Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Who is this 'Meryl Streep' Anyway?

As promised, this week's Oscarology post is brought to you by the letter 'A,' as in 'actor.' Let's face it, we live in a world of boldfaced names and celebrity that keeps us most interested in the acting awards above all others. Yes, it's nice that Kathryn Bigelow is going to be the first female Best Director Oscar winner in, well, ever, but will she be on the front cover of Entertainment Weekly this week? Hardly. (That honor belongs to Up in the Air stars George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, and Anna Kendrick, by the way.)

However, this year is odd, because of the number of probable nominees who are virtually unknown and have never been nominated for an Oscar before. 13 out of 20 nominees as predicted by yours truly have never heard their name called at oh-God-hundred by the Academy president and a pretty, random celebrity. Nonetheless, the acting categories remain the focus, and at least two of the races are pretty hotly contested. The other two? Well, let's just say that eight actors don't really need to show up on Oscar night expecting to win.

Best Actor
George Clooney, Up in the Air
Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
Colin Firth, A Single Man
Morgan Freeman, Invictus
Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker

Hit or Miss! Daniel Day-Lewis, Nine

Disappointingly, this race has been predictable all along this precursor season, and not only that, but the performances aren't that great. The same goes for Supporting Actor, but at least there's one incredible standout in that race. The female acting categories definitely have the advantage over the males this year.

Clooney's performance as corporate ax-man Ryan Bingham isn't quite as stirring as many are calling it (I'd call it serviceable, quite frankly; without the stunning script and fantastic work of the two women next to him every step of the way, it wouldn't have made much impact), however, he has the star gravitas and the goodwill from Syriana and Michael Clayton going for him. Still, I do want to say this: George Clooney isn't half the actor his fellow would-be nominees are. He's a pretty face and does a decent job, but he's not a true artist.

Bridges' performance I have not seen yet (when a movie hasn't even really been released anywhere but LA you can understand why), but I have to say this: I'm growing a little tired of the "strong men can cry" inspiration-type performances so common here. (See: Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain and Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler.) Trust me, I know that more than a few disagree with me, especially in regard to Rourke. But I just can't shake how annoyed I get with such performances.

Firth is lucky that he gave an incredible performance in a movie that rings a little too "student work," because he elevates the medium, and nothing turns the Academy on like a good medium elevation. Again, the film hasn't really been released, so I haven't gotten to see it, but Firth's performance is exactly what Brokeback and Milk fans love oh so dearly.

Freeman has a formula: play God-like character (in two cases, God himself) with a commanding voice and get critical plaudits. I loved Freeman in Driving Miss Daisy, and I kinda wish he'd go back to those types of performances, because as much as Freeman was made to play Nelson Mandela, this one just feels so Oscar baity.

Renner would be my winner of these five, but keep in mind that he's a low-wattage star in a low-wattage film. Up against four ridiculously bright stars, he's (sadly) out of luck. Still, his performance as a bomb tech and adrenaline junkie in Iraq is really stunning. Combined with Bigelow's excellent direction and a terrific supporting cast, Renner really made the film something special.

Day-Lewis, my Hit or Miss! pick, was truly the worst part of Nine. By a country mile. He couldn't wrap his mind around Guido Contini (guess that Method acting fails sometimes), and I honestly don't remember a worse performance from Day-Lewis. (The original pick for this role, Javier Bardem, would have been so much better.) So why is he a Hit or Miss? Simple: He's Daniel Day-Lewis. The man who abandoned his child and drank our milkshake only two years ago in what some called a 'masterpiece' film, There Will Be Blood. (I'll reserve my rant on that movie.) His star appeal might help him coast into the final five, especially in this weak of a year.

Best Actress
Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia
Carey Mulligan, An Education
Gabourey Sidibe, Precious
Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
Emily Blunt, The Young Victoria

Hit or Miss! Saoirse Ronan, The Lovely Bones

I'm pretty lonely out here in left field predicting Blunt over Helen Mirren, but I really don't think The Queen has a shot. In fact, I wouldn't even put her in sixth place.

Who is this 'Meryl Streep' character, anyway? She always gets critical fawning, but I just don't know what she's done that's worth half a damn. Kidding. The truth is that once again, Streep turned in another ridiculously good performance (actually, including It's Complicated, pair of performances), her third in four years. Whether she's imitating an icon or creating a new character all her own, Streep is truly a masterful actor, definitely the greatest alive and possibly the greatest of all time (she has to fight four-time Oscar winner Katharine Hepburn for that title), and I think critical sentiment is pushing for a third career win for the to-be 16-time nominee.

Let me take Mulligan's section to just rave about An Education a little bit. This thing is by far the Doubt of this year: the incredibly well-acted, well-written prestige film that goes almost completely ignored by major organizations because it isn't a pop culture phenomenon (Up in the Air), a directing marvel (The Hurt Locker), big and loud (Inglourious Basterds), a technical marvel (Avatar) or a R-rated melisma of cursing, violence, and sexual abuse (Precious). No, instead, Education, with the brilliant Mulligan as its star, is getting its plaudits only for the central actress, which is a shame. Yes, she's fantastic, and a win for her is well-deserved, but what about all the other elements of the movie that were so stunning? It truly is a shame that Education is only coasting into the Best Picture race on the 10-wide field. At least the superb Mulligan will get noticed here, though Sidibe and Streep are going to give her a run for her money.

Sidibe is truly awe-inspiring as the titular character in Precious, and I would actually love to see her win, but she's almost too natural in the role. I'm afraid the Ellen Page/Juno "is she the same?" affliction will befall Sidibe's chances here. Her best shot is at the Golden Globes, but will something unexpected happen there? See Blunt's section for more on that.

Bullock's nomination is the win here, I'm afraid. Yes, she is fun as Leigh Anne Tuhoy, a real-life hoot-and-a-half, but the performance lacks a gravitas necessary to win at the Oscars as well as the necessary screen time. "But Kevin," you say, "She's in almost the whole movie!" Ah, yes, but there are several key scenes (the beginning phases, the shooting scene) where she not only does not appear, but isn't even an off-screen presence. That's a tough hurdle for a Lead Actress contender to overcome. She's not really supporting, but she's not really lead. She does a damn good job at whatever she does, but it isn't good enough to beat the incredible Streep, Mulligan, or Sidibe. The fact that she's rallied so well and beaten out Helen Mirren as an Oscar lock is pretty admirable in and of itself.

It's risky, placing a bet on someone who's never been nominated for an Oscar based on a performance that never really gained any traction up until the recent nominations. Not only that, but Blunt has Mirren, Marion Cotillard, and a category-confused Melanie Laurent nipping at her heels. However, Cotillard's movie got ravaged by critics, Mirren's movie wasn't ever really released, and Laurent, like I said, is category-confused. Her part in Inglourious Basterds isn't enough to scrape a nod here. So that just leaves the simple task of actually doing enough to get nominated. Like Mirren's film, Blunt's never really made much of an impact on release. Still, it's a movie about royals (1 point), her performance is critically lauded (2 points), and she's scored Golden Globe (3) and Critics' Choice (4) Award nominations for the performance. It's a risk picking her, but I feel good about her chances. To paraphrase Dr. Chase from House, "The other choices suck worse."

What to make of Saoirse Ronan? The girl's so young (only 15! Taylor Swift wrote a song about that age as if it were some time ago, and she's only 20), but she's the best part of a terrible movie and her track record with Oscar is good (first nomination at 13 = great track record). I want her to be nominated for the historical aspect of it all, and with the fifth spot so vulnerable she could upset, but I doubt it, sadly. No, if this is going to any younger actress, it'll be Blunt, unless Oscar voters are feeling very generous.

Best Supporting Actor
Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Woody Harrelson, The Messenger
Matt Damon, Invictus
Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones
Christopher Plummer, The Last Station

Hit or Miss! Christian McKay, Me and Orson Welles

In case it hasn't been made obvious before, this is Waltz's award already. His multilingual, sinful performance in Basterds is the stuff of film legend. He's genius as an evil genius, and the precursors (almost) all agree: he's a winner. The only one to beat him in any early contest (and there's only been one) was Harrelson.

A few weeks ago, Harrelson wasn't even on anyone's radar. Alfred Molina had his spot on my list, as well as most others'. He's truly come out of nowhere, and I feel like that's primarily because of goodwill from Zombieland as well as an enduring career. He won the National Board of Review Best Supporting Actor award, but I feel that'll probably be his last; this isn't his best performance, and the movie is tiny. He deserves the nomination, but not the win.

It's tough to win an Oscar when you're not devoted to campaigning, and Damon really couldn't care less about this award. He's probably seen his competition (read: Waltz) and decided the nomination is the win this year. Smart man. He's nailed Francois Pineaar's South African accent for this performance, but almost no one is that excited about Invictus. He could probably be playing Nelson Mandela in this movie instead and no one would look twice. It's a snoozer role.

Tucci does fantastic work always, but this isn't his best work, even this year. I really wish he would get the nomination for Julie & Julia, but he's subtle in that movie, and as Jennifer Garner and Rosemarie DeWitt found out the last two years for Juno and Rachel Getting Married, subtle don't play. He's ridiculously over-the-top in Bones, and Oscar voters prefer the ostentatious, so the nomination is gonna come for this rather terrible flick.

What to make of Plummer's campaign? The Last Station has been almost invisible this year, and the fact that it has any awards traction whatsoever is a bit surprising to me. Yes, Plummer has had an enduring career, and playing Leo Tolstoy is baity, but I just don't get this movie or the buzz for its actors. I still don't think this nod is likely, and it most definitely isn't locked. It doesn't have the feeling of certainty that Hal Holbrook's "career" nod did two years ago, and a lot of people loved Into the Wild. Not so much for Station.

McKay's a breakout star in Me and Orson Welles as the titular thespian, and his performance is fun, inventive, and attention-grabbing (which is more than I can say of Tucci, Damon, and Plummer's roles...). However, the buzz for the role is dying out quickly, and this is only McKay's second film (yes, yes, I know it's only Sidibe's first, and that Jennifer Hudson won an Oscar for her first role in Dreamgirls, but those are what we call "extraordinary circumstances"). With the more boring competitors hogging all the precursor awards, I'd bet we're going to have to suffer through a McKay-less Best Supporting Actor competition. Too bad, too. He's the only one who could really give Waltz a good race.

Best Supporting Actress
Mo'Nique, Precious
Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air
Penelope Cruz, Nine
Julianne Moore, A Single Man

Hit or Miss! Melanie Laurent, Inglourious Basterds

Mo'Nique is as locked into the win as Christoph Waltz is for his category. The role is an absolute winner, her performance is stunning and a true marvel, and the hype from Sundance to Toronto to the year-end best lists has been undying. Don't believe any of the negative buzz. When the top Oscarologists were polled last month by Gurus of Gold, an awesome collection of pundits that play this fun Oscarology game, about the Supporting Actress race, each and every one put Mo'Nique solidly in first place. That didn't happen with any other competitior in any other race, not even Waltz. She's in and done.

Kendrick is truly marvelous in Air, playing corporate chipmunk Natalie Keener. She's by far the best actor in the film and probably the best part of the film (raise your hand if the hysterical crying scene and basically everything that came afterward up to her off-key rendition of "Time After Time" made you die laughing), but this isn't her year. She's shown tremendous promise, and any other year I would love to see her get her golden statue on Oscar night, but this is Mo'Nique's year.

Farmiga wasn't my favorite part about Up in the Air, but she was still quite good. Her big character shift near the middle rivals Jennifer Garner's in Juno two years ago, but it's a great negative shift as opposed to Garner's positive one. I still wonder if she'll have some trouble getting nominated with Kendrick also involved, but things have gone her way throughout the precursors, so she should be fine. Of course, she'll lose to Mo'Nique, but it's always an honor to be nominated.

Cruz is being dropped off of Oscarologists' lists everywhere, which puzzles me. She's been nominated by SAG, the BFCA, and by the Globes, and critics, though they blasted her movie, actually liked her quite a bit in it. Her Vicky Cristina Barcelona role was quite similar to this one, and they gave her the trophy for that role, but then again, her strongest competition last year was a woman with a ten minute scene (Viola Davis). Unlike other Oscarologists, I do think she'll get the nomination, but again, she'll lose to Mo'Nique. (Notice a pattern here, folks?)

Moore's nomination once looked like much more of a sure thing than it does now. She does a great job, but it's a small role in a small movie, and she's way overshadowed by Colin Firth. Getting snubbed by SAG, which is usually the greatest indicator of the acting races, hurts, but their choice, Diane Kruger, less-than-inspiring as Bridget Von Hammersmark in Inglourious Basterds, isn't going to get the nomination. Moore should get this final spot, but again, she'll lose to--oh, you know.

Laurent was the George Clooney of Inglourious Basterds: she did serviceable work in a fairly easy role. You gotta admire the bilinguality of the role, but everyone in Basterds pulled that off (well, not Brad Pitt, but that's part of the reason why you don't see his name on this list). She could make it on this list, but it's a risk, and one that won't pay off, because she'll lose to Mo'Nique.

Well, that's about as deep an analysis of the acting races as you'll find on the net today. Things look pretty set in most of these, with at least three sure things on each list. Still, I would say that Renner, Blunt, Plummer, Cruz, and Moore should be very careful, as they are the five most vulnerable on these lists. If anyone gets left off, it'll be one (or more) of those five.

Got any feelings on any particular race? Wondering why Tobey Maguire suddenly disappeared off the Best Actor list? Got any thoughts about Marion Cotillard's category fraud and where she'll finally be put if she indeed makes it into the final cut? Take it to the comments! Next week, I'll examine the Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Adapted Screenplay categories, the second of which is sure to be a hot mess. Hoo boy.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Oscars!

Christmas this year has been great, with family time not grating on my nerves too badly, work yesterday actually ending on time, and seeing a few movies here and there. However, it is Friday, so it's Oscar Post time!

Not a whole lot of new has happened this week, but things are starting to come into focus. I'll also introduce my "Hit or Miss" picks, which are selections that are risky, but could wind up paying off.

Precursors, critics, and Oscarologists are all falling into the same pattern of films and performances being chosen over and over again. I'll have none of that. This race is hardly sewn up, and with a little over a month left before nomination announcements, there's still time to be surprised.

Best Picture
Up in the Air
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
Precious
Avatar
Invictus
An Education
Nine
A Serious Man
A Single Man

Hit or Miss! (500) Days of Summer

An Education and Nine are starting to rally back, despite fading buzz and harsh reviews, respectively. I've now lost all faith in Up. I thought for sure it would be a lock for a nomination, but then the buzz has started slowly slipping away... Will it vote-split here with The Princess and the Frog and The Fantastic Mr. Fox? As much as I don't think it will happen, I've moved both A Single/Serious Man onto the list, but it still seems implausible. The Last Station could redeem itself, but that movie has a whole other host of problems (see: Best Actress), so I'm going with this for now. The "Hit or Miss" pick, (500) Days of Summer, isn't as great a movie as it's been made out to be, but precursors really like it, so look for it to possibly spoil.

Best Director
Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
James Cameron, Avatar
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds
Jason Reitman, Up in the Air
Clint Eastwood, Invictus

Hit or Miss! Lone Scherfig, An Education

Hmm... is this one really as sewn-up as it would seem? Was I wrong to knock Lee Daniels off? Does Scherfig really have a chance? It would be cool to have two female directors nominated in one year, but Scherfig's reviews weren't as stellar as her star's... Eastwood's the most vulnerable on this list, as no one is really that excited about Invictus, but I'd consider the top four locked up.

Best Actor
George Clooney, Up in the Air
Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
Colin Firth, A Single Man
Morgan Freeman, Invictus
Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker

Hit or Miss! Tobey Maguire, Brothers

Bridges' press might be overblown, as most of the precursors actually went for Clooney, so despite most pundits putting the Crazy Heart star first, I'm sticking to my guns with the biggest movie star on earth in the number one spot. Firth's buzz is slowing, and Freeman's never really got off the ground. Renner won't win, but neither will Maguire, so I'm going with the more likely option. At this point, it's all about coming for the show, not playing to win.

Best Actress
Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia
Carey Mulligan, An Education
Gabourey Sidibe, Precious
Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
Emily Blunt, The Young Victoria

Hit or Miss! Helen Mirren, The Last Station

I'm starting to think Mirren isn't really anywhere near the type of lock most thought she would be. The Globe nod for Blunt leads me to think they'll latch onto her. Here's what's for sure, though: Streep, Mulligan, Sidibe, and Bullock are locked and loaded. Nothing's budging them, save a miracle.

Best Supporting Actor
Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones
Woody Harrelson, The Messenger
Matt Damon, Invictus
Christopher Plummer, The Last Station

Hit or Miss! Christian McKay, Me and Orson Welles

What the hell happened to Alfred Molina? For the longest time, he looked like the only sure thing on this list, but now, he's dropped off completely due to precursor total disinterest. I hope he makes it on, but I don't really consider him a contender anymore. Again, this is Waltz' trophy already, but Tucci and Harrelson are gaining ground. Too bad the best they'll do is second place. Damon's being discounted by more than a few pundits, even though he's racked up precursor awards and nominations like no tomorrow. I just don't see The Last Station being a big player in any category, much less this one. I feel like Plummer is going to lose his spot to McKay for his fun, inventive performance, or to Molina.

Best Supporting Actress
Mo'Nique, Precious
Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air
Penelope Cruz, Nine
Melanie Laurent, Inglourious Basterds

Hit or Miss! Mariah Carey, Precious

Best Supporting Actress (AKA The Mo'Nique Award) is one of those categories that this year especially is getting so marred by category fraud it's almost seeming impossible to distinguish. Farmiga, Laurent, and Nine's Marion Cotillard have all tried at least once to go lead, each of which was an epic failure. Laurent is great in Basterds; she probably deserves the nomination, plus the buzz for the film has really been ratcheting up, but should she worry about splitting votes with SAG Award nominee Diane Kruger for the same movie? Cotillard has no chance here, as her category fraud is just too ridiculous. It may have finally worked out for Kate Winslet last year, but Marion Cotillard is not Kate Winslet. Cruz is looking lock-ish, and Farmiga, Kendrick, and (of course) Mo'Nique are all locks. Carey's a shot in the dark, as she has always been. Julianne Moore, by the way, fell by the wayside due to the lack of support from SAG. She could probably still edge out Laurent, but that's a bad organization to be stiffed by...

Best Original Screenplay
Mark Boal, The Hurt Locker
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds
Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber, (500) Days of Summer
Joel and Ethan Coen, A Serious Man
Bob Peterson, Up

Hit or Miss! Nancy Meyers, It's Complicated

I'm feeling good about this category...and that scares me. It's all feeling a little too lock-ish for me. Where's the out-of-nowhere In Bruges-type nomination? This is too pat for my tastes. Even my "Hit or Miss" seems too typical.

Best Adapted Screenplay
Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air
Damien Paul, Precious
Nick Hornby, An Education
Nora Ephron, Julie & Julia
Anthony Peckham, Invictus

Hit or Miss! Various Authors, In the Loop

And this one is done. The Globes' nominations didn't really destroy the chances for any film here, so the list is the same.

Best Animated Feature
Up
The Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Princess and the Frog
Coraline
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

Hit or Miss! Ponyo

Please understand that I don't bear any ill will towards Ponyo. But getting snubbed by the Globes? That's just plain terrible. Meatballs is a commercial success, as well as a surprise critical hit. And it got nominated at the Globes. Bye-bye, Ponyo.

We're still a month away from the nominations, so this could take a whole lot of turns. Next week, I'll more closely examine the acting races, followed by the direction and screenplay categories the next week, then the specialty categories (documentary, animated film, foreign film), and finally, a look at that big green monster known as the Best Picture categories. Playtime is over, kiddies. Oscarology becomes a serious game now.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Golden Globes Turn Oscar's World Upside Down

The Golden Globe nominations have been announced, so obviously, analysis is expected. Well, you're getting it, but not like you'd think.

Since this is first and foremost an Oscar blog, instead of trying to analyze the Golden Globe categories, I'll simply update my predictions based on what the Globes did, as well as several critics' groups and, my personal favorite organization, the Broadcast Film Critics Association, picked.

Best Picture
The Hurt Locker
Up in the Air
Inglourious Basterds
Precious
Avatar
Invictus
A Serious Man
Up
An Education
Nine

All of a sudden, I'm thinking An Education is gonna have a hard time scraping a nod here. I was stupid to eliminate Nine and A Serious Man... call it spur-of-the-moment craziness. However, I'm still skeptical about both--is the buzz really worth nominations? Serious got shut out of the Globes, but major critics organizations are falling in love with it, so who knows... Up lost a couple of critics' prizes for Best Animated Feature, which only serves to make it more vulnerable. I really don't feel good about the bottom four picks: they just don't seem solid. The Last Station's buzz disappeared, so it's gone, too.

Best Director
Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
James Cameron, Avatar
Jason Reitman, Up in the Air
Clint Eastwood, Invictus
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds

Lee Daniels couldn't hang onto buzz, so he's off for Tarantino. Bigelow looks undefeatable, which kinda rocks. We're gonna have our first female Best Director Oscar winner! It only took 82 freaking years!

Best Actor
George Clooney, Up in the Air
Colin Firth, A Single Man
Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
Morgan Freeman, Invictus
Toby Maguire, Brothers

Clooney's looking like a bit of a lock here, but that really still remains to be determined. Maguire's win at the Globes really intrigues me, so I've moved him onto the list and gotten rid of The Hurt Locker's Jeremy Renner, though I still think he could pull a nod.

Best Actress
Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia
Carey Mulligan, An Education
Gabourey Sidibe, Precious
Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
Helen Mirren, The Last Station

This list is looking like the most solid list of all. Streep bounds up the list after numerous critical prizes and two Golden Globe nods, raising her overall total to 25 (?!), the highest ever. Again. I really am interested in Emily Blunt's nomination for The Young Victoria, and it's certainly the type of movie that actresses get nominated for, but I just don't think she can derail Bullock. So who goes? Mirren? Strange as it is, I think the former Queen is gonna be the one who loses her spot to another young upstart, not Bullock.

Best Supporting Actor
Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Matt Damon, Invictus
Stanley Tucci, Julie & Julia/The Lovely Bones
Alfred Molina, An Education
Christopher Plummer, The Last Station

Dang, this one is getting hard to figure out. The Messenger's Woody Harrelson is picking up steam like there's no tomorrow, while Molina's Globe snub hurts, but who to take off this list? It's really a strange game and one I still don't know the answer to, other than this little tidbit: Christoph Waltz has won. It's done. He, like Mo'Nique, is picking up every big prize known to man now, and as long as nothing comes along to really derail him, he's got it.

Best Supporting Actress
Mo'Nique, Precious
Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
Julianne Moore, A Single Man
Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air
Penelope Cruz, Nine

Same thing about Mo'Nique as about Waltz. I kinda feel bad for Kendrick, though. It sounds like she's actually pretty incredible opposite George Clooney. Mariah Carey is done; someone from Nine is gonna get nominated here, as well as both Farmiga and Kendrick, so there's no room for her. Moore might have been overhyped; I think Farmiga probably deserves to be above her.

Best Original Screenplay
Mark Boal, The Hurt Locker
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds
Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber, (500) Days of Summer
Joel and Ethan Coen, A Serious Man
Bob Peterson, Up

Best Adapted Screenplay
Damien Paul, Precious
Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air
Nick Hornby, An Education
Nora Ephron, Julie & Julia
Anthony Peckham, Invictus

I can't even begin to talk about what a hot ghetto mess these categories are. The Globes snubbed Julie & Julia and Precious for District 9 and It's Complicated? And that's not even talking about all the rest that got snubbed. Seriously, y'all, I almost give up. This thing is ridiculous with how many contenders there are.

Best Animated Feature
Up
The Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Princess and the Frog
Coraline
Ponyo

Looks like I WAAAY overestimated Ponyo. I still think it'll hold on, but not by much. The Fantastic Mr. Fox is beating Up in a couple of contests, but I don't think it's a pattern. Who knows? We'll see.

On another, completely unrelated note, congratulations go out to David Cruz and Grace McElhenny, friends of the blog, for their recent acceptances to Yale and Georgetown, respectively. Congratulations, you guys. It couldn't have happened to nicer, more deserving people.

Also, thanks to everyone who said kind things about my acceptance to Loyola Marymount. Their screenwriting program is super-selective, and I submitted samples for their review, so it means a lot to me, and your support means even more.

We're headed into the Christmas break, when things in this race really take a turn. I will, of course, keep this posted, as well as release my Entertainers of the Year at the end of the week in lieu of an Oscar post. Once Project Runway and American Idol come back, you can expect those blog posts to fire up, too. Thanks to everyone who reads, follows, and supports, and Happy Christmas Break!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Blue Things Beat Daniel Day-Lewis

Avatar, James Cameron, Colin Firth, Julianne Moore up
Rob Marshall, Nine, The Lovely Bones, Stanley Tucci down

Well, that'll show me for updating my picks a day early.

After posting updated Oscar predictions on Thursday instead of Friday, reviews started pouring in for Avatar, A Single Man, The Lovely Bones and Nine started pouring in, requiring more than a few changes to the main six categories.

Best Picture
Up in the Air
Precious
The Hurt Locker
Invictus
An Education
Inglourious Basterds
Up
Avatar
The Last Station
A Single Man

Nine and A Serious Man move off the list in favor of the ridiculously well-reviewed Avatar and the slightly less-so A Single Man. Serious only moves off because it and Single really aren't capable of coexisting, at least on this list. I'm still wondering if Up and Up in the Air can. In other news: The Lovely Bones got so critically smashed that it has no chance at a nod.

Best Director
Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
James Cameron, Avatar
Clint Eastwood, Invictus
Jason Reitman, Up in the Air
Lee Daniels, Precious

Cameron's glowing reviews shoot him up the list. His is a director's movie, and let's face it: things worked out pretty well last time, huh? Terrible reviews for Marshall's movie drop him off the list. I'm very close to adding Tom Ford for A Single Man in favor of Daniels, but I won't just yet.

Best Actor
George Clooney, Up in the Air
Colin Firth, A Single Man
Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
Morgan Freeman, Invictus
Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker

Strong reviews for Firth move him up ever so slightly. The Bridges performance is starting to make me wonder: can a movie with no other real awards prospects produce a lock performance? Mickey Rourke needed Marisa Tomei's buzz to make his nod a lock last year, and Bridges is going up against some major wattage talent, so we'll see. Oh, and Daniel Day-Lewis? Yeah, his performance underwhelms, apparently. Called that one right!

Best Actress
Carey Mulligan, An Education
Gabourey Sidibe, Precious
Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia
Helen Mirren, The Last Station
Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side

I'll keep this the same for now. Streep needs a comeback, because the young'uns are trouncing her in buzz and press.

Best Supporting Actor
Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Alfred Molina, An Education
Matt Damon, Invictus
Stanley Tucci, Julie & Julia
Christopher Plummer, The Last Station

Okay, so I broke. Big deal. Alec Baldwin was an outside guess, anyways. And his movie still hasn't opened, so something good could happen. However, I guessed against Hal Holbrook two years ago, and that turned out disastrously, so I'll switch to Plummer for the generational vote.

Best Supporting Actress
Mo'Nique, Precious
Julianne Moore, A Single Man
Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
Penelope Cruz, Nine
Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air

I'm hearing more good things about Farmiga, so she's back on the list. Cruz drops because her movie got blasted, and Moore rises because her reviews were astounding. (Mo'Nique will still win, though.)

Sorry again for the double update, but that's my lesson of the day: never speak too soon. Also: never underestimate blue things.

Entertainers of the Year

Who made you laugh this year? What movie brought you to tears? What cheerleading coach did both? (Yes We Cane!)

It's always difficult to determine who exactly are the Entertainers of the Year, because "entertaining" is such a hard concept to define. Is it someone who keeps an established career rolling? Or is it someone who really breaks out of their mold and becomes a phenomenon?

My definition is a bit of both. A strict, dictionary definition of "entertainer" just doesn't do here. They're actors, singers, TV shows, movies, and other pop culture phenomena. With that, I present to you, in no particular order, my 15 Entertainers of the Year!

Sandra Bullock
For a 45-year old actress, Bullock is having the year that most twentysomethings would die for. Her two hit movies The Proposal and The Blind Side have made incredible grosses both domestically and abroad. She's on her way to her first Oscar nomination for The Blind Side, quite a feat for a film not many considered a threat only a short time ago. She's been absent from the scene for years, causing many to wonder if her career was dead after years of hit films like Miss Congeniality, but Bullock's shown that just because you take a little break doesn't mean that you're out of the game. Welcome back, Gracie Lou Freebush.

Rated R
Mock if you'd like. Selecting Rihanna's fourth album, her darkest and most personal effort by far, as an Entertainer of the Year doesn't jell on several levels. Why not just select Rihanna as an EotY? Here's why: R was such a great album for the production value, quality of writing, as well as Rihanna's vocals. Just selecting the singer wouldn't really be honest, especially since her life this year hasn't exactly been entertaining. Props to her, however, for handling her domestic abuse scandal with grace and ease, and producing such a stellar album. With stellar tracks like Russian Roulette and G4L, the pop superstar has reinvented herself yet again, this time for the absolute best.

Meryl Streep
To be fair, Streep is kind of an Entertainer of the Year every year. After such radically different performances last year in Doubt and Mamma Mia!, La Streep basically did the same thing with a biographical performance of Julia Child, as well as a loose, aged woman with questionable morals in It's Complicated. Is there anything the woman can't do? Maybe play air hockey really well? Because in all seriousness, she's kinda the best actress of all time. Just in my opinion. And the Oscars'.

Chelsea Handler
Handler's been having one of those years that really doesn't happen. Her late night talk show, Chelsea Lately, started the year being shifted out of its timeslot and having its set revamped. Thanks, E!, for screwing that around. However, since then, Chelseas both Handler and Lately just keep getting better. Funnier, bigger, and even drawing high-profile guests like Jennifer Aniston and T.I. (pre-prison term), the show has taken off, and Handler's only gotten sharper and better as a result. Tired of philanderers, viral video addicts, annoyingly tall redheads, or the catastrophe known as The Jay Leno Show in late night? Spend a little time with Chelsea and Chelsea.

Mad Men
First off, MAJOR SPOILER ALERT! If you've never watched the show before (and we can discuss what's wrong with you later) but you plan to (at least you're taking steps to rectify your situation), don't read any further. I'm spoilering out on this one!

Words can't describe how incredible this show really is. The first season was an intriguing look at a man named Dick Whitman posing as another man named Don Draper and the circumstances behind the swap in identity. An ad man in 1960s New York City, Don Draper is as much of a ladies' man as you'll ever see, except to his wife. A mixture of his brilliance in the office and balancing his many affairs made Jon Hamm's mysterious man the star of that first season. After that, we were treated to a look into the lives of the Mad women, including Don's wife, Betty, and his former secretary-turned-genius copywriter, Peggy Olson. The second season was filled with intriguing plot twists and insights into the characters, but looking back, not a whole lot happened involving the primary plot with Don's identity. All that changed this season. At Don's ad firm, Sterling Cooper, a British takeover finally resulted in Don and a few brilliant ad executives moving to a new firm, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, before being sold again. The result was the most fun episode of Mad Men ever, "Shut the Door, Have a Seat." The perfect payoff for fans, after a similiarly-perfect season that saw the end of Betty and Don's marriage, a struggle for power for Peggy, and a rapist getting a vase smashed over his head by his wife (fans, who didn't cheer on that one?). The first few episodes were slow, yes, but as Mad Men has always proven, things will always sort themselves out, and all we as the audience can do is be entertained.

The Voltaggio Brothers
Neither probably deserved to win Top Chef. Truly, the win probably belonged to Kevin, the second runner-up. But as far as drama goes, Michael and Bryan Voltaggio brought it in spades. Their rivalry, their innovativeness, and their sheer skill brought the show to a point it really never hit last season, and set the standard for all seasons to come. They really did hate each other (no brotherly love here), which made it difficult for some to watch, but for me, it was one of the most entertaining things all year.

Mo'Nique
I could go on about how Mo'Nique's also had a talk show on BET this year, but I'll be totally honest: there's one and only reason Mo'Nique is on this list, and her name is Mary. The monstrous mother of the titular character in Precious, Mary is abusive, both mentally and physically, and yet incredibly complex in her motives. Played by any other actress, this part might have seemed overacted or unreal. Mo'Nique embodies Mary with such ferocity and hatred that she actually becomes the character, and it's easy to forget you're watching a comedian best known for movies like Phat Girlz. Truthfully, Mo'Nique's performance might be the best I've seen this decade, bar none. The fact that she's considered a lightweight talent in so many circles only makes the awards attention better.

Lady Gaga
I've, of course, already elaborated on this, but Lady Gaga entertains every time she's on stage, on the radio, or giving an interview. Gaga knows how to work hard to entertain her audiences at every turn. She's a genius, if not for her singing or songwriting, then for her ability to create an absolute phenomenon of herself. I once thought Lady Gaga would be an artist of the moment, but I'm starting to suspect that she'll be around for quite some time.

The Cast of Glee
Has there ever been a show like Glee? More to the point, has there ever been a cast like Glee's? From Lea Michele as Rachel Berry, the songbird with the voice for days, to Amber Riley as Mercedes, both embracing and breaking out of her status as the token belter on the show, to Matthew Morrison, holding his own as Will Schuester, hanging with the kids and singing just as well, to Jayma Mays, heartbreaking as Emma Pillsbury who quietly suffers while the love of her life is married to another woman, to the absolutely brilliant Jane Lynch as Sue Sylvester, a one-liner machine who causes a laughing fit every time, guaranteed, plus more. Each member of the cast brings something truly special to the table, and that may be why the show is such a success: it's a team effort.

Rose Byrne
If you just asked, "Who?" I can't really blame you. Rose Byrne is best known for a cable show that only gets about a million viewers on average. Not only that, but her independent film, Adam, released earlier this year, had terrible box office. So what if she's not entertaining to everyone? The fact is that Byrne is damn entertaining. The Aussie-born actress scored Golden Globe and Emmy nominations for her performance on Damages opposite legend Glenn Close. The most remarkabe thing is that at several different points this season, Byrne outacted Close! Her subtlety was broken through and a quiet fierceness was awakened. Not only that, but her performance in the Hugh Dancy-helmed indie was touching and genuine. Not every entertainer is a household name; sometimes, even if only a few are entertained, they're the most entertained of all.

The Good Wife
Don't call it a procedural. Being lumped in with shows like CSI: and Cold Case is a tremendous insult to a show as well-acted, well-written, and absolutely intriguing as this one. Julianna Marguiles is intriguing and entertaining as Alicia Florrick, a woman forced to go back to practicing law to support her family after her husband, State's Attorney Peter Florrick, is caught up in a scandal and sent to prison. Archie Panjabi is absolutely brilliant as researcher Kalinda Sharma, making lawyers everywhere jealous that she's not on their team. Combined with other actors of stage and screen, the cast takes the expert writing and merges two concepts, a politician's wife shamed and an older woman working for the first time, and makes something truly special.

The Tiger Woods Scandal
This hot ghetto mess is just too fun. Yes, I do feel terrible for Elin Nordegren, a woman wronged by a husband who obviously missed the day in Pre-K when you learn to keep your hands to yourself. I absolutely do not feel bad for Tiger; the guy's a scumbag getting what's coming to him. But here's why this thing is so damn entertaining: there are just too many jokes! There's too many women! The entire thing is just one big catastrophe that's like a train wreck: it's too delicious to look away.

The Cast of The Hangover
Doesn't it kinda feel like this movie came out eons ago? I guess when you're entrenched in senior year, summer was eons ago. However, time hasn't dulled the sharp comedy that this cast brought in this movie. Made up of "That one guy" and "Oh, he was on The Daily Show," the movie didn't have a lot of star power going for it, so it made some star power of its own. The concept was a twist on an old favorite ("what happened last night?"), but the charm of the cast really elevated it to a new level. Between this and The Blind Side, word-of-mouth hits are having a great year.

Joel McHale
Two hit shows + lots of laughs = one incredibly entertaining comedian. The Soup, his pet project that he hosts on the E! channel, continues to be one of the most consistently funny shows on television, poking fun at all the crap we watch because there's nothing else on/we're self-flagellators. On Community, he's slowly building an entertaining character and a show that fits seamlessly into NBC's comedy lineup. McHale isn't new to the scene, but he's never been more entertaining.

Taylor Swift
Oh, like you didn't see this one coming. Beyoncé, Im'ma let you finish, but Taylor Swift has had one of the best years OF ALL TIME! It's interesting to watch how the Kanye West VMAs controversy launched Taylor from crossover star to absolute cultural phenomenon. She and Beyoncé truly are the biggest stars in music right now, closely followed by Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Jay-Z, and (unfortunately) Susan Boyle. Why is Taylor so huge? Simple: she's America's sweetheart. Her music is catchy and totally Top 40 potential. Her blog on Facebook is both hilarious and humanly interesting in a way most celebrity blogs aren't. Her charm and ease in interviews make her out to be more of a teenager than other celebrities her age. She's enjoying her fame while being surprised every time an awards organization says her name. She's the best host of Saturday Night Live all season, by a country mile. This has been her year, and she should embrace it, because the likelihood of another one like it coming along for a while is slim to none.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

You Can't Read Her, You Can't Read Her, No You Can't Read Her Poker Face

Time for the impassioned defense post! Get excited!

I'll admit, when "Just Dance" first came out, I despised Stefani Germanotta, the 'singer' referring to herself as Lady Gaga. She was another talentless bimbo singing about getting drunk and blacking out at a club. Like we need another one.

But sometime between the "Poker Face" and "Paparazzi," I learned to really appreciate Lady Gaga for who she is and admire her for the incredible amount of work and creativity she puts into everything she does.

Do I like her music? It's irrelevant. (In case you're wondering, the answer is complicated: she's hit-and-miss for me. Songs like "The Fame," "Bad Romance," and "Paparazzi" are really great, and songs like "Speechless" and "Telephone" are a kick to listen to because they demonstrate her range so well, but other songs like "LoveGame" and "Just Dance" are painful to listen to.) You can love or hate Lady Gaga, but you can't help but respect how incredible the phenomenon known as Lady Gaga really is.

Below are the ____ reasons why Lady Gaga is so insanely impactful on our culture (and at times, just plain insane).

Her Live Performance Prowess Is Unmatched
Ever wonder why Lady Gaga really doesn't sound much different in live performances as on record? Gaga doesn't use Auto-Tune, and her performances are truly her life's blood. She puts everything she has out for everyone to see every time she hits the stage. Sometimes, the performances are disturbing. Always, the performances are crazy beyond belief. But you will never see a Lady Gaga performance at anything other than 200%.

She Shouldn't Be Popular
Thanks to David Cruz for inspiring this point. As an openly bisexual, sometimes crazypants artist unafraid of the surreal and unreal, Lady Gaga really should not be popular, and yet she is the most popular artist of this year (arguably; Taylor Swift's up there too). You can't not love where pop music is going if someone like Gaga can be so insanely popular.

She's Unafraid of Being a Role Model
In the wake of all this Tiger Woods madness, when we're supposed to believe that the golfer-turned-walking infidelity isn't a role model to fans, it's refreshing to hear a celebrity owning up to their status as a model for their fans. Whether a celebrity wants to be an icon or not is a decision they simply cannot make. They will always be held accountable for their actions. With someone like Lady Gaga, who the tabloids have nary a bad word to write about, it's really cool that she can be that idol.

She's Productive in a Good Way
The Fame, Lady Gaga's debut album, was a success on its own. Gaga, always topping herself, released The Fame Monster, an eight-song EP with new music, and the first single, "Bad Romance" is already tearing up the charts while "Paparazzi" and "Poker Face" stay strong. Now that's productivity.

This Outfit



It's an outfit made of Kermit the Frog dolls. That is all.

Say what you will about Lady Gaga. I already have. You may have a different opinion. But to me, in a world where celebrities so often behave so badly, a determined artist like Lady Gaga can really be an example to follow.

Just no bubble dresses, 'k?

D.C. Film Critics Association and Myself Basically Same Entity

Either my predictions have either gotten scary good, or the Washington, D.C. Film Critics Association and I are psychologically linked, because my predictions line up almost perfectly with theirs. The list broke down like this:

Best Picture - Up in the Air
Best Actor - George Clooney, Up in the Air
Best Actress - Carey Mulligan, An Education
Best Supporting Actor - Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Best Supporting Actress - Mo’Nique, Precious
Best Director - Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
Best Screenplay, Adapted - Up in the Air
Best Screenplay, Original - Inglourious Basterds
Best Breakthrough Performance - Gabourey Sidibe, Precious
Best Ensemble - The Hurt Locker
Best Animated Film - Up

My predictions vary very little from this list. I think Precious will take Best Adapted Screenplay, and I think the Best Original Screenplay will probably be The Hurt Locker's, but past that, every other pick matches up.

In addition to the regular categories, the DCFCA chose Gabourey Sidibe as Best Breakthrough Performance, adding another sorta-victory to her list. Just in case anyone thought this means she's gonna come from behind to win, let me just say this: if Carey Mulligan wasn't winning Best Actress outright, she'd be winning the Breakthrough awards. Sidibe is second-choice to voters in that regard. Also: Locker is a fantastic film, but Best Ensemble? Not exactly. This belongs to something like Precious, Inglourious Basterds, Nine, or The Last Station.

To remind y'all what I'm betting on, as follows are my updated predictions, adding Best Animated Feature, which will be the last addition for a while.

Best Picture
Up in the Air
Precious
The Hurt Locker
Invictus
An Education
Inglourious Basterds
A Serious Man
Up
Nine
The Last Station

I moved Invictus up considering all the good press it's getting. Thinking about it, I wouldn't count out The Lovely Bones, considering the ten-wide field, but I still don't think it's going to scrape the nod.

Best Director
Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
Clint Eastwood, Invictus
Rob Marshall, Nine
Jason Reitman, Up in the Air
Lee Daniels, Precious

All the same for the moment. Bigelow's win was fun. I like when she wins. Why? Because she deserves it.

Best Actor
George Clooney, Up in the Air
Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
Colin Firth, A Single Man
Morgan Freeman, Invictus
Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker

Clooney might not win when it comes to the bigger contests because his character is so similar to himself as a person, but Bridges and Firth are losing traction. Freeman's performance is a very Freeman performance, so he might win just for that, but I don't think he's a real contender. Poor Renner. He doesn't stand a chance.

Best Actress
Carey Mulligan, An Education
Gabourey Sidibe, Precious
Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia
Helen Mirren, The Last Station
Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side

I honestly think Bullock is kind of a lock for this. Her performance was phenomenal, and as I've already stated, she's having a fantastic year, and is likely to clean up along with Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, the casts of Glee, Mad Men, and The Hangover when Entertainer of the Year lists start coming out. I'm this close to moving her past Mirren; I only haven't because, well, she's Helen Mirren. And she's Sandra Bullock. There's an implied order.

Best Supporting Actor
Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Alfred Molina, An Education
Stanley Tucci, Julie & Julia
Matt Damon, Invictus
Alec Baldwin, It's Complicated

I've suddenly lost a lot of confidence in Baldwin. I'm starting to think that I was wrong to remove Christopher Plummer, but I'm sticking to my guns until Baldwin's movie opens and I see more reviews.

Best Supporting Actress
Mo'Nique, Precious
Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
Julianne Moore, A Single Man
Penelope Cruz, Nine
Mariah Carey, Precious

I'll probably be going back on forth on Carey and Vera Farmiga for a while. Still, its Mo'Nique's Oscar anyway, though Kendrick will pick up a few prizes along the way, maybe even Moore.

Best Original Screenplay
Mark Boal, The Hurt Locker
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds
Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber, (500) Days of Summer
Joel and Ethan Coen, A Serious Man
Bob Peterson, Up

Tarantino blasts up the list because of his win. No one else moves off or on...yet.

Best Adapted Screenplay
Damien Paul, Precious
Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air
Nick Hornby, An Education
Nora Ephron, Julie & Julia
Anthony Peckham, Invictus

I'm now fully confident in this list, which I usually have the right to be. This was the only category I was 5/5 in last year.

Best Animated Feature
Up
Ponyo
The Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Princess and the Frog
Coraline

Best Animated Feature is kind of a ghetto category. Not "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp"-type ghetto, more WWII Poland-style ghetto. It's where all the different kind of movies go to fight it out because they are blasted out of the big race. Still, this is the first year where I can legitimately take this category seriously. All five movies here are some of the best-reviewed of the year, though I might have Ponyo too high and The Princess and the Frog and Coraline too low, but I'll adjust as I go. Still, don't believe the hype: Up isn't going to lose this, even if it's nominated for Best Picture. Pixar's reputation with the Academy is simply too stellar. 25 Oscar nominations in one decade gets you in pretty good standing with the voters.

Not a lot changed this week, but next week, after the reviews for The Lovely Bones, Invictus, Nine, It's Complicated, and The Princess and the Frog really start pouring in, I'll be able to make more adjustments. In the meantime, feel free to rant and rave in the comments.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Precursors Begin

The precursors are coming! The precursors are coming!

As I mentioned in my last post, precursor awards are a big indicator of the twists and turns of the Oscar race and what is to be nominated come February 2. This week, the first precursory group, the National Board of Review, announced their picks for the top categories, and surprise! Things didn't go at all as most were expecting.

Yes, the Best Picture citation for Up in the Air was called by many (not me, *cough*), and a few of the acting decisions hit the nail on the head, but the Top 10 Films was somewhat of a surprise. (500) Days of Summer, Star Trek, and The Messenger, all good works in their own right, over Precious?! Accuse me of cheerleading, but quite frankly, this one doesn't make sense. Precious has all the hype and critical acclaim that it should easily make a list like this.

Not only that, but almost universal favorites like Mo'Nique, Christoph Waltz, and Meryl Streep were passed over for other, more niche options. (Although, as pointed out earlier, Carey Mulligan's looking like the favorite for Best Actress...)

The list of winners follows, as well as an individual analysis.

Best Picture
Up in the Air

I should've seen this one coming. Air looks like a fantastic movie, directed by one of the hottest directors around (Jason Reitman), and starring the (arguably) hottest movie star in Hollywood. Precious is about an obese black girl in Harlem, and is ridiculously difficult to watch. NBR isn't super-dedicated to finding the best movies, considering that they honor eleven as best, but I thought they would have had better judgment. I was incorrect. Whoops.

Top 10 Films
An Education
(500) Days of Summer
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
Invictus
The Messenger
A Serious Man
Star Trek
Up
Where the Wild Things Are

Wild Things, (500), Messenger, and Star Trek all surprise me. Is this what we might see at the Oscars? Does a wider field allow for more big budget movies, as originally thought? Don't be so sure. The NBR has done the list of ten for years, and it always goes a little crazy. This year's no different. Don't get excited, Trekkies. This means nothing.

Best Director
Clint Eastwood, Invictus

Ugh... That is all. I hate Clint Eastwood so, so much. In my ever-so-humble opinion (*snort*), he makes the same movie over and over. And don't get me started on the train wreck that was Gran Torino. But NBR loves him, so screw a visionary like Kathryn Bigelow or Jason Reitman...

Best Actor
George Clooney, Up in the Air/Morgan Freeman, Invictus (tie)

Good for both of them. Not like they're huge, easily awardable stars or anything... It's strange how one organization can both take risks and play it ridiculously safe.

Best Actress
Carey Mulligan, An Education

Yay! Yes, I am a Streep disciple, and yes, Gabourey Sidibe is brilliant, but this performance is just so much fun. I loved watching it, and I even love watching Mulligan on the campaign trail. Bravo for her!

Best Supporting Actor
Woody Harrelson, The Messenger

Best Supporting Actress
Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air

Not quite sure how to feel about these two. They're both hardworking actors who have parts in huge blockbuster movies this year (Harrelson in Zombieland, Kendrick in New Moon-seriously!), and their parts in these indie movies are said to be almost co-lead parts, which is catnip to Oscar voters. Still, The Messenger is a tiny, tiny movie, and I doubt its prospects in the big game. Mo'Nique's snub can mostly be chalked up to the fact that NBR clearly despises Precious (No, I'm not bitter, why do you ask?), but it's pretty great for Kendrick, who has the best shot of derailing Mo'Nique. It won't happen, just like Josh Brolin's win here last year couldn't derail Heath Ledger's march to the podium, but still, good job, Anna!

Best Original Screenplay
Joel and Ethan Coen, A Serious Man

While I have the chance... I'm not really sure how much of a shot A Serious Man has at the Oscars. On one hand, I am hearing approximately zero buzz, but on the other, it's a very Jewish film. Sounding about as stereotyping as I ever have, there's no question homosexual and/or Jewish members of the Academy (they could be both; I don't judge) hold a lot of cards. Ironically, only A Single Man (gay) or A Serious Man (Jewish) is likely to make it into the big race, so we'll see who holds more. As for the Brothers Coen, I guess they have a pretty good shot here. I'd say (500) Days of Summer has a better shot, or maybe The Hurt Locker, but who knows? Screenplay categories are tough for me, especially Original (see last year, when I completely screwed up predictions in that category).

Best Adapted Screenplay
Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air

If this or Precious wins Best Picture, they'll take Best Adapted Screenplay, too. Otherwise, it'll probably go to An Education.

Breakthrough Actor
Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker

Breakthrough Actress
Gabourey Sidibe, Precious

A breakthrough award never hurts, but it always does feel like a consolation prize. Renner and Sidibe are definitely in the running for Best Actor and Actress, though. This helps, if only in the slightest way.

I'll go ahead and update my predictions, editing where I find it necessary, and adding the Screenplay categories.

Best Picture
Up in the Air
Precious
The Hurt Locker
An Education
Invictus
Inglourious Basterds
A Serious Man
Up
Nine
The Last Station

Avatar's out, Station's in because of its 5 Independent Spirit Award nominations. Precious doesn't move down further because the Spirits were kind to it, too.

Best Director
Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
Clint Eastwood, Invictus
Rob Marshall, Nine
Jason Reitman, Up in the Air
Lee Daniels, Precious

You know who Tom Ford's New York Times profile really made look bad? Jason Reitman! He moves down, while Eastwood moves up. Still flying high: Bigelow.

Best Actor
George Clooney, Up in the Air
Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
Colin Firth, A Single Man
Morgan Freeman, Invictus
Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker

Confession: I want Renner to get nominated. Also: Daniel Day-Lewis' singing in Nine is being hidden in previews. Coincidence? Or is there something studio head Harvey Weinstein wants to hide? Don't think it's a "secret weapon:" that's not Weinstein's modus operandi. If DDL could sing, we would've heard it by now. Kinda hard to get a nomination for a musical when you can't sing.

Best Actress
Carey Mulligan, An Education
Gabourey Sidibe, Precious
Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia
Helen Mirren, The Last Station
Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side

Bullock's had a great year, and this nomination really seems like it could happen. The box office has been boffo, and the reviews of her performance are actually pretty stellar. She won't win (too much competition), but still, she's a great actress and deserves a nod. Plus, Saoirse Ronan's movie got trashed to oblivion. Bye-bye, two nods at age 15. Also: am I just nuts thinking Abbie Cornish has no shot here? No one seems to agree with me, but the movie made no impact whatsoever, so I'm sticking to my guns.

Best Supporting Actor
Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Alfred Molina, An Education
Stanley Tucci, Julie & Julia
Alec Baldwin, It's Complicated
Matt Damon, Invictus

I was never convinced on Christopher Plummer, so he's out, and Damon's reviews have been strong, so he's in. Since The Lovely Bones got murdered, I'm giving Tucci the nod for Julie & Julia, but that makes the nomination less likely. Three (sorta four) comedic performances in this category? That's pretty unbelievable, and not in a good way.

Best Supporting Actress
Mo'Nique, Precious
Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
Julianne Moore, A Single Man
Penelope Cruz, Nine
Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air

Not saying Mariah Carey won't be nominated, but this was Up in the Air's week. Be it from that film, Precious, or Nine, I feel impending nominations for two actresses of the same film. Which is kinda cool.

Best Original Screenplay
Mark Boal, The Hurt Locker
Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber, (500) Days of Summer
Joel and Ethan Coen, A Serious Man
Bob Peterson, Up
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds

...Tarantino... Again, I don't feel confident in this list at all; these are the best bets I could muster. Who could win, I have even less clue.

Best Adapted Screenplay
Damien Paul, Precious
Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air
Nick Hornby, An Education
Anthony Peckham, Invictus
Nora Ephron, Julie & Julia

The first four, I'm very confident in. Let me explain Ephron: I think Oscar voters will find the two-movies-in-one concept fresh and innovative, and I think they'll reward it. My main motive behind that selection is that a fifth nominee is difficult to determine, so I might as well go with a wild card.

I know there have been a lot of updates in not a whole lot of time, but that just goes to show you how quickly things can change in this race. I'll attempt to switch to a once-a-week update system, but whenever something comes that dramatically shakes up an individual race, I'll post briefly to adjust accordingly. If you think I dropped someone that I shouldn't have, or if I'm really underrating something (other than Moon, David ;), leave a note in the comments!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Oscarology for Dummies

Thanks to everyone who gave great feedback on the last two posts both in person and on Facebook. In particular, the Oscar post seems to have stirred up a minor whirlwind of discussion, which is, of course, always welcome, good or bad. All news is good news!

Since there were more than a few questions about how I select movies and performances for my prediction list, I thought I would take this post to draw the curtain back on Oscarology and how you too can formulate your own predictions, because like last year, I plan on holding a contest on Facebook for who can beat my predictions. Interested in sticking it to me? (I can think of a whole staff that would be...) Listen up!

Note: I'm not gonna get into the niche races, like screenplays, animated feature, etc., on this post, instead simply formalizing my picks for the other categories. The next posts will get into the other categories.

Best Picture
Precious
Up in the Air
The Hurt Locker
An Education
Invictus
Nine
Inglourious Basterds
Up
A Serious Man
Avatar

Lists are ordered in order of likelihood of nomination, by the by. The first key to predicting Oscar nomination patterns is to pay attention to other Oscarologists. Some know what they're talking about...others, not so much. Even more allow their personal opinions to cloud their judgment, and that is the greatest error you can make in this game. Personally, I thought Basterds was a crass, unintelligent piece of evidence proving what a second-class director Quentin Tarantino really is. (Sorry if you liked Basterds. Feel free to flame.) Still, as an odd-duck type of film, it will do very well with Oscar voters. Same with movies that haven't yet come out, like Invictus and Avatar. Especially on those two films, you have to consider prestige factor and the director. Invictus is directed by Clint Eastwood, who is nothing if not an Oscar darling. Something like The Maid, a fantastic foreign film with an unknown cast and production team, has little shot of making it big without buzz, hype, media attention, etc. Hype is the most precious currency available in Oscarland, as the ability to get people talking is worth more than a good film. See: The Reader, a Best Picture nominee last year.) Finally, there's the matter of reputation. A film like Up, which comes from Pixar, has a great chance of being nominated in the new ten-wide Best Picture field because of its company's reputation and standing with Oscar voters. The Fantastic Mr. Fox has a lesser pedigree, and thus won't receive the nomination. Argue the merits all you want, but sometimes Best Picture isn't about which is best at all.

Best Director
Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
Jason Reitman, Up in the Air
Rob Marshall, Nine
Clint Eastwood, Invictus
Lee Daniels, Precious

Used to be that for Best Director, you could look at the Best Picture field's directors, make a change or two, take out any minorities or women, and that would be that. This year is different, because the ten-wide Best Picture field makes the previous system a crapshoot, and minorities are all over the place in this race. My list includes an African-American and a woman, and I stand by that at least two minority directors will sneak in the race, though I'm not confident about Daniels. The director race is most about reputation, above all others. Reitman is 3 for 3 on critically acclaimed films, so he'll be in. Marshall and Eastwood are both loved by the Academy, so count on them. Daniels... While his film is fantastic, the performances are what resonate, not his direction. Could be wrong here, but I don't feel confident about him. Quentin Tarantino seems like a likely replacement.

Best Actor
George Clooney, Up in the Air
Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
Colin Firth, A Single Man
Morgan Freeman, Invictus
Daniel Day-Lewis, Nine

Reputation plays a part here, but more than that, in the actor field, manly men are what play the best. Firth is going with the Sean Penn/Harvey Milk-type gay man, more confident than meek, so it'll play well. Clooney's an absolute star, so he won't have any trouble getting his third nomination. A lot of people are pulling for Bridges, and the career aspect helps (Hal Holbrook two years ago in Best Supporting Actor), plus his movie is apparently of The Wrestler-style emotional appeal. Freeman and Day-Lewis are megawatt stars that probably can't be denied, but we'll see as to how strong the performances are, especially on Day-Lewis' end. His spot could go to Jeremy Renner of The Hurt Locker instead. Still, every category has a common theme. If you can't see it here, it's this: star power + grizzled, aged gentleman.

Best Actress
Carey Mulligan, An Education
Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia
Gabourey Sidibe, Precious
Helen Mirren, The Last Station
Saoirse Ronan, The Lovely Bones

Let me say this first: Mulligan, Streep, Sidibe, and Mirren are locked and loaded. Mirren's an Academy favorite, as is Streep (15 nominations kinda makes you a favorite), and Sidibe and Mulligan have the breakout star angle covered. The last spot is incredibly difficult to judge, though. Many have it going to Abbie Cornish (who?) of the film Bright Star (what?). This is an instance when the popular opinion seems so deluded you shouldn't follow it. Marion Cotillard of Nine could take the spot, though her performance is really Supporting, so it'll have a hard time here, and The Blind Side's Sandra Bullock is the right performance in the wrong movie. I'm giving the edge to Ronan, who, as I said before, will be the youngest actor ever with two Oscar nods, and her youth is the one stumbling block: don't Mulligan and Sidibe have that down? Sometimes, you just gotta go with your instinct, and I'm sticking with Ronan.

Best Supporting Actor
Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones/Julie & Julia
Alfred Molina, An Education
Alec Baldwin, It's Complicated
Christopher Plummer, The Last Station

For the record: every pundit out there is really not taking Baldwin's performance seriously enough. His career is on fire right now, and he's hosting the ceremony. The performance might not even matter at this point. Molina, Waltz, and Tucci are all locks, though Tucci could be nominated for either of two films. (The Academy doesn't allow two entries in one category, by the way.) Plummer is a little freaky in his role, but then again, career factor. He's in, unless they slam him for category frauding (campaigning a performance in the wrong category to boost your chances; see: Kate Winslet's epic campaign fail for Revolutionary Road/The Reader last year.) I feel pretty confident about this lineup. Sometimes, you gotta take a risk or two (Plummer, Baldwin), and they'll pay off for you in the end. Hopefully.

Best Supporting Actress
Mo'Nique, Precious
Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
Penelope Cruz, Nine
Julianne Moore, A Single Man
Mariah Carey, Precious

More than anything else, as a predictor of the Oscars, you have to know your history. It helps you predict patterns, figure out who the Academy is most likely to reward for risks, and (perhaps most importantly) remember who's been nominated for what in the past. That has two benefits: actresses like Moore have been always honored and never fully embraced for years, and that pattern is likely to continue this year with a nomination but no shot at a win. If someone has won for something similar to the role they're doing now (Cruz), they'll probably be nominated again, but won't win. Deglammed pop stars (Carey) do well (see: Cher in Silkwood). Never forget precursor awards, either; the more early awards someone wins, the more traction they gain, and the likelier a win is for them. (This actually applies to Carey; she's already gotten two early awards.) Then again, sometimes, you just gotta look at the strength of the performance, and in that, Mo'Nique really shines.

Any questions? Feel like I'm drawing a blind eye to something obvious? Need treatment for PTSD after seeing Mariah Carey's name on that last list? Take it to the comments!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Even a Blind Oscarologist Finds Gold

OSCAR SEASON! Anyone who knows me even slightly well can attest to the fact that this is my favorite time of year. Soon enough, I'll start blogging in-depth about the season, but here are my preliminary thoughts on the big six races, all involving acting, directing, and producing.

Best Actor
This race is looking like it could go three ways: Colin Firth in A Single Man, George Clooney in Up in the Air, and Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart. Firth's performance is looking like the strongest, considering it's a period piece performance as a gay man and Sean Penn just won for nearly the same thing, but then again, maybe too much of a good thing is terrible. Bridges' performance is a little Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler, and as we just found out, Oscar doesn't really like that. Since he's a major superstar in a no-frills performance that is looking like 'best-of-career' type work, I'll go against the grain and say Clooney.

Best Actress
Another race that comes down to three possibilites, and they're about as different as can be. The ingenue versus the natural versus the legend: Carey Mulligan in An Education, Gabourey Sidibe in Precious, and Meryl Streep in Julie & Julia. In a rare instance, I've actually seen all three frontrunner performances, but really, that doesn't matter. A good Oscarologist doesn't allow his views of a performance to delude his predictions. Not that I would be able to choose anyway; Mulligan is an absolute joy to watch in An Education, and Streep does wonderful work as always. Sidibe's work as an obese, abused Harlem teen is effortless and pure prosody in motion. So who wins? Think of this year as parallel to the Best Actress race two years ago: Ellen Page, the natural, and Julie Christie, the legend, both lost out to Marion Cotillard, the (sorta) ingenue. Expect that to happen again, with Mulligan the victor, unless An Education loses even more steam than it already has. If that happens, it's Streep. Sidibe won't win. Just a feeling.

Best Supporting Actor
The supporting categories are much more cut-and-dry, with one frontrunner in each and two possible spoilers. Stanley Tucci has had nothing if not an incredible year, with an award-worthy performance in Julie & Julia and a buzzy performance in The Lovely Bones. Slowly but surely, Bones is losing steam, but the performances by Saoirse Ronan (who would have two Oscar nominations by 15 if she does indeed get a nod) and Tucci are still buzzy. He looks like a strong possibility, as does Alfred Molina, fantastic in An Education. My gut feeling is that Christoph Waltz of Inglourious Basterds will probably win this one. Basterds has started to get more hype than will pay off, making it this year's Gran Torino, as Academy voters may love a Holocaust movie, but they don't exactly want their history tampered with. No, Basterds will fall in most races, though I wouldn't count out a Best Picture nod, but the one win that's almost guaranteed is Waltz's. Multilingual, evil, and just plain good, Waltz will make like his name and dance away with this Oscar.

Best Supporting Actress
Anna Kendrick and Penelope Cruz of Up in the Air and Nine are the closest things to spoilers this race has, but quite frankly, it's all sewn up for Mo'Nique. You read that right. Mo'Nique, the plus-size African American comedienne known for such films as Phat Girlz and television series like my guilty pleasure Flavor of Love Girls: Charm School, will not only be nominated for an Oscar this year, she will win. No hesitation. The performance is absolutely phenomenal, a villain scarier than even Heath Ledger's Joker in The Dark Knight last year. Mo'Nique's performance causes gasps, disgust, anger, and disdain towards her character, Mary, the mother of Precious, in the movie named for the lead character. Her opening monologue shouting up the stairs is, quite simply put, the best acting I've seen this decade, because she's not acting. Mo'Nique becomes this monster on camera, and anyone who thinks she's still a lightweight isn't paying attention.

Best Director
Aaaand this is where it gets hard. In a year with so much diversity in the directing field, anything goes, really. I do honestly believe that we'll see the first female Best Director winner in Kathryn Bigelow of The Hurt Locker but I have no clue when it comes to the rest of the nominees. Other possibilities include Lee Daniels for Precious, Rob Marshall for Nine, Lone Scherfig for An Education, Jason Reitman for Up in the Air, James Cameron for Avatar, Clint Eastwood for Invictus, Tom Ford for A Single Man, and Quentin Tarantino for Inglourious Basterds. My bets are that Reitman, Daniels, Marshall, and Eastwood will get the other nods, but Cameron and Tarantino are tough customers and vets of this field. I really am clueless on this one. Bigelow's my only sure thing.

Best Picture
With a ten-wide field, you're gonna see a lot of Oscarologists screwing this race up this year. Precious, The Hurt Locker, and Up in the Air are set. An Education, Invictus, Nine and Avatar are likely to join. I'd fill out my field with Inglourious Basterds, Up, and A Serious Man, though I wouldn't rule out The Road or A Single Man. It all really depends on the precursory awards and the campaigns. Either Precious, The Hurt Locker, or Up in the Air will win, though, and my money's on Precious.

What are your thoughts, either on the Oscar races or my predictions? Anything I omitted that you think will make it in? Wondering how I make my selections? Take it to the comments!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Miss Manners Disapproves of You Grinding Your Crotch Into Your Backup Dancer's Face

Boys and girls, this hot mess is just too much.


In case you haven't heard, the American Music Awards last week ended in controversy when Adam Lambert, runner-up on American Idol (I like to emphasize that he was the runner-up since no one else seems to realize it) this past season, did several questionable things, including an impromptu makeout session with a keyboardist and, perhaps most hilariously, grinding his male backup dancer's face into his crotch.

...Emily Post just fainted.

Since then, Lambert has toured the interview circuit as both apologetic and rebellious. It seems that he's not über-proud of his performance, but thinks everyone just needs to calm down.

I say this with all due respect: Mr. Lambert, you're the one who needs to calm down.

Don't forget that you hardly won this season of Idol. Yes, in the end, you'll probably sell a million more albums than the soft-spoken winner, Kris Allen, but you're hardly a rock god yet. Your performance was the over-the-top ridiculousness that belongs to those who have paid their dues in the music world. It's great that you're so enthusiastic about being a rock star, but keep your performances in check. It wasn't the most responsible thing to do.

Speaking of responsible... I honestly find the media's performance during this whole catastrophe to be worlds more deplorable than Lambert's.

First: he's not a beacon of hope for the gay community. Not every homosexual or bisexual celebrity has a civic duty to further the cause. To wit: Billie Joel Armstrong, lead singer of Green Day, Neil Patrick Harris, Christina Aguilera, Fergie, and even the late, great Kurt Cobain were all professed homosexuals and bisexuals and none of them are/were expected to further the cause. Why's it so different with Glambert?

Second, and perhaps most importantly: don't turn this whole debacle into something it's not. The controversy isn't about Lambert kissing his male keyboardist; it's about the crotch-meets-face thing. To make the story more controversial, the media has acted as though the makeout session was the objectionable point, but that couldn't be further from the truth.

Lambert did nothing but goose his sales for his album For Your Entertainment with this performance. His career is hardly tarnished; a scandal like this does good things for a performer, not bad.

I wish everyone would just kinda grow up about this. Yes, Lambert simulating oral sex was pretty risqué. I certainly hope that he'll think a bit harder next time. But this isn't worth this level of controversy.

Anyone else tired of this whole saga? Who's more at fault: the media or Lambert himself? Sound off in the comments section!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Lifetime: Television for Bored Viewers

Who else psyched themselves out about last week's Project Runway finale? As I was watching the collections walk down the runway, even having talked to some of the designers personally didn't make me any more enthused about the work they had done. Was it well-executed and well-designed? Surprisingly, yes; Carol Hannah Whitfield, Irina Shabayeva, and Althea Harper constructed solid collections. Not Jay McCarroll, Christian Siriano, or Leanne Marshall strong, but maybe Daniel Vosovic, Chloe Dao, or Korto Momulu strong.

I'm not going to completely dissect every collection. For that, you can look to Tom and Lorenzo over at Project Rungay. Here, I'm just going to summarize the season: what went right? what went wrong? what needs to go, go, go before the new season premieres on January 14, 2010?


The Contestants Were Talented...
No question in my mind, the contestants were much more talented this season than last. The final collections showed this best. However, there were too many "make a pretty dress" challenges that stifled their creativity. The best challenge by a mile? The newspaper challenge. That episode stands out in almost every regard as having been the best of the season. Points-of-view came through, the designs were interesting, and most of all, it wasn't a pretty fabric!

...But Damn They Were Boring
As Blayne Walsh from last season would say, this crop of designers is dullicious. I honestly don't think I'll remember them come the end of next season. Well... I'll remember Christopher, Gordana, and Carol Hannah. They all gave me interviews, so I like them. And Irina. She's too fabulous-but-evil to forget. But still: 4 out of 16 designers? My memory's incredibly good, so that number is dismal.

And...
...Not much else, actually. Sorry to disappoint. Being in LA really destroyed this season, but Lifetime's already corrected that for next season. The lawsuit is over, which was the major drain on this season. The judges are back every week, with no one missing a day, so no more whackadoodle judging. So...yeah. They've kinda self-repaired already. All it comes down to is casting and the challenges. Hopefully, Bunim/Murray's production has improved in that regard.

And that's it! The Project Runway aspect of this blog is closed for this season. Soon enough, I'll start up my Oscar blog again (and boy do I have some thoughts on that), and the Runway blog will start up again when the new season premieres. Yes, that means the two will coincide, so I'll be plenty busy come next winter!

Friday, November 13, 2009

It's Not Swine Flu!

Oh, thank God! Carol Hannah Whitfield may have had a stomach bug going into New York Fashion Week on Project Runway, but at least it wasn't swine flu (as I had said it might be). She did look more than a little worn out, however, as she struggled to work on her collection while fellow finalists Irina Shabayeva and Althea Harper sniped at each other.

Not a whole lot happened in this episode design-wise... and not a whole lot happened drama-wise! So... let's start the show! (Heidi Klum is the eternal optimist, after all.)

The Home Visits
These are always a lot of fun. Tim Gunn, advisor extraordinare, visits the designers at their homes to check in on the progress of their collections and do something always a tad silly. (Greatest PR moment of all time, in my opinion? Seeing Tim with Korto Momulu's very African family last season. "This is adorable!" Tim said at the time about her Little Rock, Arkansas home in a way only Tim Gunn could.)

The visit to Carol Hannah's upstate New York place of residence was probably the best. What Althea and Irina lack in personality, Carol Hannah makes up in droves. Putting Tim in a floral apron and making him bake? Genius!

The other home visits were dull as dirt. Brooke Hogan proves to be a worthless addition to this finale once again, as her designs are aimless and the home visit, designed to make the contestants' personalites shine through, was an epic snooze. Irina's was marginally better, due to the shocking revelation that she and her sister are the same person (seriously, their mother wouldn't even be able to tell them apart) and that her imaged T-shirts were more or less plagiarized. So what does she do? Write reasons why to love New York City lifted straight from a New York Magazine piece! (Point to Tom and Lorenzo of Project Rungay for figuring that one out.) More on that later.

Carol Hannah's Illness: Side Effects Include Boredom

Too bad Carol Hannah was sick this episode. We were left with the awkward silence of Brooke Hogan and Shabbadabadoo. (And no, I'm not suddenly shifting alliances to Carol Hannah because she agreed to an interview when Irina didn't. Why do you ask?) I miss the anguished, furious, "Everybody hates you, Wendy!" of Season 1, the expression of hatred from Chloe Dao to Santino Rice in Season 2, the accusations of cheating in Season 3, and even Kenley Collins' awkward apology in Season 5. These girls don't know how to make drama for the cameras outside of the confessional.

Seriously, guys, Carol Hannah's puke was more exciting than the rapport between the designers. You can undoubtedly see the handprint of new production company Bunim/Murray this season. These guys are the same ones that have long produced The Real World, so it's no wonder we've wound up with three pretty women low on personality in the finale. (Every time they giggle as a group, Christian Siriano dies a little bit on the inside.)

Next season is rumored to be much better (and in NYC again, thank God), but it would take a miracle to save this show right now. It's just so boring!

At Least the Clothes are Pretty
Usually, the clothes aren't the highlight of a Project Runway season. Hell, last season, they were practically an afterthought compared to the Kenley drama. However, this season, the saving grace has been the designers' ability to produce consistent, pretty stuff. Nothing too exciting, just solid. Now, going into the finale, there are at least two looks that really, really excite me. Surprise: neither of them comes from Brooke Hogan! Check out the next post (Collect Them All) if you wanna know which two.

But seriously, here's the crux of the matter. Fans of the show all over are in a tizzy over this season because of the production. Never before has the metaphorical hand of the producers left so many fingerprints all over the show. Shirin Askari, Nicolas Putvinski, Ra'mon Lawrence Coleman, and Epperson (so cool he had only one name) were all shafted to the side due to exactly two things: producer manipulation to keep Designated Straight Male Logan Neitzel in the competition, and the ridiculously off-base judgments of the designers this season. Both of which can be drawn back to the production efforts of Bunim/Murray.

Understand that most PR fans can go on for hours about the producer manipulation on this show, but I'm gonna do my best to summarize.

History Will Repeat Itself
First, a history lesson for you. Never let anyone tell you that producers of reality shows don't pick favorites. From Season 1 of this show, the producers'/judges' pets have been obvious. (And no, they're not always one and the same.) Back then, Austin Scarlett and Kara Saun were described by one contestant as "the golden children," but that's incorrect with regard to Austin. Looking back, the judges didn't really like him that much. He wound up on the bottom (don't say it) more than most remember, and won one challenge because his model was willing to put out. (That's a little blunt, I know, but go watch Model Clients from Season 1 again and see how deplorable Melissa, a 16-year old girl was acting towards a journalist and the guest judge.) Really, the producer pet was Jay, and the judge pet was Kara. Still, tragic mess Wendy slid along to the finale, creating the most real drama this show's ever seen, so in my opinion, the producers tampered with this season the least.

That came to a crashing halt the next year. There was rampant producer manipulation in letting Santino Rice stay as long as he did. Three separate times he deserved to go home, and three separate times he was saved for seemingly no reason. Seeing Nick Verreos, a strong, modern designer go home in favor of this idiot was especially hard. Meanwhile, the judges loved no one more than Daniel Vosovic, who was a good designer, if a little Wal-Mart for my tastes. (Target ain't havin' none of that! Represent!)

Seasons 3 through 5 is where the producers really amped it up with regard to Fashion Week. Jeffrey Sebelia, the producers' pet, and Michael (now Mychael, just to annoy me) Knight, the judges' pet, wound up in the bottom two on the final challenge, while Uli Herzner, who no one on that production team liked, sailed to an easy victory. So what do they do? They institute the tool that would soon become the bane of every fanatic's existence: not eliminating anyone on the final challenge.

In fact, they did it three times. Again in Season 4 to save Rami Kashou, and in Season 5 to save Kenley Collins.

Today
They didn't do it this season, but instead of saving four designers, the producers just sent Gordana Gehlhausen home for, um, no reason whatsoever.

And don't get me started on the judging. I'm sorry, but if you're employed by a show to be a permanent judge, you rearrange your schedule so that you can be there for at least half the episodes. (Not so much referring to Nina Garcia on this one, who just had a really bad year and is trying to keep her job at Marie Claire by doing it, but to Michael Kors, who was getting "inspired" or some crap like that.) Why couldn't the judges show? Because some idiot at Bunim/Murray thought it would be a good idea to move the show to Los Angeles. They sure fixed that one in a hurry.

This is what we're left with. A season devoid of personality, filled with pretty, harmless designers. Snore.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Collect Them All

Double post again, but beware, readers. Here there be spoilers. (Hey, Kenyon, that's what's written on the edge of my map!)

Next week the looks I'm about to discuss will be shown as part of the Bryant Park Fashion Week finale on Project Runway. In case you weren't aware, Runway was stuck in legal limbo during the show's filming, so back in January (?!) when these collections walked the Bryant Park runway, none of the designers were associated with their looks. However, now that the final models have been chosen, we can be confident as to which collection belongs to which designer.

I won't be discussing every look here; for that, you can check out Tom and Lorenzo's blog at http://projectrungay.blogspot.com. I'll only discuss highlight (and lowlight) looks. If you want to keep the suspense before the finale, don't read this post, but of course come back and read it after the finale has aired. If you're interested in my thoughts, read on...

Althea Harper's Collection
Not my favorite collection of all time, folks. To me, this collection was monotonous, somewhat on the low end of things, as in very Wal-Mart, and didn't really look like $8,000 worth of clothes. Of course, there were exceptions to the rule, like...



...this fantastic piece. Well-made and dramatic in design, it was made in an interesting fabric and really ended the show well. Props for putting it on signature model Tanisha Harper, too. Unfortunately, this was the exception piece instead of the rule, as most of the collection was filled with stuff like...



...this. Hideous. Tight, shiny, and cheap-looking is not aiming high, Brooke Hogan! I'm very antagonistic towards this whole leather jumpsuit look, and the headbands (which were prevalent throughout her collection) aren't classy. They make the collection look like workout gear. This is the collection you wanted to send down at Bryant Park, Althea? Too bad this normally tasteful designer failed so epically.

Carol Hannah Whitfield's Collection
Now this is what I'm talking about. This was a tasteful collection that was cohesive and well-executed.



Not this look, particularly, but...

Seriously, this design isn't a showstopper. It looks like something more out of Althea's trashy collection than one of Carol Hannah's tasteful pieces. But here's the good news...



Yeah. Very good news.

This detailing on the bust is Carol Hannah's signature, but she's never done it better than this look. The rusching is just impeccable. I really, really liked this piece, and again, the designer chose the right finale piece for the right model. I've never loved Lisa Blades as a model, but she looked great in this dress.



I'm torn on this piece. The shaping of the tulle is undoubtedly innovative, but is it really tasteful? There's no question that this piece is ridiculously unwearable, but not all the looks have to be functional. This is fashion, and sometimes, the avant-garde borders on hilarious. It is definitely chic and definitely avant-garde, which I'm naturally drawn towards but I'm still undecided. Regardless, this is a piece that really intrigues and interests me. What do y'all think?



This I absolutely love. I think this look is just great. I love the color, the design is just great, and the construction is impeccable. Carol Hannah Whitfield doesn't get any better than this, and I question a little bit why this wasn't the finale piece. Not to say that her finale wasn't great, but this? This is spectacular.

Irina Shabayeva's Collection
Here's where the magic happens. For me, Irina's collection is so far and away the best of these. It's coherent, cohesive, indicative of the times, and beautifully constructed. Above all else, when I look at this collection, I can see Irina Shabayeva.



The detailing on this dress can be seen elsewhere in her collection, but nowhere is it done better. This was Irina's finale piece, and rightfully so, as it is her best, most dramatic piece. A work of art walking, this was a near-perfect piece, only ruined by the one element I would have removed from her entire collection: the hat. It's really tacky and not very expensive looking, and luxury is Irina's signature. Without it, this piece would have been a masterpiece. Now, it simply has to settle for showstopper.



Many complained about the excess of black in this collection, and certainly pieces like this are a little too black. However, I didn't mind this piece. I actually quite loved it. It's a real life-possible look, though the buyer would have to live in a tundra and have a fortune to spend, but still... It's cozy and well-made, and a greater reflection of her collection.



This is great. I love the sweater (an Irina signature), and underneath is a cool T-shirt with writing on it. It's innovative, interesting, and in a weird way could work for real-world buyers. I love this piece especially because there's no hat! (Sorry, Irina, but the hats are really horrible.)



Now in this case, the hat actually might be the best thing. I have no idea why Irina's taste faltered so badly on this look. Was it required of all three designers to have a tacky leather look in their collections? If so, this is Irina's. It's really horrible and ugly. Sorry, Shabbadabadoo.

So who wins? It definitely ain't Brooke Hogan. I'm sorry, but that collection just isn't up to par. I think there are too many dresses in Two-Name's collection, but she did craft them all very well, so there's hope for her yet. Still, in my mind, Shabbadabadoo is likely the champion of this finale. Her looks are cohesive and consistent, sharp and stylish, and with this collection, Irina deserves to win this season of Project Runway.