Saturday, February 25, 2012

Oscar predictions 2011

The year was rough in terms of box office (off over 15% in ticket sales from 2010, and the nominees for Best Picture this year made a fraction of what last year's set of films made. However, a small group of films that paid homage to early cinema ("The Artist" and "Hugo") and a few well-made dramas and comedies rounded out some pretty fierce categories this year.

Best Picture

"The Artist"
As obvious as it may sound, it is pretty shocking that for the first time since 1927 a silent film will win Best Picture. The adulation the film pays to the early cinema of Hollywood has been taken as a due love letter by many critics and Academy members. With the money and power of Harvey Weinstein behind it, this film looks unstoppable.

Best Director

Michael Hazanivicius, "The Artist"

I am rooting for Martin Scorsese to win here for "Hugo," but with wins from the DGA and BAFTA, it seems as if the French director will triumph here.

Best Actor

Jean Dujardin, "The Artist"

With his surprise win at SAG and BAFTA, Dujardin best known for a series of French spy capers may become the first French actor to win the top prize. George Clooney could sneak in here, but the goodwill felt towards Dujardin and Uggie seems fit to propel the man and his dog to the stage of the Kodak Theatre tomorrow night.

Best Actress

Viola Davis, "The Help"

Though the film is controversial and seems to argue that black people will do jsut fine if they ally themselves with white people, no one can argue that Davis' performance is not a tour de force. since no one has seen Glenn Close's "Albert Nobbs," and Meryl's "Iron Lady" has languished, Davis will triumph here.

Best Supporting Actor

Christopher Plummer, "Beginners"

He has won virtually every award this season and this will serve as a lifetime achievement award for the "Sound of Music" vet.

Best Supporting Actress

Octavia Spencer, "The Help"

I desperately want Janet McTeer of "Albert Nobbs" to win, for that was the best performance by far put on the screen this year. However, it seems that academy members have not been fast in rushing to see this particular indie and it has no steam behind it. Spencer's comic part in "The Help" has been popular with audiences and even some critics have noted that her performance gives an actual edged black voice to the film. With wins across the board, Spencer in her breakthrough part will take home the statuette.

Best Original Screenplay

"Midnight in Paris," Woody Allen

Allen has not won an Oscar since "Hannah and Her Sisters" in 1986. Allen's ode to American modernism and the City of Lights has become one of the most successful films of his career and the Academy will anoint him again for it.

Best Adapted Screenplay

"The Descendants," Alexander Payne

There was a point in November when it seemed "Descendants" was going to be the film to beat. It was the favored candidate for Actor, Director, Screenplay and even Picture. Now that we are at Oscar weekend the only category where it seems poised to win is in the screenplay category.

Best Song

"Man or Muppet," "The Muppets"

Since the music branch, which has been a mess since the 1970's, decided to nominate only two songs in this category, it seems pretty evident that Kermie and the gang will triumph here. It's a shame that songs from films like "Gnomeo and Juliet," "Albert Nobbs," and "The Help" couldn't be nominated, so we could have some music performances at this year's awards.

Best Score

Ludovic Bource, "The Artist"

With the hoopla over Kim Novak saying she felt "raped" by the makers of "The Artist" because they referenced part of Herrmann's theme for "Vertigo," the score of the silent was necessary for the film and made people think about sound in a way far different from your typical blow-em-up flick.

Best cinematography

Emmanuel Luzbeki, "Tree of Life"

Even though Terence Malick's film had more detractors among its viewers, the film was admittedly beautiful, and should triumph in this category. Luzbeki has been nominated several times before and this should be his first win.

Best Editing

"The Artist"

To make a silent film palatable to today's audiences, it needs a tight script and even tighter editing which allows for the easy comprehension of the plot without dialogue.

Best Visual Effects

"Hugo"

A gorgeous film that believes that effects aren't always about explosions.

Best Art Direction

"Hugo"

The recreation of the turn-of-the-century Gare Montparnasse is breathtaking.

Best Costume Design

"Jane Eyre"

Academy voters love period pieces for this category and "Jane's" moody clothes told an appropriate story about its characters.

Best makeup

"Albert Nobbs"

Glenn Close's and Janet Mcteer's transformations looked so normal and unassuming that it looked almost as if there was no makeup.

Best Sound Editing

"Drive"

I think Fincher's "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" will win here, but since "Drive" was my favorite movie of the year, I want it to win in the sole category for which it was nominated.

Best Sound Mixing

"Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"

Sound and camerawork conspired to create one creepy view of Sweden.

Best Documentary Short

"Saving Face"

This heart-wrenching look into Pakistani women who were the victims of acid attacks (usually by husbands or scorned lovers) and the attempts to repair their injuries through plastic surgery may have issues with its first-world view of third-world women and the concomitant epistemological and ethical quandaries arising from the imposition of western rationality on "Oriental" issues, but the film sheds light on the problems of women who are denied their voice (cf. Gayatri Spivak).

Best Documentary Feature

"Pina"

This category is difficult. The directors of "Purgatory 3" actually through their tripartite series on the 'West Memphis 3" helped them attain freedom from a prison sentence imposed on innocent young men painted as satanic murderers. The Academy, through its mission statement of helping bringing new understanding of the world through film, found a movie that can be argued had a real-world impact. Wim Wenders, however, crafted one of the most beautiful films about dance in 3D, expanding our vision of how the human body can be represented on screen. I will go with Wim.

Best Animated Feature

"Rango"

I am thrilled that the dull, clunking "Tintin," helmed by Spielberg failed to make it into this category. Thankfully that means the cute and well-crafted Gore Verbinski piece, "Rango" will be able to take its well deserved award.

Best Foreign language Film

"A Separation," Iran

The Iranian family drama seems like a surefire bet in this category, but this category is notoriously difficult to predict because to be able to vote one must be certified as having seen all 5 films and special screenings, thus a small portion of members actually vote in this category, throwing all tools for prediction out the window.

Best Live Action Short

"The Shore"

Enjoy the show, folks!



Monday, February 13, 2012

Mourning Whitney: The Melancholic Diva

Whitney Houston's ignominious end on Saturday afternoon was a tragic but somehow fitting end to a life touched with talent and so much pain. Discovered in a bathtub at the famous Beverly Hilton, Houston's submerged body was lifeless and at 48, her end came in the most melodramatic way possible, just a day before the music industry's biggest night, the Grammys. At the annual awards, artists poured on the praise and artists Adele and J Hudson seemed to be crowned Whitney's successors, with the former winning six prizes (including all three top categories) and the latter performing a rousing rendition of Whitney's signature song, "I Will Always Love You."

The articles that have appeared have told the now familiar tale of Whitney's rise to stardom from a family of music insiders, mother Cissy Houston, the famed gospel singer; cousin Dionne Warwick, the muse of Burt Bachrach; and godmother Aretha Franklin, the so-called Queen of Soul. When discovered by Clive Davis of Arista Records, Whitney became a superstar virtually overnight with rousing ballads and dance anthems, attaining seven straight number one hits, a feat unmatched by any artist since Whitney. She maneuvered herself easily from kiss-kiss songs to kiss-off songs of heartbreak.  She achieved her greatest success with the soundtrack to her Hollywood melodrama, "The Bodyguard" (1993). With her slick version of Dolly Parton's original, "I Will Always Love You," Houston proved that her unique mezzo voice could belt out a song with emotion and power.

 Many commentators have stated that we should eschew a sensationalist rattling of Whitney's addictions and public disgraces, but with a diva of Whitney's stature, her public success is deeply intertwined with her private defeats, the two are inextricably linked. And in many ways, this is the pattern for many of the past century's greatest female talents. From Maria Callas and Judy Garland, Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, to Amy Winehouse, Mariah Carey and now Whitney, these women have lived within the realm of feminine excess, pushing the boundaries for acceptable female behavior. The strong voices they create in their films and music seep into their quotidian lives, usually ending in erratic behavior, addictions and careers littered with innumerable peaks and valleys. Every hit has a concomitant flop, and every time that they have faded from the limelight, there is the possibility of a comeback.

This cycle of success, failure and comeback becomes the narrative of redemption that so many hunger for. Mariah Carey proved that even a woman who crashed and burned very publicly was welcomed back with a new album. In fact, Mariah's 2005 album, "The Emancipation of Mimi," contained the biggest hit of her entire career, "We Belong Together." She won her first Grammy since she was crowned Best New Artist in 1990. Mariah trudged through the valley of the shadow of death and emerged unscathed on the other side, more popular than ever. Unfortunately, these type of stories are few and far between, and Whitney was not able to repeat it.

Whitney attempted the comebacks. She succeeded in 1998 with her album, "My Love is Your Love," which featured two top-ten hits: "It's Not Right, But It's Okay" and "Heartbreak Hotel." The album had a more urban sound than her earlier work, utilizing new producers and having guest spots from Enrique Inglesias, Deborah Cox, and Kelly Price. In the early 90's, Houston had been criticized for songs such as "Didn't We Almost Have it All?" for sounding too "white." At one NAACP Image awards of this time, her nomination for best female r&b singer was actually booed. In many ways, her marriage to Bobby Brown was a calculated move to win back some of this audience and gain some credibility with the audience that she felt she should have on her side. This album allowed a smooth return to the R&B urban charts  "It's Not Right" became her biggest hit in years and won her the last Grammy of her life. It became a dance-floor anthem for people dumped and one of the finest kiss-off songs of the decade.

But after that, the drug use increased. At a 2001 Michael Jackson concert, she appeared so thin--anorexic, even--that her bone-thin arms were actually digitally thickened. Her 2002 interview with Diane Sawyer became an ominous warning to celebrities of the pitfalls of fame. She spoke of herself in the third person dropping such witty bon mots, as "Whitney Houston makes too much money to do crack;" "Crack is whack;" or my personal favorite, "Show me the receipts, Diane Sawyer." The problems with her hubby became the fodder for comedians with the antics of her ridiculous reality show, "Being Bobby Brown." Houston was reduced to a supporting character, often appearing bemused and befuddled, shouting, "Bobbbby!" at the top of her lungs, the only use of her famed vocal pipes on the entire show. Arrests of Bobby for beating ensued, and the marriage finally ended in 2007.

Unfortunately, the break with Bobby did not broker a new, reinvented Whitney. The attempts at sobriety failed. The last album in 2009, "I Look to You," showed how the years of drug abuse, smoking, boozing and carousing had ravaged her voice. Even the best song of the album, "Million Dollar Bill" (penned by admirer, Alicia Keys) did not display the range that "I wanna Dance with Somebody" had exposed in the early days of her career. The R. Kelly song, "I Look to You," which was supposed to be her next ballad, showed a voice that did not have the strength it had only a decade before. The succeeding tour was a disaster. At a London show, a critic wrote that at "one point, Ms Houston said her soprano friend did not show up tonight. Her mezzo or contralto friends failed to show up either."

She was supposed to be recording a new album and star in a remake of the 1976 film musical, "Sparkle." But the true tragedy of Saturday's news was that few people were truly shocked. Just like Amy Winehouse, this past summer, it seemed these women were doomed to an early death. The roller coasters of their lives seemed inevitably leading to disaster. Whitney's attempts to curry favor with those surrounding her only led to her self-destruction to be carried to its logical conclusion. At least, we still have the music from those early days. We will continue to dance and sing along to those ballads and disco tracks. Whitney would be happy about that.