I Am DB

August 24, 2014

Emmy Nominations 2013-14: Reaction Mishmash

Filed under: Emmys,TV — DB @ 9:45 am
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The Emmy Awards are upon us, and once again this year’s crop of nominees reminds us that there is an astonishing level of quality across today’s television landscape…if it can even still be referred to as television now that online entities like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu are presenting original programming. Unfortunately, it tends to be what isn’t nominated that serves as the reminder, for no matter what makes the cut, there remains so much great work that is left out. As I say every year, there is simply too much good work out there for all of it to receive the celebration it deserves come Emmy season. But that doesn’t stop TV critics and avid watchers from sounding off anyway. For the past couple of years I’ve offered a slate of write-ups for work that stood out to me as nomination worthy but went unrecognized. I really need to work on those throughout the season, while the shows are fresh in my mind, but I dropped the ball this year. Still, I have thoughts on what was and wasn’t nominated, and I’ll be damned if I’m just going to keep them to myself. I’m a blogger! So here’s a down-and-dirtier version of this annual post. I’m not making predictions here; the Emmys are far too erratic and offbeat for me to apply my Oscar mojo. This is just a rundown of the nominees, accompanied by thoughts and opinions where I have them. Maybe I’ll get my act together next year. Until then….

 

OUTSTANDING COMEDY SERIES
The Big Bang Theory
Louie
Modern Family
Orange Is The New Black
Silicon Valley
Veep

Thoughts: As entertainment award travesties go, the annual omission of Parks and Recreation is one for the books. How does this show get passed over year after year after year? With all respect to the fine Modern Family, Parks and Rec dances circles around it. It’s more ambitious in its storytelling, it develops its characters with greater depth and it continues to offer surprises each season while Modern Family and other shows just do more of the same…even if they do it well. And on top of all that, it’s hilarious and still has the best comedic ensemble on TV right now. I don’t watch The Big Bang Theory, but I’d bet it too falls short of Parks and Recreation in almost every metric.

On the upside, it’s nice to see Silicon Valley land a nomination for its debut season. The show came out of the gate strong and never faltered. I have yet to get around to Orange is the New Black, but by all accounts it’s a true original and a deserving nominee…if not necessarily the right fit for this category.

OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES
Lena Dunham – Girls
Edie Falco – Nurse Jackie
Melissa McCarthy – Mike & Molly
Julia Louis-Dreyfus – Veep
Amy Poehler – Parks and Recreation
Taylor Schilling – Orange is the New Black

Thoughts: At least Amy Poehler got some love for Parks and Rec, though the fact that she hasn’t won yet is every bit as scandalous as the show itself not being nominated. Yes, we all adore Julia Louis-Dreyfus, but she’s got plenty of Emmys at this point, and while her work on Veep is excellent, the character doesn’t have the range of Poehler’s Leslie Knope. She won her first Golden Globe for the role in January. Perhaps this will finally be her year at the Emmys as well?

Also, how about getting some Mindy Kaling up in this joint?

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OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES

Louis C.K. – Louie
Don Cheadle – House of Lies
Ricky Gervais – Derek
Matt LeBlanc – Episodes
William H. Macy – Shameless
Jim Parsons – The Big Bang Theory

Thoughts: Ricky Gervais’ nomination for the Netflix series Derek is quite the surprise. The series hasn’t garnered the acclaim or noteriety of The Office or even Extras, so it’s a testament to Gervais’ appeal that he made the cut over more widely predicted people like Brooklyn Nine-Nine‘s Andy Samberg (who took the Golden Globe) and Silicon Valley’s Thomas Middleditch. I’m also giving a shout-out to the great Chris O’Dowd, who was a real joy as the lead in Christopher Guest’s mellow HBO comedy Family Tree.

As for the win, I gotta go with Louis C.K.

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES
Mayim Bialik – The Big Bang Theory
Julie Bowen – Modern Family
Anna Chlumsky – Veep
Allison Janney – Mom
Kate McKinnon – Saturday Night Love
Kate Mulgrew – Orange is the New Black

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES
Fred Armisen – Portlandia
Andre Braugher – Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Ty Burrell – Modern Family
Adam Driver – Girls
Tony Hale – Veep
Jesse Tyler Ferguson – Modern Family

Thoughts: Can someone explain to me how Fred Armisen is a Supporting Actor on Portlandia? He’s the co-lead and co-creator of the show. He doesn’t belong here, especially at the expense — yet again — of any member of the Parks and Recreation crew. Nick Offerman remains the show’s most egregiously overlooked cast member, but Chris Pratt, Aziz Ansari and Adam Scott are plenty deserving.

Silicon Valley also boasts an impressive group of supporting players, any of whom — T.J. Miller, Martin Starr, Kumail Nanjiani, Zach Woods or the late Christopher Evan Welch — would have been welcome additions here.

Returning nominees Adam Driver, Tony Hale and Ty Burrell all deserve a place once again, and Andre Braugher is a welcome addition for his deadpan precinct captain. His co-star Joe Lo Truglio would have been deserving too…though again, neither outshine the men of Parks and Rec. I really don’t get the Emmy’s aversion to that show.

I would love to see Driver take this. Reigning champ Hale is terrific, but Adam Driver is one of the most exciting actors anywhere right now. His work on Girls has been remarkable from day one, and he continues to take his character in fascinating and unexpected new directions.

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OUTSTANDING GUEST ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES

Uzo Aduba – Orange is the New Black
Laverne Cox – Orange is the New Black
Joan Cusack – Shameless
Tina Fey – Saturday Night Live
Natasha Lyonne – Orange is the New Black
Melissa McCarthy – Saturday Night Live

The Guest Performer Emmys were handed out last weekend at the Creative Arts ceremony, and the prize went to Uzo Aduba. As I mentioned above, I have yet to see Orange is the New Black, but even I’m aware of her breakout character Crazy Eyes.

OUTSTANDING GUEST ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES
Steve Buscemi – Portlandia
Louis C.K. – Saturday Night Live
Gary Cole – Veep
Jimmy Fallon – Saturday Night Live
Nathan Lane – Modern Family
Bob Newhart – The Big Bang Theory

Thoughts: Another Parks and Recreation omission: is it not far past the time to recognize Ben Schwartz for his hilarious recurring work as Jean-Ralphio Saperstein? This is a show that has done such a phenomenal job of building up a roster of recurring characters to fill out the town of Pawnee, and none are funnier or more well-honed than hipster doofus Jean-Ralphio. His impact on the show has been significant enough that the creators gave him an equally hilarious sister Mona Lisa (Jenny Slate) and this past year introduced Henry Winkler as their father. Given how this show has been passed over by Emmy voters across the board, I can hardly expect Schwartz to be singled out. But he sure deserves it.

All that aside, the winner was Jimmy Fallon.

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OUTSTANDING WRITING FOR A COMEDY SERIES

David Crane, Jeffrey Klarik – Episodes (Episode 305)
Louis C.K. – Louie (So Did the Fat Lady)
Liz Friedman, Jenji Kohan – Orange is the New Black (I Wasn’t Ready – Pilot)
Alec Berg – Silicon Valley (Optimal Tip-To-Tip Efficiency)
Simon Blackwell, Tony Roche, Armando Iannucci – Veep (Special Relationship)

Thoughts: Cheers to the voters for nominating the season finale of Silicon Valley, which featured one of the funniest sequences I saw anywhere all year: a serious discussion amongst software engineers about how one of them could theoretically jerk off 800 men in ten minutes. This was inspired. The best part is that, as with much of the show’s shop talk, the concept had to be worked out with the help of a legitimate engineering genius — 27 year-old MIT grad Vinith Misra. While discussing his work as an advisor to the show in this interview, he mentioned that his tasks included “performing a detailed mathematical analysis in support of a penis joke.” Fantastic.

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OUTSTANDING DIRECTING FOR A COMEDY SERIES

Iain B. MacDonald – Episodes (Episode 309)
Paris Barclay – Glee (100)
Louis C.K. – Louie (Elevator, Part 6)
Gail Mancuso – Modern Family (Vegas)
Jodie Foster – Orange is the New Black (Lesbian Request Denied)

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OUTSTANDING DRAMA SERIES

Breaking Bad
Downton Abbey
Game of Thrones
House of Cards
Mad Men
True Detective

Thoughts: Although I don’t watch The Good Wife, I gathered that it had a strong season. I couldn’t escape the news of a major cast member’s dramatic exit, so it’s surprising that the buzz didn’t translate into a nomination. Much as I enjoy Downton Abbey, I’m not sure if it belongs here when other acclaimed shows like Good Wife, The Americans, or Masters of Sex were shut out. The Bridge had an impressive debut run too. It would also be nice to see more genre shows join Game of Thrones. Neither The Walking Dead nor Bates Motel have Thrones’ prestige factor, but both are coming off high-quality seasons. And Hannibal is not only riveting, but one of the most visually arresting shows on the air. Also, I have to say, True Blood bounced back in a big way last year.

I’d like to think this will be the year that Game of Thrones triumphs, but it’s a tough call. It’s unanimously agreed that Breaking Bad’s final season completely nailed it, and might even have been the show’s best yet. But those episodes aired a year ago, and it may be too far out of mind to claim the prize for the second year in a row…though most fans of the show would say that only one Outstanding Drama Series win is not enough. True Detective is the big threat here. Fueled by the presence of Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey, the show was highly anticipated and lived up to the potential. It was an instant hit — smart, engrossing and atmospheric. And it’s probably more in Emmy voters’ wheelhouse than Game of Thrones. One potential hiccup is that earlier this month, accusations surfaced that True Detective‘s creator Nic Pizzolatto plagiarized portions of the show’s dialogue. He and HBO have denied the charges, and the timing does seem suspicious. The show ended its run in March, but this story doesn’t hit until August, in the middle of the Emmy voting period? Sounds like the work of Tywin Lannister…

OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES
Lizzy Caplan – Masters of Sex
Claire Danes – Homeland
Michelle Dockery – Downton Abbey
Julianna Margulies – The Good Wife
Kerry Washington – Scandal
Robin Wright – House of Cards

Thoughts: Does Michelle Dockery really belong here? She does good work as Lady Mary, but in a crowded field, I can think of a few performances that have more going on than hers. How about Vera Farmiga, nominated last year for her wonderful work on Bates Motel? The Bridge’s Diane Kruger, might have been a more interesting choice as well. I don’t watch any of the following shows, but what I hear of Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black), Keri Russell (The Americans), Connie Britton (Nashville), Katey Sagal (Sons of Anarchy) and the usually-nominated Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men) suggests that all are eminently Emmy worthy.

OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES
Bryan Cranston – Breaking Bad
Jeff Daniels – The Newsroom
Jon Hamm – Mad Men
Woody Harrelson – True Detective
Matthew McConaughey – True Detective
Kevin Spacey – House of Cards

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Thoughts:
Poor Michael Sheen. The Masters of Sex star is always the bridesmaid to his co-stars. The Queen: Helen Mirren wins the Oscar, but he’s not nominated. Frost/Nixon: Frank Langella gets the Oscar nomination, Sheen is passed over. Now Lizzy Caplan is welcomed into the Emmy race for Masters while Sheen is yet again ignored. Perhaps he can take some consolation in the fact that as always, this is a jam-packed category. There’s really nobody here who doesn’t deserve their place. Some might say Jeff Daniels, who pulled off a surprise win last year, but critics and pundits just don’t like The Newsroom. Whatever they think of the show though, Daniels is terrific. Many expected James Spader to be a shoo-in for The Blacklist, and there were hopes that Matthew Rhys would find his way in for The Americans. But there can be only six.

Jon Hamm remains Emmy-less for Mad Men, which probably should be rectified at some point, but it’s unlikely to be this year. While Bryan Cranston could take it one final time for Breaking Bad, this award seems destined for McConaughey, who was spellbinding on True Detective. His first foray into series television further bolstered the hot streak that he’s been on in the movies. He’ll need some more shelf space to add all the True Detective awards he’s bound to win over the next six months to the swarm he already collected for Dallas Buyers Club. His next two projects are with Christopher Nolan and Gus Van Sant. Dude is crushing it.

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES
Christine Baranski – The Good Wife
Joanne Froggatt – Downton Abbey
Lena Headey – Game of Thrones
Anna Gunn – Breaking Bad
Christina Hendricks – Mad Men
Maggie Smith – Downton Abbey

Thoughts: I’m always pleased by any recognition for the Game of Thrones cast, so I’m happy to see Lena Headey score her first nomination. I still say Maisie Williams is the cast’s most deserving female, but I’ll take what they give me.

I didn’t expect the Emmys to suddenly find room for The Walking Dead in a main category, but Melissa McBride certainly deserved a place here this year. McBride’s Carol has had the best character arc on the show, coming a long way from the meek, abused wife she was at the start to the badass warrior momma she is now, one of the toughest of the survivors, who makes difficult life or death decisions and then follows through, all for the greater good. Her evolution and do-what-needs-to-be-done attitude were crystallized in this season’s episode “The Grove,” which saw Carol execute her most heartbreaking decision yet. I had some issues with the how the story played out — I think the writing failed to explore the situation as fully as it needed to (and easily could have) before the ultimate solution was reached — but I have no issues with McBride’s performance. It was a textbook example of the kind of showcase episode that should earn an actor a nomination.

I also want to make a stand for Caitlin FitzGerald, from Masters of Sex. As the warm, supportive wife to Michael Sheen’s intense title character, FitzGerald had the challenge of taking a 1950’s housewife whose lot in life seems to be supporting her man, and turning her into a character who was, in her way, just as strong and compelling as Lizzy Caplan’s less conventional woman of the era. FitzGerald quickly evolved into my favorite character on the show, as I found myself looking forward to her scenes more than anyone else’s.

Lastly, while I can’t comment on Baranski, Gunn or Hendricks, I can say the category should have found room for The Newsroom’s Olivia Munn. Probably the least experienced of the show’s primary cast members when it debuted, she was strong from the start and does great work week in and week out. If she had been giving the same performance on The West Wing, she’d have been nominated.

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OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES

Josh Charles – The Good Wife
Jim Carter – Downton Abbey
Peter Dinklage – Game of Thrones
Mandy Patinkin – Homeland
Aaron Paul – Breaking Bad
Jon Voight – Ray Donovan

Thoughts: Could sentiment be with Josh Charles, given his character’s high-profile departure from The Good Wife? Or will voters look to Aaron Paul one last time for Breaking Bad? No surprise, I’m rooting for Dinklage to win for a second time. His arc this season provided great material, both showy and subtle, and he was as stellar as ever. Unfortunately, he is once again the show’s sole representative. Several of his castmates could just as easily join him here, but all were overlooked. One particular absence stings because the character won’t be returning, and has been one of the standouts each year. I’m avoiding his name for spoilers sake, but those of you watching probably know who I mean. Frankly, if this entire category were comprised of Thrones actors,  it would be entirely justified.

Voters might also have considered Jeffrey Wright’s work on Boardwalk Empire. He was an excellent addition to the show, and a more interesting character than Bobby Cannavale’s Emmy-winning villain from the previous season.

OUTSTANDING GUEST ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES
Kate Burton – Scandal
Jane Fonda – The Newsroom
Allison Janney – Masters of Sex
Kate Mara – House of Cards
Margo Martindale – The Americans
Diana Rigg – Game of Thrones

Thoughts: Kate Mara? Really? Nothing against her or her performance, but her arc on House of Cards was pretty brief this year. Does she really deserve this slot? Diana Rigg is so good on Game of Thrones, but she was in much less of the season this year than last. If she didn’t win then, it’s unlikely that she would now.

And she didn’t. The award went to Alison Janney, and that’s hard to argue with. Janney was heartbreaking as a wife and mother experiencing her sexual awakening as she learns that her husband — fellow nominee Beau Bridges — is not the man she thought he was.

OUTSTANDING GUEST ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES
Dylan Baker – The Good Wife
Beau Bridges – Masters of Sex
Reg E. Cathey – House of Cards
Paul Giamatti – Downton Abbey
Robert Morse – Mad Men
Joe Morton – Scandal

Thoughts: Pedro Pascal came into the crowded Game of Thrones cast and immediately carved himself a place of honor with a compelling portrayal of a revenge-minded prince. He seemed a shoo-in for recognition here. I mean, it was a fun to see the great Paul Giamatti pop up on Downton Abbey, but I’d trade his one-episode appearance for Pascal’s pivotal season-long role in a heartbeat. It’s disappointing to see him passed over.

I’ve only seen half of these nominees — Giamatti, Bridges and Cathey. I’d have gone with Bridges’ wrenching turn as a married man grappling with his homosexuality. The scenes of his professional relationship — he plays Michael Sheen’s longtime friend and boss — are terrific, but the character’s personal struggles deepen the role and allow Bridges to do some beautiful work. Alas, the winner was Joe Morton (Miles Dyson, for all you Terminator 2 fans). Though I don’t watch Scandal, I’ve always liked Morton, so it’s nice to see a working actor like him get some recognition.

OUTSTANDING WRITING FOR A DRAMA SERIES
Moira Walley-Beckett – Breaking Bad (Ozymandias)
Vince Gilligan – Breaking Bad (Felina)
David Benioff, D.B. Weiss – Game of Thrones (The Children)
Beau Willimon – House of Cards (Chapter 14)
Nic Pizzolatto – True Detective (The Secret Fate of All of Life)

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OUTSTANDING DIRECTING FOR A DRAMA SERIES

Tim Van Patten – Boardwalk Empire (Farewell Daddy Blues)
Vince Gilligan – Breaking Bad (Felina)
David Evans – Downton Abbey (Episode 1)
Neil Marshall – Game of Thrones (The Watchers on the Wall)
Cary Joji Fukunaga – True Detective (Who Goes There)

Thoughts: Without having seen the Breaking Bad episodes, I have no doubt both were expertly crafted. And the nominated episode of True Detective got a lot of attention for its lengthy tracking shot that moved in and out of several houses as it followed McConaughey’s character on an undercover assignment gone bad. But how can anything here compare to the directorial challenges and superb execution of the battle for Castle Black on Game of Thrones? The extensive use of visual effects to create so much of the surroundings, the multiple storylines playing out within the limited location, the ability to make it all look so impressive and cinematic on a TV budget. This is the first directing nomination Thrones has received in three seasons, and its omission from the past two years is absurd. It deserves the award not just for this episode, but as compensation for past mistakes.

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OUTSTANDING MINISERIES

American Horror Story: Coven
Bonnie & Clyde
Fargo
Luther
Treme
The White Queen

Thoughts: American Horror Story is always a force to be reckoned with, but Fargo was the buzzy critic’s darling this year, and accomplished the impressive feat of standing on its own in the shadow of a classic piece of contemporary cinema. I wasn’t totally sold on it at first, but it grew on me steadily as it went along, and I still find myself thinking about it. I’ll definitely have to revisit it eventually.

OUTSTANDING TELEVISION MOVIE
Killing Kennedy
Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight
The Normal Heart
Sherlock: His Last Vow
The Trip to Bountiful

OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTRESS IN A MINISERIES OR MOVIE
Helena Bonham Carter – Burton and Taylor
Minnie Driver – Return to Zero
Jessica Lange – American Horror Story: Coven
Sarah Paulson – American Horror Story: Coven
Cicely Tyson – The Trip to Bountiful
Kristen Wiig – The Spoils of Babylon

Thoughts: How awesome is it to see Kristin Wiig sneak into this line-up for her performance in the absurd comedic series The Spoils of Babylon? This show was totally ridiculous, and totally hilarious. Not everyone’s style of comedy, I’m sure, but for those who appreciated what they were going for, it was lots of fun, and Wiig was aces.

OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTOR IN A MINISERIES OR MOVIE
Benedict Cumberbatch – Sherlock: His Last Vow
Chiwetel Ejiofor – Dancing on the Edge
Idris Elba – Luther
Martin Freeman – Fargo
Mark Ruffalo – The Normal Heart
Billy Bob Thornton – Fargo

Thoughts: The delightful ubiquity of Martin Freeman is evident in the fact that half his fellow nominees are actors he’s worked with. He’s joined here by his Fargo co-star Thornton, as well as his Sherlock and The Hobbit pal Cumberbatch. Plus he and Ejiofor were both in Love, Actually. But they had no scenes together, so maybe that doesn’t count? You decide.

Jesus, this is a strong line-up. Tough, tough call.

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A MINISERIES OR MOVIE
Angela Bassett – American Horror Story: Coven
Kathy Bates – American Horror Story: Coven
Ellen Burstyn – Flowers in the Attic
Frances Conroy – American Horror Story: Coven
Julia Roberts – The Normal Heart
Alison Tolman – Fargo

Thoughts: No surprise that this category is dominated by ladies of American Horror Story. Bassett, Bates and Conroy were all fantastic. The latter two especially, had probably the best roles they’ve had in ages thanks to Ryan Murphy and his team, who can always be counted on to create roles that actresses can tear into. It’s no wonder they signed on to return for the upcoming season, American Horror Story: Freak Show. It will be a challenge to choose between them. So maybe the voters won’t, going instead for Allison Tolman’s wonderful breakout turn in Fargo.

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A MINISERIES OR MOVIE
Matt Bomer – The Normal Heart
Martin Freeman – Sherlock: His Last Vow
Colin Hanks – Fargo
Joe Mantello – The Normal Heart
Alfred Molina – The Normal Heart
Jim Parsons – The Normal Heart

Thoughts: This category is kind of a slap in the face to Taylor Kitsch. He was the only main cast member of The Normal Heart to be overlooked, and he was just as good as everyone else. He certainly had a bigger role than Joe Mantello, but Mantello had something that Kitsch unfortunately didn’t: a showstopping scene in which he took center stage and was allowed to fly. He was basically nominated for that one scene. All the other cast members had at least one standout moment like that. Kitsch’s character didn’t, and it probably cost the actor a nomination.

OUTSTANDING WRITING FOR A MINISERIES, MOVIE OR DRAMATIC SPECIAL
Brad Falchuk – American Horror Story: Coven (Bitchcraft)
Noah Hawley – Fargo (The Crocodile’s Dilemma)
Neil Cross – Luther
Larry Kramer – The Normal Heart
Steven Moffatt – Sherlock: His Last Vow
David Simon, Eric Overmeyer – Treme (…To Miss New Orleans)

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OUTSTANDING DIRECTING FOR A MINISERIES, MOVIE OR DRAMATIC SPECIAL

Alfonso Gomez-Rejon – American Horror Story: Coven (Bitchcraft)
Adam Bernstein – Fargo (The Crocodile’s Dilemma)
Colin Bucksey – Fargo (Buridan’s Ass)
Stephen Frears – Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight
Ryan Murphy – The Normal Heart
Nick Hurran – Sherlock: His Last Vow

OUTSTANDING VARIETY SERIES
The Colbert Report
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
Jimmy Kimmel Live
Real Time with Bill Maher
Saturday Night Live
The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon

Thoughts: The golden of age of television we continue to find ourselves in is not limited to fictional series. The late night field is also full of gems, as evidenced by how strong this category is. Saturday Night Live is always going to be hit or miss, but the rest of these shows are just great. Conan could easily be here too, as could some of the other shows which pop up in the Writing category below (despite the list of nominees, this isn’t actually a late night category). Last Week with John Oliver probably debuted too late in the season to qualify, but its chances next year are looking great. Strong as all of these shows are though, none of them equal the satirical brilliance of The Colbert Report, which finally won this award last year after a record-setting 10 years of domination by The Daily Show.

OUTSTANDING WRITING FOR A VARIETY SERIES
The Colbert Report
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
Inside Amy Schumer
Key & Peele
Portlandia
The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon

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OUTSTANDING ANIMATED PROGRAM

Archer (Archer Vice: The Rules of Extraction)
Bob’s Burgers (Mazel Tina)
Futurama (Meanwhile)
South Park (Black Friday)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Manhattan Project

Thoughts: Much was made of the fact that for the first time in 23 years, The Simpsons wasn’t nominated. The consenus may be that the show is long past its prime, but I still probably laugh harder and more often during a Simpsons episode than I do at any other series. Now maybe Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is good…but better than The Simpsons? I seriously doubt it.

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I’m looking forward to seeing how it all shakes out. Seth Meyers hosts the show, which airs tomorrow night, Monday, August 25, on NBC. Go Amy Poehler and Game of Thrones!

And now I leave you with another classic moment of Emmy past.

 

June 29, 2014

Sunday Mourning (A Lament for Game of Thrones)

Filed under: TV — DB @ 10:00 am
Tags: , , , , ,

This post is intended for those who are up-to-date on Game of Thrones. If you have yet to start watching the series or are not caught up, make like a heart tree — you know, the kind with the faces of the Gods carved on them  and leave.

It never gets easier. Another season of Game of Thrones ends, and the impact of the loss doesn’t really hit until a week after the finale, when there is no new episode to watch. Then you start to think about the 40 or so more weeks that you have to get through before the show will be back, and you try to get excited about True Blood, and sure it’s good to see Lafayette and Eric and Jessica again, but nothing can fill that hole. Here we are two weeks later, and still I can’t let go. Perhaps getting all of this out of my system will help.

BRING OUT YOUR DEAD
If last year’s Red Wedding seemed like an untoppable twist of fate, that notion was dispelled early in the season with the first of what would be many high profile deaths this year. The only disappointment about Joffrey’s inevitable demise is that we no longer get to root for Joffrey’s inevitable demise. That, and we had to bid farewell to Jack Gleeson, who brought him to such brilliantly bratty life. George R.R. Martin and showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss all said in interviews that they hoped watching Joffrey’s desperate gasps for breath would make people feel a little bit of pity for him, perhaps recognizing that at the end of the day he’s just a kid who’d been living out a grossly inflated sense of entitlement. If that was their goal, I’m sorry to say they failed. I don’t think anyone felt sympathy for this devil. He beheaded Ned Stark, endlessly tormented Sansa, abused prostitutes, pumped Ros full of arrows, ordered the murder of every dark-haired bastard in King’s Landing, respected nothing and nobody, ridiculed everyone around him from Tyrion to The Hound to Jaime to Tywin…he was a loathsome little fucker and the only thing people seemed to regret about his death was that it was neither painful nor prolonged enough. To that end, Vulture asked several of the cast members how they would have killed Joffrey, collecting a range of colorful answers…none of which go further than what one friend of mine suggested in an email:

Not good enough.  I wanted to see his flesh boiled away while he watched his mom penetrated by that knife dildo from Seven. After their nails were pulled out along with their teeth. After hungry pigs fed on their hands and feet. After they ate shit that spewed directly from a donkeys anus that had just eaten another donkey’s shit.

After the entire kingdom got to urinate on him.

Still glad to see him die though!

And of course, social media had plenty of fun reactions, several of which were supposedly tweeted by characters on the show, including Joffrey himself. In the end, as loathsome as he is on paper, a significant chunk of our feelings about Joffrey are due to Gleeson’s spot-on portrayal. Both he and the character will be missed, and if you’d like to bid a final farewell to the actor as he really is, here’s a 30 minute Q&A he did last fall at University College Dublin.

Joffrey’s death so early in the season was definitely among Thrones’ best surprises to date, but the most shocking moment I’ve witnessed on the show came with the eye-popping defeat of Oberyn Martell. Despite being a new addition to the story this year, Oberyn — so wonderfully played by Pedro Pascal — quickly earned everyone’s affection and seemed like a character destined to be around for a while, especially once he tied his fate to Tyrion’s. Even though Martin has proven that no one is safe in his stories, you kinda figure that some people are pretty safe…at least until the series gets closer to ending. I just didn’t believe that Tyrion was going to die, and so it stands to reason that going into his trial by combat, Oberyn was bound to prevail over Gregor Clegane, The Mountain Who Rides. But I should have known by now that if something seems so obvious, Martin will find another way. Even as The Mountain was gouging out Oberyn’s eyes, I was thinking, “Okay — he’s gonna stab The Mountain in the head and crawl out from underneath, and the cost of his revenge will be the loss of his eyes.” Nope! Martin took it further and had The Mountain pop Oberyn’s entire head like a watermelon at a Gallagher show. I will NEVER unsee that sight.

It was such a crushing loss (no pun intended, really), as Oberyn went into the fight brimming with confidence. His victory — again, given the Tyrion factor if nothing else — seemed a foregone conclusion. And although the headbusting is a demise I’ll not soon forget, I think the moment before that was the one that is truly seared in my brain – The Mountain pressing his thumbs into Oberyn’s eyes, blood seeping from around the edges as Oberyn wails in pain he was so certain he would not experience that day. I imagine that for most who haven’t read the books, Oberyn’s death doesn’t top the Red Wedding as far as killer twists go, but perhaps because I pretty much knew the Red Wedding was coming, the loss of Oberyn hit me even harder. Well…no — losing Robb, Catelyn and Talisa all at once like that hit me harder as a story point. But the grisly specifics of Oberyn’s death — that’s what I was referring to when I called it the most shocking moment I’ve seen on the show. Even the pregnant Talisa getting stabbed repeatedly in the abdomen didn’t get to me as much as this did.

It amused me that in interviews following the episode in question, Pascal (and maybe Benioff and Weiss, I can’t remember) pointed out that Oberyn’s Inigo Montoya-like prodding did in fact result in The Mountain confessing his crimes. I appreciate the attempt to find a silver lining, but I suspect the pressure one feels when their eyes are getting liquified and their skull is getting crushed would be too much of a distraction to really hear a confession, let alone take any satisfaction in it.

Though his time on the show was brief, Oberyn emerged as one of my favorite characters. I took his loss hard. While this is little consolation, I enjoyed seeing Pascal riff about how Oberyn’s funeral should play out, while illustrators for Vanity Fair transferred his description to paper.

The only problem with that drawing? There’s still a head on the body.

Joffrey and Oberyn are just the tip of the broadsword, of course. This season was a goddamn bloodbath. We lost so many characters — some major, some minor, but all essential parts of the fabric that make the show what it is. Jon Snow’s Night’s Watch brothers Grenn and Pyp may not have been key characters, but they were there with him at Castle Black since day one, and I was sad to lose them. Locke, the man who cut off Jaime’s hand, was a great character who met a rough end when his neck was snapped by a Bran-controlled Hodor. (Hodor.) We lost Ygritte and crazy Lysa Arryn along the way, and then came the season finale, knocking four primary players permanently off the board.

Of these, the one that most fans will probably be least troubled by is Bran’s spiritual guide and fellow warg, Jojen Reed, but I’ll miss him. He didn’t appear until Season Three, and even with two years on the show we didn’t get to spend as much time with him as I would have liked. In my previous GoT post, I wondered whether Bran’s gift would allow him to eventually discover the identity of Jon Snow’s mother — a question that is bound to be important down the line — because I was under the impression that everyone who might know the answer is dead. But someone reminded me that Jojen and Meera’s father, Howland Reed, was a close friend to Ned Stark who was with him during Robert’s rebellion and might well know the truth about Jon’s lineage. Though we haven’t met him yet, Howland Reed is alive and well in the north. With Jojen now gone, Meera lives on (for now, at least) to potentially help connect those dots. (Speaking of Jon’s mystery mother, Kit Harington recently weighed in on the subject, but read at your own risk: this article reveals the prevailing theory, and touches on a few other Snow-related theories that could be considered slightly spoiler-ish.)

Tyrion lived to see another day, but the same can’t be said for Shae or Tywin. Finding Shae in his father’s bed must have been an even bigger heartbreaker for Tyrion than when she lied about him at the trial. Now he’s fleeing Westeros for the free cities, something that Shae repeatedly begged him to do ever since his near-murder at the Battle of Blackwater. Their love story dissolved so tragically this season, from him cruelly dismissing her early on in an effort to save her life, to her lies about him at the trial, to that final violent encounter. Poor Tyrion. Even killing Tywin was surely a conflicted act, given that no matter what an asshole his father was, Tyrion always sought his love and approval. He might have even settled for grudging respect, which Tywin tried to sell him while sitting on the loo, but it was too late.

Losing Tywin is rough. He’s easily one of the show’s strongest characters, as fascinating to watch when he’s silently writing a letter as when he’s confidently manipulating everything and everyone around him. Charles Dance has nailed this guy so perfectly, right from his first appearance back in Season One when he was skinning a stag and lecturing Jaime. I guess it goes back to no one being safe. As Weiss said in Entertainment Weekly‘s March cover story, “There are several characters whose loss would [hurt the show]. But that doesn’t mean they won’t die.” Tywin is one of many we’ve lost who proves that point. Let’s take a moment to enjoy him in this deleted scene from Season Three, shall we? (I love this because it also pays off that great non sequitur gag from the Season One finale in which Grand Maester Pycelle reveals his true self.)

The last death in the finale is also a hard one to take, and who would have thought back in the show’s early days that The Hound would emerge as such a vital presence? But over the past season and a half in particular, he’s become a standout. Pairing him with Arya was a stroke of genius, and their scenes together have been dependable highlights of the show. Rory McCann really stepped up to the demands of the role, as the normally monotone, stoic warrior showed his vulnerable side, talking to Arya about his childhood burning at the hands of his brother, and ultimately begging her to end his suffering. His fight with Brienne was a heartstopper — not just physically intense, but emotionally as well since both characters are so great that no matter who wins, we lose. I suppose there’s a chance we could still see him next season — perhaps Littlefinger, Sansa and Robin Arryn will come upon him while exploring the Vale. But even if we see him again, survival is hard to imagine.

HURTS SO GOOD
As if all of these deaths weren’t bad enough, the show found other ways to break my heart this season, starting with Daenarys and Jorah. From the beginning, Jorah has been one of my favorite characters, so to see the spying he did on Daenarys in their early days together catch up with him now, after he’s been such a loyal adviser, kinda devastated me. It’s a significant plot development, and I think the show could have emphasized it a little more. I wanted Jorah to make more of a case for himself, and I wanted Dany to consider all the support he’s given her. How the scene plays out in the books I can’t say, but it felt like the impact should have been bigger. Regardless, seeing those two “break up” breaks me up. I stumbled upon a small spoiler about what the future holds for Jorah, and I’m definitely intrigued, but it doesn’t indicate much. I can only hope that he and Dany will eventually reconcile. After she dismissed him, I imagined a few seasons down the road, Dany is finally in Westeros, she’s in the throes of a battle for the Iron Throne, and just as an opponent is about to attack her, Jorah steps in and saves her life, having been tracking her movements and continuing to fight for her from afar. It’s a totally clichéd, “hero” moment…and therefore something Martin would never do. I’m sure he’ll come up with something much more interesting. I just worry that it will be interesting and soul-crushing instead of interesting and redemptive.

Also bumming me out? The likelihood that we’ve seen the last of Tyrion’s sellsword pal Bronn. He didn’t die, so I can be thankful for that at least, but he no longer seems to have a role to play in the story now that he’s marrying some King’s Landing noblewoman and Tyrion is sailing across the Narrow Sea. Perhaps he’ll show up again down the line, but at the moment there doesn’t seem to be a place for him. Now I have to add him to the list of characters who have departed the story for now and who I can only hope will return someday, like Gendry, Thoros of Myr, Bryndyn “The Blackfish” Tully and as of earlier this season, Olenna Tyrell, Littlefinger’s co-conspirator in taking out Joffrey. Love her.

Another of the season’s most notable events was the revelation that Jon Arryn’s murder — which set this whole game of thrones in motion from the very first episode — was committed by his wife Lysa, at the behest of Littlefinger. (Lysa wrote to Catelyn claiming the Lannisters were responsible.) Even knowing what a cunning player Littlefinger is, I could not believe that he had been pulling the strings from the beginning. If there was any doubt that his name belongs on Arya’s list, this clinches it.

THERE WILL BE BLOOD
So what’s next? Books Four and Five of Martin’s saga take place concurrently, covering different sets of characters, so both will serve as source material for the coming season. These books are considered to be less eventful that the previous three, but I’m expecting plenty of juicy developments nonetheless, considering that the board is so shaken up at the end of this season. Season One concluded with nearly every main character positioned in an exciting way, and this season accomplished the same. Arya is off to Braavos, where she will hopefully hook back up with Jaqen H’ghar; Tyrion and Varys are headed across the sea as well, and whatever that duo gets up to, you know it will be terrific. I loved Stannis and Davos meeting up with Jon Snow, and can’t wait to see where that storyline goes. Did you note that loaded stare exchanged between Jon and Melisandre? We should also be getting more of Mance Rayder now that he’s Stannis’ prisoner. Bran will finally start learning about his destiny and how his special gifts will serve him; and Dany is going to be pretty lonely with her dragons locked up, Jorah banished, and Grey Worm and Missandei getting lost in each other’s eyes. Ser Barristan is good company, but the Khaleesi is fast becoming acquainted with the challenges — and the isolation — of leadership.

Oh, and can we talk about Sansa for a minute? She always gets a bad rap, but sometimes playing the game means being smart enough to keep quiet and not ruffle any feathers. (This solid piece from TV Guide makes a strong case for the eldest Stark daughter.) You may remember back in Season Two when Joffrey was tormenting Sansa in the throne room, ordering Ser Meryn to beat her and tear her clothes off while onlookers stood and watched. Tyrion came to her rescue, and while he escorted her out of the room, he asked quietly if she wanted out of her arranged marriage. Sansa composed herself and replied that she was loyal to her beloved Joffrey. As he watched her walk away, Tyrion remarked to himself that Sansa might survive them yet. If she manages to wrap Littlefinger around her little finger, Tyrion’s assessment may prove correct. Littlefinger’s interest in Sansa grows ever more creepy. There is a mentor/student-like quality to their relationship, but he also appears to have some sketchy romantic intentions toward her, likely seeing traces of his beloved Catelyn when he looks at her. Sansa seems wise to his interest, and now appears to be playing it to her own benefit, as evidenced by her detailed lie about Lysa’s death and the mature confidence that she’s suddenly wearing along with her decidedly more daring new outfit. Can a player of Littlefinger’s stature be played, and by a novice like Sansa at that? Time will tell.

Lastly, let’s not forget the shitstorm that awaits at King’s Landing. Tyrion’s escape will have Cersei seeing red just as Tywin’s death returns her to a position of considerable power. Surely she’ll have no doubt that Jaime helped Tyrion escape, which should lead to some damning repercussions. Their relationship was already tenuous this past season, and even though she reignited their flame in the finale, I am dubious of her true intentions. As Tyrion said to Oberyn, “Making honest feelings do dishonest work is one of her many gifts.” Maybe her renewed affection toward Jaime was genuine, but it was also a power play against Tywin, coming immediately after she made it clear to her legacy-obsessed father that the rumors about her and Jaime were true. Her subsequent moves on Jaime could be a calculated effort to keep him in check. Not that it worked — even after their romp on the table he still helped Tyrion flee. With Tommen still too young to take the throne, Cersei will once again be flexing her power. Who will be the new Hand of the King? Where will this leave Margaery? Her planned marriage to Tommen, like her marriage to Joffrey, was an alliance of Tywin’s design. But Cersei is no fan of Margaery — I believe “doe-eyed little whore” was one description she used — and without Tywin there, who will stop Cersei from making whatever arrangements she wants?

By the way, how much does it suck to be the kid who played Tommen in the first three seasons? He barely gets to say two words, and then when things start to get interesting for the character, they re-cast the part! Imagine you’re Tommen, and Margaery Tyrell sneaks into your bedroom at night wanting to share secrets with you and talk of your future wedding. You would probably experience the entirety of puberty right at that moment. Now imagine you’re the actor playing Tommen, doing that scene with Natalie Dormer. The result would probably be about the same.

Even the storylines that are less shaken up at the moment promise to remain interesting. What kind of leadership will Roose and Ramsay Bolton impose on the North, and where will Theon Reek fit in? What’s the next move for Theon’s father and sister? After letting Arya slip away, will Brienne and Podrick (another of the story’s inspired, unexpected, sitcom-worthy pairings) have better luck finding Sansa? And even if they do, what then?

How about new characters and locations? The show is supposed to travel to Oberyn’s homeland of Dorne next season, where we can expect to meet at least some of Oberyn’s daughters, plus reconnect with Cersei’s daughter Myrcella. Maybe Oberyn’s special ladyfriend Ellaria Sand will be featured more prominently. She didn’t have much to do this season, but with no reason to stick around King’s Landing, she would presumably head back to Dorne.

A DILEMMA WITH DRAGONS
I gather that the show has started to diverge from the books with greater frequency and has even started moving beyond the books, a point which garnered a lot of attention midway through the season when a White Walker took one of Craster’s last sons, carried him into some sort of ritualistic setting, touched an icy fingertip to the baby’s forehead and turned him into a blue-eyed, frost-lipped MiniMe. It was chilling…and not just because of those sub-zero northern temperatures. This scene was called out as a major spoiler, but I think you have to be keeping up with the books to understand why. For those of us just watching the show, I don’t see what’s been spoiled.

Yet it does reinforce that the show is on the precipice of not just catching up to the books, but moving beyond them. “The locomotive is coming up behind me and I’m still laying the tracks,” Martin told EW.com at Comic-Con last year. He is still working on The Winds of Winter, the sixth book of his planned seven, and I don’t think anyone expects it to be published before Season Five of the show hits next spring. Then again, just this week he offered some hints — which I haven’t read — about what readers can expect, so who knows. Maybe the tease is meant to suggest that he’s further along than we realize. And just recently there was buzz about Martin needing eight books to finish his story, though that sounded more like wishful thinking on the part of his editor than anything to which Martin has lent genuine credence.

When it comes to the show, Benioff and Weiss have stated this year that seven seasons is their current trajectory, which means we’re now more than halfway through, with two full books yet to be completed. On the other hand, this article — which says that the showrunners spent a week with Martin last year learning about his plans for the final books so that they can guide the show accordingly — mentions eight seasons total and the possibility of multiple seasons once again covering one book, just as Seasons Three and Four were both based on Book Three. Yet I’ve read other comments from them that contradict that. In other words, nobody knows how this timeline will shake out. While I haven’t read beyond Book Two and so have no idea what’s coming in Books Four and Five let alone after that, three more seasons doesn’t feel like it will be enough. Martin doesn’t think so either, and whatever the number works out to be, he has understandable concerns about the conclusion of the series being depicted on the show before he gets to write it. He’s suggested that once the show catches up to him, it should go on hiatus until he completes the last book, and then wrap up with a movie, adding that a feature film budget might be required to visualize the scope of his endgame. “Those dragons get real big,” he said (and from this picture, which he says accurately represents his vision of a full grown firebreather, he ain’t kidding).

THE WORLD OF ICE AND FIRE - Aegon_on_Black_Dread_J.Gonzalez

A movie is not a bad idea, but the usual season of TV would be preferable for HBO, and unless there’s a big time jump to come, the show’s kids — those that survive up to that point — aren’t going to be kids anymore. Hell, look at how young they are in that picture below from a 2009 book signing with Martin. That was posted two years before the pilot aired. That kid in the glasses is Jon Snow! And none of them are showing their age more than Isaac “Bran” Hempstead-Wright. If for no other reason than all of this dramatic growth, the show needs to conclude sooner than later. Everyone involved — not least of all Martin — wants to see the story wrap up on the page, his way, before it’s exposed on television. Martin, Benioff, Weiss and HBO have been considering these scenarios for over a year now, addressing all of these points in an interview after Season Three’s finale (which I think I included in my corresponding post last year.) But with the passing of another season, the concerns grow more acute.

The irony of all this is that the show has probably slowed down Martin’s progress on the books considerably. His fame has blown up since the show began, and though he only writes one episode per season, there are premieres and events to attend, press interviews to give throughout each season, talk shows to guest on and other related activities and appearances. If the guy could be left alone to write, he might be well into A Dream of Spring, the seventh (and if plans hold, final) book by now, instead of still at work on Book Six.

THE IRON BANK OF HOLLYWOOD
The Emmy nominations will hit in a few weeks, and hopefully Thrones will be well-represented in the top categories. It was certainly a strong, compelling season. For Best Drama Series it will likely be up against the final batch of Breaking Bad episodes, a well-received run of Mad Men, the breakout True Detective and possibly The Good Wife, which had a lot of positive attention this year. House of Cards, Homeland, Downton Abbey, Boardwalk Empire, Scandal, The Newsroom and Masters of Sex will also be jockeying for the six available slots, but I have to think Thrones will make the cut. But can it finally win?

Peter Dinklage is also a safe bet to earn his fourth nomination, and just might be able to win again this year, for the first time since Season One. His trial episode gave him some showy moments, and everyone assumes that will the one he submits for Emmy consideration. But I think he did even stronger work in the following episode, which featured three lengthy scenes in Tyrion’s prison cell: one with Jaime, one with Bronn and one with Oberyn which instantly took its place among the series finest scenes ever. Between the three, he found unexpected moments of humor in Tyrion’s dark hours, and did some of the best reacting he’s done yet on a show where his reacting is never less than perfection.

Not sure what to expect beyond that. The acting roster is certainly full of deserving nominees, but few ever break through. Emilia Clarke was nominated last year, but if I could only pick one cast member aside from Dinklage to represent the ensemble, it would be Maisie Williams, who is a ceaseless wonder as Arya. Unfortunately, the Emmys almost never nominate child actors. Only one episode, meanwhile — season finale “The Children” — was submitted for writing consideration, and it would be really nice to finally see the show earn directing nomination, which hasn’t happened since the pilot. Nothing for Season Two’s “Blackwater,” nothing for Season Three’s “The Rains of Castamere.” Maybe “The Watchers on the Wall” can break in this year. Any episode would be fine, really. It’s a spectacularly well-directed show, week in and week out. (Here are this season’s submissions for Emmy consideration in the acting, writing and directing categories.) Fantasy and sci-fi always face an uphill battle winning top awards from these voting bodies, but Thrones has undoubtedly proven its worth. Hopefully the big wins it deserves will come to pass. Bran, any visions?

FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME
As usual, I’m pleased to share some of my favorite Thrones-inspired creations from around the internet, beginning with the continuation of the stunning Beautiful Death series, which had plenty of fodder this season. I’ve reduced the size of these, but you really need to check out the larger versions via the link above to appreciate the details. Fantastic.

 

Geekdom ambassador Wil Wheaton applied The Brady Bunch credits to the twisted relationships of Westeros, resulting in this amusing mash-up.

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Those who wish the show was more family friendly so they could share the joy with their kids can at least indulge in the make-believe of Walt Disney Pictures’ Game of Thrones, as some artists have been doing. In addition to the selections in that link, there’s Bran and Hodor (Hodor), Arya and The Hound, and a White Walker. A Google Images search will reveal plenty more Disney/Thrones mash-ups, but these are my favorites. The collection by Anderson Mahanski and Fernando Mendonça hits the nail on the head. I hope they keep adding more to their gallery.

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Getting back to R-rated territory, have you heard of Gay of Thrones? Jonathan Van Ness is a hairstylist in L.A.’s upscale Westwood neighborhood who recaps each episode for his clients in this hilarious Funny or Die series. Here’s his take on the season finale, which includes an amusing cameo near the end. Before you watch it though, it may help to review this handy guide that covers some of his nicknames for the characters. (Cersei = Blonde Cher, Melisandre = Stevie Nicks Red Riding Hood or Evil Gloria Estefan and Grey Worm = Baby Barack Obama). The list isn’t even complete, so the video still holds some surprises. His character names alone make the recaps worth watching. (The link also includes embeds of two earlier episodes, including one featuring Alfie “Theon” Allen as Jonathan’s customer.)

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For the mathematically inclined among you, Vulture examines the show through charts and graphs such as these.

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Those who appreciated all those YouTube videos last year of viewer reactions to the Red Wedding should relate to College Humor’s Watching Game of Thrones with People Who Haven’t Read the Books.

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Did you hear that Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip visited the Thrones set in Belfast last week? I don’t know if this took place simply because the show is such a popular export from her kingdom, or if it was because the Queen of England and her husband are fans, holing up in Buckingham Palace on Sunday nights to watch just like the rest of us commoners. Naturally, that’s what I prefer to think. Who wouldn’t love the idea of the Queen watching Littlefinger instruct a pair of his whores as they practice the art of oral pleasure on one another, or Oberyn get his head smushed, or Theon get castrated? While some fans were disappointed she didn’t sit on the Iron Throne, I’m just utterly charmed by the fact that she was even there.

There’s actually a 47 minute video of the entire visit online, which includes the Royal entourage meeting Benioff and Weiss in the parking lot before going into one set to view a display of the show’s props and costumes, then the throne room set, where cast members Maisie Williams (Arya), Sophie Turner (Sansa), Rose Leslie (Ygritte), Kit Harington (Jon), Conleth Hill (Varys) and Lena Headey (Cersei) were on hand. You can’t hear any of the conversation unfortunately — how I would love to know what they all talked about — but it still fascinates me to see some of the interaction. (Skip ahead to the 22 minute mark for the Queen’s arrival; the video inexplicably begins with 20 minutes of mostly static Iron Throne footage.) I can only assume that from here, she was off to visit the Crawleys at Downton Abbey.

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And finally, this. Because there’s nothing better I could leave you with than this. Not even the Queen of England admiring the Iron Throne from a rather wise, cautious distance. I posted this to my Facebook page when I discovered it in May, but if you missed it, or just need another taste, click the picture. Seriously. Click the picture.

With that, I leave you to endure the long winter in your own way. May we all find peace of mind as we wait for the game to resume in 10 months. 10 long, torturous, meaningless, empty months. Valar dohaeris.

 

 

April 6, 2014

Game On

Filed under: TV — DB @ 2:31 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

This post is intended for those who are up-to-date on Game of Thrones. If you have yet to start watching the series or are not caught up, sprint away like a direwolf and don’t look back.

Sweet relief! Game of Thrones is about to return.

People seemed to appreciate my attempt last year to provide a reminder of where things stood at the end of the previous year, so let me try that again. Or you can watch this 25 minute HBO special recapping the season, which would be much cooler and only slightly less time-consuming.

Obviously the effects of the infamous Red Wedding will be felt as the season begins. Robb Stark, his wife Talisa and his mother Catelyn are all dead, killed in an ambush orchestrated by Walder Frey with the backing of Tywin Lannister and the assistance of Roose Bolton, a Stark bannerman who turned against the house to which he owed his allegiance. In addition to his hand in this slaughter of the Stark army, Tywin Lannister made other moves to assure his family’s continued stranglehold on the Seven Kingdoms. He orchestrated the marriage of Tyrion to Sansa Stark, and blackmailed Lady Olenna Tyrell into betrothing Loras to Cersei. Joffrey and Margaery’s wedding approaches, and the queen-to-be is proving a much more cunning political player than the naive Sansa. Tyrion is being as decent as he can to his reluctant bride, while trying to hold onto his secret relationship with Shae, who continues to pose as Sansa’s handmaiden.

Jaime finally made it back to King’s Landing after an arduous journey on the road that saw him first antagonize and then later bare his soul to Brienne of Tarth, sharing with her the true story behind his murder of the Mad King that long ago earned him the derisive label “Kingslayer.” His vulnerable confession came after his sword hand was chopped off by Locke, a solider of House Bolton who captured Jaime and Brienne after they had been sent to King’s Landing by Catelyn Stark. And speaking of House Bolton, the sociopath who took such pleasure in fucking with Theon Greyjoy, torturing him physically, emotionally and psychologically, and ultimately cutting off his manhood, turned out to be Bolton’s bastard Ramsay Snow. So…nice gene pool.

Jon Snow, a much more likable bastard of the north, who went undercover with Mance Rayder’s wildlings, scaled The Wall but was forced to reveal his true loyalties when his fellow travelers wanted to murder an innocent farmer. Jon killed the antagonistic Orell before nearly being killed himself by Ygritte, who shot him with three arrows before he managed to ride out of range. He barely made it back to Castle Black alive. He was found there by Pyp (unseen since Season One) and Sam, who made it back to The Wall not long before, having endured his own harrowing series of events. He escaped a revolt plotted by some unsavory brothers of the Night’s Watch, who killed their host Craster as well as Lord Commander Mormont. Sam fled with Craster’s daughter Gilly and her newborn son, leading her to Castle Black and discovering along the way that an arrow carved from obsidian could destroy the White Walkers.

Upon reaching The Wall, Sam and Gilly crossed paths with Bran Stark and his companions Hodor (“Hodor”) and siblings Meera and Jojen Reed. The Reeds, from a family loyal to the Starks, sought Bran out so that Jojen could help Bran understand and develop his newfound gift of “sight” — an ability to see future, past and present that the two young men share. Their talent also allows them to enter the minds of animals and control them, but Bran discovered he could take that gift even further when he entered the head of Hodor (“Hodor!”) and briefly controlled him too, an ability which Jojen has never heard of before. Bran and company are headed beyond the wall on a vision quest to find the three-eyed raven (get out of my dreams, get into my wheelbarrow). Bran sent his younger brother Rickon to seek safety with Stark bannermen the Umbers, under the protection of Osha, the wildling girl turned caretaker of the Stark boys. And then there’s the remaining Stark sibling Arya, who had been so close to reuniting with Robb and Catelyn before their murder, and who now remains in the company of The Hound. When last we saw her, she was handling the Braavossi coin given to her by Jaqen H’ghar, who had offered to help her follow in his footsteps and become a deadly assassin who can travel unseen and literally change his face. God, I hope she does it.

gendryOver on Dragonstone, Stannis Baratheon continues to plot his next move against Joffrey. Melisandre attempted to help by delivering Stannis’ nephew — Robert’s bastard son Gendry — who she intended as a sacrifice for the power of his king’s blood. But Stannis’ advisor Davos Seaworth helped Gendry escape, and then convinced Stannis and Melisandre not to execute him for treason by sharing news from The Night’s Watch: that an army of White Walkers is amassing north of the wall and moving south. Even Melisandre admitted that this threat was real, and more important than the ongoing struggle for the Iron Throne.

Finally, Daenerys’ quest to reach the Seven Kingdoms and reclaim the Iron Throne for the Targaryen family continues to be delayed, more recently because she insists on freeing the slaves of every city she comes across. She now has three growing dragons, the enormous, highly skilled army of Unsullied under her command, and the loyalty of Missandei (the C-3PO of the Seven Kingdoms and beyond…because she can speak, like, every language), Jorah Mormont, Barristan Selmy and now Daario Naharis, a warrior for an army called the Second Sons, who has pledged his loyalty — and his heart — to the former Khaleesi. What will she do with all these slaves she keeps freeing, and how many more cities will she liberate before crossing the Narrow Sea?

Did I say finally? Don’t forget about Littlefinger, who sailed away from King’s Landing en route to the Eyrie, where he is expected to marry Catelyn’s sister Lysa Arryn, last seen fuming when Tyrion managed to win his freedom from her with the help of Bronn’s skillful swordplay. Before leaving the capital, Littlefinger disposed of Ros, the prostitute who had become his business associate but was reporting to Varys behind his back. Varys, meanwhile, unsuccessfully tried to convince Shae to leave Westeros so that she would not continue to be a complication for Tyrion, who he believes is one of the few people in the kingdoms who could bring peace and stability. She seemed to think that Tyrion had asked Varys to make this proposal on his behalf, though I don’t think that’s true. Will we ever learn about Shae’s past? If you recall the drinking game she played with Tyrion and Bronn in Season One, she clearly doesn’t fit the profile of the typical Westerosian whore. What’s her story?

The show’s ability to juggle all of these characters and storylines is among its most impressive feats. And while more will surely die this year, others will arrive. The most notable new addition set to join the cast is a character named Oberyn Martell, from the kingdom of Dorne (where Tyrion sent Cersei’s daughter Myrcella for protection). Known by the badass nickname The Red Viper, Oberyn is expected to stir up some serious shit with the Lannisters.

As we enter the new season, many of my curiosities center around supporting characters and their fates. With such a vast and complex story, I worry for some reason that figures on the periphery might disappear. Catelyn’s uncle Brynden (The Blackfish) managed to escape the Red Wedding and will presumably be headed for the Eyrie, so perhaps he’ll be back in play when Littlefinger arrives. Catelyn’s brother Edmure, meanwhile — the guy whose marriage put the “wedding” in Red Wedding – is in the dungeons at the Twins, where he is newly tied to the worst in-laws e-v-e-r. Will he be forgotten, or does his story continue? Will we see Gendry again, or is his fate irrelevant now that Melisandre seems to see the battle north of the Wall as more pressing than the quest for the Iron Throne? What about Rickon and Osha? How important is the youngest and heretofore most narratively undeveloped Stark child? Will we see more from the Brotherhood Without Banners, that underground rabble led by seven-times killed, seven-times revived Beric Dondarrion and Thoros of Myr, the Red Priest with a fondness for alcohol, who has served as the Red God’s vessel for those seven resuscitations? And what happened to the rest of the Night’s Watch? In the chaos of the mêlée at Craster’s Keep, it wasn’t clear what happened to the ones who were not part of the rebellion. Did Grenn and Doleful Edd make it out alive? What’s in store for Rast, the surly brother who killed Commander Mormont and has it out for Sam? It looks like he appears briefly in the first trailer for the new season, laying a baby down in the snow.

I’m sure that all of these characters will be revisited eventually, even if not this season. I’m encouraged on that point by a glimpse of Alliser Thorne in the trailer above. Not seen since Season One, Thorne is the veteran Night’s Watchman who butted heads with Jon and was eventually sent to King’s Landing by Mormont in order to warn King Joffrey and his advisors of the White Walkers and wights — reanimated dead, impervious only to fire. (In a rare bit of failed continuity, Cersei and the Small Council learned of this news by other means; it was not delivered by Thorne.) He’s back now, just as Barristan Selmy returned last season as protector to Daenarys after being dismissed from Joffrey’s Kingsguard in Season One. So I’m optimistic that these other supporting characters’ storylines will continue.

What’s interesting about the series’ enormous roster of characters is that it came about almost by accident. Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have said in interviews, including this one last year from Deadline, that when they were putting together the first season, their inexperience with television led to most of the episodes being too short, sometimes by 10 to 12 minutes. So they had a brief period of time in which to write and shoot several new scenes that would be primarily dialogue driven, since there was no budget left for battles or other expensive setpieces. This led to great scenes that didn’t exist in the books, like the lengthy, almost warm conversation between King Robert and Cersei after Robert has dismissed Ned as Hand of the King for opposing his plan to have Daenarys murdered.

That six-minute scene of two people talking is still among the series’ best ever, and it was born as an afterthought of sorts. It provided depth to characters who weren’t much more than ciphers in George R.R. Martin’s books. That’s not meant to be a slight against the source material. Martin’s approach is to focus on a select group of characters, of which neither Cersei nor Robert were included. They and many others are developed only in the context of their relationship to and interactions with Martin’s chosen few. But Benioff and Weiss were forced to create such scenes, and therefore able to develop more characters more richly. I’ve assumed that many of the great scenes between Varys and Littlefinger came about for the same reason, since neither one is a “point of view” character in the books.

So what’s in store when the saga resumes? Plenty of questions are on my mind. How is Littlefinger going to feel about the death of his beloved Catelyn? Will he feel the need to exact his own revenge, or will he continue to play his role and serve Joffrey and the Lannisters in order to climb to power? (“The climb is all there is.”)

What consequences await Jon now that he’s back with the Night’s Watch at Castle Black? He killed his brother Qhorin Halfhand in order to gain the trust of the wildlings — though it was Qhorin’s idea, and he all but forced Jon to kill him — and then he broke his vow of celibacy by getting steamy in a hot springs cave with Ygritte. And he gave away a few Night’s Watch secrets along the way. Even if Maester Aemon absolves him, Ygritte and charismatic wildling Tormund Giantsbane are still out for his blood. Assuming Ygritte really does want him dead. Does she love him enough to spare him? She did shoot him full of arrows, but at least she seemed conflicted about it. In Westeros, that could pass for an expression of love most true.

What will happen to Theon now that he’s been castrated and psychologically broken? Ramsay Snow sent Theon’s father Balon his boy’s appendage, and Balon immediately wrote his son off. But Theon’s sister Yara took a crew of her best men and left to rescue her brother. To which I  say, that’s nice…but fuck you Yara. Instead of being an asshole to your brother from the moment he returned home to Pyke, humiliating him and treating him like shit, you could have stood in solidarity with him against your father’s cruelty. I’m glad you’re going to get him now, but your sudden loyalty is too little too late. I look forward to eventually watching you and father die.

Will Cersei’s marriage to Loras come to pass? She told Tyrion with confidence in the season finale that she would not be marrying him. Tywin certainly intends otherwise, so how might she avoid it? Does she have something dastardly in store for the Knight of Flowers? How will Jaime’s return affect the plans? And how will Tywin look at his eldest son now that he’s lost his hand and with it his greatest asset? I’m excited to see Jaime and Tyrion together again, as Jaime is the only Lannister who actually loves his brother.

What will Stannis be up to? Have the concerns about what’s happening north of The Wall completely eclipsed his desire to unseat Joffrey and take the Iron Throne, or is the threat of the White Walkers still too remote to deter him from another attack on King’s Landing? Are we to accept that Melisandre’s Red God really is the great power that she claims? We’ve now seen her birth the creature that killed Renly. We’ve seen Thoros revive Beric after The Hound sliced his body in half. We’ve seen Robb die after Stannis cast three leeches that had drawn blood from Gendry into the fire, naming Robb, Joffrey and Balon Greyjoy as each bloodsucking worm shriveled in the flames. Is Robb’s death really the work of the Red God? If so, Balon and Joffrey should follow. But how soon, and by what means?

What’s in store for Bran beyond The Wall? What will his abilities allow him to accomplish? And why is he seeking the three-eyed raven there? When they met in Bran’s dream early in season three, Jojen said of the bird, “You can’t kill it you know…the raven is you.” So if the raven is Bran, why is he going beyond the Wall to find the raven? There’s got to be a more hospitable location for some soul-searching. In the longer term, will Bran’s gift allow him to learn the truth of Jon Snow’s lineage? The identity of Jon’s mother might not seem important, but when Benioff and Weiss first approached Martin about adapting his books for television, the question he posed to them to test their grasp on the material was about Jon’s mother. They offered their thoughts, and Martin was obviously satisfied. I’m guessing that their theory is widely held among fans of the story, and if it’s true, I don’t see how anyone alive in Westeros or beyond could possibly know the truth. Which means if it is to eventually come out, it would take someone with Bran’s abilities to discover it. But I’m sure we’re talking Season Six or Seven material now, so I shouldn’t get ahead of myself.

Over the past two days, HBO has been running marathons of the series starting from the beginning, so I’ve been catching snippets here and there. Revisiting past episodes isn’t just a treat because the show has been so good from day one, but because the evolution of this stunningly rich story has been so carefully crafted. I re-watched the scene when Robb says goodbye to Bran before departing Winterfell with his army. Just after he leaves Bran’s room, Rickon enters, upset about everyone leaving. Bran assures him that Robb will return with their father, and that Catelyn will soon be back too. “No they won’t,” Rickon answers with eerie certainty. Early onset cynicism, or does Rickon have insights of his own into the future? When Bran dreamed of his father’s death, he discovered that Rickon had experienced the same dream. Moments later, Bran learned the news of Ned’s beheading. So what’s the deal with the youngest Stark?

Another of my favorite scenes from the series that I caught again is the one in which Renly tries to convince Ned to move swiftly against the Lannisters. It kills me. Everything he says is right, but Ned will have none of it because it conflicts with his code of honor…even though you can see in his eyes that he recognizes the truth in Renly’s argument. So much tragedy could be avoided if Ned does the smart thing instead of the honorable thing, but that’s not Ned…and so the die is cast.

Yes yes, I know things couldn’t have gone any other way. As I wrote at the conclusion of Season Three about the heartbreak of the Red Wedding and how it might have been avoided, “what if” scenarios are futile. Whatever we may want characters to do in order to avoid such painful ends, the story wouldn’t be as thrilling if it didn’t play out exactly as it does. Valar Morghulis, or All Men Must Die, as the new season’s slogan prominently declares. Rewatching Season Three in its entirety over the past several weeks, I was also reminded how beautifully the show has planted its seeds, which also came to mind over the last two days as I looked back even further into Seasons One and Two. In the same post-Season Three piece mentioned above, I pointed to how the song “The Rains of Castamere” was used earlier in the season to foreshadow the Red Wedding, and it turns out there were even more examples that I missed. Thoros was singing the song when he and his Brotherhood compatriots first encountered Arya and Gendry. And later in the season, an instrumental version played over the end credits of the episode “The Bear and the Maiden Fair.” There was also that wonderful scene before Tyrion and Sansa’s wedding when Cersei told Margaery the story of House Castamere’s fall. This kind of intricate storytelling makes looking back just as enjoyable as looking forward.

And so in these final hours —or at this rate, minutes — of looking forward, I once again use these posts as an opportunity to collect some of my favorite Game of Thrones material that the internets have offered since last June.

This chart came from a piece in Vulture that created infographics for several Pixar movies.

Anyone who has attempted to explain the series to the uninitiated in the hopes that they might jump on the bandwagon knows what a daunting task it is. From his Basic Instructions series, artist Scott Meyer offers some help.

I always say that the highest pop culture honor possible is not an Oscar or a Pulitzer, but an homage on The Simpsons. Game of Thrones achieved this a couple of years ago when its opening credits served as inspiration for a Simpsons couch gag, which I referenced at the time. This more recent recognition is unofficial, but still pretty cool.

Simpsonsized(Click here for larger version)

South Park got in on the action last November, skewering Game of Thrones, the madness of Black Friday, the Playstation vs. Xbox console wars and more in an epic three-episode arc that was a typically inspired affair from Trey Parker and Matt Stone. And Vulture had some fun cross-pollinating Thrones with a few other TV shows to create pictures like this reimagining of Arrested Development.

Arrested

The guys behind Parks and Recreation are huge Game of Thrones fans, and have bequeathed their love of the show to Adam Scott’s character Ben. This clip from a recent episode is their latest tribute.

There’s also an extended clip if you, like Ben, can’t get enough.

As cool as the Iron Throne is, George R.R. Martin said on his blog last year that he envisioned something even more grand and twisted, which just wouldn’t be possible on the show. But check out artist Marc Simonetti’s painting of the throne as imagined by Martin.

That is fucking badass.

Thrones continues to be a rich source of inspiration for artists. The pictures I use along the top and bottom of these posts are usually taken from the Cast a Large Shadow tumblr, which spotlights an ever-growing collection of art based on the show. Some of the work that has appeared there recently comes from a spinoff tumblr called Beautiful Death, for which artists have created incredibly cool, stylized posters representing every significant death the show has delivered since it began. Here are a few of my favorites, but these are all amazing and there’s more on the site, broken down by episode.

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Banner-Death2

This rendering of The Wall on a London sidewalk is amazing for its illusion of depth, and check out the larger versions of these four posters, which have some nice details relating to four of the show’s strong women.

My favorite recontextualization of Game of Thrones to date has got be this series by Toyko-based artist Mike Wrobel, who placed the characters into 1980’s/1990’s wardrobe. See them all here. They’re mixed in with some other work, but this was the best venue I could find for seeing all 22 in one place. I love these.

Banner-80s-90s

For anyone interested in some audio appreciation of Thrones, here’s an entire album’s worth of rap songs inspired by the show. Common and Big Boi are among the contributors, and though I haven’t heard of the rest of these guys, there’s some good stuff here.

And finally, to provide a bit of light before the darkness arrives, here are some photos from the red carpet of the Season Four premiere, with the actors looking decidedly happier, chummier and cleaner than they do on the show. It’s really weird seeing Kristofer Hivju — aka Tormund Giantsbane — in a suit. And here are some videos taken during the photo shoot for the show’s current Vanity Fair cover story.


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Two others are available as well — one in which the actors consider what advice they’d give their characters, and another about who they think should sit on the Iron Throne.

Okay, since I was unable to get this post done yesterday as I’d intended, you’re now left with about 10 minutes before the new season begins if you’re on the east coast. So that’s enough from me. See you in Westeros…hopefully not at a wedding.

 

 

March 30, 2014

Oscars 2013: What Went Down

Filed under: Movies,Oscars — DB @ 8:00 pm
Tags: , , ,

I know, I know. The Oscars were a month ago. It always takes me at least a couple of weeks to get this follow-up post out, and that’s without life interfering. The amount of time it takes me to generate this post is ridiculous, yes, but I can’t abandon it. History must record what I thought of the winners, presenters, host, scandals and set design. You’ve probably moved on from the Oscars by now, like a normal person, and will not invest your time reading this post. I understand. But for the sake of posterity, I forge ahead. I can not be stopped.

THE AWARDS
As far as predictions go, this was probably my best year ever. I went 23 for 24, missing only Best Animated Short Film. I doubt I’ll do that well again anytime soon, so I tried to savor the buzz. The Best Picture/Best Director split I was expecting indeed came to pass, with 12 Years a Slave winning the former while Gravity‘s Alfonso Cuarón took the latter. Given the enthusiasm on display during their Best Picture acceptance, the 12 Years crew seemed just fine with that. And Team Gravity, with seven wins, had nothing to complain about. For the record, Gravity is now second to Cabaret as the movie to win the most awards for the year without taking Best Picture. Cabaret took home eight awards — including Best Director for Bob Fosse — in 1972, but lost the big one to The Godfather.

Like last year, I had no complaints about most of the winners, even if I might have gone a different way in a few categories. (Actually, I still feel pretty strongly that Lincoln should have won Best Adapted Screenplay over Argo last year.) Unlike last year, however, the Academy was not as generous in spreading the wealth. Lots of movies took home gold last year, and only one of the nine Best Picture nominees left empty-handed (that was Beasts of the Southern Wild). This year, Best Picture nominees Philomena, Nebraska, The Wolf of Wall Street, Captain Phillips and American Hustle were all shut out. That’s especially surprising for Hustle, given that along with Gravity, it had a field-leading 10 nominations. But honestly, there wasn’t one category where it was the most deserving winner, so apologies to David O. Russell. I have no doubt you’ll get your Oscar sooner than later.

All four winning actors aced their speeches, beginning with Jared Leto, who paid sweet tribute to his mother and scored points for calling attention to the Ukraine and Venezuela. Maybe I’d strike a couple of those points for failing to thank Jennifer Garner, who was sitting right behind him. I mean, the guy thanked everybody in the English-speaking world at the Independent Spirit Awards the previous day. He couldn’t remember his other main co-star?

Lupita Nyong’o’s win was definitely one of the night’s highlights, mainly because everyone was just so genuinely happy for her. As I said in my predictions post, she has been such a classy, grateful, eloquent presence on the many award stages she’s graced this season, and the audience was quick to leap to their feet for her when presenter Christoph Waltz called out her name. And as with all those earlier speeches, this one didn’t disappoint.

The clip cuts off too soon, but as Nyong’o exited the stage, the orchestra played “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and it felt especially appropriate somehow. The cue probably would have popped up at that moment no matter who had won; the orchestra played an array of great movie themes as winners exited the stage and as the show went to and from commercials. But something about that song playing at the culmination of Nyong’o’s fairy tale introduction to the film industry felt right.

Cate Blanchett effectively ended the resurgence of the Woody Allen controversy by making clear her appreciation for his artistry and collaboration. She also paid warm tribute to her fellow nominees, and made a point that too many actress winners have to make: that there is an audience for movies about women, with women in the central roles, and that Hollywood needs to make more of them. Amen.

And Matthew McConaughey…you gotta love this guy. Every speech he’s given for Dallas Buyers Club has been energetic, funny, maybe a little rambling (he really droned on the previous afternoon when he won at the Independent Spirit Awards), but all uniquely McConaughey and all delivered with such charm that bits which could come across as a little arrogant from someone else instead register as funny and spoken from a place of gratitude and love. I hoped he might offer extended comments about his fellow nominees like Blanchett did, acknowledging that he’s worked with three of them (Bale, DiCaprio and Ejiofor) before, but maybe he was reluctant to invoke Reign of Fire on the Oscar stage.

I do have to say one other thing about that speech. As you saw, McConaughey offered a robust thank you to God. The Man Upstairs is often thanked by award winners and athletes who’ve just won a major victory. Most people wouldn’t read much into it. But leave it to a bunch of conservatives, especially grand idiots like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck to make something out of nothing. Both radio hosts praised McConaughey for his words, and talked about the audience not knowing what to make of such a statement…as if no one in Hollywood believes in God. According to that article, some MTV host tweeted that when McConaughey thanked God, “the audience nearly took his award away.” But as usual, these morons only see what they want to see…usually because they’re making it up. In fact (“fact” — a word these people have never encountered), McConaughey’s remarks got quite a few cheers from the crowd. It’s not like the whole audience applauded, but again, thanking God is pretty common at events like this. No reason the whole audience has to show their support for such a remark, and silence does not mean disapproval. But ass-heads like Limbaugh, Beck and their flock of ignorant fans assume that to express an appreciation of God — and therefore religion in general — would be offensive to a room full of Hollywood liberals. What they don’t understand is that religion isn’t a divisive issue in American society right now; the divisive issue is bigotry, and those who try to hide behind their religious beliefs in order to justify it. And yes, that’s something you’re unlikely to encounter on a large-scale in Hollywood.

Huh…I guess Oscar bloggers are just as susceptible to getting political in their posts as Oscar winners are with their speeches. I learned it from you, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins. I learned it by watching you. Moving on…

Beyond the four acting winners, speeches throughout the evening were nice, with only husband and wife Best Original Song winners Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez doing anything funny or memorable. And congratulations to Robert, whose Oscar grants him admission to the rather exclusive club of EGOT recipients. I really would have preferred any of the other three nominees to win, but you gotta give respect to the EGOT.

Speaking of songs, Darlene Love, one of the singers spotlighted in the winning documentary 20 Feet from Stardom (and Mrs. Roger Murtaugh, for you Lethal Weapon fans), joined the director and producer onstage and took the opportunity to belt out a brief, joyous hymn that brought the crowd — led by Bill Murray — to their feet.

The only other notable pattern among the speeches concerned the 12 Years a Slave gang and the exposure of an apparent rift between director Steve McQueen and writer John Ridley. When Ridley won for Best Adapted Screenplay, he made his way down the aisle but did not stop to shake hands or even acknowledge the director. Nor did McQueen make an effort to congratulate him. Ridley’s speech made no mention of McQueen either. McQueen, in turn, did not mention Ridley when accepting the Best Picture award. I noted all this while watching, but didn’t think too much of it. Turns out, according to The Wrap, there is something to it after all. It seems that after working with Ridley to shape the script, McQueen asked for co-writing credit, which Ridley refused. This led to a falling out that all involved tried to keep quiet during the awards season so as not to harm the movie’s chances. (There was speculation a few years back that tension between Up in the Air writers Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner during the early part of the 2009 awards season cost them a widely expected Oscar win for Best Adapted Screenplay.) For his part, Ridley dismisses the idea of a feud with McQueen, saying that his failure to mention the director was simply an oversight in the midst of a surreal moment, and pointing out that he thanked McQueen at length the day before during his speech at the Independent Spirit Awards. I’m not sure I buy that, considering the story in The Wrap, although even that story includes details that seem far-fetched. The truth is probably somewhere in between. McQueen may not come across as the warmest guy, but I have trouble believing that he verbally accosted Ridley’s wife at the BAFTA awards. For what it’s worth, Lupita Nyong’o didn’t thank Ridley in her speech either, but that could also have been an oversight. It happens all the time, and Nyong’o warmly congratulated Ridley when he won his Spirit award the day before.

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THE HOST
On her second occasion hosting the show, Ellen Degeneres did a pretty good job, certainly generating less controversy than Seth MacFarlane did last year. Some people thought her joke about Liza Minnelli crossed a line and seemed uncharacteristically mean for Ellen, but I think people completely misinterpreted the joke, in which she pretended to mistake Minnelli for a drag queen dressed like the actress. Because Minnelli is an icon in the gay community and drag queens often do dress up like her, I took the joke to be about that status that she holds, rather than a dig at Minnelli’s own appearance, which seems to be how others — including perhaps Minnelli herself — interpreted it. Whatever the intention, the two made up later when Ellen took a selfie with Liza prior to the night’s bigger selfie a few moments later.

As to that epic selfie, it definitely goes down as a classic moment in the annals of Oscardom. Meryl Streep knew Ellen was going to come out and enlist her in some sort of bit, but she didn’t know what it was going to be. It turned into a great moment of spontaneity, as Ellen called in a few other nearby stars like Channing Tatum and Jennifer Lawrence, while others like Lupita Nyong’o, her brother Peter, Kevin Spacey, Brad and Angelina and Jared Leto — who must have had to bound over from his seat on the other side of the theater — all poured in symmetrically from each side like a troupe of Bubsy Berkley chorus girls. Ellen’s goal was to make the picture the most re-tweeted ever, and the photo achieved that goal in about a half hour, while also briefly crashing Ellen’s Twitter page. Tweets aside, I just enjoyed the gag for the humor of the moment. I also liked Ellen’s intro of the next two presenters, a little joke that got buried under the applause of the selfie moment, in which she introduced Michael B. Jordan and Kristen B. Ell. (Side note: Jordan and Bell had hosted the year’s Sci-Tech Award ceremony, which I must briefly call attention to because this year’s recipients included a guy who was in my department when I worked at ILM: a mad genius named Josh Pines, whose description of the event made it into the headline of The Wrap‘s coverage. Unless you happen to be shooting a digital film in the year 2011, I don’t expect anyone to care about that video I hyperlinked to Josh’s name, but it reminds me of Josh’s energy and eccentricities.)

Now then…the other great audience moment was the pizza delivery. When Ellen was first in the aisle asking people if they would eat pizza, it felt a little stiff. But when she actually brought out an unwitting delivery guy with three boxes and started distributing, that was great. I’ve heard some people gripe that it went on too long, but I thought it was fantastic. The unpredictability of live TV kept it interesting as stars got involved, with Spacey and Pitt helping to hand out plates, while the delivery guy then went to the other side of the theater, forcing Ellen to follow. And as funny as it was to see who jumped at the chance for a slice (I loved Harrison Ford tugging Ellen’s sleeve to get a napkin), it was just as fun to watch the reaction of someone like Leonardo DiCaprio, who declined to eat but seemed so bemused that Ellen had actually gone through with the joke. Then when Ellen off-handedly said that she had no money, she set up a nice extension of the gag by calling across the room to Harvey Weinstein.

I was just as amused later when she passed around Pharrell’s hat to collect donations. “That’s a start,” she said when Weinstein dropped in $200, and she went on to comically guilt Brad Pitt for not putting in more, prompting him to up his contribution. All in all, I’d say the whole episode turned into another classic Oscar moment.

Not that those people can’t afford to chip in, but I wondered if she really kept that money or gave it back to them later. Shaking Harvey Weinstein down for a $200 pizza tip is funny, and I’m sure he forgot about it five minutes later, but I guess it’s hard for me to imagine having to just kiss that kind of money goodbye in the blink of an eye. It’s also hard for me to imagine being as rich as Harvey Weinstein is, so there’s that. I hope he at least got a slice. Wherever the money actually came from, Ellen really did present the pizza guy with the tip on her show the next day.

These antics made up for the less successful moments of Ellen’s performance. Her introduction of presenters could have used a little more punch, and there was a strange moment where the show came back from commercial break just after Karen O’s performance of “The Moon Song” and Ellen was sitting on the edge of the stage with a guitar, seemingly about to do a gag, only to dryly introduce the next presenter. No joke, no bit, nothing. Oh well. Pizza and Twitter ensured Ellen’s gig will be fondly remembered.

THE PRESENTERS
The production kind of dropped the ball in this area. Usually a few of the presenters can be counted on to keep the comedy going during the show, but there was precious little of that this year. The closest they came was Jamie Foxx doing an amusing Chariots of Fire bit while his co-presenter Jessica Biel discussed Best Original Score. But these Oscars badly needed some Will Ferrell or Jack Black, some Steve Carell or Tina Fey (whose current commitment to the Golden Globes may preclude her from appearing at the Oscars), some Robert Downey Jr. or Ben Stiller, some Kristen Wiig or Emma Stone. Why didn’t they get American Hustle co-star Louis C.K. to present? Or nominee Sandra Bullock and her co-star from The Heat, Melissa McCarthy? Are Mindy Kaling and Aziz Ansari too associated with TV to be considered as Oscar presenters? What about Chris Pratt? He’s starred in Oscar-winning and nominated movies like Her, Zero Dark Thirty and Moneyball. Let’s get him on stage next year. Point is, comedy is a crucial element in keeping the inevitably long Oscar show moving, and the presenters usually help to carry that weight. Not so much this year. Some blame has to go to the writers, who also didn’t provide funny material for the presenters. Jason Sudeikis presented, but wasn’t given anything funny to do. Robert De Niro had some amusing material about the dark recesses of a screenwriter’s mind, but most of the presenter moments that did get some laughs were off the cuff, like Foxx’s Chariots gag or Bill Murray’s unique Bill Murrayness. Kevin Spacey’s brief invocation of his House of Cards character and equally brief Jack Lemmon impression were appreciated, but beyond that there were few attempts at humor from the presenters. The show could definitely have used some of the comedic energy that Sacha Baron Cohen brought to the Britannia Awards last fall.

Cohen was accepting an award there, not presenting one, but the point remains. And I think I just wanted an excuse to include that clip.

There was also the problem of some odd presenter choices to begin with. Jim Carrey? John Travolta? Will Smith? Kate Hudson? Jessica Biel? When was the last time any of these people had a hit? I don’t mean to write them off as irrelevant, but they feel a little warmed over at the present time. Could the producers really not find some people who feel like more vital contributors to movies at the moment? I mean sure, you also had people like Goldie Hawn and Glenn Close, but there’s something about them that is classically associated with the Oscars. They transcend any concerns of “currentness.” Not that I’m saying to go the other way and just throw a bunch of stars who are hot at the moment on Oscar’s stage. That’s how Taylor Lautner ended up there a few years ago, and that doesn’t need to happen either. I suppose it can be a fine line between presenters who have timeless appeal and those who make you feel like you’re watching a show from five or ten years ago. Knowing the difference is a skill that you need if you’re going to produce a show like this one. (I have that skill, in case the Academy is interested.)

Then there was poor Kim Novak. This is another thing Oscar producers often try to do, which is trot out an old-time Hollywood star who has been out of the spotlight for years. It’s a nice idea in theory, but too often it falls flat and ends up an embarrassment for the performer. They can’t read the teleprompter. Or they try to improvise. Or they get caught up in the emotion of being back in the spotlight, but it leads to awkwardness instead of poignancy. Novak fell somewhat victim to that trap, but even beyond that, there was something off about her presentation. If she was reading from the script, then it seemed like she was trying to do this thing where she made the text sound spontaneous, but I don’t know…it wasn’t working, and Matthew McConaughey looked like he had to hold her up, physically and performance-wise. And why Kim Novak anyway? Was she meant to tie into the show’s theme of Heroes? If so, then that should have been explained when she was introduced. So why her? If elderly stars of yesteryear are going to appear on the telecast, there should be some significant reason, or they should be presenting Best Picture. I don’t know…am I just being a dick? Or was Novak’s moment onstage as painful to watch for others as it was for me? It made me sad.

Sidney Poitier fared better. It was hard to see him looking so frail and moving so slowly, but he was still as cool and classy as ever. He has often come off as a measured, thoughtful speaker, so the long pauses he took felt natural. And as his co-presenter Angelina Jolie noted, the occasion marked the 40th anniversary of his historic Best Actor win, so his presence felt justified. And he was there to give out the Best Director prize, one of the night’s biggest. That’s how it should be done.

Jumping back to Travolta for a moment…what can I say that the internet hasn’t already said? His bizarre butchering of Idina Menzel’s name turned the non-existent Adele Dazeem into a web sensation, and turned him into a punching bag for the next few days. Slate offered the Adele Dazeem Name Generator to show how Travolta would mispronounce your name. Buzzfeed speculated on how he would have screwed up the names of other Oscar attendees. Someone started an Adele Dazeem Twitter feed. I actually started to feel bad for the guy, so incessant were the efforts to mock his mistake. He released a brief statement a couple of days later in which he addressed the error but, amusingly, didn’t really apologize or explain himself. Menzel’s performance of “Let it Go” was just a little bit off that night, and some wondered if she was thrown by Travolta’s intro. When she finally commented on the incident a few weeks later (see, this is why I wait so long to post the follow-up!), her response was good-natured. So it sounds like things are all well, and while it’s probably time to let Travolta move on from this, I think Adele Dazeem, whoever she is, must live on.

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THE PRODUCTION

-The presentations of all four nominated songs were among the best moments of the show. First was Pharrell’s lively performance of “Happy,” which included a trip off the stage and down along the front row where Lupita Nyong’o, Meryl Streep and Amy Adams got their groove on. He really had the room going, and I have to admit, the song has grown on me a lot since the nominations were announced.

Next was the gorgeous staging of “The Moon Song.” Befitting the tune’s delicate lyrics and fragile nature, Karen O —  accompanied by Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig — was seated on a small staircase with her shoes at her side, lit initially by just a single spotlight from above, and then by an enormous full moon projected on the screen behind her, rising throughout the song until it reached full height, her red dress shining beautifully against the dark stage. Visually and vocally, it was a perfect presentation for that song.

U2 kept the flow going with a terrific performance of “Ordinary Love.” The song isn’t an all-out rocker, but they stripped it down even leaner than the studio recording, going with an intimate, acoustic delivery that felt right for the movie, the song and the room. As I watched them standing side by side on stage without a full array of instruments between them, it really struck me just how long these guys have been playing together, how iconic they are, and how long they’ve been involved in social causes like the ones that brought them into Nelson Mandela’s life. They were excellent.

And although I mentioned before that Idina Menzel’s rendition of “Let it Go” was just a touch off — she seemed to be straining at the end — the simple set design evoking the icy look of Frozen was just enough to provide an interesting backdrop against which the singer could shine. Still, the number might have come off even better the next night when Jimmy Fallon played a video of Menzel performing the song accompanied by The Roots on classroom instruments.

-The show’s other two musical performances were fine, but less inspired. Pink did a nice job on “Over the Rainbow” in tribute to the 75th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz, but I felt like she was a little bit flat. I’m not sure how they settled on her to perform the song, but I think they could have found someone better, who could have been a real showstopper. The song certainly lends itself to an emotional performance, but Pink didn’t take it there. Yet according to Entertainment Weekly‘s report about things you didn’t see on the TV broadcast, she was a huge hit in the room, and the standing ovation continued after the show went to commercial.

Then there was Bette Midler performing “Wind Beneath My Wings” after the In Memoriam segment. It was a nice idea, but seeing as it followed the actual montage of departed filmmakers and wasn’t accompanied by additional clips of their work or photos of them, it just felt like an unnecessary time suck. Midler still sounds great, but her performance was a dead spot in the show. In the past, performers like Queen Latifah and James Taylor have sung during the montage itself, which has worked well, and might have been instituted to prevent the audience from applauding names that have broad recognition while others come and go in silence because their work is not as well-known any more. The downside is that when the segment ends, the singer’s presence onstage can take the focus away from the deceased, which is where it should stay. In fact, there was an awkward moment when Midler’s number came to an end and the audience offered a standing ovation. It wasn’t really clear if they were standing for her, or out of respect for those depicted in the montage…particularly Philip Seymour Hoffman, the last person featured. Midler seemed moved by the standing ovation, but I’m not convinced it was about her as much as it was a gesture for Hoffman, whose death was obviously a particularly strong blow to this community. Midler could be heard starting to speak just before the show went to commercial, in one of several instances throughout the evening where speakers were mistakenly caught for a few seconds on live microphones. What did she say to the applauding throngs?

-As for the In Memoriam sequence itself, it was good to see Harold Ramis made it in. Having passed away during the week of the show, he might have been too late an addition to be edited into the piece. There’s often some controversy around the montage over who is omitted, but fortunately it wasn’t much of an issue after this year’s aired. I read a few stories noting that Cory Monteith had been left off, but with all due respect to the late Glee actor, he had almost no presence in movies and should not have been featured. The only person I was surprised and disappointed to find left out was Dennis Farina, whose work in films like Midnight Run, Get Shorty and Out of Sight should have earned him a spot.

Although Sarah Jones — the 27 year-old crew member who was killed in a tragic accident on the set of a Gregg Allman biopic — didn’t make it into the montage, the online movement to include her did perhaps reach the Academy. As the segment ended, there was a banner with her picture on it directing viewers to the Oscar website for an online In Memoriam gallery that was more inclusive than the one on the telecast.

I also saw a comment online grousing that it was inappropriate and in poor taste to put an emphasis on Philip Seymour Hoffman’s screen in the montage, as if his death was more significant than others. But the montage always concludes with someone who was a giant within the industry, and there is almost always a little extra time devoted to them. Interestingly, the In Memoriam section is one of the few aspects of the Oscar show that the producers do not control. The decisions about who will and won’t be included are made by a committee within the Academy. It’s always a difficult task, and former Executive Director of the Academy Bruce Davis thinks it might be best to eliminate it altogether.

-Despite the plea I made in my predictions opus, the producers failed to show enough imagination to get a clip for Best Supporting Actor nominee Barkhad Adbi other than the one we’ve seen over and over again in which he looks at Tom Hanks and says, “I’m the captain now.” Oh well. If you’ve seen the movie, you know how good he was in all his other scenes.

-Am I the only one who was sort of puzzled by the mass of bright red roses that appeared down an entire center section of the backdrop when the show returned from its first commercial break? The color was nice, but all I could think was that American Beauty had projectile vomited all over the set.

-It had been announced in the weeks leading up to the show that this year’s theme — because apparently there has to be a theme — was Heroes. This amounted to little more than three montages spaced throughout the show that paid tribute to different types of movie heroes. The first focused on animated characters. The second concentrated on the ordinary heroes populating movies such as Serpico, Braveheart, Norma Rae, Ali, To Kill a Mockingbird, Milk, Silkwood, Apollo 13, The Blind Side, In the Heat of the Night and Erin Brockovich. The last one was the least clearly defined, straddling the line between the previous grouping by including Rocky and The Karate Kid but mostly focusing on action, fantasy and science-fiction fare like Star Wars, Aliens, The Lord of the Rings, The Hunger Games, Die Hard, The Matrix, The Avengers, The Princess Bride, Jaws, Back to the Future, the Harry Potter movies, Kill Bill and Ghostbusters.

Now as someone who loves movies, I love a good movie montage that artfully puts together an array of clips from classics and favorites. In fact, one of my favorite Oscar memories is a montage that was shown at the beginning of the 1990 ceremony (or ’91 technically, but honoring the movies of ’90) that was created to mark the 100th anniversary of the invention of motion pictures. I always conclude my annual post about my favorite movies of the year by including some montages that movie fans have created to celebrate the work of the previous 12 months. There can be a certain kind of skill on display in a great montage of movie clips, but these three lacked any of that finesse. They felt hastily assembled, with no creative thought into how they were put together.

More significantly, they were the only attempt to even lend the show a sense of having a theme, and they weren’t enough. What’s so odd about how poorly the theme resonated was that to look at this article from a couple of weeks before the show, in which producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan vaguely previewed the ceremony, there seemed to be a lot more that was supposed to happen. They mention celebrating actors and filmmakers who take on difficult subject matter, so that the hero theme would encompass not just movie characters, but also behind the scenes figures. That didn’t happen. They talk about dividing the show into sections built around the different montages, as if there would have been more effort to incorporate the types of heroes that each montage focused on into the show at large. That didn’t happen. There was supposed to be an “emotional moment”  intended to “illustrate the theme of how movies have inspired” that was set to involve The Amazing Spider-Man star Andrew Garfield “induct[ing] a new superhero into the fraternity of superheroes.” That didn’t happen…although in that case, there are some details.

You probably recall that in November 2013, the City of San Francisco worked with the Make-A-Wish Foundation to realize the dream of 5 year-old cancer survivor Miles Scott to be a superhero for a day. Dubbed “Batkid,” Miles took part in a series of staged heroics around the city, cheered on by huge crowds. On Oscar night, Andrew Garfield was supposed to introduce a montage of what Meron called “popular heroes” which would have been followed by Miles coming out on stage and being made an honorary superhero by Garfield. The initial reports were that Garfield and Scott rehearsed the segment on Saturday, but the producers then decided to cut it for reasons that were never clearly stated. To make it up to Miles, the Academy sent his family to Disneyland on Monday.

Then the New York Post‘s gossip column Page Six claimed that during the rehearsal, Garfield raised concerns with the script and angrily bailed on the show when his suggested changes weren’t accepted. Knowing Garfield’s public image, that sort of behavior seems highly unlikely. Subsequent reports paint a more believable scenario, which is that Garfield did have some concerns with the material, feeling it was “exploitative.” He offered a re-write, but the producers preferred the original draft. Garfield eventually agreed, but the producers ultimately decided that the entire segment was not a good fit with the tone of the show, and cut it altogether. (My favorite part of the article in the previous link? Sony was upset about Garfield being cut because of the lost opportunity to promote May’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2…as if that movie needs helping getting attention.) Captain America star Chris Evans was called in as a last-minute replacement to introduce just the montage portion, and that was that. The Academy later issued a statement explaining that the evolving nature of a live show led to the segment being excised. Garfield’s rep also issued a statement, saying that the Academy made the decision, and that any reports of bad behavior on Garfield’s part were untrue. In fact, Andrew visited Miles at his hotel afterwards, and joined the family on their Monday trip to Disneyland. (Both the Academy’s and Garfield’s statements are included here.)

So much drama! Why couldn’t Garfield still have introduced the montage, even if the Batkid portion was eliminated? I don’t know, but I’d guess he was labeled “difficult” after raising concerns about the original script. And an even better question: why was Garfield tapped to “induct” Batkid in the first place when Christian Bale, the actor who actually played Batman, would be in the audience as a nominee? Did the producers approach Bale to do the segment? Did he decline? I know Bale has a reputation for being prickly, but would he refuse to provide a heartwarming moment for a little kid who survived cancer and loves Batman? I would love to know if Bale was ever asked to do it, and I’d love to know what Garfield’s concerns with the material were and why Meron and Zadan really cut the bit entirely. But their dodgy, politically correct statement is all we have to go on. And for what it’s worth, the Batkid bit wasn’t the only thing cut from the show. Apparently there was supposed to be another musical number with a lot of stars involved, but that too was scrapped.

Bringing all of this back around to the point that the show’s Hero theme was badly underdeveloped, the omission of Batkid seems to be just one of several plans the producers hinted at prior to the show that never came to pass. During her monologue, Ellen pointed out that real-life heroes Philomena Lee and Richard Phillips, who were depicted in two of the Best Picture nominees, were in attendance. Yet they may not have been the only ones. According to The Hollywood Reporter, 2013 movies inspired by real life such as 42, Fruitvale Station, Lone Survivor and Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom were represented in the audience by Jackie Robinson’s widow, Oscar Grant’s mother, former Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell and Nelson Mandela’s daughters, respectively. Incorporating them into some kind of salute to movie heroes would have made the show’s intended theme resonate. It might also have been manipulative, but no more so than including Batkid. Whatever the reason that all these plans to bolster the Heroes theme failed to materialize, the remnants of the concept — those three underwhelming montages — came across as unnecessary drags on a show that would clock in at about 3.5 hours. So maybe next year, whoever produces the show (and after two consecutive years, the Academy should move on from Meron and Zadan) might be better off foregoing the idea of a theme and just stick to celebrating the movies from the year gone by. And if they insist on having a theme, they should follow through.

-I’ve complained about the lousy job that Don Mischer has done directing the show over the past few years, so I was relieved when it was announced that this year’s telecast would be directed by Hamish Hamilton. Yes, I’m the kind of person who can find disappointment and relief in the choice of the Oscar show director. I have no particular loyalty to Hamish Hamilton, about whom I know nothing. I just know he’s not Don Mischer, and that was good enough for me. He did do a better job than his predecessor, if only because when he cut to reaction shots from the audience, he found famous people to focus on instead of total unknowns in the middle of the room that mean nothing to the TV viewers tuning in to see their favorite movie stars. Still, Hamilton’s directing job wasn’t too impressive. As I mentioned earlier, there were several moments where live mics caught backstage chatter or other snippets not intended to be heard. Or how about when the clip of Best Supporting Actress nominee Sally Hawkins ended and the camera should have shown Hawkins in her seat, but instead landed on June Squibb? It’s not like Hawkins was a moving target. Was it really so hard to have a cameraman in place to capture Hawkins’ reaction, and to cut to said shot from the booth? And what was with that weird camera move we kept seeing where the camera would start to one side of the presenter and then circle to the other side, with the presenter following the camera move instead of just addressing the audience straight ahead? Awkward and arbitrary. C’mon, Academy. Can’t you find someone who knows how to direct live TV?

-As the Oscar-watching faithful know by now, the special achievement awards are no longer presented on Oscar night, but are instead handed out at a ceremony in November called the Governors Awards. Ever since that tradition began five years ago, the recipients have attended the Oscars to take a bow, and highlights from the Governors Awards are usually shown. Alas, not even the bow happened this year, since only one of the honorees was even there. Angelina Jolie received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, and of course she was at the Oscars with nominated husband Brad Pitt. But none of the three honorary award recipients — Steve Martin, Angela Lansbury or costume designer Piero Tosi — were at the Oscar ceremony. Lansbury was on the London stage appearing in previews of Blithe Spirit; Tosi, who lives in Italy, fears flying and has never traveled to the United States; and Martin, an Oscar regular who you’d think could have made it, was unfortunately out of town.

So while it was disappointing none of them could be there, there was nothing to be done about it. Kevin Spacey introduced the highlight reel, after which the camera cut to Jolie in her seat. At least she got to take the stage later when she and Sidney Poitier presented Best Director. More from the Governors Awards further down.

-For the second year in a row, the Academy held a contest asking film students across the U.S. to explain in a minute-long video how they planned to contribute to the future of film. Six winners were selected by The Academy, Meron, Zadan and Channing Tatum, and Team Oscar got to hand off the statuettes and direct presenters and winners offstage on Oscar night, as well as tour studios and meet filmmakers during the week of the Oscars. I love this idea and was glad to see the Academy continue it. The winning videos can be seen here.

-One final observation, and this isn’t about the production, but I’ll put it here anyway. Some of you movie stars need to learn how to get into the spirit of this thing. It’s Oscar night! I know for those of you who are nominated it can be stressful, but let’s face it: win or lose, you’ll still be successful movie stars in the morning, so loosen up and look alive out there. When The Great Gatsby‘s costume designer Catherine Martin won, there was a shot of Leonardo DiCaprio clapping, but he wasn’t really smiling and looked like he was sort of on auto-pilot. Martin won again later in the night for Best Art Direction, and again there was a shot of Leo, and again he was clapping slowly, distractedly, as if in a daze. Leo! It’s your movie! Would it kill you to muster some genuine happiness for your winning collaborator? Charlize Theron was shown on camera a few times while seated, and she looked like she couldn’t be less pleased to be there. As the directors and producer of Frozen were walking off stage having just won Best Animated Feature, there was a shot of The Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Iger in the audience just sitting there stone-faced while the audience continued to applaud. I’m always baffled by this lack of enthusiasm that Oscar attendees often express. Those of you who are too deep in your own heads need to take a cue from Julia Roberts. Anytime the camera showed her, even when “minor category” winners were having their moment, she was smiling, happy, and looked engaged. She seemed genuinely pleased for every winner, whatever their category. If only all the Hollywood elite could be so down to earth.

-All in all I’d say the show was uneven, but tipped more toward successful. There were more times when it was good than not, and it ended up the highest rated Academy Awards in over a decade, so that’s likely all the Academy and ABC care about. I wonder what the big draws were to attract such a large audience. It wasn’t just Ellen; her last time as host didn’t do this well. There were some big hits among the nominees, but nothing on the scale of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King or Avatar. But maybe Ellen, combined with nominees like Gravity and American Hustle, combined with a strong line-up of musical performers added up to make this year’s show particularly attractive.

THE GOVERNORS AWARDS
I already touched on the Governors Awards earlier, but it deserves additional coverage. The Hollywood Reporter offered a thorough report on the event, and In Contention posted one which basically contains all the same information, but adds comments about how much Judd Apatow and Bill Hader were digging the Steve Martin portion of the night, which makes me smile. Mark Harris also wrote on Grantland about why having a separate ceremony for the honorary awards is such a bad idea and weakens the main Oscar telecast. I’ve always had mixed feelings about this. I do miss the inclusion of these tributes in the main show. They add a lot, especially by illuminating for the more casual viewer the work of artists who they might be less familiar with than contemporary filmmakers. Unofficially, part of the Academy’s reasoning of spinning these special awards off into their own ceremony was to allow for a more relaxed, intimate affair. Harris takes them to task for this, pointing out that with speeches by presenters and recipients posted to YouTube, and journalists in the room covering the event, there is nothing intimate about it. But he doesn’t touch on the Academy’s stated reason for the separate event, which is to allow the Academy to pay tribute to its chosen artists in a more expansive celebration that needn’t be crammed briefly into an already full Oscar ceremony.

While he makes some excellent points about the value and importance of the special awards, he fails to acknowledge that if they were included on the regular telecast, everything about them would be truncated. The presentations, the clip packages (presumably; we don’t get to see those on YouTube), and the speeches would all have to be shorter, and it wouldn’t be possible to honor as many people each year simply due to time constraints. When these awards were included on Oscar night, people complained that they added to the bloat of the show. Now that they’re not included, people complain that they deserve to be part of the big night. Maybe advocates of returning the honorary awards to Oscar night would point to other things that should be removed or trimmed back in order to accommodate them, but the bottom line would be the same: complaints. At the end of the day, I think a separate ceremony makes for a more full and touching appreciation of the honorees, and the availability of full speeches on YouTube goes a long way toward assuaging my early concerns about taking them off the main telecast. But I do think it’s time the Academy start offering a full broadcast of the Governors Awards, one that includes all the clip reels and is not broken up into the fragments we get on YouTube. I’m glad we at least get those, but movie fans deserve to see the full event.

Taking what we can when we can, however, here is Angelina Jolie’s moving acceptance speech…

as well as Steve Martin’s.

Also, Martin Short’s comments about his fellow amigo. This is great stuff, though I was really disappointed to learn that some of these jokes were recycled from Short’s tribute to Carol Burnett when she received the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor a month earlier. Really Marty?

Oh, and I liked Geoffrey Rush’s remarks to Angela Lansbury.

All of the presentations and speeches can be seen here, for any of you not too fatigued by all this reading to click the link.

THE OSCAR CONCERT
As I mentioned after the nominations were announced, the Academy inaugurated a new event this year: a public concert at UCLA featuring performances of all the nominated songs (not done by the originating artists) and selections from each nominated score, conducted by their respective composers. In addition, film journalist Elvis Mitchell was on hand to interview the composers. It sounds like the event was well-received, so we’ll see if a new Oscar season tradition has been born. Here’s a report about the event, and a photo gallery.

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THE DRESSES

It wouldn’t be Oscar night without lavish dresses and actresses rocking them. To my eyes, untrained in knowledge of fashion, there were a lot of great looks this year.

I would have included Lupita Nyong’o and Cate Blanchett, but they can be seen in photos and videos above. Nyong’o totally conquered the world of celebrity style this award season. She attended numerous ceremonies and events, and looked amazing pretty much every time.

THE INDEPENDENT SPIRIT AWARDS
I’ve mentioned them a few times here already, but I always like to acknowledge the Independent Spirit Awards, which take place every year in a tent at the beach in Santa Monica on the Saturday afternoon before Oscar Sunday. As it would the next night, 12 Years a Slave took prizes for Best Picture, Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress. Without Gravity to contend with, it took Best Director and Best Cinematography as well. Also winning at both the Spirit Awards and the Oscars were Lupita Nyong’o’s fellow actors Matthew McConaughey, Cate Blanchett and Jared Leto…marking the first time, if I’m not mistaken, that all four winning actors at the Spirit Awards took home the Oscar as well.

The afternoon’s best speech probably belonged to Jared Leto. At first it seemed like he was just going to read a list of names…which he did…but around the 3:00 mark it started to get interesting.

One cool honor given at this event each year is the Robert Altman Award, which is presented to a film’s director, ensemble cast and casting director. It’s a non-competitive award announced in advance, and this year it went to one of my favorite films of the year, Mud. A great choice.

While the ceremony looked like it was a lot of fun as always, the televised version was a disaster. The Spirit Awards used to be broadcast live in their entirety on Saturday afternoon on the Independent Film Channel. I don’t know when that changed, but now the full show is edited down to an abridged version and shown on Saturday night. As a result, some of the best or most interesting moments get edited out, like last year’s drunken acceptance speech by Safety Not Guaranteed screenwriter Derek Connolly. This year, the edited version was an absolute mess. Reese Witherspoon presented an award at one point, and as the winner walked to the stage, there were shots of audience members seated at their tables applauding…including one of Reese Witherspoon. Later, host Patton Oswalt came out with a piece of paper and started reading off names that Jared Leto forgot to thank. It was a strange and random list which made no sense because the whole middle portion of Leto’s speech which Oswald was having fun with had been edited out of the broadcast, so the joke had zero context. What sense does it make to include a joke that references an incident that was not included? And why would the producers of the show cut parts of Leto’s speech when it was one of the highlights of the event? The TV presentation was full of such problems, which is no surprise considering how rapidly it had to be edited together. In addition, some of the awards — like the one above for Mud — weren’t even included in the broadcast. Idiots. I don’t understand why they don’t just air the entire ceremony like they always did. This was just embarrassing.

You know what else is embarrassing? The amount of space I just took up writing about the minutiae of movie award ceremonies, and the amount of time it took me to do it. I think we’re done here.

 

 

March 14, 2014

30 Movies I’m Looking Forward to in 2014

Filed under: Movies — DB @ 12:00 pm
Tags: , ,

I know that I keep raising the number of movies on this list each year, but I suppose that given the point I made in my best of 2013 post about how many movies are released every year and how many I see, 30 isn’t such a big number. The list below doesn’t even include the two holdovers from last year’s list that ended up getting pushed: Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (out August 22), and Foxcatcher (release TBA), a true life drama from Capote and Moneyball director Bennett Miller in which Steve Carell goes against type as the paranoid schizophrenic millionaire who sponsored the training of U.S. Olympic wrestlers Dave and Mark Schultz, with tragic results. The list also excludes Knight of Cups, the next movie from Terrence Malick that seems likely to show up this year, though you never really know with Malick. Its large cast is supposed to include Natalie Portman, Christian Bale and Cate Blanchett, but by the time he finishes editing it, it might feature just a bunch of trees and rocks and fields of tall grass. Hopefully it will show up at Cannes or one of the fall film festivals and get picked up for distribution in 2015.

Anyway, enough about what isn’t on the list. Let’s get to what is. I wanted to have this posted a few weeks ago, since by now one of the movies included has already opened. But I couldn’t get to it in time, and since I haven’t yet seen the movie in question, it still qualifies as one I’m looking forward to.

30.
THE HOMESMAN
Director: Tommy Lee Jones
Writers: Tommy Lee Jones, Kieran Fitzgerald, Wesley A. Oliver
Cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Hilary Swank, Meryl Streep, Barry Corbin, David Dencik, William Fichtner, Grace Gummer, Evan Jones, John Lithgow, Tim Blake Nelson, Miranda Otto, Jesse Plemons, James Spader, Hailee Steinfeld
Release Date: TBA

Jones, a Texas native with a natural affinity for and understanding of the American West, pulls triple duty as director, co-writer and star of this story about Mary Bee Cuddy (Swank), a strong-willed woman in the 1850’s who teams up with a claim jumper (Jones) to escort a group of supposedly insane women across the plains from Nebraska to a sanitarium in Iowa. It seems like an intriguing premise, offering some rewarding roles for a range of talented actresses.

29.
A MOST WANTED MAN
Director: Anton Corbijn
Writer: Andrew Bovell
Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Daniel Brühl, Willem Dafoe, Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright, Martin Wuttke
Release Date: TBA

One of the final leading roles we’ll get to see the gifted Philip Seymour Hoffman play will be in this adaptation of the John le Carré novel about a half-Chechen, half-Russian immigrant who arrives illegally in Germany and arouses the interest of both the American and German governments when he lays claim to a fortune held in a private bank. I’m sure it will be more interesting than it sounds. Corbijn, best known as a photographer whose work includes the album art for U2’s The Joshua Tree and R.E.M.’s Automatic for the People, is quietly building a strong reputation as a director; I enjoyed his gripping 2010 thriller The American, which starred George Clooney as an assassin on assignment in Italy. Like most of le Carré’s work, this one deals with international espionage, and will hopefully offer a meaty story to be chewed on by this fine cast…and by the audience; I’m still trying to puzzle out what the hell happened in the recent Gary Oldman-starring adaptation of le Carré’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. If nothing else, this will be a chance to savor new work from Hoffman…a prize that is sadly more valuable than ever.

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28.

WILD
Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
Writer: Nick Hornby
Cast: Reese Witherspoon, W. Earl Brown, Laura Dern, Brian Van Holt, Gaby Hoffman, Kevin Rankin, Thomas Sadoski
Release Date: TBA

Reese Witherspoon seems to be taking a cue from her Mud co-star and attempting a McConaissance of her own. Since the critical and box office failure of her last romantic comedy, This Means War, she’s been choosing more interesting projects that, when taken together, may be a reminder of what a fine actress she is. In addition to Mud, she’s completed filming Devil’s Knot, a fictionalized account of the Robin Hood Hills murders that have been so exhaustively explored in the Paradise Lost documentaries; and The Good Lie, in which she plays a woman who takes in four young Sudanese refugees. She’s also in the #2 movie on this list, which could offer a chance to keep her comedic skills sharp while still working with high quality material (as opposed to, let’s say, Four Christmases). Wild, however, could be the one that brings the Oscar-winning actress back to the awards circuit. Adapted from the memoir by Cheryl Strayed and directed by (fittingly, perhaps) Dallas Buyers Club helmer Jean-Marc Vallée, Witherspoon will play a woman who impulsively decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail on her own, without any wilderness or hiking experience. With The Young Victoria and Dallas Buyers Club under his belt, Vallée is fast becoming a director to watch, and I’m excited to see Witherspoon front and center in a role that stands to demonstrate her range.

27.
CHEF
Director/Writer: Jon Favreau
Cast: Jon Favreau, Bobby Cannavale, Robert Downey Jr., Dustin Hoffman, Scarlett Johansson, John Leguizamo, Oliver Platt, Amy Sedaris, Garry Shandling, Sofia Vergara
Release Date: May 9

Jon Favreau has become so well-known for directing big movies like Iron Man and Cowboys & Aliens that it would be easy to forget his roots are in small independent films, as the writer and star of Swingers. He returns to lower budget, more character driven filmmaking with his newest project, in which he plays a chef who gains fame at a Los Angeles restaurant, only to have his success evaporate after a string of personal and professional disappointments. He ends up restoring an old food truck and getting back to his roots, while also reconnecting with his family. I’ve always enjoyed Favreau as both a director (yes, I even liked Cowboys & Aliens) and an actor, though his on-camera appearances have mostly been brief as his directing career has flourished. Seeing him take on a leading role once again, in a smaller scale movie with a tasty cast, should be fun.

26.
EXODUS
Director: Ridley Scott
Writers: Bill Collage, Adam Cooper, Steven Zaillian
Cast: Christian Bale, Hiam Abbass, Joel Edgerton, Emun Elliott, Ben Kingsley, Ben Mendelsohn, Aaron Paul, John Turturro, Indira Varma, Sigourney Weaver
Release Date: December 12

Spoiler Alert: So there are these people in Egypt called the Israelites, and the Pharoah Ramses enslaves them and makes them build his pyramids and shit. But there’s this guy Moses, see, and he’s an Israelite too, but he’s been secretly raised as an Egyptian. One day, he sees an Egyptian beating a Jew. He kills the guy, flees the country, and eventually sees a bush on fire, but the bush is actually God, who tells Moses to go back to Egypt and free the Israelites, which he does, but not before God unleashes ten plagues on Egypt. Moses leads his people out of Egypt to the Promised Land, and along the way the Red Sea is parted and God delivers Ten Commandments to the Israelites. Because of all this, every year there’s a week in April when your Jewish friends can’t go get pizza with you because they’re not allowed to eat anything except matzoh and macaroons. This movie, from the director of Alien, Blade Runner, Thelma & Louise and Kingdom of Heaven, will cover at least some of this. Starring Batman, Gandhi, Ripley and Jesse Pinkman. It’s biblical, bitch!

25.
THE JUDGE
Director: David Dobkin
Writers: Bill Dubuque, Nick Schenck, David Seidler
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga, Vincent D’Onofrio, Balthazar Getty, Ken Howard, David Krumholtz, Melissa Leo, Leighton Meester, Dax Shepard, Jeremy Strong, Billy Bob Thornton, Grace Zabriske
Release Date: October 10

I recall reading somewhere that after the box office disappointment of the 2009 drama The Soloist, Robert Downey Jr.’s wife and business partner, producer Susan Downey, insisted that he stick to high concept material and franchises. I don’t know if this was true or just Hollywood gossip, but as much as I love Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, I’ve wished he would balance such roles with more grounded material. Since then, the only movie he’s made outside of the Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes series was the bad, lazy comedy Due Date. So because it promises a more down to earth Downey, I’m looking forward to The Judge, in which he plays a lawyer who returns to his small hometown for his mother’s funeral and finds out that his father (Duvall), the local judge, is suspected of killing her.

The director, David Dobkin, is known for comedies like Wedding Crashers, Fred Claus and The Change-Up, and when a director primarily known for broad comedies or action tries to stretch into more dramatic material, it doesn’t usually go well. The Judge has been described as a dramedy, so there should be some comedic elements, but still…with Dobkin at the helm, my expectations are tempered. I really like the cast though, and I’m hoping that this is a showcase role for Downey that reminds us how much he’s capable of outside the franchise machine. I’m especially excited about the promise of him and Farmiga working together; that seems like a great pairing.

24.
NOAH
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Writers: Darren Aronofsky, Ari Handel
Cast: Russell Crowe, Douglas Booth, Jennifer Connelly, Marton Csokas, Kevin Durand, Anthony Hopkins, Frank Langella, Logan Lerman, Mark Margolis, Nick Nolte, Emma Watson, Ray Winstone
Release Date: March 28

When this project first came to my attention, I was skeptical: a Noah movie without Bill Cosby? That didn’t sit right. But I felt Darren Aronofsky deserved the benefit of the doubt, so I went with it. I imagined the director’s take on the biblical story would involve Noah slowly going mad from cabin fever as the flood waters rage, causing him to question what’s real and what isn’t as he and the animals onboard the ark form alliances and animosities. Meanwhile, his wife starves herself in an effort to fit into an old tunic, and is eventually reduced to providing entertainment for the animals by sitting back-to-back with a female chimp as they both endure anal penetration from opposing ends of a sex toy, the raging lightning outside the ark creating a strobe effect through the slats of wood to give the whole scene an even more sickening effect. I could see the arrival of the trailer, which would open with a booming voice declaring, “The imagination of Darren Aronofsky meets the word of GOD” and close with “From the Divine Creator of the Universe….and the director of Black Swan.” Then just a few months ago, I saw the actual first trailer as well as the teaser poster, which presented the movie as if Noah was the newest member of The Avengers. I would probably have been laughing derisively at both, but once again I choose to remain open-minded. As Noah put his faith in the Lord, so shall I put mine in Darren Aronofsky.

As the movie approaches, so does the controversy, with Paramount twisting itself in knots trying to make sure the movie — which is said to feature countless creative flourishes and embellishments — doesn’t offend religious audiences who expect to see the story of Noah told faithfully and respectfully. I wonder if they’ve seen Requiem for a Dream.

Sidenote: the film marks a whole bunch of reunions. Aronofsky and Connelly are together again after Requiem, and Connelly and Crowe are back as husband and wife after A Beautiful Mind. Crowe, Lerman and Durand appeared together in 3:10 to Yuma, and Durand worked with Crowe again in Robin Hood. Lerman and Watson were together in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and while Nick Nolte is only providing a voice here, he and Connelly previously crossed paths in Hulk. Hopkins and Winstone got their motion capture on with Beowulf, and Winstone appeared with Lerman in Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lighting Thief, as well as with Douglas Booth in a recent Masterpiece Theatre production of Great Expectations. I guess when God is about to destroy the world, it’s good to be among friends.

So let’s see…we’ve got Russell Crowe in Noah and Christian Bale in Exodus…maybe these two movies should have been combined into one dusty epic called 3:10 to Jerusalem.

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23.

THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU
Director: Shawn Levy
Writer: Jonathan Tropper
Cast: Jason Bateman, Connie Britton, Rose Byrne, Adam Driver, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda, Kathryn Hahn, Timothy Olyphant, Ben Schwartz, Dax Shepard, Abigail Spencer, Corey Stoll
Release Date: September 12

Jonathan Tropper adapts his own best-selling novel about the Foxman family, a (surprise!) dysfunctional clan (is there any other kind?) who must spend a week together sitting shivah after the death of the family patriarch. For you gentiles out there, sitting shivah is the Jewish custom in which the immediate family of the deceased gather at home for the week following the burial to receive visitors. Bateman’s character is the novel’s central figure and narrator, with Fey, Stoll and Driver as his siblings and Fonda as their mother. (Stoll is the only Jew among those actors, interestingly.) Dysfunctional family stories are always great fodder for drama, and I expect this terrific cast will expertly deliver on the humor of the family’s dynamic.

My reservation about the movie is similar to the one I mentioned above about The Judge. Shawn Levy is a capable but unexciting director whose movies include the Night at the Museum series, Date Night, The Internship, Real Steel and The Pink Panther remake. Some of those are entertaining enough and some are certainly box office hits, but they’re all safe, mass-appeal studio fare that could have been made by a dozen other directors with the exact same results. Although I haven’t read Tropper’s book, I gather that it has some bite to it, and I worry that Levy will push it to the middle of the road. But I can’t help being excited to see it; I love a good messed-up family story, and the cast is first-rate.

22.
JANE GOT A GUN

Director: Gavin O’Connor
Writer: Brian Duffield
Cast: Natalie Portman, Joel Edgerton, Noah Emmerich, Ewan McGregor, Rodrigo Santoro
Release Date: August 29

This is one of those movies which stands to be overshadowed by the drama that unfolded behind the scenes. Portman plays a woman forced to enlist the help of an ex-lover to protect her gravely injured outlaw husband from a gang trying to kill him. Her former paramour was originally to be played by Michael Fassbender, but he had to drop out a week before production due to scheduling conflicts with X-Men: Days of Future Past. Joel Edgerton, who was set to play the villainous gang leader, was recast as the ex-lover, and Jude Law came onboard to play the bad guy. Then on the Monday that was to be the first day of shooting, director Lynne Ramsay didn’t show up. The acclaimed indie director whose last film, We Need to Talk About Kevin, garnered strong reviews and several award nominations for Tilda Swinton, had abandoned the project over the weekend, apparently due to last-minute negotiation disagreements. Determined to keep the cast and crew together and forge ahead, the producers (who include Portman) managed within two days to hire Gavin O’Connor, director of Miracle and the underrated Warrior, to replace Ramsay. Then Jude Law left the project, supposedly because working with Ramsay was what drew him to it in the first place. Bradley Cooper was hired to replace Law, but he too left within days, also citing a scheduling conflict. Ewan McGregor came onboard to fill the gap, and shooting finally began. Some of the producers — Portman not among them — sued Ramsay in November, at which time she made her only public comments about the fiasco: that the allegations against her, which included showing up to work under the influence of alcohol and being abusive to crew members, were untrue, and that she would respond in court rather than in the press. Just this week, the lawsuit was settled.

So that all happened. It’s a dramatic saga that itself might form the basis for a movie. But in the end, all that will matter is whether Jane Got a Gun is any good or not. I have high hopes for it. Despite the revolving door of actors, the cast remains strong, suggesting that the script (which was on the 2011 Black List) was compelling enough to attract A-list performers. (The involvement of Portman, McGregor and Edgerton also makes it a Star Wars prequel reunion…for whatever that’s worth.) Independently financed films are never easy to package, and can be especially difficult to hold together in the face of adversity, so the fact that these producers managed to keep the project going is impressive. It’s too bad that Portman, a champion of women in the film industry, has now had two films in a row on which female directors have ended up replaced by men for reasons that remain a mystery. (Patty Jenkins was supposed to direct Thor: The Dark World.) Jane Got a Gun will surely be a different movie under the direction of O’Connor than it would have been under Ramsay, but hopefully it will all come together and work out for everyone, including the audience.

21.
A MOST VIOLENT YEAR

Director/Writer: J.C. Chandor
Cast: Jessica Chastain, Oscar Isaac, Christopher Abbott, Jerry Adler, Albert Brooks, Glenn Fleshler, Peter Gerety, David Margulies, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Alessandro Nivola, David Oyelowo
Release Date: November 12

Margin Call and All is Lost have established J.C. Chandor as an exciting writer/director, so I await his third feature with great interest. Set in New York City in 1981, which was one of the most violent years in the city’s history (hence the title, not to be confused with Philip Seymour Hoffman’s A Most Wanted Man), the movie follows an immigrant couple who start an oil company, then must protect their business and their family from competitors who try to ruin them through a variety of corrupt and violent means. Javier Bardem was originally set to play the husband, but left the project due to that generic Hollywood factor called “creative differences.” He was replaced by Isaac, whose profile has risen thanks his superb lead performance in Inside Llewyn Davis. Isaac and Chastain are old friends and classmates from Julliard, so they should generate good chemistry. And no movie was ever hurt by having Albert Brooks onboard.

20.
TRANSCENDENCE

Director: Wally Pfister
Writer: Jack Peglam
Cast: Johnny Depp, Paul Bettany, Clifton Collins Jr., Morgan Freeman, Rebecca Hall, Cole Hauser, Kate Mara, Cillian Murphy
Release Date: April 18

These days, any movie with Johnny Depp that doesn’t involve him hiding behind wigs, contact lenses and a thick layer if makeup or jewelry is worth noting, because there’s a chance we might rediscover the Actor who was so compelling in movies like Donnie Brasco, Finding Neverland and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. (Not that he can’t be enjoyable when disguised, but it’s starting to get old.) So I cast my eye toward this sci-fi drama, which looks like it might share some ideas with recent Academy Award winner Her, but with less romantic yearning and more paranoia. Depp plays a scientist working in artificial intelligence whose consciousness is uploaded into a computer, where it grows in power and begins to pose a threat.

In addition to an unfettered Depp, the movie is high on my radar for marking the directorial debut of Pfister, the cinematographer who has shot all of Christopher Nolan’s movies since Memento (earning an Oscar for Inception along the way). This could be an especially important movie for Depp. The Rum Diary, Dark Shadows and The Lone Ranger were critical and commercial failures, so the guy could use a hit…preferably (to me) one where he isn’t slathered in makeup. Here he’ll be playing a more normal character in an intriguing sci-fi project that should have no problem appealing to an intelligent fan base. I hope it delivers, and restores his box office credibility.

19.
BIG EYES
Director: Tim Burton
Writers: Scott Alexander, Larry Karazewski
Cast: Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz, Danny Huston, Jon Polito, Krysten Ritter, Jason Schwartzman, Terence Stamp
Release Date: TBA

Speaking of Johnny Depp (sort of), I’m not sure what to make of a movie that lists Tim Burton as its director yet doesn’t include his favorite actor among the cast, or appear to involve lead characters sporting heavy makeup. While I try to make sense of it, here’s what we know. Waltz plays Walter Keane, an artist who became known in the 1950’s and 60’s for paintings of children with large eyes, which he mass-produced and sold inexpensively. Adams plays his wife Margaret, who was actually creating the paintings herself only to watch her husband take the credit and become famous. The result of his deception was a divorce and a high-profile court case.

It’s encouraging to see Burton return to oddball material like this, and to re-team with the screenwriting duo behind one of his best films, Ed Wood. Alexander and Karazewski specialize in biopics of unusual figures (they also wrote The People vs. Larry Flynt and the Andy Kaufman film Man on the Moon), and the story of Margaret and Walter Keane sounds like perfect material for them, and pretty good for Burton too.

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18.

JERSEY BOYS
Director: Clint Eastwood
Writers: Rick Elice, John Logan
Cast: Erich Bergen, Michael Lomenda, Vincent Piazza, Steve Schirripa, Christopher Walken, John Lloyd Young
Release Date: June 20

At 83 years old, Clint Eastwood continues to tackle new challenges as a director. He’s made films about music and musicians before, like Honkytonk Man and Bird, but now he’s flexing his muscles with his first actual musical, based on the 2006 Tony Award winner. Jersey Boys cleverly uses the rich song catalog of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons to tell the story of how the band came together and rose to the top of the charts despite challenges posed by one of the member’s mounting debts to a loan shark, not to mention the usual strain that success and fame puts on personal relationships. The production makes use of all the band’s beloved songs, including “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man,” “Sherry” and “December 1963 (Oh What a Night),” so prepare for annoying texters in the movie theater to be replaced by annoying people singing along with all the hits. Eastwood enlisted John Lloyd Young, who originated the role of Valli on Broadway (and won a Tony), to reprise the part here, and since the cast is primarily unknown, he drafted Walken to add some star power as a mob boss with ties to the band. The material seems like an odd fit for Eastwood, so I’m eager to see what he does with it.

17.
JUPITER ASCENDING

Directors/Writers: Andy and Lana Wachowski
Cast: Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Doona Bae, Sean Bean, Douglas Booth, James D’Arcy, Eddie Redmayne
Release Date: July 18

Mila Kunis as a janitor? Channing Tatum as a warrior who has been genetically engineered as half-wolf and half-albino? Welcome to the most improbable movie of 2014. But it’s all good; improbable is where the Wachowski’s live, eat and breathe. It’s nice to see the sibling creators of The Matrix back in action so soon after the underappreciated 2012 opus Cloud Atlas. Hopefully whatever creative juices served them so well on that project will be at work here too. I suspect that the less I know about the movie’s specifics, the more rewarding my viewing will be. All I know is that the sci-fi adventure casts Kunis as the target of an assassination plot by a galactic queen, and Tatum as her protector. Tale as old as time.

16.
WHILE WE’RE YOUNG
Director/Writer: Noah Baumbach
Cast: Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Amanda Seyfried, Adam Driver, Brady Corbet, Adam Horovitz, Charles Grodin
Release Date: TBA

Despite the glowing reviews it earned, I was not a fan of Baumbach’s last film, Frances Ha (though I love its star, Greta Gerwig). Nor was I crazy about his previous effort Greenberg, starring Ben Stiller and Gerwig. But I love The Squid and the Whale and think Nicole Kidman gives one of her best performances in Margot at the Wedding, so I’m hoping that his latest hews closer to those earlier films. I like the cast and the premise, which finds Stiller and Watts as an uptight couple who strike up an unlikely friendship with a younger, free-spirited couple (Seyfried and Driver). That’s all we have to go on right now, but there’s potential all over this. And how great will it be to see Charles Grodin again? Aside from one-shot guest starring roles on Law & Order: SVU and The Michael J. Fox Show, Grodin hasn’t been onscreen since 2006. I can’t believe he’s almost 80!

15.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
Director: James Gunn
Writers: James Gunn, Nicole Perlman
Cast: Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista, Glenn Close, Bradley Cooper (voice), Benicio del Toro, Vin Diesel (voice), Karen Gillen, Gregg Henry, Djimon Hounsou, Lee Pace, John C. Reilly, Michael Rooker, Zoe Saldana
Release Date: August 1

This new venture from Marvel Studios expands their universe beyond The Avengers by introducing a new gallery of characters based on a 2008 series of comics about a team of space-traveling misfits. That team includes a smart-ass human pilot named Peter Quill, who tries to pass himself off under the name Star Lord; a genetically engineered, talking raccoon with a mean streak; and a tree-person. Like…a person…who’s also kind of a tree. Or something. Sorry, did I label Jupiter Ascending “the most improbable movie of 2014?” I may have to reassign that label.

I’ve really enjoyed what Marvel has been doing on film, beginning with Iron Man. To varying degrees, the movies have been fun and engaging (if not always entirely logical) action-adventures with a lot of humor. Guardians of the Galaxy seems to be playing up the humor even more, with its tongue firmly in cheek concerning its bizarre array of characters. The presence of Chris Pratt in the lead role only reinforces that tone. (I’ve recently come to decide, by the way, that Chris Pratt should be in everything.) Part of the pleasure I’ve found in the Marvel films is the little ways they all connect to each other (and when it comes to The Avengers, the big ways). How much Guardians of the Galaxy will connect with the stories of Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America and the rest remains to be seen, but it seems entirely possible the two crews will meet up eventually, or at least that the stories will intersect. Several of the characters in the Guardians comics have ties to the villain Thanos, who made a teasing appearance during the end credits of The Avengers. And the end credits of Thor: The Dark World were similarly interrupted by a teaser that introduced Benicio del Toro’s character The Collector, described as “an outer-space Liberace.” (So perhaps Michael Douglas signed on for the wrong Marvel movie.) Whatever Marvel has in store down the line, for now I’m just really curious to see if Guardians of the Galaxy is as much fun as it looks like.

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14.

MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN
Director: Jason Reitman
Writers: Jason Reitman, Erin Cressida Wilson
Cast: Adam Sandler, RoseMarie DeWitt, Jennifer Garner, Judy Greer, Timothee Chalamet, David Denman, Kaitlyn Dever, Ansel Elgort, Dennis Haysbert, Dean Norris, J.K. Simmons, Emma Thompson
Release Date: TBA

Adam Sandler is an unusual case study of the modern movie star. His self-developed vehicles tend to be sophomoric, clichéd and simplistic. And often hilarious…though not so much lately. Yet he also continues to inspire more high-minded commercial filmmakers, and has been given more opportunities than most primarily comic actors to explore more serious roles. Paul Thomas Anderson, Mike Binder, James L. Brooks and Judd Apatow have all cast him in parts with more depth than the ones he creates for himself. The results are mixed, but it’s still cool to see filmmakers of that caliber continually seek out his talents. Given his recent output, he could use a few more of these opportunities. This year, he gets two.

The first is Jason Reitman’s latest, and offers hope of a return to form after the recent detour of Labor Day, which was better than it might have been…but still not so good. Men, Women & Children, adapted from the novel by Chad Kultgen, follows a group of teenagers and their parents, exploring how internet culture affects their relationships, communication abilities and sexual frustrations. That description suggests a tone in line with Reitman’s previous work like Thank You for Smoking and Juno. Let’s hope so.

13.
THE COBBLER
Director: Tom McCarthy
Writers: Tom McCathy, Paul Sado
Cast: Adam Sandler, Ellen Barkin, Steve Buscemi, Melonie Diaz, Glenn Fleshler, Dustin Hoffman, Method Man, Dan Stevens
Release Date: TBA

Here is Sandler again, this time under the direction of Tom McCarthy. This is the fourth movie he’s made, and I love the previous three: The Station Agent, The Visitor and Win Win. His movies are always simple, straightforward, relatable and rewarding, with excellent performances. I often compare him to Alexander Payne, and lament that he isn’t as appreciated. In his latest, Sandler plays a cobbler who owns a shop in New York City and comes to feel stuck in place while the shoes he repairs carry his customers off to more exciting horizons. Then he discovers a family heirloom that allows him to magically walk in other people’s shoes and get a taste of lives beyond his own. In the wrong hands, this set-up could disintegrate into maudlin dreck. Maybe even in the right hands it could disintegrate into maudlin dreck. But I’ll gladly give McCarthy the benefit of the doubt, and see if he can strike a good balance between realism and whimsy. It’s not completely foreign territory for him; although the previous films he’s directed lack any sort of fantasy element, he did co-write the story for Pixar’s Up. The cast includes Dan Stevens, so hopefully the movie will be a small piece of justification for him abandoning Downton Abbey. Damn your reckless driving, Matthew Crawley!

12.
UNTITLED CAMERON CROWE PROJECT
Director/Writer:
Cameron Crowe
Cast:
Bradley Cooper, Rachel McAdams, Emma Stone, Alec Baldwin, Jay Baruchel, Michael Chernus, John Krasinski, Danny McBride, Ivana Milicevic, Bill Murray
Release Date:
December 25

Cameron Crowe is due for a comeback. His last few films — We Bought a Zoo, Elizabethtown and Vanilla Sky — all have good moments and enjoyable elements, but are either too sentimental, too precious or too senseless. So with his latest film, I’m hoping he can strike the tone that makes Almost Famous, Jerry Maguire and Say Anything work so well.

Cooper plays a military contractor assigned to a base in Hawaii where he has worked before, and where he now must oversee the launch of a weapons satellite. He falls for an air force pilot (Stone), reconnects with a now married former love (McAdams) and encounters “mystical island forces and a talking computer.” The script is apparently a revised version of an earlier Crowe project called Deep Tiki, which he tried to put together post-Elizabethtown with Ben Stiller and Reese Witherspoon. Whether that title will remain, or how much of that original script is still intact, remains to be seen. The little I’ve read about it suggests to me an L.A. Story vibe, and the article linked above references Joe Versus the Volcano. Those touchpoints are promising, if Crowe can handle the magical realism without over-reaching and indulging in sappiness. At its best, Crowe’s work reveals an open-heartedness and a smart sense of romance. But he can also take those qualities too far. Here’s hoping he can nail the right balance with this one. The cast sure looks promising, and he’s overdue for a win. I’m rooting for him.

11.
THE HOBBIT: THERE AND BACK AGAIN
Director: Peter Jackson
Writers: Peter Jackson, Philippa Boyens, Fran Walsh, Guillermo del Toro
Cast: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan, Richard Armitage, Cate Blanchett, Orlando Bloom, Billy Connolly, Benedict Cumberbatch, Luke Evans, Stephen Fry, Ryan Gage, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Evangeline Lilly, Sylvester McCoy, James Nesbitt, Lee Pace, Ken Stott, Aidan Turner, Hugo Weaving, Elijah Wood
Release Date: December 17

The second chapter of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy ended on a huge cliffhanger, so his third (or sixth, really) and final installment should waste no time picking up the action, as the dragon Smaug threatens Laketown and other regions surrounding The Lonely Mountain. That situation will give way to the Battle of Five Armies, in which dwarves, men and elves (and one Hobbit) band together against goblins and orcs, all under the larger looming threat of Sauron’s return. Although The Hobbit films have not matched the brilliance of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, I have enjoyed both episodes quite a bit, and look forward to seeing how Jackson winds down his long and fruitful stay in Middle Earth.

10.
MUPPETS MOST WANTED

Director: James Bobin
Writers: James Bobin, Nicholas Stoller
Cast: Ty Burrell, Tina Fey, Ricky Gervais
Release Date: March 21

I will forever worship at the altar of The Muppets, so I’m thrilled to see them back again after their return to the movies in 2011. This time around, joined by the previous film’s newly introduced Walter, the gang is enjoying a European tour that goes astray when they encounter a criminal mastermind named Constantine, who happens to look nearly identical to Kermit. This is not the first time the Muppets have tangled with jewel thieves in Europe; that would be The Great Muppet Caper, my favorite of their big screen escapades. If this outing is anywhere near as good as that was, I’ll be in my own personal Happiness Hotel. Although Jason Segel co-wrote the 2011 film that re-introduced Kermit and Company, he decided not to return. But his co-writer Nicholas Stoller came back, writing the script with returning director James Bobin. And Bret McKenzie, the Flight of the Conchords star who won a Best Original Song Academy Award for the last film’s “Man or Muppet,” also returns. As usual, expect plenty of celebrity cameos in addition to the starring roles filled by Fey, Gervais and Burrell, the latter of whom replaced Christoph Waltz when his schedule conflicts couldn’t be worked out. From Christoph Waltz to Ty Burrell…that’s gotta be one of the unlikeliest instances of recasting I’ve ever heard of.

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9.
INTO THE WOODS
Director:
Rob Marshall
Writer:
James Lapine
Cast:
Christine Baranski, Tammy Blanchard, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Frances de la Tour, Johnny Depp, Daniel Huttlestone, Anna Kendrick, Billy Magnussen, Chris Pine, Lucy Punch, Meryl Streep, Tracey Ullman
Release Date:
December 25

Rob Marshall deserves credit for bringing musicals back into vogue with his stylish, inventive direction of 2002’s Chicago. Since then, he’s moved between musicals (Nine) and “regular” movies (Memoirs of a Geisha, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides), and his latest musical is a modern classic, with lots of room for compelling production values amidst the great song score and A-list stars. Stephen Sondheim’s 1986 winner of several Tony Awards takes its inspiration from Grimm fairy tales, weaving characters from Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel and Little Red Riding Hood into the original story of a childless baker, his wife and the witch who placed a curse on them. Marshall has assembled an impressive cast that includes Oscar and Tony nominees and winners. (Jake Gyllenhaal was cast at one point, but the sheer weight of star power crushed him, and he was replaced by up-and-comer Magnussen.) Together they should bring this terrific musical to vibrant life.

8.
BOYHOOD

Director/Writer: Richard Linklater
Cast: Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Ellar Coltrane, Lorelei Linklater
Release Date: TBA

Several years back, I read an article in Variety announcing that director Richard Linklater was embarking on a new film project that would trace the life of a young boy over a decade or so of growth. With Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette onboard to play the child’s parents, Linklater would film for just a few days every year from the time the boy was in kindergarten to the time he graduated high school. He identified a child named Ellar Coltrane, whose parents appreciated the idea of the project and agreed to their son’s participation, and off they all went. It sounded like a fascinating undertaking, and I looked forward to seeing the results. Yet as the years went by, I heard nothing more about it. Was it still happening? Certainly the Hollywood trades announce projects all the time that never go anywhere. Then maybe two years ago, in an interview with Linklater, the project was mentioned and I learned that it had indeed been continuing. It came up again last year when Linklater and Hawke were promoting Before Midnight, and then just like that, the movie was a last-minute addition to January’s Sundance Film Festival, where it was welcomed with strong reviews.

Described by Hawke as the “smallest epic ever made,” Linklater’s experiment is not completely unique. The 1964 documentary Seven Up! followed the lives of several British children, and every seven years since, director Michael Apted has reconnected with them and produced a new film chronicling their lives, the most recent being 2012’s 56 Up. And of course the Harry Potter series, with a new installment being filmed every year to year-and-a-half, showed a group of children growing up before our eyes. But Boyhood seems to offer the most distilled form of this idea yet. Coltrane (who may be credited as Ellar Salmon; Coltrane is his middle name, which he recently began using instead) was 7 years old when the film started shooting; he was 18 when it finished, and 19 by the time he went to Sundance. He’s been involved with this project for over half of his life, and I expect watching him age physically and psychologically over the course of the movie will offer an untraditionally exciting filmgoing experience.

7.
GONE GIRL
Director:
David Fincher
Writer:
Gillian Flynn
Cast:
Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, David Clennon, Kim Dickens, Patrick Fugit, Neil Patrick Harris, Scoot McNairy, Tyler Perry, Missi Pyle, Emily Ratajkowski, Sela Ward, Casey Wilson
Release Date:
October 3

Gillian Flynn earned rave reviews for her novel about Nick Dunne, a husband whose wife Amy disappears on their fifth wedding anniversary. Their marriage, which seemed so perfect from the outside, is revealed to be anything but once the media frenzy and police investigation intensifies. As the spotlight bears down on Nick, he begins to exhibit strange behavior, and soon people are wondering if this seemingly ideal husband has killed his wife.

I’ve heard that Flynn’s novel combines the page-turning intensity and twisty plotting of a great beach read with the depth of more sophisticated fiction. Either way, it seems like great material for Fincher to play with. From Seven to Zodiac to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, he has a masterful touch for creating gripping cinematic mysteries. Affleck has said that Fincher and Flynn collaborated closely on adapting the book, so hopefully the results will satisfy the needs of a movie as much as the fans of the source material. On the other hand, maybe not: Flynn apparently reconceived the entire third act of the story for the film, including a different ending. That’s bound to worry the book’s many fans, but I find it fascinating when a novelist adapts their own work for the screen and takes it in a radically different direction (see Scott Smith’s A Simple Plan).

Oh, and if you scanned the cast list and didn’t recognize the name Emily Ratajakowski, you may know her as the stunning brunette model from the video for Robin Thicke’s hit “Blurred Lines.” Yeah…that one. I quote Jackie Gleason from The Toy: “Ooof.”

6.
ST. VINCENT DE VAN NUYS

Director/Writer: Ted Melfi
Cast: Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Scott Adsit, Nate Corddry, Terrence Howard, Chris O’Dowd, Naomi Watts
Release Date: April 11

Bill Murray, in what could potentially be a killer leading role, plays a degenerate retiree who is tapped by the divorced mom newly moved in next door to babysit for her 12 year old son while she tries to make ends meet working long hours. Melfi’s script landed on the 2011 Black List (along with Jane Got a Gun, and a number of other films due out this year), and Murray — a notoriously difficult get for filmmakers hoping to cast him — loved it so much that he approached Melfi himself to discuss playing the part. There was apparently a lot of competition to play the boy’s mother, with McCarthy eventually winning out. The role is said to be somewhat more grounded than the extreme comedic characters she played in Bridesmaids, Identity Thief and The Heat, so it only stands to increase her already soaring stock. I’m a little skeptical about the April release date; that’s a month away, and there hasn’t been a trailer, a poster or any promotion for the film yet at all. But the project has attracted a lot of buzz within the industry, so whenever it arrives, expectations will be high.

5.
ROSEWATER

Director/Writer: Jon Stewart
Cast: Gael Garcia Bernal, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Jason Jones, Dimitri Leonidas
Release Date: TBA

Yes, that Jon Stewart. You may recall that last summer, Stewart took a break from hosting The Daily Show — leaving it in the capable hands of John Oliver — and traveled to Jordan to direct a movie. And given that this is Jon Stewart, you might expect that movie to be a comedy. Uh-uh. Stewart’s directorial debut is a reality-based drama about Maziar Bahari, an Iranian-born journalist who was vocally critical of his native country’s regime even long after he’d been living in the west. While visiting Iran for a story in 2009, he was arrested and imprisoned for 118 days, during which time he was held in solitary confinement and tortured under charges of espionage. The evidence against him included an interview he gave to The Daily Show, in which correspondent Jason Jones pretended to be an American spy. Bahari, whose father and sister had also spent time in prison under previous regimes, wrote about his experience and his family’s in the book Then They Came for Me, which Stewart has adapted for this film.

My love and admiration for Jon Stewart knows no bounds, so naturally I can’t wait to see how this turns out. Not only is he taking on the entirely new challenge of writing and directing a film, but he’s doing it with a serious story to which he feels personally connected and beholden to get right. I can’t imagine he would enter this lightly. He could have produced the movie, even just written it and found a more established director to film it. The fact that he’s taking it on himself tells me he really believes he can bring something to it. Does his talent extend to filmmaking, or will this turn out to be a major miscalculation? The involvement of esteemed producer Scott Rudin encourages me, as does Stewart’s own humble persona. The script even has J.J. Abrams’ endorsement, so if this goes well, maybe Stewart will write and direct Star Wars Episode VIII.

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4.
BIRDMAN

Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Writers: Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo
Cast: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Lindsay Duncan, Zach Galifianakis, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts
Release Date: TBA

It’s been a sad several years for fans of the great Michael Keaton. After his sharp supporting turn in Jackie Brown (and a great cameo as the same character in the next year’s Out of Sight), Keaton stumbled into some pretty bad movies, like Jack Frost, First Daughter and White Noise. Those were followed by some little-seen indie films, and even though there were occasional bright spots — TV projects like The Company and Live from Baghdad, and voice work in Pixar’s Cars and Toy Story 3 — it still felt like Keaton was MIA for a decade. Then in 2010, he started to become more visible. During the past few years, he played Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg’s boss in The Other Guys, guest starred on 30 Rock and turned up in Larry David’s HBO movie Clear History. Already this year he’s been featured in Robocop and Need for Speed…though his talents deserve better material than either of those movies. Fingers crossed, that material may finally be here. In Birdman, Keaton will take on his highest profile and most promising lead role in ages, perfectly cast as an actor famous for having once played a well-known superhero, who is now trying to launch a comeback by mounting a Broadway play based on a Raymond Carver short story. His efforts are challenged by a difficult leading man (Norton) and unresolved issues with his ex-wife and daughter.

Not only does the movie mark a comeback for Keaton, but also a surprising change of pace for its co-writer and director, Alejandro González Iñárritu. After making 21 Grams, Babel and Biutiful — three of the most profoundly depressing films you’re ever likely to see — the Mexican filmmaker is trying his hand at comedy. There’s nothing about this project that doesn’t sound great. I love the casting, the plot description, and the likelihood of juicy roles for Keaton and Norton, two enormous talents who deserve great material.

3.
THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
Director/Writer: Wes Anderson
Cast: Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Almaric, Bob Balaban, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Tony Revolori, Saoirse Ronan, Jason Schwartzman, Léa Seydoux, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Owen Wilson
Release Date: March 7

Of course this is the one I mentioned at the beginning that’s already been released, so no need to dwell on it. You’ve probably seen a trailer or commercial by now and gotten a taste of Wes Anderson’s latest confection. From a standpoint of art direction and costume design, this may be the director’s most elaborate and beautiful film to date, which would be no small feat. The cast is a killer mix of Anderson veterans and newcomers, with Ralph Fiennes looking to be a brilliant fit for Anderson’s unique comedic rhythms.

2.
INHERENT VICE

Director/Writer: Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Jeannie Berlin, Josh Brolin, Benicio del Toro, Martin Donovan, Jena Malone, Peter McRobbie, Joanna Newsom, Kevin J. O’Connor, Eric Roberts, Maya Rudolph, Martin Short, Timothy Simons, Katherine Waterston, Owen Wilson, Michael Kenneth Williams, Reese Witherspoon
Release Date: December 12

A new film by Paul Thomas Anderson is always cause to get excited. This guy couldn’t make a boring movie if his life depended on it, but what makes this one particularly intriguing is that it looks like it might actually be fun! Magnolia, There Will Be Blood, The Master…they’re all pretty bleak. Even Punch Drunk Love, which is technically a comedy, is unnervingly weird and disturbing. You have to go back to 1997 and Boogie Nights for a PTA movie that isn’t just fascinating, but also a good time. That movie gets dark eventually too, but it has a hell of a lot of fun along the way. Now it looks like Anderson is ready to lighten up, as he adapts Thomas Pynchon’s 2009 novel about “Doc” Sportello, a pothead P.I. in Los Angeles circa 1969 who gets involved in a kidnapping investigation at the behest of his ex-girlfriend. Robert Downey Jr. was initially attached to play Sportello, but Anderson decided to re-team with his Master star Phoenix, then assembled an impressively colorful cast around him. The wait until December will be tough…but since we usually have to wait around four years between Anderson projects, at least we can be grateful that he got back to work so soon after The Master.

1.
INTERSTELLAR

Director: Christopher Nolan
Writers: Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Casey Affleck, Wes Bentley, Ellen Burstyn, Michael Caine, Jessica Chastain, Timothee Chalamet, Matt Damon, William Devane, Mackenzie Foy, David Gyasi, Topher Grace, Anne Hathaway, Bill Irwin, John Lithgow, David Oyelowo
Release Date: November 7

With his last few films, Christopher Nolan has owned the midsummer. The Dark Knight Rises, Inception and The Dark Knight were all released the third Friday of July in their respective years, giving the director the same kind of day/date ownership that Will Smith long held over July 4th weekend. With his latest, Nolan enters the highly competitive year-end fray, so perhaps Paramount and Warner Brothers see as much potential for awards glory as they do for box office returns. But that’s just speculation. What about the movie itself?

Well…there’s not much more than speculation on that front either, as the film is still cloaked in the kind of secrecy that always accompanies a new Nolan project. What we do know is that the script was originally written by Nolan’s brother and frequent collaborator Jonathan as a possible directing vehicle for Steven Spielberg. When Spielberg moved on, Chris got involved. Together the brothers reworked the script, creating something that combined Jonathan’s original story with new elements that were occupying Chris’ mind. A vague teaser trailer was released a few months ago, and I suspect that’s all we’ll get until a full trailer arrives, most likely this summer. The only other information we have at this point is that the movie is said to concern exploration of the furthest reaches of space, with a ship possibly discovering and entering a wormhole…evidence that would appear to be corroborated by the involvement of scientist Kip Thorne. Could Nolan be tackling time travel with this movie? I don’t know…but I wish I could time travel to November right now.

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