Trailer-Based Predictions for the 87th Oscars

oscarOscar time is upon us again, and once again my students and I have entered into the battlefield of Oscar predictions! And, once again, I’ve failed to see really any of the nominees, so I have to base my predictions on seeing the trailers.

I’m a little short on time this year with the Oscars starting in just a few hours, so I’ll have to forego some of my usual flair because I promised my students I’d post before the Oscars began.

UPDATE: Grand total this year – 17 out of 24. Not my best, but not my worst either. And in several of the categories I didn’t call, I had the winner as my close second. Now to tally the student selections and see if I can maintain my prediction crown! (And I did!)

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BEST PICTURE

Who Will Probably Win: Boyhood
Actual Winner: Birdman

I’ve been back and forth on this category more times than I can count. On the one hand, Birdman has a lot of buzz. At the same time, Boyhood was shot over a period of twelve years, which is just darn impressive. I’ve decided to settle on Boyhood, but won’t be surprised if Birdman ekes out the win.

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BEST DIRECTOR
Who Will Probably Win: Alejandro G. Inarritu – Birdman
Actual Winner: Alejandro G. Inarritu – Birdman

Traditionally it’s common to see Best Picture and Best Director go hand-in-hand, but not always. This go ’round, I’m going to vote for Inarritu with the Academy still wanting to acknowledge Birdman’s overall successfulness. At the same time, Linklater did come up with and follow through on a project which took place over twelve years… which deserves some recognition. Inarritu also won the DGA, which has traditionally predicted the Oscar winner. I used that to help me flip the coin, but again, I would only be surprised if someone other than these two won.

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BEST ACTOR
Who Will Probably Win: Eddie Redmayne – The Theory of Everything
Actual Winner: Eddie Redmayne – The Theory of Everything
Keaton has some momentum going. He has the old-hand recognized name quality about him in contrast to Redmayne’s relative newcomer status. But I just don’t know how you argue with such a faithful representation of Stephen Hawking, and in a battle of offbeat comedy and an emotional biopic, I predict the Academy will favor the more dramatic choice.
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BEST ACTRESS
Who Will Probably Win: Julianne Moore – Still Alice
Actual Winner: Julianne Moore – Still Alice

Probably one of the best lock votes this year. She’s won almost every major award, and with the subject matter being about a serious dramatic subject like early onset Alzheimer’s you really can’t go wrong.

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 BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Who Will Probably Win: J.K. Simmons – Whiplash
Actual Winner: J.K. Simmons – Whiplash

Again, pretty solid lock on this one. J.K. is beloved, has won the other major awards this season, and with such an intense performance you gotta give it to him. Plus, the man IS the living incarnation of J. Jonah Jameson, so I feel like he should get some love for that.

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 BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Who Will Probably Win: Patricia Arquette – Boyhood
Actual Winner: Patricia Arquette – Boyhood

She committed to the same role for 12 years. That’s follow-through. Plus, with so many of Boyhood’s categories being in contention, the Academy will definitely want to throw some love its way. Plus, she won the Golden Globe, so that’s always a good sign.

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 BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

Who Will Probably Win: How to Train Your Dragon 2
Actual Winner: Big Hero 6

As with everyone else on the planet, I’m astounded that The LEGO Movie wasn’t recognized in this category. If it had been, I would have called it a lock. With it out of contention, the field is a lot harder to call. Big Hero 6 has some serious potential, and the Oscars traditionally don’t like sequels. So, it’s with some reluctance that I choose How to Train Your Dragon 2, but it did have some good emotion to it, and was probably one of the more successful films of the year. So, we’ll roll the dice.

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 BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Who Will Probably Win: Birdman
Actual Winner: Birdman

If Best Picture goes the way I think it will, this will be the Academy’s consolation prize to go along with Best Director. (Not that Birdman isn’t deserving in its own right because obviously all the nominees are.)

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 BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN & BEST COSTUME DESIGN & MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

Who Will Probably Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Actual Winner: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson is anything but boring in the look and feel of his films. Whether you like the quirky offbeat stylings of his characters and stories or not, you can’t deny that the films are visually stunning. As such, I’m throwing pretty much everything in this sphere toward The Grand Budapest Hotel. Not to mention, I didn’t even recognize Tilda Swinton in the trailer, so there’s that.

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 BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Who Will Probably Win: Interstellar
Actual Winner: Interstellar
 The Superhero films pretty much cancel each other out, and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a sequel, so that leaves Interstellar. It’s visually stunning, and is a way to acknowledge Nolan’s work.

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 BEST SOUND MIXING & EDITING

Who Will Probably Win: American Sniper
Actual Winner: Editing – American Sniper, Mixing – Whiplash

War films tend to get sound awards. And it’s pretty common for them to both go the same direction. With American Sniper losing out in so many other categories, I expect these to help soothe the pain. That being said, I could see Whiplash grabbing the mixing category for the heavy use of music on top of everything else.

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 BEST SHORT FILM (ANIMATED)

Who Will Probably Win: Feast
Actual Winner: Feast

I got burned last year predicting the Disney short when the Academy went with the smaller, artsier entry. But this year, I’m voting for the cute puppy. Plus, it’s very reminiscent of the Paper Man animation style, which could work for or against it. Favor could go against the house of mouse, so if I lose a point here, I won’t be too terribly surprised.

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 BEST ORIGINAL SONG

Who Will Probably Win: “Glory” from Selma
Actual Winner: “Glory” from Selma

Although “Everything is Awesome” is beloved by my daughter (she only knows the first two lines, so she repeats that over and over and over), I feel like this one is going to throw some love toward Selma, which received a lot of snubs in other categories. This would be a small consolation for everything else.

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 BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

Who Will Probably Win: The Theory of Everything
Actual Winner: The Grand Budapest Hotel

By far my personal favorite of the nominees. Alexandre Desplat has been nominated 6 times before and never won, so his two nominations this year make him a strong contender to earn him a win. That being said, I think the two scores might split the “give him his due” vote, and with The Theory of Everything having such a strong emotional core, which is impacted by the soundtrack, I’m throwing my hat in with them.

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CATEGORIES I DON’T HAVE A STRONG OPINION ON:

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BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY – Birdman
Actual Winner: Birdman

Again, the Academy will want to show Birdman some love.

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BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY – The Imitation Game
Actual Winner: The Imitation Game

Has won some other awards leading up to the Oscar, so there potential. Whiplash could also walk away with this one.

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BEST FOREIGN FILM – Ida
Actual Winner: Ida

The only nominee to also be nominated in another category – cinematography. Therefore, I vote for Ida.

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BEST DOCUMENTARY – CitizenFour
Actual Winner: CitizenFour

Lots of buzz around this one. Decided to go with the popular vote.

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BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT – Joanna
Actual Winner: Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1

A move about a mother’s final days as she dies of cancer… yeah, that one hits the heart strings, should rally up a winning vote.

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BEST SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION) – Parvaneh
Actual Winner: The Phone Call

Absolutely no clue, shot in the dark, although Aya had the most interesting trailer in terms of making me want to actually watch the film

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BEST FILM EDITING – Boyhood
Actual Winner: Whiplash

They edited TWELVE YEARS worth of footage. I realize it was simply shot over the course of that time, but that’s some serious scope to edit into a single film. Gotta go with that.

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That’s it. Last year was my best ever with 22 out of 24 correct. Don’t feel as confident this year, but who knows, the Academy is a fickle thing to predict!

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About Time

About-Time-poster-303x450When I first heard about the film About Time, it’s biggest selling point was that it was by the writer of Notting Hill and Love Actually – both of which I love, the latter is pretty much a staple come Christmastime. The trailer painted it as a quirky romance with a time travel element. Some people became confused because it stars Rachel McAdams, who also stars in the Time Traveler’s Wife, another romance involving time travel. It also throws back a little to The Notebook – lovey doveyness in the pouring rain, anyone?

So when I came across a used copy of the film for $5, I figured, what the heck. Worst case it would be a palatable romance and good for a little throw-away entertainment. (After all, that’s cheaper than two matinee tickets for my wife and I at a theatre.) However, Richard Curtis (the writer), delivers again, with a film which has serious heart, lovable characters, and an emotional climax that left both my wife and I in tears.

About Time

Sappy? Sure. But this scene with the Underground (or as we Americans call it – the subway) musicians is a beautiful piece of editing to show the passage of time.

In brief, the premise is that on his 21st birthday, Tim (Domhnall Gleeson – soon to be seen in Star Wars Episode VII), is told by his father (the brilliant Bill Nighy) that the men in their family can travel back in time to points in their own lives. Never forward, simply back in order to change or redo events in their lives. Tim decides he will use his gift to find true love. (This is that romance element that had me cringing for a predictable and relatively uneventful conclusion.) Of course, he does the amusingly expected revisits – avoiding awkward social faux pas, using information he learned to later sweet talk his way into a lady’s good graces (ala Groundhog Day), and, of course, better performance in the bedroom. But in trying to write a perfect love story, he realizes that love is anything but perfect, and when you try to change too much, there are consequences.

about-time3

They were a shoe in for the international father/son imaginary weight lifting finals.

I won’t go into all the storyline elements, as I don’t want to spoil the film. However, I will say, that this film does an excellent job of utilizing a time travel element, without getting too mired in all the logistics and temporal shenanigans. To travel in time, they simply stand in a dark place, clench their fists, close their eyes, and they’re back in time – which is punctuated by a simple sound effect for continuity purposes. No fancy contraptions, no special effects, it just happens. They replace their former self, so no risk of Back to the Future-style self run-ins destroying the space/time continuum, and when they’re finished, dark place/fists/eyes and back to the present with the changes in place. They bring up the “Butterfly Effect” briefly, and Bill Nighy quickly sweeps it under the rug with basically a “well, we haven’t destroyed the world yet.” Are there times you find yourself briefly saying “Yeah, but that would change so many other things!”? Sure. But it’s forgivable because you really want it to work out for the characters. Not to say there aren’t some less-than-happy outcomes to some of their decisions.

This film really did catch me off guard. I went in expecting to find at least some entertainment value, and walked away with a strong emotional response. Great performances all around, humor, romance, a little sci-fi fantasy, and a life-affirming message we can all learn from. If you want to share a quality viewing experience with someone, be sure to check out About Time.

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Trailer-Based Predictions for the 86th Oscars

It’s Oscar time once again, and what would that time be without a little speculation on who will take home the coveted little gold guys?

It seems like I say this every year, but once again, I’ve seen so few of the candidates, that I would be woefully ill-equipped to make a decision based on seeing the films in their entirety. So with that in mind, I take hold of the only format that affords me enough time to make an even minutely-informed opinion – the trailers. Below you will see my predictions for who will win, as well as my personal preferences of who should win. Let’s speculate together, shall we?

UPDATE: The actual winners have been added. Still haven’t gotten the 100% correct, but not bad this year! 22 out of 24 is my best score to date! Haven’t graded all the student predictions, but odds are, I held my title for another year. Until next year, everyone!

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12years

BEST PICTURE
Who Will Probably Win: 12 Years a Slave
Actual Winner: 12 Years a Slave

This is going to be a close category this year, with several strong contenders to take the trophy. But, in trying to weigh in the politics and historical tendencies of the Academy, it seems like 12 Years a Slave will hang onto the win. It’s already a close race, but the Academy tends to lean toward films it feels have significance, specifically if they’re connected to a weighty issue – and this film fits the bill. Not to mention the Academy does not favor Science Fiction films for Best Picture. (Still bitter at Annie Hall over Star Wars.) Don’t get me wrong, 12 Years a Slave is deserving on all levels, but in a close race, you have to look for the potential distinguishers. That said, I won’t be  surprised if Gravity pulls out the win.

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cuaron

Cuaron previously won the “Best Harry Potter Director” award at the nonexistent Fanboy Awards.

BEST DIRECTOR
Who Will Probably Win: Alfonso Cuaron – Gravity
Actual Winner: Alfonso Cuaron

It’s rare to see a Best Picture / Best Director split, but this year looks to be one of those years. (Unless Gravity pulls the rug out from under 12 Years a Slave.) I give a shout out to my hometown director, Alexander Payne, but even he has to acknowledge that this just isn’t his year. Cuaron has some seriously quality films under his belt, including Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Y Tu Mamâ Tambiên, and Children of Eden. But in this case, it comes down to the fact that Cuaron’s latest film just left people sitting in the theatre in awe saying “how the heck did they do that?” (Even at the shots in the trailer.) Way back when I first heard he was making a picture called Gravity with very few details being released, people were eagerly awaiting the end product. It looks like Cuaron should now eagerly be awaiting hearing his name called on Oscar night.

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The costumer deserves an Oscar just for managing to keep a shirt on McConaughey for the majority of the film.

The costumer deserves an Oscar just for managing to keep a shirt on McConaughey for the majority of the film.

BEST ACTOR
Who Will Probably Win: Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyer’s Club
Actual Winner: Matthew McConaughey

Alright, alright, alright. The man has already swept up most of the performance awards this season, and it doesn’t look like the Academy Awards will be any different. He followed the stock formula – notable physical transformation, edgy subject matter, and departure from your usual performance. Bale also pulled the physical transformation card, but he won his Oscar a few years back. I really enjoy Chiwetel Ejiofor’s work, but I don’t think it’s enough to take the trophy. Hopefully McConaughey has another loopy speech planned for us this time around.

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blanchett

Look to see this face if Adams pulls the upset.

BEST ACTRESS
Who Will Probably Win: Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine
Who I Want to Win: Amy Adams
Actual Winner: Cate Blanchett

Here’s the category I most want to be wrong about.  No offense to Cate Blanchett, I’m sure she gave an inspired performance in Woody Allen’s latest “my life’s a hot mess” movie, but Amy Adams is due.  The woman has been in more Oscar-nominated films and roles in the past few years than anyone else I can think of, but still doesn’t have an Oscar of her own.  Blanchett has one. In fact, so does every other nominee in this category.  So although the trends seem to be pointing toward Blanchett…. I really want to be wrong here and see Adams tearfully overwhelmed that finally after years of being the bridesmaid, she gets to be Oscar’s bride.

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Biggest debate over this in my film class - "Let-Oh" or "Lee-Toe"?

Biggest debate over this in my film class – “Let-Oh” or “Lee-Toe”?

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Who Will Probably Win: Jared Leto – Dallas Buyer’s Club
Actual Winner: Jared Leto

Talk about a role that gets the attention of the voting community.  When people have to second guess who it is that’s actually playing a role, you know you’ve got a winner. Leto said something in an interview to the effect that he knew he had to play this role, like it was calling to him.  My guess is it was simply repeating the word “Oscar” over and over.

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Lupita will win a double-Oscar in my book if she hauls June Squibb up onto the stage with her and gives her a hug.

Lupita will win a double-Oscar in my book if she hauls June Squibb up onto the stage with her and gives her a hug.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Who Will Probably Win: Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years a Slave
Actual Winner: Lupita Nyong’o

Okay, this is another close category, with a lot of debate going between Nyong’o and Jennifer Lawrence.  They’ve relatively split the acting awards this season, but I want to believe that with J-La having won her award just last year, the Academy will be looking to spread their favor to more people. The sentimentalist in me would like to see June Squibb win simply to see a sweet little old lady being thankful to win an award in her 80s, but as lovable as Squibb’s performance was, Nyong’o’s had the intensity of an Oscar winner.

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Insert numerous puns about freezing out the competition or how it melted the hearts of its audience... etc. etc. etc.

Insert numerous puns about freezing out the competition or how it melted the hearts of its audience… etc. etc. etc.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
Who Will Probably Win: Frozen
Actual Winner: Frozen

Yep. Not much to say about why. Despicable Me 2 was great, better even than the first, Ernest & Celestine has a really unique animation style, and has had some buzz worthiness, The Wind Rises was banking on the “Miyazaki’s final film” aspect carrying it to the finish line, and The Croods was…. well, it was. But Disney unleashed the full fury of its musical-making, animation powerhouse, and without a serious Pixar film (i.e. not a sequel) to compete against, it stands to take home another well-earned statue.

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Soundtrack to this picture: "Free Falling" by Tom Petty (Admit it, you're singing it in your head and it's perfect.)

Soundtrack to this picture: “Free Falling” by Tom Petty (Admit it, you’re singing it in your head and it’s perfect.)

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY & VISUAL EFFECTS
Who Will Probably Win: Gravity
Actual Winner: Gravity

Looking to ease the pain of not winning Best Picture, Gravity is going to sweep up in a lot of other areas.  Not that it isn’t completely deserving in this regard. Those sweeping vistas of space, the use of contrast in the emptiness of space with a single astronaut drifting about, it’s a very deserving category to win in.  In terms of the other nominees, The Grandmaster brings back that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon meets The Matrix visual style that’s been done so many times before, Inside Llewyn Davis looks to fit in nicely with the Coen’s other films at being visually elegant, but not wow-worthy, Nebraska is unconventionally shot in black and white, but The Artist already did that for a more content-relevant reason, and Prisoners…. well, not having seen it I can only assume it does things no one has even thought of doing because otherwise it kind of showed up out of the blue in this category. Gravity should, and will float away with this category. And for Visual Effects – ditto. The others have been done before (in fact, most are sequels), this is spectacle based in realism, that leaves the audience questioning what’s real and what isn’t. And that’s the equation for Oscar gold.

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*hushed whisper* Leo!

*hushed whisper* Leo!

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN & BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Who Will Probably Win: The Great Gatsby
Actual Winner: The Great Gatsby

What can I say, I love the work that Baz Luhrmann and company do. It’s such a vibrant, hyper-realism look and feel to everything that no matter what the content, you can’t help but just soak in the ambiance.  I even found myself forgetting the film was based on a book because it all just seemed so outlandishly bold that it had to be original. Normally the way to pick the winner in Costume Design is to choose the period piece. The problem this go round is that they’re ALL period pieces. So in that case, the tie-breaker goes to the one with the boldest period, and a Baz Luhrmann 20s beats an authentic 70s any day.

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This is the cover artwork for McConaughey's first country album: "My Baby Even Took My Shirt, But I'm Alright, Alright, Alright"

This is the cover artwork for McConaughey’s first country album: “My Baby Even Took My Shirt, But I’m Alright, Alright, Alright”

BEST MAKEUP
Who Will Probably Win: Dallas Buyer’s Club
Actual Winner: Dallas Buyer’s Club
This category threw me last year, so I’m trying to learn from that trend.  Last year I figured an army of dwarves with prosthetics and wigs galore would topple the simplistic realism of Les Miserables, but I was oh so wrong. So this year, I opted to steer clear of the heavy latex applications of Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, and the blockbuster eye candy of The Lone Ranger, and stick with the more reality-based Dallas Buyer’s  Club. Not to mention, I’m going to guess a good portion of the Academy will side with me on having a sick feeling in their stomach for even thinking about voting for a Jackass movie to win an Oscar.  I still think in about 10 more years, when the television broadcast signal for Jackass reaches the nearest star system (thank-you, Contact), that’s going to be the cue for alien invaders to deem us conquer-worthy and wipe us off the face of the planet. On that day we’ll hopefully at least have the comfort of knowing we didn’t give those guys an Oscar for hitting society as a whole in the junk. Mark my words!

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This movie has got to be bad for NASA's recruitment efforts.

This movie has got to be bad for NASA’s recruitment efforts.

BEST SOUND MIXING & EDITING
Who Will Probably Win: Gravity
Actual Winner: Gravity

In space, no one can hear…. well anything, really. It’s a vacuum. But if Joss Whedon’s backing down from the choice of “silence in space” on his show Firefly when making the movie Serenity taught us anything, it’s that audiences don’t want authentic, they want immersive. Therefore the team on Gravity was faced with the task of creating it all, and in many cases, using sound to ground an otherwise intentionally-adrift bit of storytelling.

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I'm sure Muybridge didn't take into account a horse pausing to wave during the course of its stride. (A little film-nerd humor for my students.)

I’m not sure Muybridge took into account a horse pausing to wave during the course of its stride. (A little film-nerd humor for my students.)

BEST SHORT FILM (ANIMATED)
Who Will Probably Win: Get a Horse!
Actual Winner: Mr. Hublot

Disney looks to take back-to-back Oscars for the Short Film (Animated) category following Paperman‘s win last year. Get a Horse! is a throwback to Mickey Mouse cartoons of yore, and apparently fully embraces the benefits of 3D movie-watching. Add to that the fact that it was placed in front of the obvious front-runner for best feature-length animated film, and you’ve got a recipe for a lot people knowing the film.  Based on the trailers, Feral had a more interesting animation style, and Mr. Hublot had a very cool 3D-animated look to it, but I’m not sure they can take down the popularity of the Mouse House on this one.

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I was planning to record my own cover of this song to embed here, but I decided to be the only person on the planet who didn't.

I was planning to record my own cover of this song to embed here, but I decided to be the only person on the planet who didn’t.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
Who Will Probably Win: “Let it Go” – Frozen
Actual Winner: “Let it Go”

Frankly I’ve been humming Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” for weeks now, and his site 24hoursofhappy.com is an awesome experiment in making the world’s’ first 24-hour music video.  But we all know how this is going to play out, so don’t act surprised.

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They should have just called this movie Castaway in in Space.

They should have just called this movie Castaway in in Space and had Bullock befriend a basketball named Spalding.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Who Will Probably Win: Steven Price – Gravity
Actual Winner: Steven Price – Gravity

I love movie scores.  A good score can carry a film way further emotionally than so many of the other elements. If you ever get a chance to watch a scene from a movie without the music behind it, you’ll see what I’m talking about. Now, I love John Williams, but it seems like the man is just automatically guaranteed a nomination, with little chance of securing the win. Desplat won last year with The Artist, so it’s too soon for him, Butler & Palett’s music for Her fit perfectly with the quirky nature of the film, but probably won’t garner enough support, and as much as I also love Newman’s work, I would be amazed to see him take it for Saving Mr. Banks. Steven Price is an Oscar newcomer, but his music editing history is pretty notable. He worked on editing music for films such as Batman Begins, The Lord of the Rings movies, and a personal favorite, Scott Pilgrim vs the World. Although I find the score a little repetitive to listen to on its own, it sets the mood perfectly for the film, and should bring Price a little Oscar love.

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CATEGORIES I DON’T HAVE A STRONG OPINION ON:

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BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY – Her
Actual Winner: Her

Spike Jonze is a great storyteller – make no bones about it. Whatever else the film is, whatever other categories it falls short on, this one might be where it ekes out a win.

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BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY – 12 Years a Slave
Actual Winner: 12 Years a Slave

It’s rare for a film to take Best Picture and not win in any other categories. I’m going to throw this one in their camp to help prop up a potential Best Picture win.

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BEST FOREIGN FILM – The Great Beauty
Actual Winner: The Great Beauty

Shot in the dark here. Had some of the better looking camera work in the trailer, and that super-artsy feel that gives a certain allure to foreign films.

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BEST DOCUMENTARY – 20 Feet from Stardom
Actual Winner: 20 Feet from Stardom

Frankly the only upbeat nominee in the bunch. I’m voting for it simply because it’s the only one that doesn’t make me hate the crappy state of the world. Could go to The Act of Killing, but, again, that one is depressing.

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BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT – The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life
Actual Winner: The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life

Take one super-old lady, add an overtly-charming sense of optimism, mix in a little piano-playing, add the fact that she’s a Holocaust survivor, and multiply the fact that she recently passed away, and you can just lock my personal vote in for the win.  I could be wrong, but at this point, if there’s any justice in the universe, I won’t be.

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BEST SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION) – Helium
Actual Winner: Helium

It’s a film about a sick kid in the hospital. Add some cool visual effects to the heartwarmingness, and I’m willing to say it might beat out the competition.

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BEST FILM EDITING – Captain Phillips
Actual Winner: Gravity

I really don’t have any idea on this one. All are valid options. But this might be one category that the Academy gives some love to a film not nominated anywhere else, and I still have a soft spot in my heart for Tom Hanks who was sadly not nominated.

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And that, as they say, is that! Let’s see how we do. Last two years I scored 19 out of 24 categories correct. Can I beat my previous scores? Can I beat my students’ scores? We’ll find out tonight!

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Trailer-Based Predictions for the 85th Oscars

oscarGet ready for some Oscar love!

The internet is positively brimming with predictions and opinions on who will/should win the coveted Oscar statuettes, so why should we at Walking Taco be any different? Although I’ve seen more of this year’s contenders than last year, I am still woefully behind. However, to keep the trend rolling, I shall once again attempt to predict this year’s winners based on their trailers. (A * denotes my vote for the competition with my film students.)

Want to go head to head with me? Copy and paste the ballot at the end into the comments to throw down with your own predictions!

UPDATE: I have added the Actual Winners as they are announced, and if different than my predictions, my response. Final tally – 19 out of 24, same as last year! Now to get to actually seeing all these films beyond what their trailers have to offer! Also, congratulations to Kaylee in 2nd Hour and Sam in 3rd Hour for scoring the highest number correct in the student competitions.

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Affleck checked and rechecked the nominees list to make sure there wasn't some sort of mistake that he wasn't nominated for Best Director.

Affleck checked and rechecked the nominees list to make sure there wasn’t some sort of mistake that he wasn’t nominated for Best Director. At the very least, his beard should have gotten an acting nom.

BEST PICTURE
Who Will Probably Win: Argo *
Actual Winner: Argo

It would take a veritable act of God to stop the wheels of award glory that Argo is riding on.  It’s won pretty much every best picture award from WGA to DGA to SAG to WTF. (That last one isn’t real, BTW.) Odds are the Academy, which is made up of many of the same members as these other organizations, will follow suit.

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Who knew a movie about math would be so popular? I figured people would stop watching after 3.14159.

Who knew a movie about math would be so popular? I figured people would stop watching after 3.14159.

BEST DIRECTOR
Who Will Probably Win: Ang Lee – Life of Pi *
Who I Think Should Win: Ben Affleck – Argo
Actual Winner: Ang Lee – Life of Pi

Traditionally it’s rare for the Best Picture and Best Director awards to not go hand in hand. This year, that isn’t even an option for Affleck with Argo. Some are calling it a “snub”, I’m calling it a simple issue of math – with 9 nominees for Best Picture (all deserving in some regard) and only 5 nominees in Best Director, someone had to be left off the list. However, after seeing the veritable torrent of trophies raining down on Affleck this year, this looks to be a situation where the Academy has egg on its face for not even nominating him. So with Affleck out of the picture, it’s kind of anyone’s game. I really think this comes down to Spielberg for Lincoln and Lee for Life of Pi. As much as I love Sir Stevie, I’m going to predict Lee will take the prize, and be equally pleased if Spielberg takes home a third win.

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I had the strangest dream that suddenly my money started speaking to me. Then I realized it wasn't a dream, it was an Oscar-worthy performance.

I had the strangest dream that suddenly my money started speaking to me. Then I realized it wasn’t a dream, it was an Oscar-worthy performance.

BEST ACTOR
Who Will Probably Win: Daniel Day-Lewis – Lincoln *
Actual Winner: Daniel Day-Lewis

Really, watching this movie was like seeing a $5 bill come to life. (Oddly the film did not receive a nod for makeup and hair, despite so many of the actors being made up to resemble their real-life counterparts.) It’s nice to see Bradley Cooper recognized for something outside of the Hangover series, and great to acknowledge Hugh Jackman’s talented singing performance, but Denzel already has two Oscars, and Joaquin Phoenix alienated so much of the community with his “I’m retired to pursue my music career – psych! It was all part of a crazy mockumentary art film that none of you saw!” act that I can’t imagine he’ll be re-emerging as an award winner any time soon.

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J-La is confident in her win, while Cooper seems to be in disbelief over his inevitable loss.

J-La is confident in her win, while Cooper seems to be in disbelief over his inevitable loss.

BEST ACTRESS
Who Will Probably Win: Jennifer Lawrence – Silver Linings Playbook *
Actual Winner: Jennifer Lawrence

Chastain is definitely deserving, Amour seems too obscure for the 86 year old Riva, and Watts’ chances of winning for The Impossible seem to be just that. Although it’s cute to see Quvenzhané Wallis nominated, and she did give a lovely performance for an 8 year old, Keisha Castle-Hughes couldn’t do it for Whale Rider, and neither will she. Lawrence seems to be all the buzz, and she came close but missed with Winter’s Bone, so this might be the year the Academy seeks to make that up to her. I’m going to go with the flow and predict Lawrence to take it, although it would really tap into my soft spot for the elderly to see Riva up there accepting.

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Whether DeNiro or Jones takes it, it looks to be the year of the sour-faced old timer.

Whether De Niro or Jones takes it, it looks to be the year of the sour-faced old timer. (With all due respect Mr.(s) De Niro and Jones – since I’m pretty sure both of them could still kill me with their bare hands.)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Who Will Probably Win: Robert De Niro – Silver Linings Playbook *
Who I Think Should Win: Tommy Lee Jones – Lincoln
Actual Winner: Christopher Waltz

To be honest, I probably had the toughest time calling this category – especially since they’ve all won before. Although Waltz had a substantial role (based on screen time in the trailer that is), Arkin is kind of a crowd favorite since Little Miss Sunshine, but Tommy Lee Jones won the SAG, and was probably one of the more outstanding performances in Lincoln. (Even if it was just the usual sad, grizzled Tommy Lee Jones.) There’s also a decent amount of buzz around De Niro. About the only one that would surprise me is Hoffman, although I’m sure his performance was worthy of the nom. Between Jones and De Niro, I’ll flip the coin and go with De Niro.

My Response to the Winner: Fair enough. This category was a toss-up all around, with all five being previous winners. I don’t think anyone could have called it with extreme confidence. So, congrats Mr. Waltz!

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Don't look so sad Anne! You're about to win an Oscar!

Don’t look so sad Anne! You’re about to win an Oscar!

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Who Will Probably Win: Anne Hathaway – Les Miserables *
Actual Winner: Anne Hathaway

Even in the trailer Hathaway steals the category with her performance, and she’s really only in the first portion of the film. Sally Field has had her day (yes we still like you), Helen Hunt too, and although Jacki Weaver completed the 4-acting category quadfecta (is that a word?) for Silver Linings Playbook none of them have much of a chance at this one. Amy Adams is definitely due after multiple noms with no wins, but I don’t think this is the one. It would be a terrible slight to Hathaway if the Academy did use this as a pity win for Adams. Look for Catwoman to take to the stage… and probably cry.

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Will Ralph wreck Pixar's chances at taking the Oscar?

Will Ralph wreck Pixar’s chances at taking the Oscar?

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
Who Will Probably Win: Wreck-It Ralph *
Actual Winner: Brave

Although Brave could prove a strong showing in this category, and it’s a much better entry than Cars 2 for Pixar, I think Wreck-It Ralph has more promise this go round. The others are all worthy of mention, but Aardman’s work on Wallace and Gromit has already earned them a win, and Burton’s work is nothing all that different from his previous work, same with Selick.

My Response to the Winner: Well, as much as I like Pixar, it seems like Wreck-It Ralph was a solid entry from Disney that wasn’t connected to Pixar directly. On the other hand, I believe this was the first woman to win for direction of an animated feature, so… history!

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Little known fact, the art department based the visuals for this movie on source material by Bill Watterson. #untruefacts

Little known fact, the art department based the visuals for this movie on source material by Bill Watterson. #untruefacts

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Who Will Probably Win: Life of Pi *
Actual Winner: Life of Pi

Let’s not lie, the trailer has some stunning visuals of the story of a boy on his boat. For all of the other categories Pi will come up short, its visual appeal has to win it something, and this category is one way to make up that ground.

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Hopefully that train station has a sandwich shop, cause Keira needs to eat one.

Hopefully that train station has a sandwich shop, cause Keira needs to eat one.

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Who Will Probably Win: Anna Karenina *
Actual Winner: Lincoln

Karenina really has some cool choices made in how scenes flow from one to the next, and the visual style of the sets is captivating. Again, having only seen the trailers, I’d say this film deserves some recognition for the visual choices made by the production staff, and this is the best place to do that figuring cinematography will go to Life of Pi.

My Response to the Winner: All the nominees had some very nicely done styles, I just think Karenina had a much bolder visual style than the others. Not sure I would have ever picked Lincoln out of that group, but there you have it.

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If nothing else, Karenina should win for Knightley's spot-on bear costume.

If nothing else, Karenina should win for Knightley’s spot-on bear costume.

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Who Will Probably Win: Anna Karenina *
Actual Winner: Anna Karenina

Almost always goes to a period piece, problem is they’re pretty much all period pieces. Mirror, Mirror and Snow White cancel each other out, Lincoln doesn’t seem bold enough, and Les Mis has more gritty realism, but the lavishness of Karenina will probably give it the edge.

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Now, where's Waldo?

Now, where’s Waldo?

BEST MAKEUP
Who Will Probably Win: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey *
Who I Think Should Win: Lincoln
Actual Winner: Les Miserables

Although Hitchcock did a remarkable job making Anthony Hopkins resemble the late filmmaker, Hobbit did their makeup work 13 times over. But really, I can’t get over how Lincoln and its spot-on likenesses is strangely MIA in this category. I mean, seriously, you can have five nominees, why stop at three? If Hitchcock can get the nod for making a handful of actors resemble people in history, Lincoln did that five times over. But, with Lincoln out of the running odds are in favor of Bilbo and company.

My Response to the Winner: Uh… well…. sure. Not gonna lie, that would have been my last selection. Maybe the Academy was wanting to throw some more love its way since most of the big awards will be going elsewhere – and there’s the fact that the LOTR stuff has been acknowledged in the past.

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Wait, wait, wait. Singing AND acting? At the same time?!? You're a madman, Hooper!

Wait, wait, wait. Singing AND acting? At the same time?!? You’re a madman, Hooper!

BEST SOUND MIXING
Who Will Probably Win: Les Miserables *
Actual Winner: Les Miserables

It’s a freaking musical. It requires a balance of the orchestra, the singing, the sound effects, the dialogue – it’s a mixer’s nightmare, but also potentially their golden ticket. Plus, with the bold move to do on-set recordings instead of the standard pre-recorded lipsyncing, this should win over the minds and ears of the Academy members.

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When asked if this whale of a tale was all true, Lee replied "I swear by my tattoo." (Name that movie reference!)

When asked if this whale of a tale was all true, Lee replied “I swear by my tattoo.” (Name that movie reference!)

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Who Will Probably Win: Life of Pi *
Who I Think Should Win: Marvel’s The Avengers
Actual Winner: Life of Pi

This is a tough one. There are plenty of examples of good Visual Effects work this year, and some are far more subtle than others. Last year I thought the motion capture work on Caesar would lock the category for Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and the Hulk from Avengers is in that exact same boat, but (speaking of boats) Life of Pi was such an artsy-fartsy use of Visual Effects that it may sweep the Academy’s eyes off their feet. Although I’m predicting Life of Pi, this is one category I’d be okay with being wrong about.

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Sure, this whole story concept could have been simplified with the ol' Yawn-and-Stretch technique, but their version was so much better.

Sure, this whole story concept could have been simplified with the ol’ Yawn-and-Stretch technique, but their version was so much better.

BEST SHORT FILM (ANIMATED)
Who Will Probably Win: Paperman *
Actual Winner: Paperman

I actually made it out to see all of the animated short films this year, and all five really were deserving of the nod. Even the Simpsons crew represented well with their Maggie Simpson short. Interestingly, all of the animated shorts, including several of the runners up, contained no dialogue, which I thought was a nice demonstration of visual storytelling. As much as I want to root for the underdog (pun intended?) indie project like Adam and Dog, or the potential dark horse contender in the very clever Fresh Guacamole, Paperman was the most solid of the five. The classic Disney animation style is back, but with a unique charcoal-edged, black and white look to it, an emotionally investing yet concise visual story, and a musical score I couldn’t get out of my head. I probably watched it 10 times between all my classes and still loved it as much the 10th time as the first. Unless the Academy was in an anti-Disney mood, expect to see Paperman take the prize. (But all are definitely worth a view if you get the chance, and many are available online.)

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If nothing else, this song should win an Oscar for most uses of its own title in the lyrics... oh wait, "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" already won in that category.

If nothing else, this song should win an Oscar for most uses of its own title in the lyrics… oh wait, “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” already won in that category.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
Who Will Probably Win: “Skyfall” by Adele *
Actual Winner: “Skyfall” by Adele

Three things “Skyfall” has going for it – 1) It’s by far the most well-known of the songs, having a very public run on most pop radio stations, 2) The huge popularity of Adele these days, 3) It ties back into the roots of the Bond theme songs of yore, giving it an artsy connection to tie up the other spectrum of voters. That combination should prove to secure Adele an Oscar  to keep her Grammys company. Although “Chasing Ice” allowed Scarlett Johansson a chance to show off her singing chops, and Norah Jones’ “Everybody Needs a Best Friend” plays into the Academy’s love of friendship-themed songs with on-the-nose lyrics (I’m looking at you Randy Newman) neither hold the clout of “Skyfall”. “Pi’s Lullaby” doesn’t really stand out in this crowd, serving almost as more of a score contender. “Suddenly” seems more like a desperate attempt to win a music-related Oscar for a musical film with otherwise completely unoriginal (simply in that it already existed as a stage musical) music. Yes, they may have some explanation about how this ties in a long lost element of the original book, but this has Oscar grab written all over it. Sadly the song doesn’t hold up to the quality of the original Les Mis music, and in a film where the acting takes precedence over the singing, the auditory experience alone just doesn’t cut it.

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When I need to find calm, I go to my happy place, drifting serenely on an endless ocean with no one around but a... oh, dear lord it's a man-eating tiger!!!

When I need to find calm, I go to my happy place, drifting serenely on an endless ocean with no one around but a… oh, dear lord it’s a man-eating tiger!!!

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Who Will Probably Win: Life of Pi *
Who I Think Should Win: Lincoln
Actual Winner: Life of Pi

What can I say? I love me some John Williams. Sadly, I think he will be turned away again. Life of Pi was by far the most soothing soundtrack of the bunch, with both Skyfall and Argo having more edgy sounds to them, and Karenina is mostly ballroom music. Pi will take it, although I wouldn’t be disappointed if Williams whisked another trophy home to his massive collection.

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CATEGORIES I DON’T HAVE A STRONG OPINION ON:

BEST SOUND EDITING – Life of Pi *
Actual Winner: Zero Dark Thirty AND Skyfall
I don’t even know, I was way off last year, and trailers aren’t much help in this category. It could be anyone’s game, but I’m going to say this is another one where Life of Pi gets some love because it’s the same people who did Hugo, and they took it last year. Maybe they’ll get the back-to-back wins.
My Response to the Winner: Well… one of the random times where I was not only wrong once, but twice in the same category. Didn’t have a strong feeling on this one, again, it’s hard to tell from the trailers, and I’m sure both were deserving.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAYDjango Unchained *
Actual Winner: Django Unchained
Tarantino may be over-the-top in his use of language and violence, but let no one say his stuff isn’t original. I’m just not sure the others have what it takes to overshadow Tarantino’s style.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY Argo *
Actual Winner: Argo
What can I say? People love them some Argo. Although Beasts of the Southern Wild or Life of Pi could get a surprise nod here.

BEST FOREIGN FILM – Amour *
Actual Winner: Amour
By far the most well-known of the nominees this year, although based on the trailers, most look interesting enough to watch.

BEST DOCUMENTARY – Searching for Sugar Man *
Actual Winner: Searching for Sugar Man
Although these all looked pretty powerful, Searching for Sugar Man seemed to be the only upbeat one in the pack, and that breath of fresh air may be enough to make the Academy thankful. Plus it’s been doing well on the other award circuits.

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORTInocente *
Actual Winner: Inocente
A film about a homeless kid who wants to be an artist, could have that heartwarming cheer-for-the-protagonist edge to win out the category, although the others really do tug at the heartstrings. Monday’s at Racine and Open Heart will make it a tough call. It’ll be close, but Inocente is my shot in the dark. King’s Point, despite my usual soft spot for the elderly in films, seems to portray mean, crotchety old people, so no vote in their favor.

BEST SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION) – Curfew *
Actual Winner: Curfew
Let’s not lie, shot in the dark here. But the trailer was by far the most entertaining of the group. The shot of the little girl dancing down the bowling lane is pretty awesome. I could also see it going to Buzkashi Boys, but I’m going with the one that made me laugh, Curfew.

BEST FILM EDITING Argo *
Actual Winner: Argo
Another hard one to gauge based on the trailer, but based on its momentum, this will probably be another pickup for Affleck and Co.

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And that, as they say, is that! Last year I went 19 correct out of 24 – can I best my previous score? Can you beat my previous score? Feel free to make your own predictions in the comments section.

Don’t forget to tune in on Sunday to find out the actual winners!

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Star Wars: Why the Next Trilogy Matters

This article is technically the third in our own little Walking Taco trilogy regarding the works of George Lucas. You can read the others to help you get back story, although this one does stand on its own.
Episode 1: Star Wars: Why the Originals Matter
Episode 2: In Defense of George Lucas: Why the New Trilogy Matters
Also, check out Simon’s article – 5 Reasons the Disney Acquisition is Good for Star Wars

If you don’t follow breaking movie news, Oct 30th it was announced that Disney was acquiring Lucasfilm Ltd for a sum a little over $4 billion in cash and stock. This merger of companies brings all of Lucasfilm’s properties and subsidiary companies into the fold of the Disney entertainment juggernaut. Details of the deal are slowly coming to light, and what we know, among other things, is that Disney will acquire Industrial Light and Magic (the premiere visual effects company in the world) and Skywalker Sound (which does the sound recording/editing/mixing on many Hollywood films), both of which will continue to be able to provide services for films outside of the Disney corporation, as well as LucasArts (the video game branch of Lucas’ empire). The deal includes all of the Star Wars properties, as well as the Indiana Jones series (although those distribution rights are currently shared with Paramount, so will require some negotiation). Along with this major announcement, Kathleen Kennedy, the new Co-Chair/President of LucasFilm has announced that Star Wars Episode VII is already in the works, and under the new Disney banner will arrive in theatres in 2015, with Episodes VIII and IX to arrive shortly thereafter, and Star Wars films every 2-3 years after into the foreseeable future.

It is, needless to say, a very big development in the world of film and Star Wars. Everyone is weighing in on their thoughts as details and questions continue to emerge. I’m still sorting out all of my thoughts, but figured I would gather them in writing.

So, what do I think about all this?

What some people probably imagined the cast of Episode VII would look like under the new Disney banner.

Five years ago I would have been extremely leery of it all. I would have thought “Oh no, Jar Jar has gotten to George. He’s going all super-kiddy and soon Mickey will be appearing in a live-action Star Wars film that will rival the ill-conceived Holiday Special.” But two words put all those fears at ease – The Avengers. If Disney’s purchase of Marvel has shown us one thing, it’s that Disney can handle a well-established source material and allow it to flourish within it’s own individualized existence. We shouldn’t have to worry about them suddenly trying to water down the Star Wars films to appeal to even younger audiences because the Marvel movies are some of the most enjoyable films I’ve experienced as an adult. So in that regard, I welcome the merger. If Lucasfilm can flourish as much as Marvel has under the Disney banner, we should see some amazing things down the line.

Let’s also look at the new creative structure on the upcoming Star Wars films. Lucas has already created a treatment (which is basically a rough outline of the story for those who don’t know film-speak). But Lucas has also entered semi-retirement, meaning he will only be serving as a creative consultant on these films. Kathleen Kennedy, who has worked with both Lucas and Spielberg on many of the amazing films they created over the past 3.5 decades, is executive producing the films, and they’ll be bringing on new writers and someone else to direct. In essence, you have almost the same formula as The Empire Strikes Back, which is arguably the best film in the series. It allows George to offer his input and keep the universe cohesive, but doesn’t require him to write out all the dialogue (which even I’ve acknowledged he’s not always the best at) and gives other people with fresh eyes a chance to make the material more accessible to a mass audience. So, depending on who they can get to direct, and fans are speculating from names like the Wachowskis to Spielberg to Nolan (although odds are it will be someone less-known), it could produce some really intriguing results.

New directors means the potential for some new style elements to the Star Wars universe. Just imagine the possibilities!

Lucas has always known that Star Wars would continue long beyond his time on this earth. It is a legacy. It is a universe that has amassed fans of all ages, from all generations, and continues to grow, even without (or in spite of) additional movies. He couldn’t keep hold of it forever, and as he stated in a video interview you can watch on StarWars.com, he knew that Disney was a safe, stable company to house that property within. It’s a company he’s worked with on various projects in their parks, so he was comfortable with them, and I’m sure after seeing how they handled Marvel, he’s really got some peace of mind that they’ll handle that responsibility well. But more than that, even though George has been hesitant to relinquish control of making Star Wars movies to someone else because, in his words – “they’re my thing”, he acknowledges that in order for the property to stay relevant with future generations, there will need to be more films, and they will need to be done well without him feeling like he has to do it all himself.

However, this decision has bigger ramifications than simply excited fans getting to see more Star Wars movies. It’s bigger than a potential “Star Wars Land” at Disney parks, or the $4 billion George Lucas made, it once again opens the door for some serious advances in film. Many of the advances in all areas of film production – effects, cameras, editing, sound, etc. – all came in tandem with Star Wars movies. Lucasfilm, ILM, and Skywalker Sound have all continued pioneering new technology, but the times they seem to be at their best are when they are pushing the envelope on a new Star Wars film. So with an endless future of the sci-fi series in the works, it would reason for us to believe that we will continue to see bold new advances to film technology.

My daughter playing with her astromech. Who knows, with the future of Star Wars being so bright, maybe she’ll grow up to direct her own Star Wars movie someday. A dad can dream…

But even more than that, this decision will open the door for a new generation of film makers. Keep in mind, Lucas was a member of the group affectionately known as “The Movie Brats”, the first real crop of students formally trained in the art of film making. He and his classmates (Spielberg, Scorcese, Ford Coppola, Cameron, etc.) have literally defined quality cinema of the past few decades. We’re now at a point in the history of film where people who were children when the original, or even the new, trilogy hit theatres are now adults. Some of these people went into a career in film as a result of these movies – inspired to become filmmakers themselves. Who better to take over the helm of Star Wars films than the very people they so passionately inspired? I can’t think of a more fitting circle-of-life-esque tribute to George Lucas’ love of education and fostering creativity.

So once again, I sign off with a note to George Lucas. (Although I’m pretty sure he will never read these posts.) I want to thank you, sir. You have inspired me on many levels. As a lover of film, of storytelling, of imagination, as an educator, as a parent, as a human being – you have added so much to my life through your work, and although I can only imagine how many mixed emotions are involved with such a decision, rest assured that it will continue that impact far into the future. Thank you for all that you have done, and continue to do, and may your “retirement”, whatever that entails, reward you with as much enjoyment as you’ve provided us for all these years, and the peace of knowing that your legacy will make a difference for a long, long time into the future.

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The Avengers

The summer movie season has officially arrived, heralded proudly by the amazingly awesome film that is The Avengers.

Joss Whedon has a special place in my heart as one of the most under-appreciated directors in Hollywood. Although there’s some of his work that I could pass on, most of it is tolerable to a level equal of any other TV faire, or in several cases, some of the best work I’ve seen come out of Hollywood in years. His other work includes Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dollhouse, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, and my all-time favorites Firefly and Serenity. So when I heard that they were tapping Whedon to helm Marvel’s 5-year endeavor of bringing all their heroes into one unifying film, I was thrilled.  Whedon is a master at character-driven pieces, and with a strong potential for a film like The Avengers to become the equivalent of an all-you-can-eat visual effects buffet (where you know the food isn’t all that amazing, but there’s just so much variety and so much to try that you keep going back, even though you know you’ll feel awful for it later) that’s just what this film needed to keep it grounded.

To sum my thoughts up: this is the best experience I’ve had at the movies since seeing Serenity in 2005. Although I’m sure the film had its fair share of flaws, I was completely unaware of them because I was simply having too good of a time. It was filled with humor, action, and heart and even managed to bring me close to tears at one point. Never once did I consciously think about the 2.5 hour run time, which is an excellent sign.

For those that aren’t familiar with The Avengers, here’s a brief recap. A top secret government organization called S.H.I.E.L.D., under the guidance of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), is given the task of protecting the world from threats beyond the capabilities of normal men. In preparing for this task, they recruit the world’s greatest heroes (each of which joins the group from a pre-existing stand-alone film) – Iron Man, a.k.a Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and the Hulk, a.k.a. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo). They’re also joined by secondary characters Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson). Together, this team must defeat Loki (Tom Hiddleston), brother of Thor, as he attempts to invade earth with an alien army and rule over mankind.  Sound action-packed? It is!

They even manage to represent all of the primary colors in their outfit choices!

Here’s where I think Whedon succeeded the most. Each of these characters is amazing in and of themselves. You have Captain America -a super solider, the perfect specimen of man, Iron Man – a genius, billionaire playboy with a high tech suit of armor, Thor – a demi-god from another realm, and the Hulk – a scientist who becomes an unstoppable wrecking ball when he gets angry — and none of them get along. Ultimately, despite all their super-human abilities, they all suffer from such basic human flaws, and THIS is the genius of Whedon (who not only directed, but rewrote the script). Whedon gives us a reason for all these people to not only come together, but work past their differences for the greater good.

The unstoppable cloud from Green Lantern, which killed the strongest Green Lantern, and fought off droves of the galaxies best defenders... but was then defeated by Ryan Reynolds because he wanted it bad enough.

The film also succeeds in finding a villain which is not too easily defeated, but also not overwhelmingly powerful and still somehow easily defeated to conveniently wrap up the storyline (see Green Lantern). This is no small feat seeing as how the combined power of the Avengers would decimate just about any opponent.

On an acting level, Downey Jr. delivers that classic wit and charm we’ve all come to love from the Iron Man films, Evans plays the out-of-his-element good soul that won us over in Captain America: The First Avenger, and Hemsworth does a great job at helping the audience take the somewhat out-of-place absurdity of a demi-god seriously.

Finally a Hulk we can cheer for, as he smashes his way into our hearts with pure, unbridled anger.

But perhaps the most noteworthy performance is that of Ruffalo, who replaced Edward Norton as Bruce Banner after the studio and Norton had a bit of a disagreement following The Incredible Hulk movie. Part of it is the writing, part of it is the effects team, but FINALLY we get to see the Hulk as we’ve always wanted to see him. Not part of some artsy “soul-behind-those-eyes” interpretation by Ang Lee, but as a man with some control over the beast, that ultimately enjoys smashing things. It’s refreshing, and at times, quite hilarious. (Two specific moments come to mind, but I won’t spoil them.)

Agent Coulson was apparently brought on board for his super human adorableness.

If I had to choose a specific favorite character of the film, I actually think I’d choose Agent Phil Coulson, played by Clark Gregg. Coulson has appeared in several of the other Marvel films, acting as a sort of character glue to bring all of the films and their characters together.  His role is much more pivotal in this film than in the others. He almost becomes a representative of the audience – an everyman amongst super-humans, with many of the same reactions we ourselves would have. I won’t spoil anything else, just expect good things from Gregg’s performance.

Again, this film was so wonderfully executed, and although it probably won’t be an Oscar contender outside of the technical categories, it is a great little piece of escapism at the movies, and an enjoyable thrill ride. Marvel did it right with their plan to establish a universe for their films to co-exist in, and with Iron Man 3 starting production this summer, Thor 2 in the fall, Captain America 2 next winter, and The Avengers 2 after that, we can expect great things in the coming years. Now if only they can work out a deal with Sony to get Spiderman in the next Avengers film. Time will tell!

My opinion, well worth the trip to the theatre to see this film as it was meant to be seen, on the big screen. Although IMAX and 3D are not necessary. (I saw it in 2D and loved it.) And be sure to stay until the end of the entire credits. Marvel sticks in their usual stinger about a minute in which sets up some element of the next film, but this time they also gave an added bonus at the very end.  In fact, the cast shot the scene immediately after the Hollywood premiere. (If you look closely you’ll notice that Evans had to wear a prosthetic piece on his face to hide the beard he’d grown out for another role.) This added bonus doesn’t really add anything pivotal, but it’s sure to leave you laughing at its pure, simple randomness.

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Trailer-Based Predictions for the 84th Oscars

Well, Oscar time is upon us once again.

It seems like everyone has something to say about their Academy Award predictions, and having, sadly, seen so few of this year’s nominees, I don’t really have a lot to throw behind my predictions. However, I have seen the trailers for all of the nominees, so here’s my trailer-based predictions for this year’s Oscars. (A * denotes my selection for my class competition.)

UPDATE: I have added the Actual Winners as they are announced, and if different than my predictions, my response.

My accuracy rating for this year: 19 out of 24 categories correct. (80%) Not my best, not my worst. A special congratulations to Juan in 2nd Hour, and Gabriella and Briana in 3rd Hour for most correct predictions in the film classes.

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Get ready to hear this title and an excerpt from the score over and over and over...

BEST PICTURE
Who Will Probably Win: The Artist *
Who I Think Should Win: The Artist
Actual Winner: The Artist

This thing is a juggernaut. It’s this year’s Return of the King. Based on the trailer, it’s a clever concept for a modern-day film, to play off the films of the silent era. I like that, so I agree.

BEST DIRECTOR
Who Will Probably Win: Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist *
Who I Think Should Win: Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Actual Winner: Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist

As much as I’ve heard amazing things about Scorsese’s Hugo, he already has his Oscar, and half of predicting is feeling out the politics of the game. Even Omaha native Alexander Payne already has his Oscar. And Woody Allen… I still haven’t forgiven you for Annie Hall besting Star Wars in 1977. I can’t be the only one who sees that all his characters are simply more attractive actors playing a variation of Woody Allen. Odds are, since the two categories only occasionally split, this one will go to the newcomer, especially with all the buzz around The Artist.

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Dujardin radiates charisma. (Note the visible radiation.)

BEST ACTOR
Who Will Probably Win: Jean Dujardin, The Artist *
Who I Think Should Win: Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Actual Winner: Jean Dujardin, The Artist

Clooney has his. Pitt has several past noms, but Moneyball is not the film to finally clinch it for him. Oldman is amazing, but I don’t think this will carry enough with voters, and really I don’t know that this role is necessarily the one deserving of the Oscar. Demian Bichir gives a stirring performance in the trailer, but again, not known enough to beat down the momentum Dujardin has built up.

 

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This look seems to say "Between me and Glenn? It won't even be Close."

BEST ACTRESS
Who Will Probably Win: Viola Davis, The Help *
Who I Think Should Win: Viola Davis, The Help
Actual Winner: Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady

This is where the Academy will make up for giving Supporting Actress to Penelope Cruz in 2009. Davis’ performance carries the trailer, so I can only imagine it does the same in the film. One might think Glenn Close would get some love with this being her 6th nomination without a win… but I don’t think Albert Nobbs will do it for her. Maybe lucky number 7 will be her winning charm.

Response to Winner: Well… there’s that I guess. Sure Meryl has been nominated 17 times, but she’s also won twice. I mean, Streep does capture Margaret Thatcher quite well, but still. Sounds to me like the Academy is trying to make up for 14 losses with one more win, figuring Davis will be back in the future. That’s Academy politics for you. But maybe I’ll be surprised after watching the full films and agree with the decision. Time will tell.

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It's the year of the vibrant old-timer!

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Who Will Probably Win: Christopher Plummer, Beginners *
Who I Think Should Win: Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Actual Winner: Christopher Plummer, Beginners

First of all, how the heck did Jonah Hill even get a nomination? Seriously? I could probably sync the audio from the Moneyball trailer to his physical performance in the trailer for Night at the Museum 2 and not even notice. Lame, Academy. Nolte… yeah we’ve all seen the grizzled father/coach character before. You’re an Omaha boy, so I give you props there, but not the prediction. Branagh is great, but nothing award-worthy here. I had to actually double check to make sure Max Von Sydow and Christopher Plummer were not the same person. They both fit the same character type. But based on the trailer, Plummer actually talks in his film, and is one of the major characters, so I have to lean toward him.

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Seriously, I tried to find a picture where Octavia wasn't making this face... no luck.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Who Will Probably Win: Octavia Spencer, The Help *
Who I Think Should Win: Octavia Spencer, The Help
Actual Winner: Octavia Spencer, The Help

Here again, Melissa McCarthy? For an OSCAR nomination? The Academy has traditionally snubbed comedies for its awards, and to see a nominee whose stand-out moments in the trailer include not being sure whether gas escaping from her body was a belch or fart, and talking about staging their own fight club…. it makes me think they need to be more selective in how they include comedies. Although Bejo gives a cutesy performance, I think Spencer was a very enjoyable element of the trailer for The Help. She hugged people a lot. She gets my vote.

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Maybe if he wins, he can use some of that fame and fortune to see a chiropractor.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
Who Will Probably Win: Rango *
Who I Think Should Win: Chico & Rita
Actual Winner: Rango

Sadly Pixar released its weakest film to date this year (seriously, Mater is the Jar Jar Binks of the Pixar universe), so with only Cars 2 representing, it opened the field for others. Seems like the buzz goes to Rango, although I’m a little over Johnny Depp, so that puts a little bad taste in my mouth. Really I thought the European contenders were more interesting in their style, although I can’t vouch for the storylines. I had no idea what was happening in Cat in Paris since the trailer was in French, but the animation style of Chico & Rita was the most interesting.

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This poster makes it look like she wants to leave her husband because of his horrible singing.

BEST FOREIGN FILM
Who Will Probably Win: A Separation, Iran *
Who I Think Should Win: A Separation, Iran
Actual Winner: A Separation, Iran

The trailer for Bullhead was extremely weird. It had that “art for the sake of art” feel about it. Footnote looks like it would be the most enjoyable to watch, but that’s not enough to win an Oscar. In Darkness is about the Holocaust, which makes it the best contender for an upset. Monsier Lazhar is about a teacher, and although I am one, we’ve all seen the “new teacher steps in and turns the class around” film before, so it’s nothing new or noteworthy. Not only did A Separation also get a Screenplay nod, it comes from a country which has a lot of global issues surrounding it.

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Disclaimer: Kids, don't try this at home!

BEST ART DIRECTION & BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Who Will Probably Win: Hugo *
Who I Think Should Win: Hugo
Actual Winner: Hugo

These two categories are where the Academy will and should show Hugo some love. The visuals in the trailer were stunning, and the look and feel it establishes really throws back to the early 1900s they were going for.

 

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Despite this frightening optical illusion, it's really an elegant film of dancing!

BEST DOCUMENTARY
Who Will Probably Win: Pina *
Who I Think Should Win: Pina
Actual Winner: Undefeated

Documentaries always seem so serious or depressing, but Pina has a unique and refreshing approach with all its fancy dancing. It had the only trailer that didn’t make me feel like I was watching the news.

Response to Winner: Really? I thought the “inner-city football team with a crappy record that turns it around to grow not only as a team, but as people” storyline was already played out ever since Remember the Titans. Apparently the concept still has a few more awards left in it. I’m disappointed to see something so unconventional and unique as Pina leaving empty handed to an almost cliche idea.

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Ah the love between a boy and his horse... the PG kind of love.

BEST SOUND EDITING AND MIXING
Who Will Probably Win: Hugo
Who I Think Should Win: War Horse *
Actual Winner: Hugo

Political predictions would tell us that Hugo is going to pick up some sympathy nods in categories to compensate for The Artist sweeping everything else. Sound may be a place that this happens. However, I’d wager War Horse has a good shot with all its battle scenes and that sweeping John Williams score. Transformers, although cool sounding, has already had its day, and the others just don’t have enough going on… although Drive could be a potential dark horse in sound editing.

Response to Winner: I called it, but regrettably voted otherwise for the class competition. Again, I haven’t seen Hugo, so I’ll be curious to see if the sound truly is all that amazing comparatively, or if this was just a “sorry about Best Picture” consolation prize.

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Rumor has it Sirkis based his performance for Caesar on the salad of the same name. #untruefacts

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Who Will Probably Win: Rise of the Planet of the Apes *
Who I Think Should Win: Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Actual Winner: Hugo

One word – Caesar. That will do it. Sirkis didn’t get his acting nom, but the effects still sell it. Transformers has been done, Real Steel is a rehash of Transformers, Hugo wasn’t effects-heavy enough, and HPDH2 was heavy enough, but it is the 8th film in the series.

Response to Winner: Well, color me surprised. I figured the motion capture work in Rise… was good enough to take it. Apparently Hugo must be the most technically amazing movie ever (at least this year), as it’s sweeping the technical categories.

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The epitome of book worm.

BEST SHORT FILM (ANIMATED)
Who Will Probably Win: The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore *
Who I Think Should Win: A Morning Stroll
Actual Winner: The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

Fantastic… Lessmore is definitely the most solid and comfortable choice, with its quality 3D work and clever looking story elements. The trailer for Morning Stroll, albeit quite abbreviated since it’s a trailer for a short film, had the most unique animation style of all the nominees. I would have liked to see it shake things up with that crazy multi-dimensional chicken.

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With only 6 days to live, this guy has some stuff to blow up and a tuba to play.

BEST SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION)
Who Will Probably Win: Tuba Atlantic *
Who I Think Should Win: Tuba Atlantic
Actual Winner: The Shore

Tuba Atlantic was the only one of these trailers to make me actually laugh and want to watch it. Time Freak looks quirky, but in a wannabe-Groundhog Day kind of way that seemed far too amateur for the Oscars. The others just didn’t stand out enough in my mind.

Response to Winner: To be fair, The Shore did have a pretty solid trailer, and had sort of an Academy-worthy feel to it, so I don’t really feel opposed to this winner, I just liked Tuba Atlantic better – probably because I have a soft spot for dying old people in movies.

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Frankly I think Jason Segel is a little of both.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
Who Will Probably Win: “Man or Muppet”, from The Muppets *
Who I Think Should Win: “Man or Muppet”, from The Muppets
Actual Winner: “Man or Muppet”, from The Muppets

I saw the music videos for both these songs, and “Man or Muppet” definitely got stuck in my head the most. Plus it had Jim Parsons playing the human version of a Muppet, which is pretty accurate and hilarious. I’m a little sad these songs won’t be performed, as both would have a pretty interesting stage presence. Frankly I was just happy Randy Newman had no chance to win another Oscar this year.

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You're going to hear excerpts from this a lot as people walk up to the stage.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Who Will Probably Win: The Aritst *
Who I Think Should Win: War Horse
Actual Winner: The Artist

I’m a collector of movie scores. The orchestral music underneath the film is what sells the emotional state to me, so this category is probably one of my favorites. It’s also extremely tricky for me to call. Williams is against himself in the category for Tintin and War Horse, but Tintin didn’t hook me. Hugo isn’t Shore’s best, and he’s won plenty before. Tinker had a really cool unique sound to it, sort of a blues meets The Matrix vibe to it, but this is a little offbeat for the Academy. The Artist brings a unique composer with a pleasant sound, and in light of Williams’ multitude of Oscars already on his shelf, will probably take it. War Horse was the most moving of all the pieces I heard, and I’m a Williams fan, but Johnny-boy has his trophies, time for someone else to enjoy the moment.

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CATEGORIES I DON’T HAVE A STRONG OPINION ON:

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAYMidnight in Paris *
Actual Winner: Midnight in Paris
Alright Allen, you can have it.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY The Descendants *
Actual Winner: The Descendants
Same goes for you Payne & Co.

BEST COSTUME DESIGNThe Artist *
Actual Winner: The Artist
Usually goes to a period piece, but they’re all period pieces. Shot in the dark here, could go to Hugo.

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORTSaving Face *
Actual Winner: Saving Face
Again, sad, serious documentaries, but this one seems to have a stronger emotional tug.

BEST MAKEUPThe Iron Lady*
Actual Winner: The Iron Lady
Here again, HP has had its day, and although Albert Nobbs turned Glenn Close into a man… well… she was halfway there on her own.

BEST FILM EDITINGThe Artist *
Actual Winner: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Could go any which way, but I’m going to throw this on The Artist sweep pile.

Response to Winner: Seems like Oscar likes the edgier stuff in this category. After Social Network last year, and Girl With the Dragon Tattoo this year, I’ll definitely be looking for the edgier piece in next year’s predictions.

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So there you have it. My trailer-based predictions. Maybe it will help you with your own office pool or class competition, maybe it just gave you something to read. At any rate, tune in to the Oscars and see what shakes down!

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In Defense of George Lucas: Why the New Trilogy Matters

This article is in response to Simon’s article Star Wars: Why the Originals Matter (So if you haven’t read that yet, read it first.)

Simon’s article is, as always, well written, and he touches on many of the issues that have inflamed fans for years now. I must, however, do my part to stand up in defense of Mr. Lucas, and the things he and his films (even the less desirable prequels) have accomplished, which were not acknowledged in what was a fairly unflattering assessment of Lucas’ work over the past three decades.

I too consider myself to be an avid Star Wars fan. I’ve loved it since I was a kid, collected all the toys, I teach a unit on Star Wars in my film classes, and I even pre-bought a set of the Star Wars playskool toys for my children. For years I read every Star Wars novel that came out, and considered myself to be an expert of sorts on all matters Star Wars, memorizing pages out of the Star Wars Encyclopedia and dominating at Star Wars Trivial Pursuit. I would consider myself, to a more conservative degree, a “fanboy”. So I acknowledge that there is some bias in my love of Star Wars, but as someone who appreciates film as an industry and an art form, I have nothing but a profound admiration for what George Lucas has accomplished.

"Mos Epply Airport. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and muppetry."

I don’t really recall the releases of the original films as part of my childhood, although I know I watched them growing up. Perhaps my first true recollection of a Star Wars-related release was when the original films hit the theatres again in 1997 as part of the “Special Edition” craze. I was thrilled to see Star Wars on the big screen, and to be honest, there were just as many pros as there were cons to the enhancements.  There were the not-so-desirable character alterations, such as the infamous “Han Shot First”, awkward deleted-scene inserts such as the odd-looking Jabba and a badly spliced Han stepping over his tail (to hide the fact that it was actually a fat Scottish guy in a fur coat and not a slithery lizard creature), but there were also some very nice touch-ups of the effects, such as the landspeeder looking like it was actually hovering and not like they smeared Vaseline on the lens, making Mos Eisley look like a bustling spaceport and not Epply Airport in Omaha (which never seems to have more than 50 people in it at a time), or enhancing the Yavin skyline to make it look like it was actually on a foreign moon. Let’s not forget that Lucas did throw the fans a bone by including Boba Fett in the bonus Jabba scene of New Hope (renamed to Episode IV: A New Hope after Lucas got the greenlight to make his sequels, which he wasn’t initially sure would happen). I will not attempt to justify that every change Lucas made was, in my opinion, the best, but these changes were not all bad. Sadly, the hardcore fans seem to focus on the negatives. Like whiney, ungrateful children, we the fanboys never really stop to say thanks to Lucas for all the positive things that he has done, we just complain about that toy we saw in the store and wanted, but didn’t get.

I think the biggest culprit in the disappointment of fans is nostalgia.  We look back on things from our childhood with a fondness and forgiveness that we would never grant to even the best of films from our adult years. Really think about it. I’m an 80s kid, so if I mention shows like Thundercats, Transformers, GIJOE, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Mask, He-Man, we reminisce about how TV just isn’t the same, and we had “quality” shows back in our day.  I don’t know if you’ve managed to track down any episodes of those old shows and watch them, but some of them were pretty horrible in terms of the writing and animation. Heck, most of them existed solely to sell toys – another argument fans throw in the face of new Star Wars properties. The fact is, we get so caught up in the fuzzy glow of our childhood memories, that we selectively omit the negative aspects and zero in on the positives. Simon acknowledges the technical limitations in Star Wars, and points out that they add to the charm of the original films, which they do, but ultimately if you can fix those little flaws to polish up the film for today’s standards… why wouldn’t you? To Lucas’ credit, he didn’t do a complete gut-job, he left representations of the original work while putting some polish here and there. The industry isn’t disavowing all knowledge of the original contributions, but at the same time, they’re not going to make the next Transformers movie using tauntaun-style stop motion.

To a degree, nostalgic blinders put a jaded slant on the new Star Wars films. The writing was just as bad in the originals, the effects were worse (although still groundbreaking at the time), heck even the titles were just as cheesy and blunt in their descriptions. (“The Empire Strikes Back” and “Attack of the Clones” are about the same in caliber.) If anything, I’d say the saving grace on the writing in the originals was that the actors were better at turning Lucas’ words into something more believable. Irvin Kershner tells the story of how in ESB as they’re about to lower Han into the carbonite chamber, Leia says “I love you” and Han was originally supposed to say “I love you too”. Thankfully with it being someone other than Lucas as director, he was able to say “Harrison, this isn’t working. Don’t think, just say what comes naturally” and we got the classic we response we all know and love: LEIA: “I love you”, HAN: “I know.”

On the point of Lucas as a director, I have to agree with Simon that he is not the strongest at directing.  His actors always comment that he has a hard time communicating with them to get the performance he wants.  As a director and actor, I can tell you, at the end of the day, if your director isn’t helping give you a direction on your character, the performance will ultimately suffer.

I also agree with Simon that the original Star Wars films succeeded because they were a collection of many individuals’ artistic contributions. To a degree, Lucas’ complete control over everything in his films doesn’t put in that system of checks and balances he had on the original films – between the studio execs having input, his wife, fellow film makers, etc. (Probably the best moments of Episode III came from Lucas’ collaboration with Spielberg on the Obi-wan Anakin fight.) But even the special effects guru behind the original films, John Dykstra, praised Lucas’ tweaking of the originals, even though it essentially erased some of his own work. I like to think of it in this regard – yes these effects were pioneering at the time, but if we stuck with that mentality, we’d all still be driving westward on covered wagons.

Outside of Pixar, which sprang out of a development at Lucasfilm, all of these companies were started by George Lucas in the past 35 years.

But perhaps my biggest disagreement with Simon, and the reason I felt compelled to shed some positive light on Lucas’ work, is Simon’s belief that Lucas has simply “wallowed in mediocrity” since the original Star Wars films were released.  Although it is true that Lucas has not directed more than a handful of films (and I think we agree that it’s better when he leaves his work in the hands of more capable directors), Lucas has worked non-stop at literally redefining the industry of film as we know it. George Lucas the film student/startup director ceased to exist after the release of the original Star Wars, and since has become George Lucas of Lucasfilm, Lucasarts, THX, Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), and Skywalker Sound. Through these subsidiary companies, George Lucas has essentially built the modern filmmaking, animation, and even video game environment.

Through his guidance, these companies developed SoundDroid one of the first audio mixing/editing stations and EditDroid an early computerized non-linear editing system. Let’s not forget that under his watch Lucasfilm developed the PIXAR animation computer, which was eventually sold off and developed into the PIXAR animation company we know and love. Edutopia is an online resource which provides educational computer resources for educators and students alike, and Lucasarts created some of the most beloved games (even non-Star Wars games) of my youth. In the 80s and 90s Lucas continued to develop ILM and Skywalker Sound to provide state-of-the-art film creation facilities for film makers from all over the world. Skywalker Sound has 568 credited films to its credit, and ILM over 300. One might argue that technology companies would have figured out how to do these things on their own, but I contend that it takes a film maker to say “This is what I would want, this is what would help me make a better movie.” It was through this approach that ILM developed the stunning and groundbreaking CGI work that went into Jurassic Park which was developed hand-in-hand with the visual effects tweaking on the Special Edition release of Star Wars.

JAR JAR: "Heya, Gollum! Me-sa you-sa father!" FANBOYS: "Noooo! That's not true... that's impossible!"

And let’s not forget the new trilogy. Often despised by adult fans for being “not as good as the originals”, but generally enjoyed by children of this generation, these films pioneered the digital film making era we’re experiencing today. Admittedly I think the new trilogy films lost their way trying to fill in gaps and appease a rabid fan-base that had been salivating for 15 years for something new, but they were not without their merits. Attack of the Clones was the first film shot entirely using digital cameras, a practice which is becoming more and more the norm.  The continued development of seamless CGI character integration and motion capture technology (yes even Jar Jar served a purpose) paved the way for film makers like Peter Jackson and James Cameron to take the next step and develop technology seen in films like the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Avatar.

The list of Lucas’ accomplishments and contributions goes on and on.  George Lucas succeeded where almost no other film maker has.  He broke away from a system which had established itself as the only way to make films – driven primarily by the almighty dollar without much care for artistic expression – and created his own empire, where he was empowered to make films the way he wanted, and improve the climate for other directors who otherwise would not be able to afford that luxury. Although even Lucas himself acknowledges the irony and parallel in his story to that of Vader – he started out fighting against the empire, and in the end became the very thing he sought to destroy.

His vision and direction of his companies has ushered in a new era of film making, and he continues to strive toward new advances with each new project. Right now Lucasfilm is developing a live-action Star Wars TV series, but in order to make it become a reality, his companies are working to improve the way CGI is produced so that it becomes cheaper and more feasible on a faster time frame. This would open the door for more advanced CGI in television series – think Heroes, only where they actually had the budget and time to do loads of cool super-powered effects every week.

And we cannot overlook the simple power of these films to inspire people.  Not simply from their entertainment value and the artificial realities they encourage us to act out as children – otherwise Simon and I would still be in our back yards practicing our lightsaber skills – but to seek out methods of creative expression, be it film, art, theatre, music, or even an articulate debate over another man’s work.  I would even contend that the negative changes have inspired people to try their hand at creating something “better”. Star Wars fan films have blossomed from simple rotoscoped light saber fights, to 2-hour epics with fully developed CGI effects.

Ultimately Star Wars is George Lucas’ creation, it’s his world, and we are fortunate enough to experience it. My high school drama teacher ran into George Lucas in London a few years back. I often think of what I would have done in that situation or what I would have said. My teacher came up with something I think was absolutely perfect, he said “Thank you for your work, Mr. Lucas.”  If you don’t like the re-re-re-releases with enhanced this-and-that and want so desperately to cling to your childhood nostalgia, stick with the original theatrical releases on DVD. The fact is, our kids will love them regardless of what’s original and what isn’t. My film students never even notice the changes unless I point them out.

Lucas didn’t have to re-release the original, non-enhanced films, but he did – which is a big consolation. Think what would happen if you wrote an article, revised it, and the revision was published. Now what would happen if the people demanded you publish your first draft, which you know was full of typos and poorly worded points? Wouldn’t you resist turning out something you didn’t feel was your best work? Ultimately the Star Wars films are Lucas’ baby, and we should all be so lucky to be able to revise our work into something we can be 100% content with.  Eventually he will have to let the originals go (probably when he finally dies) but that is his prerogative. As for the man’s work, we are extremely fortunate that George Lucas did not simply “wallow in mediocrity” for the past 30 years, or we’d be looking at a very different cinematic landscape right now.

In short, I get you, George Lucas. God bless you, and keep on doing what you’ve been doing.

P.S. I eagerly await your new film Red Tails.

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