Adams and Jefferson on Movies: The Before Trilogy Criterion Edition (1995, 2004, 2013)

beforetrilogy

CoolPapaE:

It’s going on 22 years since the first of these films was released. I never watched any of them. Seemed a little too arty. By the time they released the third film, I had been married for 11 years. When this set came out on Criterion, I asked my wife if she wanted to see them with me. No interest. She’d tried the first one and it didn’t do anything for her. Leave it to my best friend of so many years to be the one who asks me if I wanted in going for this trilogy in a day.

While I don’t normally recommend watching romantic movies without your wife, who else would ever be interested?

WeMissE:

Exactly!  I have a hard time getting  my fiancee to watch any movie with me.  But she would probably call these long (even though they are average length) and boring (even though they are very engaging).  Granted, watching two people walk and talk for ninety minutes is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea,  but we were certainly engaged with the ongoing dialogue of Jesse and Celine.    I enjoy when we are watching a movie together and have an ongoing conversation as the movie progresses.  We don’t talk over the dialogue; we just make occasional interjections.  Sometimes the same detail will strike both of us at the same time.  Other times, one of us will comment on something unseen or unnoticed by the other.

As I watched these two characters progess from their mid-twenties to mid-forties over the course of three films, I was struck by my own progression through the middle of life.   The movies resonated not only because of the similarities, but because of the differences.  I think you felt some of that too.  Man!  My brain is really firing right now.  There are so many things we could discuss about these movies.   After watching them in succession, it’s hard for me to think of them as three separate movies.  They almost play like one continuous work.

So I guess lets’s start with the characters.  Where they start, where they end up, where they might be going.   In the first movie, both characters are typical college-educated twenty somethings.  They feel an immediate attraction, yet feel the need to put up a facade.  I suppose I would have done the same thing in his place.  But he invents this rather contrived story to get Celine to get off the train with him.  Granted, it works.  But one wonders if he had to go to the trouble.   She clearly likes him.  Celine is more sure of who she is.  And yet, she still has a sense of wonder.   When the spontaneous poet writes a poem around the word “milkshake”, she accepts it gratefully, whereas Jesse only wants to point out how unlikely it is that he wrote the poem so quickly.   Or the moment with the gypsy fortune teller.  Celine is enthralled with her comments.  Jesse dismisses it out of hand.  Of course, none of us think she is really reading anything on those palms.  What she can do, very well, is read people.  And she makes a statement that may be central to understanding Jesse’s character arc.  “Don’t worry, he’s learning”, she tells Celine.  She could have stopped at the table in Greece 18 years later and made the same statement.

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What are your thoughts on the character development?

CoolPapaE:

It’s all about learning indeed. The film seems to have a firm grasp on the idea that while Celine acquires a firm understanding of reality while appreciating the imagination of romantic gesture. She is met by someone who seems stuck, even if well practiced. The reason, of course, is that Jesse is one who understands what failure feels like. But he can’t imagine success in any real terms. He does, however, love the romantic ideal. In a sense, he stops right then from the moment they meet and becomes a version of the guy he imagines she was looking for, and not much more than that. This feeling is reinforced 6 months later when she, due to matters of a practical heart, fails to meet him at their rendezvous. Stillborn again, he captures the moment in written form even though he married someone else. His gift of romantic gesture is countered by a complete inability to live in the real world. Lo, but how miserable his first wife must have been.

Celine, on the other hand, seems perfect to us, except for the fatal flaw of her heart. She is definitely the more practical in action of the two. She meets what seems to be a series of the same guy. One after the other finding their wife after leaving her, then thanking her for being the springboard. She knows what it takes to live day to day, but her missing her “chance” affected her, too. That she is unable to fake it reveals her flaw to someone like Jesse, whose skill at self-deception and flattery  has been honed for the single purpose of winning over the girl of that first night. He makes that night last for the rest of their lives.

Yes I too have been completely absorbed by these characters. I resent Jessie, to the same degree that I love and admire Celine. This is because right under our noses through long, seemingly boring scenes of walking and talking, the combination of Linklater, Deply, Hawke and Kim Krizan have created pretty much the facsimile of the relationship of the modern urban man and woman. All of our yours and my relationships, for their successes and seeming failures, can be seen in these two.

You’ve got to admit it. They tricked us. But they didn’t do it in any easy way. I believe they’ve lived these truths and lies. Just like we have. That they were able to incorporate their own lives into the latter two scripts is obvious and actually pretty well documented.

I don’t want to get ahead of myself, though. Even as we discuss this now, my wife just got through completely surprising me with her presence in the room. The reason: she wanted to know if we had enough money to make our next few bills. So immersed was I in what we were discussing, I completely realized the image of Jessie. I took a quick look at our account, made a promise to follow up, and got right back into our discussion, practically pushing her aside for our little hobby, based on art. Even now, I hang out with the scholars while my dear version of Celine contemplates the reality of keeping a roof over our heads.

In this way, the evolving story of our cinematic doppelgangers has engrossed me as well, to the point where in the final film we are completely engrossed, even if most of the film is about the doldrums of two people who spent so many years together only to realize they have no idea who they are. And we see it so clearly through our rose colored glasses…

WeMissE:

I definitely understand what you mean about resenting Jessie.   Many times he has valid feelings, and makes valid points.  But his way of articulating them, particularly in the third movie, is entirely wrong.   He is at his most honest when he is alone, not speaking, just reacting.

There is a moment early in Before Midnight when he sees his 12 year old son off at the airport, watching him go through security.  The look of pain, guilt, loss, confusion on his face is so real that it hit me like a punch in the gut.  I remember saying goodbye to my son, and he was just going across town to his mom’s place, not half way around the world.   The only time his words move me, the only time they really ring true, is near the end of the second movie, when he tells Celine that he was thinking of her on the way to his wedding, hoping he would somehow see her on the street.  You’re right about the first wife.  She never stood a chance.

There is another great moment in this same scene, in the back of the car.  First Jesse reaches out to touch Celine, when she is not looking, but he pulls away at the last second.   Then, she does exactly the same thing with him.  They are on an endless loop, circling that first night, going around and around, but not quite in sync.

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Everything about Jesse’s character is so contrived by the third film.  There is also another layer to this that I think we should discuss, which is separating the actors from the characters.  You already mentioned about their personal lives informing the writing.  Well if Julie Delpy wrote her own dialogue, then she comes off as extremely clever.  Ethan Hawke, not so much.  Or is he just that good at writing for this character?  There is a long walk-and-talk scene in the middle of the third movie, in which half of his shirt is untucked for the scene’s duration.   It is a distraction in the scene, a clearly contrived, additional  level of artifice.  I don’t know whether it is the artifice of Jesse, or of Hawke and Linklater, but I guess either way it serves the same purpose.  Julie Delpy even wrote the song that she sings to Jesse, about their night together, which ends the second movie.  And she gets almost all of the great lines in the last film.  When she tells Jesse that she associates shitting with contemplation, he tells her he will use that line in his next book.  She says it will be the best thing in the book.  She says it as a joke, but I think they both know she’s right.  Is that part of what bothers Jesse, that Celine probably could have been as successful an author as he is, but she just doesn’t have a passion for it.

I only know that the ending of the third movie delibarately comes full circle, ending much as the first movie began.  With Jesse using a contrived story to try and win her over.  It is so contrived that he even has a folded piece of paper in his pocket, which he uses as a prop in his little show.

CoolPapaE:

Of course this contrivance is a mirror image of the homeless artist’s poem in the first movie. It’s taken him this long to realize that is the kind of thing that appeals to her. The flowery gesture. Of course the whole point of the magnificent argument that takes almost 1/4 of the last film is the fact that Jesse’s been living on flowers and pretty words, and she’s been working and changing diapers. Then he calls her crazy. He may be right, but not for the reasons he believes. If he’s still learning, he’s not learned to just listen. He’s still completely in his head.

And you’re right about them being completely out of sync. The scene you describe in the cab for Before Sunset has its own twin, when they are in the process of attempting to make love in Before Midnight. First she takes off her underwear, they fight, she puts them back on as he gets up from the bed. He then takes his off, the fight continues and she gets up and moves away. Endless loop out of sync, but in love with the idea.

I understand your resonant feelings when you saw Jesse’s interactions with his son. Hawke has  had well publicized relationship challenges as well children who suffer through collateral damage. I think this trilogy, and especially the last two films show him coming to terms with his own limitations when it comes to self-analysis. Much less understanding how to make life easier for people he presumably loves.

Several of Delpy’s lines ring true for me throughout the trilogy. As the series moves on, I keep going back to my relationship with my own Celine, my wife of 15 years. Much of the motivation and expressions of Celine have been exemplified for me over the years, and I have reacted quite similarly to Jesse many of those times. Whenever she wants to be serious, I want to think “intellectually” about things that don’t put food on the table. One could say my whole writing and blogging career has been a time consuming attempt at connecting my life to the world outside, while sacrificing actual connections to the people living in my house.

That said, when Delpy expresses frustrations, it feels as real as anything my wife has ever said to me. The irony is that I am hearing words my wife said to me throughout the years for the first time, only through another person’s expressions. It brings me to the feeling of caution in my optimistic vision of my own stable marriage. Do I know this woman as well or even love her the way she loves me? Have I never learned to listen just to her?

That is the power of this trilogy.

WeMissE:

That is an interesting idea.  Jesse created this ideal “Celine” after their first night, and wrote a book about her.  But she is removed from the actual Celine.  Of course his first wife could not compete with this idealized, romantic, passionate woman.  But it turns out, maybe the real Celine couldn’t compete either.   There were no diapers to be changed or meals to be cooked in his best-selling novels.

I guess that is a testament to how well-written this series is, that we both found instances that resonated with us.   But different instances, for different reasons.   The primary reason I love movies, love watching them and talking about them, is to be moved in some way.  It doesn’t have to be profound.  Just being entertained is enough.  But it is a rare film indeed that  inspires me not only to feel but to think deeply about my own life.

My favorite moment in the entire series is a very simple one.  In the last film,  Jesse and Celine are watching the sun set behind a mountain.  It begins very sweetly, with Celine saying “Still there…still there…still there” as the sun sinks lower and lower.  Finally, it vanishes just below the mountain’s crest, and Celine says “Gone”, leaving them in the subdued afterglow.  The smiles leave both of their faces, and they look away from each other, realizing there is something profound in this moment, something about much more than a setting sun.  It is one of the rare moments when Jesse has nothing to say, and it is acted with incredible honesty.

This scene can be interpreted in a number of ways;  the viewer will take from it whatever he puts into it.    This is true of much of these films.  Each person will be struck by different moments.  I love the ambiguous endings as well.  And although the story has a fitting ending of sorts, where it stands  now, I hope there will be a fourth film after a nine-year interval.  I am sure Jesse and Celine will still have powerful things to say.

CoolPapaE:

The capture of the sun as it disappears is a truly profound moment. As they looked on, I was reminded of the first time Don Henley sang:

“…There’s just so many summers, babe, and just so many springs…”

I am over 3 decades of summers and springs since then, and time has become a bittersweet commodity for me by now. If I am a bit smarter or wiser, I am definitely happier. To paraphrase George Carlin, the percentage of my needs being met increased when I dropped a few of them. Still, though, I spend some time dreaming of the distance the words shared between two friends, and how they might travel on without us.

That this team of creative forces has invested time in each of three decades to give us a Polaroid of their lives is equally profound. To take the movies one by one, they would not be as valuable. The first movie is almost a throwaway for me. If they’d not followed it up almost by sheer demand, what would we know of these two?

Once they took a direction, though, they had to commit, and they have done a marvelous job investing their time into a worthy creative venture. The second film in and of itself made the films time the series timeless. It’s tenor and demeanor had changed from hope to a realization of the effect of time passing. They felt less hope, and they acted. By the third film, the die seems cast, and they have made their big move. The mood begins with the appearance calm, but the desperation creeps in.

One of the great ironies of the series is in the examination of the three generations of couples at the dinner on the Mediterranean. So much wisdom in flux at that table, but our two heroes have no real connection to any of it, because they haven’t really touched one another, as her interaction over signing his book at the hotel check in would indicate.

Jessie really is one heck of a nice guy on the surface. He’s definitely an agreeable travelling companion. Celine is the one doing most of the driving by this point, though. She even relates to Jessie’s son better than he does. She is grounded. He’s in the clouds.

I must make special mention of Delpy in the series. For me, she’s clearly the series’ greatest resource. Hawke is able to keep relatively the same shape, with a few wrinkles through the passage of time. She has taken every minute of time and brought it to a unique beauty not often seen by women in cinema: she’s allowed to age.

I can’t think of a time that I have seen a woman allow herself to be viewed without protection as she does, especially in the last quarter of Before Midnight. We see a middle age mother of two who is seemingly beyond her prime. If you pay attention, you know she’s anything but fading. She’s still on the rise.

By contrast, Hawke’s Jessie has given us another naked vantage in showing us someone of a certain age who’s still “learning.” Of course this means, the nice guy is really kind of a intelligent, but emotionally juvenile middle aged man. It’s my belief that this is not an accidental portrayal. This is artwork in motion.

We know this primarily because we’ve seen things unfold slowly over the course of the three films. What would we find out with the fourth effort?  I live in anticipation, but chances are, by the time we get there, we’ll already be going through it.

WeMissE:

You bring up a lot of great points.  I agree completely with your feelings about Delpy.  She is masterful in these movies.  I wonder if the twenty-something me, seeing these movies now, would find the younger Delpy more desirable.  Because where I am now, in my mid-forties, I think that Celine grows more beautiful as she matures.

The dinner scene  is the only time in the entire trilogy that we have Jesse and Celine as part of an extended group.  And it really does work well.   Perhaps the younger couple remind Jesse and Celine of an earlier version of themselves.  But this couple didn’t hang all their dreams on one night.   They are just young, attractive, and enjoying life in the moment.  There is also great significance in the older couple.  Two people who lost their lifelong spouses, and have found companionship in their last years.   The old man says that life is not about being in love, its about being happy.  Clearly he still misses his wife, but he has tempered his sorrow by surrounding himself with interesting people.  He seems to be squeezing every last drop out of life, whereas Jesse is already going through the motions.  At times he looks like a kid who has been invited to sit at the grown-up’s table, and still isn’t quite sure what to say.

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I think Jesse and Celine will stay together.  In nine years, their daughters will be teenagers in high school.  I imagine Celine at the peak of her profession, probably in a senior leadership position, and Jesse as a stay-at-home dad, someone whose last couple books fizzled, and disappeared quickly.   These films stand as Linklater’s masterpiece for me.   Boyhood was an interesting experiment, and the fact that he and his cast pulled it off, while keeping it under wraps, is impressive in itself.  But the film doesn’t linger for me.  I just realized, thinking about it, that Ethan Hawke plays the father in this as well.  I had forgotten.  Whereas this unintended trilogy has done a magnificent job of capturing not only the stages of a relationship, but the stages of adulthood.   I too look forward to a fourth part.  I also look forward to more movies like this, that will allow us to discourse on a deeper, more personal level.  And with that, good sir, I bid you good day.

CoolPapaE:

I couldn’t have said it better myself. This experience and subsequent exchange has been a fulfilling experience for us both.

With this trilogy in mind, I played a game with my family tonight. It was a good time. Memories were made. I listened. I hope I have accelerated my learning by the time the fourth film comes. It would be a shame to stay here, waiting for the day life comes back to me.

And with that, sir, I bid you too, a good day.

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Adams and Jefferson on Movies: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

BodySnatch

WeMissE:    So, keeping in tune with the Halloween season, we had time to watch another scary movie.  This time we decided to skip the original and go right to the remake.  There are four different Body Snatcher movies, and the second version, directed by Philip Kaufman in 1978, is considered by many fans and critics to be the best of the bunch.

This isn’t really a horror movie by today’s standards.  It has no gore to speak of, and no real “gotcha!” moments either.  What this movie has in spades is a deeply unsettling feeling.  Kaufman never lets the viewer get comfortable.   In many of the movies images, something is just a little off.  I noticed from very early on that he often used unconventional camera angles.  Sometimes the camera is very low, shooting up at people faces from the waist.  Sometimes he uses close-ups in unexpected places.  Characters are often in darkness.   The movies deepening paranoia keep the viewer on edge, expectant.  And then Kaufman obscures the images in ways that keep you from seeing what you want to see.

In an early scene, Donald Sutherland’s windshield is broken by some angry cooks at a restaurant he inspects.  This incident really happens for one reason;  so that in a later scene, when Sutherland and Brooke Adams are driving in this car, the windshield is splintered into a spiderweb of cracks.  As Adams is talking about how the city looks the same, but somehow people are different, the camera is face forward, looking through the window.  Except we can’t see clearly.   There is another scene in a bookstore where Donald Sutherland and Jeff Goldblum can only be seen in a mirror’s reflection, but it’s one of those funhouse mirrors that distorts the image.   Kaufman does good a job as any director I can think of at keeping his audience off-balance.

CoolPapaE:
The foreground is not the only thing Kaufman is peppering us with imagery. We see plenty of references to pod plants being stuffed into garbage trucks throughout the film. While the characters are pushing their narrative in the foreground, things just keep right on happening in the background.

Not only are the angles and scenery off-putting, the soundtrack does an excellent job emitting a disquieting feeling to the viewers. The whole film is filled with intermittent nauseous sounds. Seeing Goldblum in that fun house scene you mention also reminded me of another filmmaker he worked with, Robert Altman. In that very scene, we see Sutherland’s Bennell and Goldblum’s Bellicec having two different level conversations at the same time. Bennell is talking on the phone, and Bellicec is disturbingly talking over him at the same time. This method ratchets tension, even though there are no boogeymen to be found.

Sometimes the sound come from the scene, like when Bellicec’s radio tuning turns into a rhythmic pounding as they gather in Bennell’s apartment.  That pounding then turns into a swelling echo as the pods begin to grow.

When Bennell starts making calls to Kibner and other city officials and Elizabeth starts testing the flowers, there is a surging keyboard sound that pushes through into a siren and then a ringing phone. This repeats into a surging sound as a series of calls emanate while Bennell walks through town, feeling the oppression settle in.

One sound that is completely unsettling is the screeching wail of Cartwright’s Nancy Bellicec. She has two of the most memorable screams in cinematic history. One, of course is the “Oh God!” she emits in the midst of the birth of the xenomorph in Alien. The other is at the very end of this film.

If the ethereal soundtrack and ambient noises lull you into a sense of dread, her scream is the sound that wakes you to a nightmare. Am I the only one who finds it ironic that she is the one that discovers the secret to walking among the turned is by showing no emotion?

WeMissE:  

That’s a great observation, I’m glad you pointed that out. Setting the movie in San Francisco was a great choice.  It is such a cinematic city, and this film ranks right up there with VertigoZodiac and the Dirty Harry franchise for making the city a character in the movie.  While Hitchcock and Fincher gave the city by the Bay a more stylized look, Philip Kaufman makes it dirty, gritty, with lots of shadows in the corners.  Some credit has to be given to cinematographer Michael Chapman, who shot a few movies for Martin Scorsese in this same time period.   The lighting works in conjunction with the music to create that sense of foreboding we talked about earlier.

Besides Veronica Cartwright’s trademark screams, the acting is solid.  Sutherland and Goldblum fall squarely in the character actor camp, even though they have both been cast as leads from time to time.  They are two stalwart actors who have been contributing solid performances for 4 decades apiece.  It’s interesting to see Leonard Nimoy in any role that is not Spock.  I wouldn’t say that he got the opportunity to show a great range  here, but that was due to the limitations of the character.  How would you classify the performances?

CoolPapaE:

San Francisco is one of the major cities of the cinema, to be sure. I could add Foul Play, Escape from Alcatraz, Freebie and The Bean and So I Married an Axe Murderer among the films that use the scenery to their advantage.

The performances are solid, circa 1978. In an era when colleagues could be work friends and deny the chemistry between them until they are brought to a crisis point, Adams and Sutherland play the mature relationship angle for all it’s worth. One gets the definite feeling of the chemistry between the two. This is especially effective in the kiss they share when they are on the run in the last third of the film.

This is Adams on her way up in what may be somewhat an underwhelming career. Interestingly, she is related to the namesake of one of the two names for our series, John Adams.

It’s a good role and performance, though. A strength in the development of the cast here is that the bigger characters aren’t necessarily the ones we see rising to the challenge, even if they do a majority of the sleuthing. I really enjoy this aspect of the film. It makes one feel like the stakes are higher. Sutherland excels in his ability to vary between scared and scary. It’s hard to think that his box office draw was any stronger than it is here. As you say, he’s had a solid career.

It’s amazing to witness Goldblum before he is at the height of his powers of Goldbluminess. It’s more than a little strange to see him play someone as incredibly straight as a struggling writer. Then again, seeing as he and his wife run a bathhouse in San Francisco in the 70’s, straight might be relative.

It was beginning to look like an awful Nimoy performance, but for the saving grace of revealing that he is indeed turned by the time we’ve seen him first. Even so, the hugging and togetherness would seem a strange move for one who has been configured to have no use for emotions. In the end, his performance is salvaged and brought back to his strength as an actor.

That is one strength of Kaufman using Richter’s script. There is no over explaining of plot elements. We don’t know a ton about the invaders. We don’t know why their planet died out. We do know they’re used to taking over. That’s enough, and thank God they never came up with a sequel to explain even more.

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WeMissE:

That’s a good point.  There is that one scene of exposition where the already-changed Nimoy gives a little back story, but that’s all there is to it.  We are left with a lot of unanswered questions, which makes the movie even more unsettling.

Kaufman did a lot with a little in this movie.  Other than warehouse finale which is full of explosions and mayhem, there is very little spectacle in this movie.  It was made very economically, with practical effects, and they work very well.  I’m not one of those purists who laments the age of digital effects, but when I look at how convincing the effects in this movie are, I do have a lot of respect for the artistry in the craftsmanship  of those early effects.   Digital effects can be great, but they often lack subtlety.  When we finally get to see a pod “birthing” its host body, the shock does not come from it being bloody or gruesome.  Rather, it is slow, laborious, matter-of-fact, and all the more horrifying because of it.

Philip Kaufman is an interesting case, right?  He had a sweet spot of about a decade where his fingerprints were on a bunch of really good movies, either as writer or director.  Then his output slowed down considerably.  His career arc reminds me of Curtis Hanson, who started as a B-movie director, then achieved greatness for a few years.  As I close out my comments on this movie and bid you good day, I ask:  what is the legacy of Kaufman as a director, and does this stand as his best film?

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CoolPapaE:

This is probably approaching the crest of Kaufman’s greatness, but with the Indiana Jones story credit for Raiders of the Lost Ark, then The Right Stuff in the early 80’s, one would have to think that era is likely his sweet spot. I have never seen The Unbearable Lightness of Being and Henry & June, but they have garnered some esteem over the years. Let’s just say by the time he was pissing off Crichton with his lukewarm take on Rising Son, his star had faded a bit. I did enjoy Quills with its perversely gleeful performance by Rush and the wonderful acting and beauty of Kate Winslet. I tried to like Twisted, but Ashley Judd’s wooden acting has the power to override my love for Samuel L. Jackson and my respect for Kaufman.

What he showed was remarkable range and the ability to get the most out of available resources. If he isn’t a great director, he’s certainly in the upper reaches of good.

 

This film does have good pacing, acting and like you say, unnerving cinematography. I also agree with you the conventional special effects are better than most movies at the time without the word “Star” in the title. Even the dog man shown above looks creepily real when you stop to look at it. It’s ending is spectacular. Overall, it deserves a spot as one of the scariest films of the decade. I would even call it one of the 50 scariest films in cinematic history.

With that surmise, I too Sir, bid you good day.

Adams and Jefferson on Movies: The Exorcist and its true sequel, Legion (Part 1 – Theatrical Versions)

The Exorcist

CoolPapaE: 

In all honesty, I have had a lopsided feeling about the theatrical releases of these films for a long time. Watching them with you today helped right the ship a little bit. For the longest time, the movie in my wheelhouse had been the awkward but well acted Exorcist III. The reasons included the fact that the film came out right around the time we graduated and, frankly, I just grew warm to Scott’s and Flanders performances. There also was the feeling that it must be a pretty good film, given the person who wrote and directed it intended it to be the one true sequel to the original, Oscar nominated film. And really, even then I kind of felt like Friedkin was a little full of himself.

Time has made clear which is the superior film overall, when at many of its best points, the sequel mimics the ambiance of the original, right down to the sparse, almost non-existent score. So many films that have followed the original Exorcist have amped up the same themes, only more obvious and lacking much of the nuance.

Really, though, it’s amazing to consider this film as subtle. At the time, many thought it should have been given an X-Rating. The shock is there, to be sure. Many of the things that happened to and came out of the 12-year-old Linda Blair have not been seen on-screen since. That’s not what I am talking about, though.

One scene that differentiates it for me is when Fathers Merritt and Karras (von Sydow and Miller) take a break after their first, particularly brutal session together with Regan (Blair) and the Demon (McCambridge). Merrick decides to leave the room and Miller is set to leave with him. Instead, the camera stays with him as he tries to collect himself. A lesser film would have turned on the music to a creepy tone and seen the possessed turn to him and say something. Instead, we get his facial expression and her back. The result is more disconcerting than anything we’ve seen. It’s a man in complete turmoil over a crisis of faith.

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Similarly, the Blatty directed sequel has effective moments of solitude. In particular, Father Dyer and Kinderman (Sanders and Scott) have a lunch in a Washington restaurant including such luminaries as Larry King and C. Everett Koop. When discussing the murder of Thomas Kintry, we see the camera move back and forth between the two men. We don’t need music to understand the wincing (starting at 1:10). These are hardened old men who still feel pain in the suffering of others. This is acting one doesn’t ever see in a  horror film, and it’s one reason why this film which is at least 50% works as well as it does.

WeMissE:   

I have always been a fan of the original movie, but every time I see it I notice more of its nuance.    This hardly qualifies as a horror movie as they are considered by today’s standards.  It has more subtlety and sentiment than any other movie of the genre that comes to mind.  I just wanted to mention a couple of the things that I noticed for the first time, watching it this time.

First of all, there are several scenes involving doctors, specialists, and psychologists.   They administer some tests that look medieval by today’s medical standards, and they attempt to rationalize and explain everything.  Every specialist is quick to offer a theory.  When Father Merrin arrives, he does not theorize, he does not ask questions.   He just begins putting on his garb, like a soldier of God girding up for battle.  The way Father Merrin is used in the movie is quite brilliant.  First of all we get the prologue in Iraq. Here we are shown, through a series of images with very little dialogue, that Father Merrin is uneasy.  He senses some disturbing presence, and it is one he recognizes.  Any other film would have had five minutes of exposition in which Merrin explained how he had performed an exorcism in the past, and so on.  We get the pleasure of reading of his past experiences in his eyes, as he watches two dogs fighting, as he stares at a strange horned statue.

Then Merrin disappears for over an hour.  We almost forget his existence, the rest of the story is so compelling.  When the church consents to the exorcism, they do so with the caveat that Merrin attend, because he is the only priest with known experience.  We then get a wonderfully filmed scene which shows a young priest run to Father Merrin and hand him a letter.  Obviously this is the letter summoning him to the exorcism.  He holds it in his hands for several seconds, turns it around, his body slumps a little in resignation, and he puts it in his pocket, unopened.  This is done in one uninterrupted long shot.  He doesn’t need to open it, he’s been preparing for this moment since he left Iraq.  His arrival at the house is made all the more iconic by the fact that he has been unseen for over an hour.

The_Exorcist_3

In Exorcist III, we also get moments of great subtlety.   The best scene in the movie plays out in a long shot, over several minutes, with almost no dialogue.  Blatty was taking a page out of Friedkin’s directorial book.  However, in several other scenes Blatty uses extremely conventional camera-set ups and cutting, and I think they diminish the film’s potential in a few cases.  Perhaps it is because he was a novice director, maybe he didn’t trust his ability to let scenes play out in long shots, over several minutes.  Maybe the studio’s re-cutting of the movie had some effect.  But the elements of a very good movie are all here, and the spirit of the original movie can be felt in moments.

CoolPapaE:

Yes, the elements are there. And it’s very frustrating. I enjoyed this film a lot more before re-watching Friedkin’s masterpiece. This time, it a little embarrassing. Especially the scenes surrounding the confessional. The priest’s cheesy reaction at hearing the confession is one thing, but the hysterical screaming of the lady being consoled almost comically by the man while the two kids looked on is laughable. It’s like something out of the files of Police Squad! and completely takes you out of the mood of the film.

Counter this with the long shot scene at the hospital with Nurse Keating, when we get to see the tension unfold almost helpless to do anything at all so far away. It’s like a different director entirely.

The one thing Blatty was most successful in carrying over is the sparse soundtrack. Both films do an excellent job of setting the mood just by allowing the shock of characters to settle soundlessly. If there is one thing that makes these films so directly connected to one another, it is this. The Keating scene is a wonderful example of this, all the way to the end, when you get one blaring tone which really brings home the shock.

exIII keating.jpg

Jason Miller is one actor who is in both films and he is excellent in both. He gets more to do in the first one. Really the film is as much about his journey as anything. The movement from assured member of the clergy to someone who doubts everything to one who makes the most Christ-like decision of self-sacrifice. The path is harrowing and it shows on his face.

We see an older, haunted face in the second film and it completely resonates. His spirit is drained, for the most part. Once more there is a journey, but this time it’s Kinderman who is pushing forward.

Which brings me to one awkward point between the two stories. There is an insistence that Kinderman and Karras were good friends, even going so far as to show them in one of those awkward mash-up pictures one only sees in movies. Since Kinderman only met Karras in his investigation of Burke Dennings, and Karras dies maybe a week later, it would stand to reason that they were never close.  This friendship doesn’t serve the story at all, since Father Dyer could have been the “close friend.” It really is only there to ratchet the tension once we meet “patient X.” I would think a passing resemblance to someone he knew but was not close to might have been as effective, if not more so. It’s an artificial bridge that I don’t think was necessary.

WeMissE:

Yes, I hadn’t noticed that strange implication that Kinderman and Karras were close friends when I watched the movie before, and it really makes no sense.  The truth is that Father Dyer and Kinderman became friends through Karras’ death.   A minor detail, but a strange decision nonetheless.   You talked about the haunted of face of Jason Miller and I think that is a great way of putting it.  One of the things that struck me in both films is that all of the priests have a world-weariness about them.  These are not the movie priests one is used to seeing, with kind, benevolent smiles.   They have grim, tired looks of resignation.  Somehow this helps with the overall tone of the movies.  This certainly doesn’t mean that the priests are bad, but rather that the world is bad.  These are priests who have seen evil, in forms both large and small, but find ways to carry on.

I have always been a big fan of Ed Flanders as an actor, and he had that quality of resignation and resolve in every role he played.  His Emmy-winning portrayal of Dr. Donald Westphal on TV’s St. Elsewhere is for my money the best performance ever in a dramatic show.   And his Father Dyer here has the same qualities.  This is a man who thinks the world is a pretty dark, foul place.  But he’s going to try to do a little bit of good, in his short time here, because it’s all he knows to do.   One wonders how much of that world-weariness was acting in the case of Ed Flanders, because he took his own life in 1995, shortly after his 60th birthday.

The absence of musical score is something that today’s filmmakers could learn from. Audiences have become so conditioned to an aural assault, that moments of quiet are actually more intense by contrast.  I also noticed this time how little we hear the famous “Tubular Bells” music in the first film.  It is so closely associated with the movie, and yet it is only heard three times through the entire course of the film, primarily over the closing credits.  And it is never used in a moment of terror, or fright.   The first time we hear it, Ellen Burstyn is just walking down the street on a sunny winter day.   Just that few seconds of music goes a long way in setting the tone of what is to come.   William Friedkin actually hired Lalo Schifrin to score original music for the movie, but when he heard it he fired Schifrin.  Snatches of this rejected score can be found online.  Friedkin made the right choice;  Schifrin’s score lacks subtlety, and to me is a blatant rip-off of Bernard Herrmann’s famous Psycho score.

CoolPapaE:

Ultimately watching both films in succession shows for me the difference between an experienced filmmaker and one that is creative, while maybe not as seasoned. Blatty only directed two films in his life. This was to be his last, and understandably so, if we take into consideration the amount the film was messed with during and after production. There is a clear set of scenes that seem tacked into the film and have no sense of space. I know a few of the scenes, like the exorcism with Father Morning, was not intended originally. I am thinking this  is just a result of input given from a studio to a person who lacked the gravitas to push back.

Friedkin, on the heels of his Academy Award win for The French Connection and directing his 6th movie, was never going to wield his power as effectively again. This film is as pure a vision as one could imagine. The film feels lean compared to today’s standards. The only places that seem out-of-place now are a matter of taste, perhaps. It’s not even the standards of decency which caused such a stir back when the film was released.

If perhaps they’d only swapped Regan out with the doll more fleetingly, or perhaps given us a glance at the actual death of the detestable Burke Jennings. It works exceptionally as it is, though.

WeMissE:

I understand your desire to see Burke die, he is such a pompous ass.  But I kind of like the way that Burke’s and Father Merrin’s deaths happen off-screen.  I think it gives more weight to Karras’ sacrifice, which we do get to witness.

So we are left with a film that is a classic, by pretty much any standard, and a film (with Exorcist III) that is full of moments that don’t quite add up to a cohesive whole.  Maybe the director’s cut will help to fill in some of the missing pieces.

 

WeMissE’s Annual Oscar Predictions

Can it really be Oscar weekend already?  It sure did creep up quickly this year.   I’m always excited for Oscar Sunday to arrive, and this year is no exception.  I have watched almost every movie in every category (with just a couple exceptions that I will point out) so I’m ready to dive right in to my predictions.

Best Picture:  La La Land

This is certainly not a lock.   Although Manchester by the Sea has seemingly lost traction in the last couple weeks, it could still win.  And Moonlight has been quietly gaining momentum.  Technically, I suppose we should throw Hidden Figures in the mix because it won the SAG for Best Ensemble, which can be a predictor in this category, as it was for Spotlight last year.  But to me that’s a long shot. Honestly, I would be happy with any of the either three winning, but I’m going to bet on the favorite.

Best Actor:  Denzel Washington, Fences

The two front-runners in this category are a study in contrast.  Casey Affleck’s performance in Manchester by the Sea is the slow burn of a man carrying an almost unbearable cross, while Denzel’s performance blazes like fireworks.  I’ve been a huge Affleck fan for years (I think he is a much better actor then brother Ben) and I would love to see him win here.  But he has been losing traction.  And unfortunately, the Academy often overlooks this kind of subdued performance.   Also, Denzel is simply astonishing.  He is the living embodiment of August Wilson’s character, and I think he’s going to take home his third statue, which puts him in some rarefied air.

Best Actress:  Emma Stone, La La Land

Honestly, I think Isabelle Huppert is probably the most deserving in this category, but I think it highly unlikely she will win, despite her Golden Globe victory.  Actors in foreign language films almost never win at the Oscars . Natalie Portman has been charging to the front if you believe the publicity, but I was not entirely taken with her performance.  Granted, it is a daunting task to take on such an iconic figure, at such an iconic time in her life.  I don’t know that anyone could have done it better.  She could walk away with it, but I’ll stick with Emma as my prediction.

Best Supporting Actor:   Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Many of the prognosticators say this one is entirely up in the air, but it was one of the easiest picks for me.   Ali portrayed his character with honesty and immediacy.  He breathed life into every single scene he was in, and although he leaves the film far too soon, his impact is never forgotten.  He also won the SAG, which is a strong predictor.

Best Supporting Actress:  Viola Davis, Fences

This is the closest to a slam dunk in any of the acting categories this year.   I would be shocked if Viola didn’t win.  Michelle Williams is the closest competition, and she did have one incredibly powerful and moving scene in Manchester by the Sea (now that I think about it I would go so far as to say it’s an unforgettable scene) but Viola’s performance is one for the ages.

Best Director:  Damien Chazelle, La La Land

Another sure thing.  Damien is the clear front runner, and his win at the Director’s Guild Awards  makes an Oscar win all the more likely.

Animated Feature:  Zootopia

Zootopia has swept all the major awards shows already, making it the clear favorite.  Honestly, I really enjoyed four of the movies in this category (I did not see My Life as a Zucchini, and not for lack of trying).  The Red Turtle may be my personal favorite, but it doesn’t stand a chance.

Cinematography:   La La Land

So, all five of the movies in this category look fantastic.  And I could see Arrival or Moonlight  possibly pulling off the upset.  But really, La La Land has a fantastic look.  The lighting is phenomenal.   The hilltop dance sequence alone  pushes it ahead of the pack.

Costume Design:  La La Land

If you look at past winners in this category, you will see that period films are favored.  However, the contemporary film is the front runner.  I think Fantastic Beasts could possibly pull off an upset.  Jackie is interesting; the clothes look great,  but it’s more a case of re-creation than design.  La La Land already won the Costume Designer’s Guild award, so I’ll stick with the favorite.

Documentary Feature:    13th

OK.  So this is the first category I really struggled with.  All five nominations were  good.  They were all powerful and informative.  O.J.: Made in America could very easily win here.  My only problem with that is that this was designed as a TV miniseries.  It only earned the nomination here because it was screened in a couple of theaters to make the cut.  Nobody went to the movies and watched all 7 hours of this.  I could make a solid case for all five films, and if you haven’t watched a lot of documentary films, I would encourage you to give one a try.   The reason I am going with 13th is because it is timely, and because the director Ava DuVernay was (unjustly, I believe) shut out of the Best Director category for Selma two years ago.

Documentary Short Subject:  Joe’s Violin

Three of these shorts deal with the migrant crisis in Europe, and if people are influenced by politics in their voting  then expect White Helmets, which is about the Syrian Civil Defense  to win.   It is a good short film (you can stream it on Netflix now), but the most moving, inspiring story to me is the one about a Holocaust survivor donating his WWII violin to a resource-strapped girl’s school in NYC.  If I’ve learned one thing in this category, it’s vote with your heart.

Film Editing:   Arrival

The Editor’s Guild split their awards into categories for drama and comedy/musical, just like the Golden Globes.  So Arrival won for drama and La La Land won for comedy or musical.  La La Land is actually favored by many pundits, but I’m going to predict a win for Arrival, which is likely to get shut out in the other categories for which it is nominated.

Foreign Language Film:  A Man Called Ove

This is really a three film race.  Toni Erdmann was the early front runner.  The Salesman has come on strong of late, in large part because of Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s decision to boycott the ceremony.   The Salesman is a good film, and Farhadi a good director who has already won in this category just five years ago for A Separation.   Once again, if people allow politics to sway their vote,  The Salesman could easily win.  As I said, it is a really good film, but I have all my fingers and toes crossed for Sweden’s A Man Called Ove.  Not only is it the best foreign film, but one of the best films of the year, period.  (If you aren’t allergic to subtitles, you can stream it on Amazon for only 99 cents.  Take a chance, it’s worth it.)

Makeup and Hairstyling:   A Man Called Ove

Star Trek Beyond is far and away the front runner here.  And it certainly could win.  There are three reasons I’m going against it.  One:  the first Star Trek  reboot just won in this category 8 years ago.  Two:  A Man Called Ove is the only film in this category to be nominated in another category,  which generally bodes well here.   Three:  Ove contains the kind of brilliant makeup work that is hiding in plain sight.

Music (Original Score):  La La Land

I quite enjoyed Moonlight‘s score, but really, is there anyway the musical is going to lose in a music category?  This is as close to a lock as you are going to find on your ballot.

Music (Original Song): “City of Stars”, La La Land

The only question here is which of the two songs from La La Land will win.  Could they cancel each other out, allowing Lin Manuel Miranda to sneak in and seal the victory with his “How Far I’ll Go”, from Moana?  Possibly.  I’ll stick with the Stars.

Production Design:  La La Land

This is another category where you can make a strong case for all five films.    I’m going to stick with the leader of the pack, although it wouldn’t hurt my feelings if any of the other films won.

Short Film (Animated):  Piper

This is one of the categories I really look forward to every year.  There is generally  a broad range of talent and creativity.  This year, I was underwhelmed by most of the entries.  I did enjoy Pearl, and actually would be happy if it won.  But I think you can count on Pixar to chalk up another win in this category.  Piper is the short that played before Finding Dory.

Short Film (Live Action):  Ennemis Interieurs

I enjoyed four of the movies in this category.  My only hope is that Denmark’s entry, Silent Nights, does not win.  It is an emotionally pandering look at the current refugee crisis in Europe.  Ennemis Interieurs is just the opposite.  In this age when so many conversations are politicized and partisan, it was nice to see a scene with two characters with opposing views, each of whom has a valid perspective.   It makes a strong point at the end as well.  The other entries were all good.  Overall I really enjoyed this category, and would be happy with any of the other films winning.  I would encourage you to seek out the short films if you haven’t watched them before.

Sound Editing:  Hacksaw Ridge

War films tend to do well in this category, and this is likely to be Hacksaw’s only real shot at an Oscar.

Sound Mixing:  Hacksaw Ridge

La La Land is the favorite in this category, but I’m going to go out on a limb and take Hacksaw.  You can’t pick the favorite all the time if you want to win an Oscar pool.  Too, I’m really hoping that Kevin O’Connell (21 nominations, 0 wins) can break his unlucky streak and win for Hacksaw Ridge.

Visual Effects:  The Jungle Book

There are a lot of great effects in this category.  But Jungle Book is far and away the favorite, because those animals just look so darn real!

Writing (Adapted Screenplay):   Moonlight

This is a very strong category, but look for Moonlight to pick up perhaps its only Oscar of the night in this category.

Writing (Original Screenplay):  Manchester by the Sea

I think this may be one of the rare categories where La La Land is edged out.  First off, Manchester is a fantastic screenplay.  Second, it is unlikely to win in any other category.  Third, it is an opportunity to still recognize director Kenneth Lonergan with an Oscar, since he also wrote the film.  And Lonergan is well liked.

That’s all folks!  Except for my one gripe about the major snub to Sing Street, which should have got an original song nomination.  Also Hugo Weaving for Best Supporting Actor in Hacksaw Ridge, and Hugh Grant in Florence Foster Jenkins, and…all right, I’ll stop!

Well there you have my 24 predictions.  What do you think?

 

2016 Oscars as predicted by WeMissE

2016 OSCAR PICKS in every category

The time has come once again for the most coveted award in Hollywood.  If you are entering an Oscar pool, or just want to impress your friends, I’m here to make some helpful suggestions.   Every year I watch all nominated films, including the documentaries and short subjects.  I also look at historical trends in various categories.  Basically I’m just another guy who is crazy about movies.   So grab your Oscar ballot and let’s get started.

Best Picture

You really have three choices here, but The Revenant is the clear favorite.  It has momentum, and has racked up some awards.  Spotlight won the Screen Actor’s Guild award for best ensemble, and rightly so, but I don’t think that will propel it into the winner’s circle tonight.  Some also say The Big Short could be a long shot.  I doubt it.  Personally I would love to see Mad Max take the honors, but that won’t happen.  And shame on Universal Pictures for not pushing harder to get Steve Jobs nominated.  It deserved it.  And really Academy, why not nominate Straight Outta Compton?  You had two free slots in this category.

Will win:  The Revenant

Other possible winners:  Spotlight, The Big Short

Best Actor

This is by far the lock of the night in the major categories.   Leonardo DiCaprio will definitely walk away with the win, he will probably get a standing ovation (or at least a partial one) and then we can close the door on Leofest and resume our normal lives.

Will win:  Leonardo DiCaprio

Long shot:  Michael Fassbender (but seriously people,  Leo’s got this)

Best Actress

While not quite as solid a lock as Leo has in the men’s category, Brie Larson is the clear favorite here.  My personal favorite was Saoirse Ronan, but her performance has a subtlety that the Academy often overlooks, and Brie did an outstanding job with a challenging role.  Cate Blanchett had some early traction, but she has faded in recent weeks.

Will win:  Brie Larson

Long shot:  Saoirse Ronan

Best Supporting Actor

The Academy has a long history of using this category as a “Lifetime Achievement Award” of sorts, honoring the careers of older actors who have yet to win (e.g. Christopher Plummer, Alan Arkin, James Coburn, Martin Landau, Jack Palance, Don Ameche), so in my mind Sly Stallone is the clear favorite.  Tom Hardy was great, and seems to be left out of the conversation entirely.  If Hardy wins this award, which will be the first of the night, then look for The Revenant  to have a huge night.  Mark Rylance was the best thing about Bridge of Spies, and he did win the BAFTA, but I still put my money on Stallone.

Will win:  Sylvester Stallone (watch for a standing ovation if this happens)

Possible contenders:  Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance

Best Supporting Actress

I so want Kate Winslet to win this award, but I don’t think it will happen.  Alicia Vikander has all the momentum right now, and the academy loves a foreign ingenue.  (Remember Marion Cotillard?)   Rooney Mara had some early traction, but Carol has really faded recently, which is kind of a shame.  It may go winless tonight.

Will win:  Alicia Vikander

Could win:  Kate Winslet

Animated Feature Film

Another no-brainer, Pixar’s excellent Inside Out is the clear favorite here. The academy likes Charlie Kaufman, and Studio Ghibli, but look for Pixar to win.

Will win:  Inside Out

Long shot:  Really, stick with Inside Out

Cinematography

Poor Roger Deakins, 0 for 12 in this category, and it will be 13 after tonight, because Emmanuel Lubezki will become the first person in Oscar history to win three consecutive awards in this category.  I would give the award to John Seale for Mad Max, and there is a slight chance, but really, The Revenant was breathtaking on the big screen.

Will win: Lubezki for The Revenant

Could win:  Seale for Mad Max:  Fury Road

Costume Design

The academy has a long history of picking the period film in this category.  They love nothing more than long, flowing gowns, which makes Cinderella the front-runner.  And yet, my gut tells me that Carol or The Danish Girl could pull out the win here.  I am going to go against the general consensus of Cinderalla in this category, and trust my gut. (You have to take a couple chance in your Oscar pool;  if you pick nothing but front-runners, you won’t win).

Will win:  Sandy Powell for Carol

Could win:  Cinderella or The Danish Girl

Directing

The last director to win back-to-back Oscars in this category was Joseph L. Mankiewicz in 1949/50.  So it is not an easily-done feat.  And yet, Inarritu won the Director’s Guild Award, and 16 of the last 20 DGA winners have gone on to win the Oscar. I think he is the man to beat, but I would love nothing more than to see George Miller take this one.

Will win:  Alejandro G. Inarritu

Long shot:  Adam McKay, George Miller

Documentary Feature

I was pleasantly surprised a couple of years ago when 20 Feet From Stardom won this category against some heavier subject matter, and I think the same thing could happen tonight.  Amy, the story of singer Amy Winehouse, and her early demise, was very entertaining, and well crafted.  If the academy chooses to go with more serious fare, then look for Cartel Land, a timely movie about the brutal drug wars happening just south of our border.  And why in the hell did Going Clear not get a nomination?  Could it be because that film is critical of Scientology, and several powerful and influential academy members are Scientologists?  Nah, I’m sure its a coincidence.  The academy also snubbed He Named Me Malala and Kurt Cobain:  Montage of Heck.  The trend of getting more wrong than right in this category continues.  The way to encourage more people to see documentary films, which are an important and vital genre, is to reward the well-made documentaries that people have heard of, not to deliberately choose more obscure subject matter.  They should have listened to Roger Ebert when he chastised them for snubbing Hoop Dreams.  Maybe one day they’ll get it right.

Will win:  Amy

Could win:  Cartel Land

Documentary Short Subject

Body Team 12 is the clear front runner, and it is timely, dealing with the Ebola crisis.  I have to vote with my heart in this category, because A Girl in the River:  The Price of Forgiveness moved me as few movies have.  I will never be the same after seeing this movie about a girl who survived a so-called honor killing in Pakistan.  Over 1000 women are murdered every year in Pakistan under the guise of justice,   and it has to stop.

Will win:  A Girl in the River:  The Price of Forgiveness

Could win:  Body Team 12

Film Editing

This is a tough category this year; I think 4 of these movies have at least a chance of winning, but the front-runner has to be The Big Short, which has lots of quick cuts and montage-style editing, all contributing to the overall clarity of the story.  But I also loved the purely visceral quality of Mad Max.

Will win:  The Big Short

Could win:  Mad Max, Star Wars, The Revenant,

Foreign Language Film

I have not seen any of the nominated films in this category yet.  I love foreign films, and I will watch them all at some point, but this is the hardest category to legally see every movie before awards night, unless you live in LA.   So I watched the trailers and I really have to go with the general consensus, which is Son of Saul.  Any film which deals with the Holocaust is pretty much a lock, although some critics have picked Mustang.

Will win:  Son of Saul

Could win:  Mustang

Makeup and Hairstyling

I think Mad Max will finally get some love in this category, although The Revenant could surprise here.

Will win:  Mad Max:  Fury Road

Could win:  The Revenant

Original Score

Tough choice this year;  I liked the subtle, edgy undertones of Sicario‘s score, but Ennio Morricone appears to be the favorite here.  By creating a road show version of The Hateful Eight with a prologue, Quentin Tarantino gave Morricone several minutes of nothing but music.  Clever, Q!  I don’t think it is remotely close to Morricone’s best;  I can think of a dozen more memorable scores of his just off the top of my head, but the dude is 87 years old.

Will win:  Ennio Morricone, The Hateful Eight

Could win:  Sicario, Star Wars

Original Song

A lot of people seem to think that the Bond song has a chance.  I hope not because I personally think its garbage.  “Simple Song #3” from Youth is lovely, but really only works in the context of the film.  (See the film, by the way, it’s great!)  But the clear front runner here has to be “Til It Happens to You”.  First of all, it is timely, written for a documentary about campus rape.  Secondly, it was penned by Diane Warren and Lady Gaga, and I can see the academy getting behind them.  Warren has seven previous nominations and no wins.  I think she will finally get in the win column tonight.

Will win: “Til It Happens To You”

Could win:  “Simple Song #3”, “Writing’s On the Wall”

Production Design

All of the nominated films are deserving, but it will be a crime if Mad Max doesn’t win this one.  The look of that film is purely original.  Come on academy, show some love!

Will win:  Mad Max:  Fury Road

Could win:  The Martian, The Revenant

Animated Short Film

This is a tough category this year.  There are three shorts with a real possibility of winning.  Pixar’s entry, Sanjay’s Super Team, has a lot of traction.  While Pixar usually cleans up in the animated feature category, they haven’t won in the short category in over a decade, despite being a perennial nominee.  World of Tomorrow has won a bucketful of awards, and was very engaging.  I laughed out loud while watching it, and actually watched it twice in a row. Probably the true front-runner.  But I absolutely loved Bear Story, from Chile.  This story of a bear who is stolen from his family and put in a circus act is an allegory of the Pinochet regime, which may be lost on many viewers.   This is truly my hardest choice on the entire ballot.  It’s a coin toss;  I’ll go with my heart.

Will win:  Bear Story

Could just as easily win:  World of Tomorrow, Sanjay’s Super Team

Live Action Short Film

Oscar pools are won and lost in the shorts categories;  usually there are clear front-runners, but this year that is not the case.  Ave Maria is getting a lot of publicity, but I hope and pray the academy members are smart enough not to vote for a film that has contrived humor and is emotionally pandering.  It has all the subtlety of a joke that begins “A Jew and an Arab walk in a bar.”   Day One was perhaps the most difficult film I’ve ever watched;  I very nearly turned it off.  I’m glad I stuck with it, but even though it is based on true events it also feels contrived.  Everything Will Be Okay has a great slow build, but then fizzles that the end;  I somehow felt it was unresolved.  Which leaves Stutterer, a sweet film that I really loved, but might not be “Serious with a capital S” enough for the academy.   And Shok, Kosovo’s first ever Oscar nominated film, about two boys and a bicycle.

Will win:  Shok

Could win:  Ave Maria (If this wins, be assured I will be swearing profusely), Stutterer

Sound Editing

So remember, sound editing is the creation of sound elements, mixing is putting those elements together.  I honestly think any of the these five movies could win this award.   The Revenant is a favorite.  I am going to predict a big night for Mad Max in the technical categories.

Will win:  Mad Max:  Fury Road

Could win:  Any of the other nominated films

Sound Mixing

I’m going to stick with Mad Max.

Will win:  Mad Max:  Fury Road

Could win:  Star Wars, The Martian, The Revenant

Visual Effects

This was the second-hardest category for me.  You can make a strong case for all five nominated films.  Part of me would like to see Ex Machina take this one.  I think Star Wars, or The Martian could easily walk away with this one, but I’m going to stay out on that limb with George Miller.

Will win:  Mad Max:  Fury Road

Could win:  Any other nominated film

Adapted Screenplay

Maybe I’m prejudiced because Nick Hornby is my favorite contemporary writer, but I do love his screenplay for Brooklyn, which is subtle, sweet, funny, charming, and resonates on a deep level.  But I think The Big Short will take this one.

Will win:  The Big Short

Could win:  Room, Brooklyn

Original Screenplay

Spotlight has all the traction right now, and since it’s probably going to get shut out in the other categories, this will probably be the only recognition it receives.  Some critics think Inside Out has a legitimate shot at the win;  while I wouldn’t mind that, I just don’t think it’s going to happen.

Will win:  Spotlight

Could win:  Inside Out

 

Have fun watching the Academy Awards and good luck!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SPECIAL GUEST WEMISSE’S 2015 Oscar Predictions

oscars-2015

Well, it’s that time of year again, and I’m having a hard time mustering my usual level of excitement.  I can’t recall a more lackluster bunch of Best Picture nominees, and I’ve watched every Oscar ceremony (with a near-manic intensity) since 1983.  I saw bits and pieces before then, but that year in particular my eleven-year-old self was really pulling for ET to win best picture, and “Eye of the Tiger” from Rocky 3 to win best original song.  Imagine my dismay when both lost.   (“Who is this stupid Gandhi guy?” I muttered to myself as I stormed off to sleep.)

Best Picture – Expanding the roster of Best Picture nominees means that we have eight unexceptional films to choose from, instead of five.  And where is Gone Girl and Nightcrawler?  They were both snubbed in this category, and several others as well.  My personal favorite of the nominees is Selma.  It is a powerful film, with great performances, and couldn’t be more relevant.  Too bad that Paramount dropped the ball in promoting this film, and getting screeners out.  It is a two-film race at this point, and I really think it’s a coin toss between Birdman and Boyhood.  Both are great for technical reasons, but failed to fully engage me on a basic story level.

Will win:  Birdman

Should win:  Selma

Best Director:  I’m going to say that the Academy splits the vote, giving this award to Richard Linklater for Boyhood, while Birdman wins best picture.  If the exact opposite happens I would not be surprised.  Nor would I care.   None of the other nominees stand a chance, and I’m not sure why a couple of them are there at all.

Will win:  Richard Linklater

Should win:  Richard Linklater

Best Actor:  This award seemed to be Michael Keaton’s for the taking, for quite a stretch, but Eddie Redmayne came on strong down the stretch, winning the Actor’s Guild Award, which is a pretty strong predictor for the best actor Oscar winner.  It really could go either way, but I think Redmayne will pull it out.  Keaton is a great actor, and he is overdue for recognition of a great body of work.  But Redmayne is exceptional as Stephen Hawking, and it is not the physical limitations of the character that make him excel.  It was the early scenes, before the disease fully grips his character, that sold me.  Redmayne has such a winning smile as the young Hawking, it is impossible not to like him.

Will win:  Eddie Redmayne

Should win:  Eddie Redmayne

Best Actress:  This award is no contest this year.  Julienne Moore will definitely be taking home the Oscar for her performance.  As is the case with Michael Keaton, Moore is overdue for some appreciation.  She has been nominated four times previously;  the fifth time will be the charm for her.  Rosamund Pike’s performance was fantastic, and unique, but she doesn’t stand a chance. (I was not able to see the Marion Cotillard movie before the awards, unfortunately, and not for lack of trying.)

Will win:  Julianne Moore

Should win:  Julianne Moore

Best Supporting Actor:  In what is by far the biggest lock in the major categories, J.K. Simmons will win this award for sure.  His blistering performance takes the audience to uncomfortable places, and I appreciate the effort he put into the role, even though the character is a narcissistic asshole, and probably a sociopath as well.  At the other end of the acting spectrum is the always great Mark Ruffalo, who with quiet understatement creates a character that we can all love and admire, making his sudden loss all the more palpable.  There is a part of me that thinks he deserves this award, but of course the academy will choose bombast over subtlety.  Oh well, Simmons was great too, and Ruffalo will have an Oscar in his trophy case before his career is over.

Will win:  J.K. Simmons

Should win:  J.K. Simmons

Best Supporting Actress:  You know its a weak year when Patricia Arquette is a lock in an acting category and Meryl Streep is getting nominated for sleepwalking through the part of a witch.  I shouldn’t take cheap shots at Arquette;  her character was believable, and she had a couple of very memorable scenes that really locked this one up for her.  I personally loved Laura Dern in Wild;  her character made a strong impact in what seemed like a few brief minutes of screen time.

Will win:  Patricia Arquette

Should win:  Patricia Arquette

Best Cinematography:  Is Emmanuel Lubezki going to win back-to-back awards in this category, after taking home the Oscar for Gravity last year?  Yep.  Deakins has won before, and done better work.  Ida looks great, but won’t win.  I think there is a slight possibility that Robert Yeoman (The Grand Budapest Hotel) could pull off the upset here, but its a long shot.

Will win:  Emmanuel Lubezki

Should win:  Emmanuel Lubezki

Best Foreign Language Film:  This is usually one of the hardest categories to handicap, and it is particularly hard this year.  First off, where the hell is Sweden’s Force Majeure?  It was one of the best movies of the year, in any language, with universal themes, and deserved a spot here.  See it.  This is a three-picture race.  Leviathan won the Golden Globe, and is one of the best films to come from Russia in years.  Poland’s  Ida features a story that has elements of Jewish extermination in World War II, usually a guaranteed award-winning subject.  Argentina’s Wild Tales is making a late push.  I really love Argentine cinema;  Argentina has produced a dozen really great films in the last couple decades.  And Ricardo Darrin is quite possibly my favorite actor on Earth.  But this film feels slight, compared to the other two frontrunners, and to the near-perfect The Secret in their Eyes, Argentina’s winner in this category in 2009.  And the winner is…let me toss that coin again.

Will win:  Ida

Should win:  Leviathan

Best Adapted Screenplay:  Damien Chazell is the front-runner in this category for Whiplash, even though this screenplay is not adapted in the usual sense.  I won’t go into the arcane rules behind Academy nominations;  look it up if it interests you.   Anthony McCarten’s screenplay for The Theory of Everything is also quite good, but Chazell will probably win.

Will win:  Damien Chazelle

Should win:  Damien Chazelle

Best Original Screenplay:   Birdman or Boyhood could win in this category;  Nightcrawler should but won’t.  I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Wes Anderson will get some love in this category for Grand Budapest Hotel.  

Will win:  Wes Anderson and Hugo Guiness

Should win:  Dan Gilroy

Best Makeup and Hairstyling:  The makeup in Foxcatcher is subtle but impressive;  Steve Carell looks like another person.  Guardians has some exceptional characters.  I’m going to take the middle ground and give this one to The Grand Budapest Hotel.  

Will win:  Frances Hannon and Mark Coulier

Should win:  Frances Hannon and Mark Coulier

Best Original Score:  Alexandre Desplat is competing against himself in this category, with nominations for The Imitation Game and The Grand Budapest Hotel.  He also has 8 nominations and no wins.  But four of the last six winners in this category have been first-time nominees, and I think that trend will continue.  Iceland’s Johann Johannsson created a fantastic score for The Theory of Everything, and it is not a standard by-the-numbers orchestral score.

Will win:  The Theory of Everything

Should win:  The Theory of Everything

Best Original Song:  The Academy has been consistently getting it right in this category in recent years, and I think that trend will continue.  It has to be “Glory”, a song that is contemporary, heartfelt, and relevant.  “Everything is Awesome”  is fun but slight.

Will win:  Glory

Should win:  Glory

Best Animated Feature:  OK, so we all know The Lego Movie got snubbed.  How to Train Your Dragon 2 already took home the Golden Globe, and is the favorite.  Can Disney’s Big Hero 6 pull off the upset?  Probably not, but it should.

Will win:  How to Train Your Dragon 2

Should win:  Big Hero 6

Best Documentary – Short:  Oh my God, keep your kleenex handy if you are going to watch the documentary shorts this year.  They range from sad to sadder.  Joanna,  which is about a terminally ill woman who wishes to leave a video record for her young son, will probably stay with me the longest.  But  Crisis Hotline:  Veterans Press 1 will probably win.  And it’s hard to argue with that.  People in this country need to know about the number of Iraq and Afghan war vets who are committing suicide, who are having trouble leading anything close to a normal life.

Will win:  Crisis Hotling:  Veterans Press 1

Should win:  Joanna

Best Film Editing:  This is consistently one of the hardest categories to handicap, and this year is no different.  Boyhood is considered the frontrunner; why I don’t know.  And how was Birdman not nominated in this category, when its seemless editing was its most original and striking feature?    Since Birdman was snubbed, I think Whiplash and The Grand Budapest Hotel both had better editing than Boyhood.  I’m going to go out on that limb again and call this one for Whiplash.  But I really have no clue.

Will win:  Whiplash

Should win:  Whiplash

Best Production Design:  I have a feeling that Budapest Hotel could do very well in the technical categories, and I really don’t see any film coming close to it in this category.

Will win:  The Grand Budapest Hotel

Should win:  The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Animated Short:  Disney’s Feast is by-far the favorite in this category, and will most likely get the win.

Will win:  Feast

Should win:  Feast

Best Live Action Short:   This is a two-film race between Butter Lamp and The Phone Call.  Butter Lamp is visually striking, while The Phone Call is poignant and manages to move from despair to hope in a mere 20 minutes.  It also features Sally Hawkins and Jim Broadbent.  Another coin toss, really.

Will win:  The Phone Call

Should win:  The Phone Call

Best Sound Editing:  Tough to handicap.  I’m going to give this one to American Sniper, although I think Interstellar could easily win as well.

Will win:  American Sniper

Should win:  American Sniper

Best Sound Mixing:   I will be surprised if Whiplash does not win in this category, but once again I think Interstellar could sneak up and win.

Will win:  Whiplash

Should win:  Whiplash

Best Visual Effects:  Guardians of the Galaxy has fantastic effects, but I’m going go give this one to Interstellar.  I really don’t have a feel for this one.

Will win:  Interstellar

Should win:  Interstellar

Best Documentary – Feature:  Citizenfour is far and away the favorite here, and I get that.  And yes it probably will win;  it is engaging, and certainly very relevant.  I’m going to take a walk out on that proverbial limb again, though, and predict that Finding Vivien Maier will pull off the upset in this category.  It does everything that a good documentary film should do:  it introduces a topic about which most viewers know nothing, it explains that topic in an entertaining and engaging manner, and it leaves the viewer with a desire to learn more.  Right up the Academy’s alley in my opinion, and may be enough to override the love for Eric Snowden.

Will win:  Finding Vivien Maier

Should win:  Finding Vivien Maier

Best Costume Design:  The Academy loves period films in this category, but I see this as a two-film race, between Into the Woods and The Grand Budapest Hotel.  And ultimately, I think that Budapest will pull it off.

Will win:  The Grand Budapest Hotel

Should win:  The Grand Budapest Hotel

So to sum up:  there is no clear overriding favorite this year, no film that is going to run away with a bucketful of Oscars.  Grand Budapest Hotel could win the most awards, by doing well in the technical categories.   I love movies, I love the Oscars, but this year I’m just not feeling it.  Pass the nachos.

Special Guest WeMissE’s 2014 Oscar picks

Note from CoolPapaE:  My dear friend Steve, aka WeMissE is the only person I know that is a bigger Cinephile than I am.  He spends considerable time each year watching the nominated films with his son, along with keeping his own study of one of the greats in Alfred Hitch-blog.  This year I am fortunate enough to have his perspective to share on the event.

Anyone who knows us personally knows the connection between CoolPapaE and WeMissE is the E.  But I will write more on that later.  For now, enjoy WeMissE’s contemplation on the 2014 Oscars:

 

OSCARS-20141

Well, it’s Oscar Sunday.  Time for a bunch of wealthy celebrities to gather together for a night of self-congratulatory revelry.  OK, I’m not really that cynical.  I love movies, and I love the Oscars.  Do you want to win your Oscar pool?  Then read on…

Best Picture:  I keep reading and hearing how this is “the tightest Oscar race in years!”  Is it really, or is that just the media’s way of generating suspense/interest/ratings?   “American Hustle” is a very entertaining, well-made film that is forgotten the minute it ends.   “Gravity” is a mind-blowing, technically innovative story about the power of the human spirit to overcome adversity.  But the emphasis is on the technical more than the human.  “12 Years a Slave” is a harrowing account of a dark period in one man’s life, during a dark period in our nation’s history.  Is it difficult to watch?  At times, it is brutal.  But it is also by turns  lyrical, reflective, and ultimately redemptive.  It is a film that needed to be made, and is an easy pick to beat the other two frontrunners.

Should win:  “Philomena”  is sweet, touching, funny, unforgettable.  It doesn’t stand a chance.

Will win:  May be a coin toss between “Gravity” and “12 Years”, but my money is on “12 years”.

Best Actor:  Let’s be honest.  Bruce Dern, Leonardo DiCaprio and Christian Bale have all done better work.  This is a two-man race.  While I loved Chewitel Ejiofor, who really carries “12 Years”, (he is on screen in virtually every scene), it is hard to vote against Matthew McConaughey, who has finally fulfilled the the acting ability he hinted at way back in “Contact.”   McConaughey becomes Ron Woodroof completely.

Should win:  McConaughey

Will win:  McConaughey

Best Actress:  This is one of the absolute locks of the night.  Cate Blanchett has already been anointed as the best actress by every previous awards show, and every media outlet.  She does give a great performance, but it feels like a performance, and her character is not likable in the least.  The only emotion she elicits is pity.   Judy Dench, who has made a career of playing very strong women, gave us a soft, simple, sweet and immensely likable woman in Philomena Lee.  One can’t help but root for her character, and if there were any justice Dench would win the night.  She won’t.

Should win:  Judy Dench

Will win:  Cate Blanchett

Supporting Actor:  Once again, Jared Leto has already been decreed the winner by all, and he does give a fantastic performance here.  It is worth mentioning the incredible job that Michael Fassbender did in “12 Years A Slave”.  Fassbender never ceases to amaze, and you can be sure he will have an Oscar on his mantle by the time his career is over, but it won’t be tonight.

Should win:  Jared Leto

Will win:  Jared Leto

Supporting Actress:  This is a two woman race, between Jennifer Lawrence and Lupita Nyong’o.   Lawrence does give the best performance in “American Hustle”;  in a film where everybody is pretending to be someone they are not, she is the only one who exposes her true self, and her performance is the better for it.  What she has going against her is her best actress win last year.  Back-to-back wins are very rare.  Lupita Nyong’o is unforgettable.  And she gets brutally whipped onscreen.  Need I say more?

Should win:  Lupita Nyong’o

Will win”  Lupita Nyong’o

Animated Feature:  Miyazaki’s “The Wind Rises” is very powerful and has amazing animation, but is has been seen by a very small group of people.  “Frozen” is a movie that all can get behind.

Should win:  Frozen

Will win:  Frozen

Cinematography:  First off, I am shocked that “12 years a Slave” was not nominated in this category.  The lighting in that film was incredible.  A major snub in my opinion.  Of the nominated films, this one belongs to “Gravity”.    Emmanuel Lubezki, who has 6 well-deserved Oscar nominations, will finally get his win tonight.

Should win:  Gravity

Will win:  Gravity

Costume Design:  This is one of the hardest categories to predict.   Period films tend to be favored, but don’t always win.  “American Hustle” and “12 Years a Slave” had great costumes, but I’m going to go with the lavish over the top costumes of “The Great Gatsby”.

Should win:  Gatsby

Will win:  Gatsby

Directing:  A coin toss in this category.  Steve McQueen for “12 Years”  or Alfonso Cuaron for “Gravity”?  I think this is another split year, where the academy gives the picture to “12 years a Slave”, and gives the directorial nod to Cuaron.  This truly is a tight race.

Should win:  McQueen

Will win:  Cuaron

Documentary Feature:  The number one rule in the documentary category is:  never vote against a Holocaust film.  There is no Holocaust film this year, but “The Act of Killing”  about the Khmer Rouge killings in Cambodia, is as close as you can get.  “The Square”, about the Arab Spring uprising in Egypt, is the only one that might pull off the upset here.  “Dirty Wars”, about the American governments covert operations, drone strikes, and the murders of innocent civilians, is the film that every American citizen should see.  Of course, it won’t win.

Should win:  Dirty Wars

Will win:  The Act of Killing

Documentary Short:  Remember what I said about Holocaust films?

Should win:  Prison Terminal

Will win:  The Lady in Number 6:  Music Saved My Life

Film Editing:  A very, very tough category to call this year.  I think you could make a stong case for 4 of these 5 films.  My personal choice would be “American Hustle”, but I think “Gravity” will carry the night in the technical categories.

Should win:  American Hustle

Will win:  Gravity

Foreign Language Film:  A caveat:  this is one of two categories where I have not seen all nominated films.  All of the buzz is going to the Italian nominee “The Great Beauty”, with Palestine’s “Omar” trailing.   There is no way the academy will vote for a Palestinian film to win, so I say they will be celebrating in Italy tonight.

Should win:  The Great Beauty

Will win:  The Great Beauty

Makeup and Hairstyling:  Although I think it would be really funny if a Jackass movie won an Oscar, this one belongs to “Dallas Buyers Club”.  Take that one to the bank.

Should win:  Dallas Buyer’s Club

Will win:  Dallas Buyer’s Club

Music, Original Score:  Most of the buzz here seems to be for “Gravity”.  Funnily enough, I saw that movie twice in the theater and remember nothing of the score.  “Her” had a sweet, modern, very fitting score.  The music voting bloc of the academy has been more forward leaning in recent years, giving an award to Trent Reznor for “The Social Network” score, so I’d like to think that “Her” has a chance.

Should win:  Her

Will win:  Gravity

Music, original song:   Is there any doubt?  Let it go, baby.

Should win:  Let It go

Will win:  Let It go

Production Design:   When this category is tougher to handicap, go with the most over-the-top entry, which is “Gatsby”, but don’t be surprised if “Her” pulls out the win.

Should win:  Gatsby

Will win:  Gatsby

Animated Short Film:  If you’ve seen “Frozen” then you’ve seen Disney’s entry in this category “Get A Horse”, which has most of the buzz.  I really enjoyed the UK’s entry “Room on the Broom”, narrated by Simon Pegg, but it’s great story doesn’t make up for it’s unexceptional CGI animation.  Look for “Mr. Hublot” to possibly pull of the upset here.

Should win:  Mr. Hublot

Will win:  Mr. Hublot

Live Action Short Film:  I really enjoyed all five of the entries in this category.  If you haven’t ever watched the short films, this is a good year to give it a try.  (They can all be viewed in one block on itunes and directv for a small price).  My favorite is “Helium”, a sad, sweet film about a young boy with a terminal illness.   But the frontrunner here is Spain’s “Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn’t Me)”.

Should win:  Helium

Will win:  Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn’t Me)

Sound Editing and Sound Mixing:  I would be shocked if “Gravity” doesn’t carry both of these categories.  Incredibly innovate sound, and a movie where the absence of noise is as important as noise.

Should win both:  Gravity

Will win both:  Gravity

Visual Effects:  While “The Hobbit’s” Smaug was a very impressive creation, this one again belongs to “Gravity”.

Should win:  Gravity

Will win:  Gravity

Writing, adapted screenplay:  My choice in this category is “Philomena”, which is a great expansion and adaptation of the book.  “12 Years a Slave” is the favorite here.

Should win:  Philomena

Will win:  12 Years a Slave

Writing, original screenplay:  Will “American Hustle” get a nod here?  Personally I think Spike Jonze will be recognized for his work on “Her” which is truly original.

Should win:  Her

Will win:  Her

In summation:  Gravity wins the night in total awards, dominating all technical categories.

And I think there is a possibility that “American Hustle”  will go winless.