Posts Tagged ‘Oscars’

Nom de Zoom

Caught the announcement of the major Academy Award nominations in the shuttle on the way to the office. As those of you who take the time to read the comments know, the New York Frontiersman rebutted my post on Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy with a review in which Peter Hichens excoriated it. While I respect Mr. Hichens’s viewpoint, I’m glad to see that I wasn’t the only one who liked the film, which garnered nominations for Best Actor (Gary Oldman), Best Adapted Screenplay (Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan), and Best Score (Alberto Iglesias). Although I haven’t seen their entries yet, I’ll also be championing such BOF faves as Max Von Sydow, perhaps our greatest living actor (who grabbed a supporting nom for Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close), and Terrence Malick, director of the criminally underrated The Thin Red Line (nominated for The Tree of Life). If it’s still playing at our local arthouse cinema, Madame BOF and I are scheduled to check out The Artist–which picked up several nominations–with the senior Mrs. B on Saturday, so that would be another contender I’ve actually seen (along with most-favored Hugo) when we gather chez Drax for the annual Oscar bash on February 26.

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Renfield Bradley (2009-2011)

We are ratless.  There are contexts—say, if you are a restaurateur—in which that would be considered good or, at worst, neutral news; less so when the second and final foster rodent foisted upon you after your daughter saved them from euthanasia in the Cornell psychology lab finally gives up the ghost after fighting for his poor little life for two and a half weeks.  Said struggle began just when the winter weather finally gave us a respite from the worst of its depredations, so that (plus the fact that my yearly mega-cold is now on something like Day Ten, and appears to be assaulting Madame BOF as well) has made the first two months of 2011 as uniformly awful as those of any year I can readily recall.

Okay, Renfield was “just” a rat, although a childhood friend of Madame BOF’s has had a series of rodents for decades and swears by them.  Okay, he’d been living on borrowed time ever since he was rescued.  Okay, he was nineteen months old, although his species reportedly lives about two years.  Okay, rats are social animals, so his days might have been numbered since we lost Mr. Friend, although he no longer had to compete for food.  Okay, Madame BOF went above and beyond the call of duty to try to nurse him back to health, although his final loss of appetite surely sealed his fate.  Okay, he was fortunate enough to check out quietly in her warm and loving embrace (hey, I should be so lucky).

The fact remains that following our first two cats, Snickers and especially poor Muffin, these were the third and fourth animals to suffer protracted, premature deaths at Maison Bradley, and Madame BOF’s inconsolable grief last night would have cracked even the stoniest heart.  I had the misfortune to be finishing a workout on my exercise bike when the moment came and, pouring liberally with sweat, was unable to offer much in the way of immediate physical comfort.  Although nowhere near as attached to Ren as she was, I certainly share her sadness, as well as her frustration at the injustice of seeing these poor, inoffensive creatures forced to endure such final days rather than simply slipping away…

I’m too disheartened to do any kind of serious Oscar recap, although apart from the quite inexplicable decision to have the faltering Kirk Douglas present one of the awards, which was excruciating to watch, the show was fairly free of conspicuous antics anyway.  In an unusual turn of events, Madame BOF and I had actually seen two of the main contenders, Black Swan and The King’s Speech (both of which we admire, although she preferred the latter), and felt they deserved their respective accolades.  In what has become a cherished annual ritual, I viewed the proceedings in the warm hospitality of Castle Drax, although I was forced to go stag, with Mrs. B dividing her time between work and nursing poor Ren.

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Just a reminder that Turner Classic Movies kicks off its centennial celebration of legendary Japanese writer-director Akira Kurosawa tonight at 8:00 with a superb cross-section of better- and lesser-known films that display his diversity: Ikiru (1952), with the great Takashi Shimura unforgettable as a dying civil servant; Throne of Blood (1957), with Toshiro Mifune in Kurosawa’s version of Macbeth; The Hidden Fortress (1958), a major inspiration for Star Wars (1977); the little-seen The Idiot (1951), based on the novel by Fyodor Dosotyevsky; and The Lower Depths (1957), based on the play by Maxim Gorky. They’ll have more starting in prime time next Tuesday, and then on the 23rd, the actual 100th anniversary of his birth, they’ll pull out all the stops with a 24-hour marathon. So fire up your VCR or DVR or Tivo or just barricade yourself in front of the set, but don’t miss this chance to wallow in the work of one of the cinema’s greatest.

Speaking of TCM retrospectives, not to mention Japan, I’ve just started watching Tokyo Joe (1949), an early example of what I think of as Humphrey Bogart’s “sourpuss period.” In fact, it’s funny how neatly Bogie’s career breaks down by decade. During the 1930s, he was honing his craft and paying his dues in a series of largely similar and/or unrewarding roles, with a few standouts, e.g., The Petrified Forest (1936), Dead End (1937). The 1940s saw the full flower of his Warner Brothers years, including most of my favorites: The Maltese Falcon (1941), Casablanca (1942), To Have and Have Not (1944), The Big Sleep (1946). These culminated in 1948 with his Oscar-worthy The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, for which he was inexplicably not even nominated, and his fourth and final film with fourth and final wife Lauren Bacall, Key Largo.

Afterward, right through the ’50s to his death in 1957, he obviously tried to vary his output, especially with the films (like Tokyo Joe) made by his own production company, Santana, but the results were mixed indeed. Again, there was the occasional standout such as The African Queen (1951), for which he finally won an Oscar, and The Caine Mutiny (1954), which featured another of his best performances. For the most part, however, those later films were lackluster affairs in which one could see his hard-drinking and -smoking lifestyle catching up with him. He didn’t look any too happy to be in some of them, a sentiment I sadly shared all too often.

Anyway, I know it’s been a long time since I’ve seen Tokyo Joe, which is why I’m watching it now, even though I don’t much care for it. But it must have been longer than I thought, because I don’t remember ever seeing it with the awareness that its leading lady is Florence Marly, who (as Florence Marley) played the title role in Curtis Harrington’s Queen of Blood (1966). I mean, how can I take her seriously in this film when all I can see is her in green makeup draining Dennis Hopper’s blood? Well, at least it co-stars Alexander Knox, so memorable as George Smiley’s ailing boss, Control, in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1979), and Sessue Hayakawa, Oscar-nominated for his supporting role as the camp commandant in The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), so there should be some compensations.

One final, and truly bizarre, small-world note. As many of you know (although I didn’t mention it in my morning-after post), a woman named Elinor Burkett interrupted the Oscar acceptance speech of Roger Ross Williams, whose film Music by Prudence won for Best Documentary Short Subject. I didn’t place the name until I saw the news reports on the kerfuffle yesterday, and realized that I had once been her publicist when she and her husband, Frank Bruni, published A Gospel of Shame: Children, Sexual Abuse, and the Catholic Church in 1993. Although I wish I had some amusing anecdote about the time we worked together, I honestly recall only an amiable relationship with her and Frank. I’m not defending her actions, and have no idea what she’s been up to in the meantime, but no “Kanye West moment” alters the fact that we were doing our best to get the word out on a subject about which I felt (and feel) strongly, at a time when far fewer people were doing so than today.

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Well, they certainly didn’t last night. But how cool is it that on International Women’s Day, I can not only wish our good friend and new mom Carolyn a happy birthday, but also congratulate the lovely, gracious, and talented Kathryn Bigelow on winning both the first Best Director Oscar ever awarded to a woman AND Best Picture for The Hurt Locker? Our daughter, who has seen the film and long loved Bigelow, was so excited that when she called Castle Drax (where the food, fun, and fellowship were excellent as ever, despite my shocking alleged failure to buy Girl Scout cookies from young Ms. Drax, an incident of which I have no recollection) at midnight as the telecast ended, she was barely coherent.

In general, however, excitement of either the positive or negative kind was in relatively short supply. Having Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin co-host sounded great on paper, yet while each is always a welcome presence, their material was neither brilliant nor brilliantly delivered, and Ben Stiller’s appearance as a Na’vi from Avatar fell flat but far short of a train wreck. Although a few of the recipients rambled on a little long, none of the speeches seemed outrageously overlong or out of left field, and we had no totally cringe-worthy moment like Adrien Brody’s face-sucking vampire. And despite the usual contingent of unflattering outfits, there was none that made you bolt upright in your seat and say, “What the @*#&$^%?!”

We were spared the production numbers of the nominees for Best Original Song, albeit subjected to the bizarre spectacle of all five nominees for Best Original Score (won by Up, as was Best Animated Feature) rendered as an interpretive dance; perhaps next year we’ll treated to an elaborate shadow-puppet performance. Since the show seems obligated to drag on for four hours, that bought them enough time for a lengthy tribute to John Hughes, in addition to the customary montage of industry personnel who passed away during the preceding year, aptly accompanied by a performance of the Beatles song “In My Life” by James Taylor.

As expected, Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds) and Mo’Nique (Precious, which also won Best Adapted Screenplay) were anointed as Best Supporting Actor and Actress, and of course I was delighted to see Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart, which also won Best Original Song) and Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side) receive their respectively long-overdue or presumably-once-in-a-lifetime Best Actor and Actress Oscars. Speaking of the Best Actress nominees, I’ve just been watching Meryl Streep in her earlier Music of the Heart, and although her performance was customarily outstanding, what really impressed me was that Wes Craven was allowed to do something so far off his usual beat, and did it very well. Had I the skills, I think it would be hilarious to make a faux trailer with a voiceover that started something like, “From the director of A Nightmare on Elm Street, Last House on the Left, and The Hills Have Eyes comes the story of a woman who faced a challenge she could never have imagined,” using artfully selected clips to make it look like a horror film (an oft-ignored genre to which, by the way, the Academy presented an effective but somewhat inexplicable tribute last night).

Perhaps the biggest surprise, considering how heavily favored the ex-Mr. and Mrs. Cameron’s entries were, was the fact that the expected Avatar steamroller never really materialized. Sure, Ed Wood would have been thrilled to make a movie that won three Oscars in any categories (Best Art Direction, Cinematography, and Visual Effects). Yet it didn’t secure any of the major awards, and although it richly deserved those it got, I frankly never considered it Best Picture material since the story didn’t captivate me like, say, Cameron’s The Abyss.

Still, as I’ve pointed out, Cameron has again won the enviable Highest-Grossing Picture non-Oscar and has a boatload, as it were, for Titanic, so I’m not shedding too many tears for him today, much as I admire his oeuvre. In fact, the night’s biggest loser might be considered not Cameron but Quentin Tarantino, whose Inglourious Basterds was beaten by The Hurt Locker in six of the seven categories for which both were nominated, which in addition to the big two included Best Original Screenplay, Film Editing, Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing. He’s probably among the few who are not cheering “You go, girl!” this morning. Or, if he’s a big enough man, maybe he is.

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I Think, Therefore I AMPAS

No doubt the question on everyone’s mind is, “What’s the BOF take on this year’s Oscar race?” Answer: if you’re looking for informed and erudite prognostication, better try another blog, because I’ve only seen five of the films nominated in any category (Avatar, Inglourious Basterds, The Lovely Bones, Nine, Star Trek). But if you’re looking for a highly personal rundown of the folks and films I’ll be rooting for in the major categories during the annual confab at Castle Drax, and why, read on.

Best Actor: A toughie. I haven’t seen any of the nominated performances, but I’m a big fan of Jeff Bridges, George Clooney, and Morgan Freeman, and favorably disposed toward Colin Firth, albeit unfamiliar with Jeremy Renner. I see Bridges is 0 for 4 in Oscarville, and was definitely robbed for Starman; since Clooney and Freeman each have one already, and Jeff’s been at it a lot longer, I’m gonna have to go with him as a sentimental favorite for Crazy Heart.

Best Supporting Actor: I admire Stanley Tucci, and thought he was excellent in The Lovely Bones, and am painfully aware that his was the sole nomination that fine film captured. But of the two nominees I saw, I think Christoph Waltz is more deserving for Inglourious Basterds. Of the rest, I loathe Woody Harrelson and am favorably disposed toward Matt Damon, but would root for Christopher Plummer in The Last Station because of both his age and his Matheson connection (Somewhere in Time).

Best Actress: Again, I’ve seen none of the nominees, and am completely unfamiliar with two of them (Carey Mulligan and Gabourey Sidibe). As a longtime Sandra Bullock supporter, and mindful of the fact that she’s not going to get nominated too often, I’ve gotta root for her in The Blind Side, especially since Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep each have an Oscar (or two) already.

Best Supporting Actress: I’m happy to support the only nominee I saw, Penélope Cruz in Nine, partly because she gave an excellent and, uh, gutsy performance; partly because Maggie Gyllenhaal—who should have many more chances—is the only other one I’m familiar with; and partly to please my host, who is La Cruz’s biggest fan.

Best Animated Feature: With no dog in this race, I would have been rooting for Fantastic Mr. Fox, because I love Roald Dahl’s novel, but the clips I saw made it look like they trashed the book, so—unfair as it may be—I’ll consider it guilty until proven innocent (much as I like Wes Anderson’s other work). Since my family adores The Nightmare Before Christmas, they’re probably rooting for Henry Selick’s Coraline. Other than predicting that Up will probably win, I’ll just make my standard observation that I don’t think a film should be allowed to be nominated for Best Picture and Best Animated Feature (or Best Foreign Language Film, as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was a few years ago).

Best Art Direction/Cinematography/Costume Design: So much of Avatar was created in the computer that it’s difficult for me to think of it as having art direction and cinematography in the traditional sense, and of course James Cameron will laugh all the way to the bank no matter how many or few awards he gets. For those reasons, as well as my natural contrariness, I’ll root for the other two films I actually saw, i.e., Nine (ditto costume design, for which Avatar was, not surprisingly, not nominated) and Inglourious Basterds, respectively.

Best Director: Here’s where the rubber meets the road. I’m unfamiliar with the oeuvres of Messrs. Daniels or Reitman, but I’m a big fan of James Cameron, Kathryn Bigelow, and Quentin Tarantino. Since Q.T. probably isn’t likely to be a contender too often, and I loved Inglourious Basterds, it’s tempting to let ex-spouses Cameron and Bigelow cancel each other out and root for him. And as much as I enjoyed Avatar, I don’t necessarily see it as a brilliant directorial effort. But without even having seen The Hurt Locker, I’m rooting for Bigelow, partly because she made one of my favorite underrated movies (Strange Days), and partly because, God damn it, it’s time a woman won.

Best Documentary Feature or Short Subject/Animated or Live Action Short: Nothing to go on here, so I recuse myself.

Best Film Editing/Sound Editing/Sound Mixing: I’m not even sure how we civilians are supposed to assess these things, so again, I recuse myself.

Best Foreign Language Film: On the basis of almost nothing whatsoever (e.g., I’m part German, but I’m also part French, so that’s a wash), I’m rooting for The White Ribbon, which I’ve heard good things about and would like to see.

Best Makeup: No reason not to root for Star Trek, which I saw and quite enjoyed.

Best Original Score: With none of my favorite composers in the running this year, most of them being dead by now, I’m happy to let James Horner grab this one for Avatar without a fight. (I like Hans Zimmer, but don’t want to legitimize Sherlock Holmes, which appears to trash the character so completely that they might as well have called him Joe Fishbein.)

Best Original Song: I liked the nominated song from Nine, so why not root for it?

Best Picture: I think the move to ten nominees was unnecessary, although ironically it probably helped me to have seen two of them for a change, and enabled a couple of genre pictures (Avatar, District 9) to make it on the list. With such limited firsthand experience to go by, I’ve gotta root for Inglourious Basterds, although I’d be happy to see either the former Mr. or Mrs. Cameron win this on general principle.

Best Visual Effects: Again, I’m not gonna stand in the way of the presumed Avatar steamroller on this one.

Best Adapted Screenplay:  Although he didn’t script it himself, I enjoyed the adaptation of Nick Hornby’s novel High Fidelity, so that seems as good a reason as any to root for his work on An Education.

Best Original Screenplay: I think I’ve already displayed sufficient bias toward Inglourious Basterds that I can safely root for the Coen Brothers, whom I adore, in this case.  I haven’t seen A Serious Man yet, but I’ve loved almost every one of their other films I have seen, especially The Big Lebowski.

In closing, can’t wait till next year, when we’ll undoubtedly be voting on the biopic Sapphire: Based on the Precious Novel We’re Pushing. Bradley out.

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