired, Shakespearean, comedic wordplay, double-meanings, and subverted expectations–in short, exactly the things robots should struggle to process, much less enjoy.  Unlike many AIs before him, David deals in language games with relish.  “Well, it’s not a traditional fetus”.  In all, it’s a surprisingly nuanced and unexpected spiritual connection between films, and I’m glad Prometheus doesn’t over-explain it.

So David breaks from the third rule of filmed robotics, and part of the second: he’s emotionally adept, charismatic, and he seems to take interest in things seemingly unrelated to any likely hidden mission.  He shoots hoops, watches movies.  The other half of what makes Prometheus refreshing is that it doesn’t assert the other half of the android archetype: it allows for the possibility of David having a free, ethically-interesting will, unhindered by directives.  It leaves his motives unknowable, unpredictable, compelling.  Possibly dynamic.  At no point does David or anyone go over what he is programmed to do or not do.  He seems to display a certain loyalty to Weyland, but there’s little to suggest his actions are existentially ‘bound’; indeed, he’s given the somewhat-out-of-the-blue line (I’m paraphrasing) “doesn’t everyone want their parents dead?”  The one scene that suggests David may have a treacherous pre-determined mission is a very important one, but I’d argue that the scene portrays David as very willful, even whimsical.  Here‘s a clip of it (unfortunately it’s abridged).

After this, David flashes a wry, victorious smile and pours the fateful drink.  Does he know something bad will happen?  Almost certainly, but there’s not a lot to suggest that David knows exactly what will happen, and even if he does, there’s not a lot to suggest that Weyland Industries knew that the crew would be discovering some sort of pathogen which would be worthwhile to infect them with via treacherous android as an experiment.  From what the film gives us, it’s more likely that David was, independently, able to discern from its writing or pictography that the ‘temple’ does contain some sort of pathogen designed to infect a host, and, perhaps he does a little advanced research upon getting a sample back to the ship.  Crucially, and kudos to the film makers for this, there can’t be too many of us for whom David is not the protagonist of this scene (if not the whole film) as far as being the character with whom your sympathies or primary interest lies.  Holloway is something of a cocky, snarky, entitled asshole who looks before he leaps in this film, and in this fateful scene especially he’s a petulant and mean-spirited crybaby.  David betrays more than a touch of irritation at Holloway’s snubs, and when we factor in Holloway’s answer to David’s final question, it’s a bit hard to argue that he isn’t getting what’s coming to him.  Yes, David comes in pre-calculated, and takes advantage of a drunk, but who’s to say that if Holloway doesn’t give the exact answer most validating of David’s intentions, or, if he answers something remotely along the lines of, “well, I certainly wouldn’t do anything astoundingly short-sighted, destructive, or unsustainable.  We humans aren’t that pathetic,” maybe things proceed a bit differently?  Even if David has had this planned long ahead of time, it’s so much more interesting to be allowed to believe that the turns of phrase used here, the ironies established, were mapped out by an interested agent on something of a whim.  And part of you, if not all, wants him to do it.

It’s the sort of delicious moment that doesn’t happen, or at least doesn’t happen as satisfyingly, if David is simply an instrument to someone else’s agenda.  He is a being seemingly not only with a free will and his own designs, but with more latitude than anyone to enforce them due to his capacities and security clearances aboard the ship.  And so he does.  The film allows this to make sense, rather than explaining it away.  Prometheus is not a good film viewed as a conspiracy mystery, and it’s a bad, cynical film as a set of questions with which to sell tickets to future such vehicles.  But as a story about a charismatic android with a bit of a superiority complex (and is it a complex?) who decides to help his “father” get his wish, while doing a nasty experiment on some humans who are hell-bent on getting themselves killed anyway, finally eloping with the survivor of said experiment, whom he seems to truly respect….it’s not too bad at all.  At least David isn’t.  And I do think David endearingly comes to find a measure of unexpected respect in Dr. Shaw, something an android without a will wouldn’t be capable of.

I noticed that in some reviews of Prometheus, critics point out that the technology on Prometheus seems quite a bit more advanced than on the Nostromo or other earlier Alien locales.  In the same vein, you might argue that canonically, it might not make sense for David to be so much more advanced than later androids in his universe.  Perhaps Ridley Scott would say, “well, I said, it’s not technically a prequel….”.  I’d say, if 21st century pre-determined blockbuster cinema has taught us anything, it’s that this sort of dot connecting doesn’t make for inspired drama.  To hell with the mythological cause and effect, already.  Perhaps humanity in this universe later decides to dumb their androids back down.  I think it’s refreshing that Prometheus at least allows for a society that’s ready for characters like David, and I guess I hope they don’t undo it a few years from now, when I probably will pony up to see the sequel if Fassbender’s involved.  David’s the sort of character we need more of.  Call him an unexpected protagonist, or a compelling villain (nearly unheard of in action-adventures like this these days). Thankfully the parallel between humans being disappointed in their makers and David being underwhelmed by his was not spelled out too bluntly or rendered too heavy-handedly.  While the rest of the crew’s disappointment is rendered by much death, bad decision-making, and gnashing of teeth, David takes his all in stride.  He has his assumptions, but he’s open to new ideas, and unlike his makers, he’s learned to enjoy the ride.