A Few Oscar Predictions (and Fashion Faux Pas)

February 23, 2011 by  
Filed under Movies, Television

Photo: Bob D'Amico for ABC

Alexandra MacAaron has been covering the movie and television awards season since it kicked off in January, and she’ll be joining us this Sunday evening for the WVFC Live Oscar Blog (start time: 7 p.m.). Here, MacAaron fearlessly sticks her neck out with some canny predictions for the evening’s big winners. You’re welcome to add your predictions to the list, and we’ll tally up the score on Sunday night.

The 83rd Annual Academy Awards are just days away, and I’ve narrowed down my red carpet look to three options: blue jeans (the loose ones with the high waist that embarrass my daughter), yoga pants (beloved but recently bleach stained, unfortunately) or pajamas (silky black and white, only slightly faded).

It’s a good thing I won’t be at the Kodak Theater in real life, because Joan and Melissa Rivers would be appalled.

But, please don’t let my casual dress code fool you. I love watching the Academy Awards. And so, apparently, do a lot of other people. Last year’s telecast pulled an estimated 55.2 million viewers, 41 million of them in the United States. According to Reuters, the Oscars broadcast is typically the second-most watched U.S. television broadcast after the Super Bowl. Despite climate change, the economy, or the situation in the Middle East, we love us some Hollywood glamour.

This year’s Oscars ceremony promises to be interesting. The Academy has selected two young actors, Anne Hathaway and James Franco (right),  as the show’s hosts. They are not comedians or multi-talented musical theater stars. While they are both respected actors (Franco is nominated for an Oscar this year for 127 Hours, and Hathaway was nominated two years ago for Rachel Getting Married), their youth — as well as their endearing, goofy smiles — lend them less gravitas than we might expect from such an important emcee gig.

 It may be that the Academy is hoping to attract a younger audience. Or by choosing a couple of their own, they’ll avoid the unexpected, off-color and often embarrassing outbursts we witnessed from this year’s Golden Globes’ host Ricky Gervais. At any rate, the likability quotient of the Hathaway-Franco team is pretty much through the roof. As long as the writers don’t give them too many musical numbers (do any of you remember Rob Lowe and Snow White?), the evening should be very pleasant.

As always, some excellent work will be recognized. It’s exciting to see the diversity of film genres represented in the top categories, as well as some fine performances by older actresses, such as Annette Bening (52), Melissa Leo (50), Jacki Weaver (63), Helena Bonham Carter (45), and Nicole Kidman (43). Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for some other categories. As I wrote earlier for WVFC, no women directors are in the running — despite “Best Picture” nods for both Winter’s Bone and The Kids Are All Right. 

Academy Award voting can be a subjective and fickle business. In theory, it should be an impartial review of skill and talent by a jury of peers. In reality, it is often colored by Hollywood’s attempts to seem intellectual (comedies, for example, rarely win over more serious subjects regardless of how well they are crafted). Honorees can be awarded for lifetime achievement or a body of work. Or, when a performer is passed over for a deserved prize, she or he may be recognized for a lesser effort (Jessica Lange’s 1983 statuette for Tootsie is almost certainly her consolation prize for the far more impressive work she did in the same year’s Frances).

So with the caveat that predicting the Oscars is an inexact science, and no, I don’t have someone on the inside at PriceWaterhouseCooper, here’s what I expect to see Sunday night.

Best Picture – The King’s Speech
This category has been hotly debated by conventional critics and bloggers alike. Personally, I was underwhelmed by The Social Network.  I would challenge anyone who champions it to think about why. Is it the artistic value of the film? Or the extraordinary true story of the rise of social media and the phenomenon of geek as billionaire rock star? The King’s Speech has swept the season’s other awards shows, typically looked at as predictors of Oscar performance. And according to the Hollywood Reporter, the average age of Academy Award voters is 57. This may make them less likely to vote for newer, cyber-centric subject matter.

Best Director – Tom Hooper for The King’s Speech
The hand of the director is more subtle, less obvious in The King’s Speech than in some of its competitors, such as True Grit or Black Swan. Even The Social Network was more interesting to me when I thought about the choices David Fincher made. However, The King’s Speech seems to be riding an awards-season wave, including the Directors Guild Award for Hooper. It is unusual that Best Director and Best Picture don’t correlate.

Best Actress – Natalie Portman for Black Swan
Portman is the odds-on favorite going into her category. She has won virtually every other award this season. And her performance includes the kind of real-life mythmaking that Hollywood loves. She dramatically altered her appearance; she worked many months and countless hours to transform herself into a believable ballet dancer; she fell in love with her costar and choreographer; and when she accepts her award Sunday night, she’ll do so with a couture-covered baby bump. But I am not a fan of Black Swan (see my WVFC review), and I found Portman’s performance monotonous. If I were an Academy member, my vote would go to Annette Bening for her intelligent and finely textured work in The Kids Are All Right.

Best Actor – Colin Firth for The King’s Speech
Again, we’ve already seen Firth pick up a number of prestigious awards leading to an expected win at the Academy Awards: from BAFTA (Britain’s Oscar equivalent), the Golden Globes, and the Screen Actors Guild. Last year marked Firth’s first Oscar nomination for A Single Man, and if (when?) he wins Sunday night, it will be in part because of that performance as well as his recent moving portrayal of King George VI.

Best Supporting Actress – Melissa Leo for The Fighter … I think.
A few weeks ago, I would have put money on Leo for the Supporting Actress honors. She’s favored by critics and has been recognized at the season’s earlier award shows. However, Hollywood insiders are like a popular clique at school — if you do something they deem “uncool,” it’s hard to recover. Leo funded her own ads urging the Academy to “consider” her. The ads, featuring the actress in glitzy gowns, faux fur, and staged movie star poses, seem forced and self-serving. They may backfire, and the Oscar may go to newcomer Hailee Steinfeld (the young heroine of True Grit) or Helena Bonham Carter (Firth’s gracious queen). Although I’d still give my vote to Leo, I do think Julianne Moore deserved a nomination as Bening’s partner in The Kids Are All Right.

Best Supporting Actor – Christian Bale for The Fighter
Bale was nothing less than astounding as Mark Walhberg’s washed-up, crack-smoking brother in The Fighter. He is favored to win the Oscar and he should win it. Already respected for his abilities, if not his off camera behavior, this performance will put him in an enviable but potentially difficult position going forward. It will be nearly impossible for him to top it.

Animated Feature – Toy Story 3
Okay, I admit it. When Andy’s mother walks into his bedroom, stark and empty so he can leave for college, her animated breath catches. Yours truly burst into tears right there in the Danvers, Massachusetts AMC multiplex. The Toy Story franchise hasn’t missed a beat, and this final installment is very near perfection. It will and should be honored as Best Animated Feature, and I could easily be convinced that it deserves Best Picture this year as well.

I’ll hold off on any other predictions until after the big night. Right now, I have to call Harry Winston back to discuss what color diamonds to wear with my ensemble.

See you on the red carpet. I’ll be the one in pajamas.

2011 Golden Globes: A Red Carpet, a Black Swan and Some Very Colorful Women

January 18, 2011 by  
Filed under Movies, Television

I like the Golden Globes. They kick off the entertainment industry’s awards season with just enough red carpet glamour – but in a much more relaxed, almost intimate setting. (“Look at all those actors sitting together eating their Godiva chocolates! They’re just like us!”) Watching the Golden Globes is less work than watching the Academy Awards. It has fewer categories, fewer presenters, fewer musical numbers, and it doesn’t tend to run over into all hours of the night. 

This year’s Golden Globes celebration began (as all awards shows do, now that we have hundreds of cable channels that need content) with a red carpet pre-show packed with stars in gorgeous dresses. Well, most of them were in gorgeous dresses. There were, as usual, a few misses – some near and some nowhere near enough. Helena Bonham Carter’s ensemble – mismatched shoes (one red, one green), tangled bouffant and eccentric layered asymmetrical gown – looked like one of her husband Tim Burton’s creations. And would someone please tell Mad Men’s January Jones that there’s simply no excuse for a woman so beautiful and talented to continue to appear on Hollywood events’ “worst dressed” lists.  Strips of red tape do not a dress make.

Aside from the entertaining “Glamour Don’ts,” the show did have plenty of gorgeous women in sumptuous designer gowns. And this year, thanks mostly to the entire cast of Glee, there were actresses in virtually every shape and size and color represented. There were also several older actresses – well, older by Hollywood standards – not only represented but recognized.

Annette Bening received Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical for The Kids Are All Right. In a slim, long-sleeved lace Tom Ford gown and funky glasses, she not only looked great, she looked smart. Bening, 52, expressed her appreciation for the opportunity to be in a movie about a lesbian family and thanked her onscreen partner, another striking and talented over-50 actress, Julianne Moore (right).
Melissa Leo (left), who at 50 isn’t old enough to be the mother of Mark Wahlberg or Christian Bale, even by MTV’s 16 and Pregnant standards, won Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture for The FighterKatey Sagal (right), 57, was recognized for her work  as Best Actress in a Television Show Drama for Sons of Anarchy.

And as many expected, Jane Lynch (above), another 50-something, won Best Supporting Actress for her role as Glee’s outrageously inappropriate Sue Sylvester. Laura Linney (below right), a mere 46, won Best Actress in a Television Series – Comedy for Showtime’s The Big C. (Linney missed this year’s ceremony; her father, playwright Romulus Linney, passed away on Saturday.) Linney’s absence notwithstanding, these women shone on awards night, and their acceptance speeches were as colorful as their gowns.

How exciting to see so many mature women honored, especially in an industry where younger, cuter and curvier usually equates to better box office. In fact, there were only two young actress winners: Claire Danes for Temple Grandin and Natalie Portman for Black Swan.

If only the progress demonstrated by the wins for older actresses had extended into other categories. Because the Golden Globes are given by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, one might assume that the selection process is less political. In theory, at least, critics are not on the major studios’ payroll. In fact, entertainment journalists seem to take pride in discovering and promoting smart, independent, otherwise unrecognized works. So it was disappointing to see so many big-budget movies lauded and so many smaller films passed over. And as always, there was a distinct scarcity of women in the categories of Best Screenplay and Best Motion Picture. And no women at all nominated at the top of the food chain: Best Director.

Here are a couple of colorful women that the HFPA missed:

Lisa Cholodenko for The Kids Are All Right. No, the Golden Globes certainly didn’t ignore this movie. After all, both its stars were nominated for Best Actress, and Annette Bening won. It was also nominated for Best Screenplay. And it walked away with one of the evening’s biggest trophies, Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical. But here’s where I’m confused. If it was nominated for Best Screenplay (co-authored by Cholodenko), and nominated for – and won – Best Motion Picture, why didn’t Cholodenko make the short list for Best Director?

Debra Granik for Winter’s Bone. Astounding young star Jennifer Lawrence (remember her name) was nominated for Best Actress. But this remarkable movie should have been in several other categories as well – Director, Screenplay, and Best Motion Picture, for sure. Writer-director Granik achieved a near miracle with a negligible budget, and given how many critics’ “Top 10” lists her film appeared on, it’s a surprise and a shame that she wasn’t in the running for a Golden Globe.

I like to repeat the assertion, “Progress, not perfection.” The 2011 Golden Globes, by honoring so many mid-life, mid-career actresses, is an example of great progress.  Maybe next year, we will see more women behind the camera recognized as well.

And we still have those Oscar nominations coming up. Stay tuned.

The Wednesday Five: Advice for Cathie Black, Writers Celebrating, and Why the Kids are All Right

November 17, 2010 by  
Filed under World

(Image of five browsers from Lifehacker.com.)

This week’s blog sampler includes Supreme Court cases to watch, Francine Prose on Anne Frank, advice for Hearst’s Cathie Black as she prepares to run the NYC school system, and a happy birthday to Ursula Le Guin from geek feminists, including why the doyenne of science fiction hates the Sci-Fi  (make that SyFy) Channel.

  • We noticed only last week  that we’d missed the 81st birthday of writer Ursula K. LeGuin, thanks to Geek Feminism, which reprinted a tribute to LeGuin from Mary at Hoyden About Town. Among Mary’s reasons for venerating the much-awarded author of The Left Hand of Darkness and many other works: LeGuin’s assertion that her genre should be inherently feminist, since “feminism is the idea that differences between the genders, beyond the strictly physiological, are an interesting subject of study, but have not been determined, and so are not a sound basis for society to use in prescribing or proscribing any proclivity or activity.” Thus, Le Guin’s gender-bending books. Mary also offers links to LeGuin’s commentary over the years, including an astringent look at the Sci-Fi (now SyFy) Channel.
  • The National Women’s Law Center’s blog updates us on two Supreme Court cases they’ve had their eye on: Flores-Villar v. United States, a gender-discrimination case involving citizenship rights, and ATT Mobility vs. Concepcion,   which will decide whether arbitration contracts can prohibit class actions. In the latter case,  the center’s friend-of-the-court brief emphasized that class actions can be essential for  women who experience violations of wage and hour laws and anti-discrimination laws. “For many workers, individual lawsuits aren’t an effective means to enforce their rights. Litigation costs often dramatically exceed individual damages (for example, when an employer violates wage and hour laws, the per-person damages—especially for low-wage workers—may be very small), workers who act alone may fear retaliation, and workers may not even know their rights have been violated.”
  • The appointment of Hearst Magazines CEO Catherine Black as chancellor of New York City’s public school has created quite the furor across the blogosphere. Here are two very different takes on the appointment: At GothamSchools, Anna Phillips gathers experts to compile a recommended reading list for Black, perhaps necessary given that Black has no experience with public education as either a parent or student. A mirror-image take comes from Camilla Webster’s Forbes blog, At Work in Progress, which envisions a restructuring along the lines of Black’s corporate memoir Basic Black. “If you’re a curious teacher, parent or community member who is wondering what to expect,  Black goes over how to dissolve a department, restructure a workspace,  manage the firing process and handle your own career in this Forbes video. Watch out NYC Schools, you’re about to get Black listed!”
  • And She Writes, the writers’ social network and blog platform, offers an interview by co-founder Kamy Wicoff with the acclaimed Francine Prose, whose biography of Anne Frank comes out in paperback this month. And in case you think that sounds like a downer, click below as Prose talks about finding our voices as women and how the Diary is also one of the first frank-about-my-sex-life memoirs.

Summer Movies: Women on Top (VIDEO)

June 14, 2010 by  
Filed under Movies

As it turns out, Kathryn Bigelow was just the tip of the iceberg. This summer, the rest of the berg—or a sizable chunk of it—rolls onto movie screens at multiplexes and indie art-houses across the country.

Women directors are coming into their own. It’s a phenomenon worth celebrating—and supporting with our moviegoing dollars.

Which shouldn’t be hard to do, given the breadth and variety of the women-helmed productions on view and opening soon. Here’s a quick roundup of films to watch for, enjoy on the big screen, and add to the Netflix queue.

From Sperm Donors to Kids’ Flicks

By now, you may have caught some of the critical acclaim that’s been coalescing around Debra Granik’s film, Winter’s Bone, which opened this past week. A hit at this year’s Sundance Festival, Granik’s gritty, unflinching film tells the tale of a teenage girl in the Ozarks, whom the New York Times compared to “a modern-day Antigone.” And you might have already seen Catherine Keener’s knockout performance in Nicole Holofcener’s Please Give, which opened a few weeks ago.

Now, mark your calendar for Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids Are All Right (opens July 7). With a cast headed by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore as a lesbian couple coping with a wild-card sperm donor, Cholodenko’s film promises family drama of a highly sophisticated order.

Veering off in another intriguing direction, The Extra Man, co-directed by Shari Springer Berman, introduces an impressionable young writer to the world of the “walker,” squiring wealthy Manhattan women through their social calendars (opens July 30). Patricia Clarkson heads the cast of Egyptian director Ruba Nadda’s Cairo Time, a story of growing attraction between two people thrown together by a political emergency (opens August 6). On the indie front, Kate Aselton directs and co-stars in The Freebie, as half of a married couple who give themselves a night off from their relationship, with unexpected results (opens August 27).

Leave it to a woman director, Elizabeth Allen, to bring to the screen one of the scrappiest heroines ever to grace a children’s book series with Ramona and Beezus (opens July 23). The following month, Susanna White guides Emma Thompson and Maggie Gyllenhaal through the second installment of another popular children’s fantasy, Nanny McPhee Returns (opens August 20).

Documentary Focus

As you might imagine, it’s not the filmmaking that grabs the spotlight in Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg’s Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, which opened last week—it’s la Rivers herself, in all her outrageous, howling glory. On a more sober note, Madeleine Sackler’s The Lottery, which also opened last week, follows the fortunes of four Harlem families as they vie for slots for their children in the local charter school.  Lucy Walker’s Countdown to Zero tackles the threat of nuclear destruction in today’s rapidly shifting geopolitical realities (opens July 9), while Jessica Oreck’s Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo—made in 2009 but only now in general distribution—takes a whimsical look at the Japanese obsession with insect life.

Biography and profiles are naturals for documentary film, and Angela Ismailos takes an approach that should delight movie buffs, interviewing ten Great Directors—including French filmmakers Agnès Varda and Catherine Breillat (opening July 2). Tamra Davis also pulls in many famous faces for Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child, her portrait of the mercurial contemporary artist who died in 1988 at age 27. (opens July 21).

Pass the Popcorn

And then there are the women we love to see on screen, no matter who’s behind the camera. Top of the list is Julia Roberts, whose Eat, Pray, Love opens August 13. But there’s plenty to keep us in our seats until then, including the highly praised, intensely erotic Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky, which recently opened in New York, and Tilda Swinton in the equally steamy I Am Love, which opens next week (June 18). At the end of this month, look for Helen Mirren playing opposite Joe Pesci as the married co-owners of one of the first legal bordellos in Nevada in Love Ranch (opens June 30).

Is this summer’s bounty a glimpse of film calendars to come? Has the tide truly turned? We can only hope so. Meanwhile, we’ll enjoy, and support, this year’s stellar crop of women behind the camera and on screen.