Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Curious Case of Gwyneth Paltrow

We're only a few days into what will be known by future generations as the Gwyneth Paltrow Reputation Rehabilitation Tour and the internet is already flooded with stories of "we hated her, now we love her!" So forgive me if this is something you've already seen--I'll try not to waste your time by making this piece about the Oscar-winning actress everyone seemed to hate before this week a little more detailed than you've been reading.

What to make of this recent surge in Gwyneth Paltrow we've been experiencing recently? From her new movie Country Strong that arrives this awards season and is trying so hard to get Paltrow another Oscar nomination (which she will not get) to the titular song she sang at last weekend's Country Music Awards to critical acclaim to last night's episode of Glee, the Shakespeare in Love actress is everywhere. And not only is she all over the media these days, that same media that turned up its metaphorical nose at her celebrity persona for almost a decade has now fallen in love with her once again.

Most careers don't start by winning an Oscar, and Paltrow's didn't, either, but it's where the problems with her career begin. After her acclaimed work in Emma and Se7en, Paltrow was cast in John Madden's 1998 film Shakespeare in Love as the titular bard's love interest. Her performance was universally lauded and rightfully nominated for an Academy Award.

Then she won. And that's where her career goes off the rails.

Paltrow won her Oscar over Cate Blanchett, a nominee that year for her interpretation of Queen Elizabeth I in Elizabeth. Blanchett would win her Oscar a few years later for The Aviator (of which she was arguably not only the best part, but one of the only good parts), but most today agree that the 1998 Best Actress Oscar belonged to Blanchett, not Paltrow. Looking back, there's merits to both performances, but the Oscar forever changed Paltrow's career, and it wasn't for the better.

After her Oscar win, Paltrow's celebrity persona took a sharp turn for the far more serious and "holier-than-thou". Her film choices remained varied, and some choices were even brilliant (The Royal Tenenbaums), but on the whole, they were taking a turn for the melodramatic (Proof is probably the best example for this). Not only that, but she started up her site, which was designed, more or less, to tell us all how to run our lives. She created a show with chef Mario Batali called Spain...On the Road Again, which is not intrinsically a bad show but continues to fulfill that "tell everyone what to do" stereotype. She also married somewhat standoffish Coldplay frontman Chris Martin, named her children Apple and Moses. Oh, and she said that she preferred British culture over American culture in a Spanish magazine, which, in combination with all her fake British sayings, was a bad public relations move. (Seriously, all that was saving this woman was her friendship with Beyoncé.)

This reputation continued for just about a decade, but it seems to finally be evaporating with her recent rush of work. Certainly no one of great import is criticizing her work last night on Glee, which has inspired multiple critics to declare the race for next year's Best Guest Actress in a Comedy Series Emmy over, since she will most certainly win. And it's a rightful win, too: as difficult as it might be for some to believe, Paltrow was not only great in the episode, she was brilliant. The episode itself is one of my favorites in the show's 30-episode life, and her guest performance is my favorite in the show's history as well. Her singing, of course, wasn't great, though she did amp up the energy in both her performances (all three, if you count her brief rendition of "Conjunction Junction" which was a full ten seconds of elementary school flashback bliss). Her "Forget You" was an instant classic thanks to her ability to be as goofily white (or whitely goofy?) as one song will allow, while her participation in a mashup of "Singing in the Rain" and "Umbrella" added to that experience as well.

I'd imagine that with Country Strong being released near the end of this year, as well as a sure-to-be-guaranteed second guest spot on Glee sometime in the future, this swell of Paltrow love isn't likely to end soon. And while I've never had any particular love or hate for her (though I do agree with the commonly held belief that she was the wrong winner in her Oscar year), I found her to be one of the best parts of one of the best episodes of Glee in a long time, so I don't mind a little more Paltrow in my life.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Oscars Aren't Pro-Tyler Perry

Another Oscar predictions post only two weeks after the first? What's the rush?

Admittedly, this is a little too soon for me to update again, but I'm realizing I made a few key errors in my first predictions that need to get fixed. Also, I want to analyze some fringe candidates that could break through and all the different strange occurrences that could come about under the right circumstances.

The screenplay categories haven't shifted, so if you want to see my thoughts on those, you can find them here. (And check out the new countdown widget to the right! Brought to you by Nathaniel Rogers at The Film Experience.)

Best Animated Feature
(1) Toy Story 3
(2) How to Train Your Dragon
(3) Tangled

Not enough qualifiers this year to allow for five nominees, unfortunately, so despite a strong year for animation overall (though not better than last year, which was truly a fantastic year where even five nominees wasn't enough), we've got to find only three films to get nominated. I don't have a whole lot of faith in Tangled, but I'm also unsure the very unseen The Illusionist can pull a Persepolis and get nominated--after all, Waltz with Bashir couldn't pull off a nomination in this category, and that film was incredibly well-received. A friend of mine posited the theory today that How to Train Your Dragon wins Best Animated Feature, and honestly, I don't think that's impossible. Toy Story 3 is a brilliant part of a set, but it is not a brilliant movie independent of the other movies in the trilogy. How to Train Your Dragon has the originality factor. It also, quite unfortunately, has an awful moniker that no one likes to say. (Even advertisements referred to it as Dragons, which, though a nondescript title itself is much better than the wordy How to Train Your Dragon.) A title isn't everything, and certainly films have won with bad titles before (The Hurt Locker), but Toy Story 3 has a title that represents 15 years of amazing filmmaking. That certainly won't be overlooked.

Best Supporting Actor
(1) Christian Bale, The Fighter
(2) Geoffrey Rush, The King's Speech
(3) Ed Harris, The Way Back
(4) Andrew Garfield, The Social Network
(5) Josh Brolin, True Grit

I'm reordering things here, but the big stories are the bottom two: Garfield and Brolin. They both come from movies with multiple Best Supporting Actor contenders, and could theoretically split the vote. I'm especially worried about Garfield--I warned that if the buzz didn't sustain for The Social Network it would have an impact, and I'm not hearing much about it right now. I could see Garfield not getting nominated. I feel like the real pushes right now are for his costars, Justin Timberlake and Armie Hammer. Similarly, I feel like Brolin is getting pushed aside a bit for Matt Damon in the media right now. I might be calling this one wrong on both counts, but I feel like this is a fairly steady pool.

Best Supporting Actress
(1) Helena Bonham-Carter, The King's Speech
(2) Melissa Leo, The Fighter
(3) Dianne Wiest, Rabbit Hole
(4) Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom
(5) Amy Adams, The Fighter

I have nothing to say about this category right now, really, besides that if Weaver can snag a nomination, I'm pretty confident she'll win. But getting the nomination is the bigger battle.

Best Actress
(1) Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
(2) Natalie Portman, Black Swan
(3) Jennifer Lawrence, Winter's Bone
(4) Lesley Manville, Another Year
(5) Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole

I almost put Halle Berry for Frankie and Alice in here instead of Kidman, but Rabbit Hole has been surprisingly good at sustaining its buzz so far. And Berry's film may not be that good. However, I do think in this very lily-white year for the acting categories, an African-American actress has a real shot. I just don't think this is the category, considering how packed it is. However, if Manville winds up in the supporting race (a race she'll surely win), Berry will likely take her spot.

Best Actor
(1) Colin Firth, The King's Speech
(2) James Franco, 127 Hours
(3) Jeff Bridges, True Grit
(4) Mark Wahlberg, The Fighter
(5) Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network

I keep hearing that others are dropping Wahlberg for Robert Duvall in Get Low. I had to look up that movie to remember what it was. That film is such a non-factor it's not even funny. Duvall can't get nominated for a movie no one is talking about. Unless Eisenberg and Wahlberg prove to be incredibly weak, Duvall can't sneak in here.

Best Director
(1) Christopher Nolan, Inception
(2) David Fincher, The Social Network
(3) Danny Boyle, 127 Hours
(4) Tom Hooper, The King's Speech
(5) Mike Leigh, Another Year

Everything's the same here, except I removed David O'Russell for The Fighter in favor of Leigh. Just a hunch.

Best Picture
(1) The King's Speech
(2) The Social Network
(3) 127 Hours
(4) True Grit
(5) Inception
(6) The Fighter
(7) Black Swan
(8) Toy Story 3
(9) Another Year
(10) The Kids Are All Right

For Colored Girls got creamed in the early reviews, so it's out. Another Year is in, but I don't have half the confidence in it everyone else seems to have. About that top five... it would fit that, like last year, the "real five" have all their directors nominated for Best Director, no? So why don't I have the Coens, known favorites of the Academy, getting nominated? Well, they won four years ago, for one. Director teams are pretty kitschy and aren't going to be rewarded that often. For another, I'm wondering exactly how beloved True Grit is going to be in most areas outside of Picture, Actor, Supporting Actor and Adapted Screenplay considering it's a remake. I think it'll do well--I just don't think it'll win anything big or get nominated for something like Director.

What are your thoughts? Not a whole lot has changed, I know, but do you agree with my small alterations? I'll be getting into more in-depth analysis later on of below-the-line categories, but what do you think of Best Animated Feature? Do you agree True Grit might be getting overhyped? Let me know what you think in the comments!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Siding with Jessica Simpson Scares Me

Project Runway has ended once again, and unlike the feelings of joy we often experience at the dĂ©nouement of a season, this year we have embittered fans and outrage from the critics. Our winner is Gretchen Jones, a hippie chick from Portland, Oregon with an ego problem (think season five’s Leanne Marshall with high self-regard). She beat out fan- (and, it appeared until last Thursday, judge-) favorite Mondo Guerra and unfortunate footnote of the proceedings Andy South for the title.

I have no love for Gretchen's collection, but I do feel awful for her simply because I know how much shit she's going to have to deal with because she won over Mondo. The fashion world is not going to be happy to receive this winner.

Let me get one thing out of the way: I wasn’t in love with Mondo's collection either. I don't think it was anything we hadn't seen from him before. But at least it was creative and innovative. Gretchen's was repetitive and sad. However, for full disclosure, I can’t say Mondo didn’t make a few massive mistakes in styling, presentation, etc. For example, if I were Mondo, I would have switched his model, Tina Marie (who really was the best model remaining at the end of the season and I’m almost more disappointed for Mondo because Tina Marie lost as a direct result) out of his “signature” polka-dot dress. He presented it to the judges in the previous challenge and was met with fairly mixed reactions from judges Michael Kors and Nina Garcia, with only host Heidi Klum to defend him. (Oh, the foreshadowing.) The decision to keep the polka-dot dress on his muse model for presentation on the judging platform was only going to piss off Michael and Nina, which is exactly what it did.

Speaking of our judges... That judging session was ridiculous. Amazing, but ridiculous. I have never seen Michael or Nina be so dismissive and nasty before, and unfortunately Jessica Simpson (who was a good judge, I'll defend her forever) got caught in the crossfire a bit. "HELLO! Read a magazine!" Michael spat as an angry response to Jessica’s criticism of Gretchen’s collection. It was the first time fans of the show have faced a situation where they had to side with Heidi over the usual arbiters of good taste Michael and Nina.

But good for Heidi. That feels strange to say, but it’s true. Good. For. Heidi. She made a great case for Mondo to be declared the winner and was really going up against Michael and Nina alone (because while Jessica threw interjections here and there, she wasn't fighting mano-a-mano like Heidi), and she was making a far better argument than Michael and Nina were combined. "Trendiness" shouldn't be a criterion, but they decided to make it one. I just fundamentally don’t understand how they could say Mondo’s collection was more creative and interesting but give it to Gretchen because she’s more “on-trend”. I don’t understand it at all.

I think I get what Michael's deal was, though. It was that weird slap at Galliano that really made it clear to me: Gretchen is Michael Kors whereas Mondo is the couturiers of Europe like Galliano, Balenciaga, even a brand more American like Rodarte. He sees them as his "enemies" in the fashion world, rivals to be defeated. This was a way for him to make the point that what he does is best. “What I design I make! And women wear!” Again, Michael was practically spitting while he said this. I’ve never seen a reality show judge get so worked up before. This wasn’t about the competition in front of him. This was about him.

Nina was fighting for the Marie Claire woman, which has many different ramifications to it. Not only was she looking for someone to feature in her magazine, she wanted to keep the "ELLE" designer away. Mondo fits in ELLE, but Nina's history with that magazine is so bitter I'm sure she avoids taking any clients who fit that mold for spreads in Marie Claire.

It’s even more tragic that the judges dismissed Andy’s collection out of hand. Sure, it wasn’t a showstopper, but it was a solid collection deserving more than a quick elimination. It was certainly better than Gretchen’s collection, which, the more I look at it, the more I dislike it.

I will stand by this season, despite this incredibly out-of-character decision, as one of the best in PR history, probably third behind seasons one and three. (My full breakdown would be 1/3/8/5/2/4/7/6, in case you're wondering.) It was riveting television even if the fashion wasn't always tops. But you gotta admit, your jaw is still on the floor the morning after. It wasn’t the right result, but as far as good television is concerned, it was the best season in a long, long time. Here’s to hoping the talent can match the drama next season.

Oh, and this should be obvious at this point, but...

Shoulda Won: Mondo Guerra

Shoulda Been Out: Andy South, Gretchen Jones