I Am DB

August 24, 2014

Emmy Nominations 2013-14: Reaction Mishmash

Filed under: Emmys,TV — DB @ 9:45 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,

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 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 former 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.

 

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January 15, 2014

Oscars 2013: Nominations Eve

Filed under: Movies,Oscars — DB @ 6:30 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Gather round, one and all, and stand witness as I once again engage in the mysterious, socially-questionable practice of Oscar prognostication. It’s a little bit science, a little bit art, and a whole lot of hours spent watching and reading about movies. If you ever wondered how I maintain my pallid skin tone, wonder no more. Read on if you dare, and then talk amongst yourselves about planning my intervention.

BEST PICTURE
2011 was the first year that the Academy adjusted the Best Picture category so that it would include somewhere between five and ten nominees. Being a weak year, it was generally assumed that there would be seven, maybe eight, nominees. It turned out there were nine. 2012 was a much stronger year, so a full slate of ten films was expected. Once again, the tally came in at nine. And I’m guessing that’s where things will land this time as well. It’s been another impressive year with lots of viable candidates, but nine might be the magic number.

Surely that nine will include 12 Years a Slave, Gravity and American Hustle, which have been the dominant three movies on the circuit of precursor awards from critics and industry guilds. Although the former two have been the pair, ever since October, deemed to battle it out through the season, Hustle came on strong when it began screening in late November, and its stock has only risen. Over the weekend, it took home the Golden Globe for Best Picture – Musical or Comedy, while 12 Years won for Best Picture – Drama (its only award of the night).

Her has been a big hit with the critics as well, and earned nominations from the Producer’s Guild of America (PGA) and the Writers Guild of America (WGA). I initially thought it would be too offbeat for the generally conservative Academy, but now I think it’s striking a broader cord; broad enough to put it over the edge. The way nomination math works, a movie only requires a few hundred passionate supporters who name it their number one film of the year. I think Her will manage that. Nebraska is a safe bet, as is Captain Phillips, but neither are sure things. From there, it gets fuzzier. The old fashioned, feel-good Hollywood craftsmanship of Saving Mr. Banks was expected to play like gangbusters within the industry, even more so for being a movie about movies. But it landed a bit softly with the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), missing out on expected nominations for Best Ensemble and Best Supporting Actor for Tom Hanks. It was also overlooked by the WGA, leading some to wonder if the Academy will find a place for it. Also missing out with all the top guilds is the Coen Brothers critically adored Inside Llewyn Davis. Academy members have been kind to the Coens in recent years, but is this one a little too hard to love? I don’t know…if they liked 2009’s A Serious Man enough to nominate for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay, surely they like Inside Llewyn Davis enough. But this is a more competitive year than ’09, so maybe “enough” isn’t enough. The PGA nominated Blue Jasmine, but while Woody Allen’s latest is well-liked, I don’t know that it’s loved as much as his last Best Picture nominee, Midnight in Paris. It feels like a long shot to me. The Wolf of Wall Street is definitely in the running too, but I really have no grasp on where the consensus is falling.

The three remaining titles most likely to show up are Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Dallas Buyers Club and Philomena. Dallas, whose awards prospects initially seemed limited to the performances by Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto, has proven unexpectedly popular, earning a SAG nomination for Best Ensemble, plus nods from the PGA and WGA. As for The Butler and Philomena, both are said to play extremely well to the Academy’s older contingent, which remains a large voting bloc. I don’t know though; I have a hard time imagining enough people naming Philomena as their favorite movie of the year to secure it a nomination. The Butler seems more likely to hit those numbers. Neither film was nominated by the PGA, which was notable because their exclusion — along with that of August: Osage County, which has not made the splash once expected for a star-studded adaptation of a Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning play — meant that Oscar junkie Harvey Weinstein was shut out. Rare is the Best Picture slate that doesn’t include a movie from Harvey Weinstein. As in any other category, the guild nominees do not tend to line up perfectly with the Academy, so the PGA’s Weinstein-free slate doesn’t necessarily bode ill. I feel like The Butler, which has Weinstein’s muscle behind it and which hits the “sentimental epic” notes that will appeal to voters who loved Forrest Gump and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, will make it in. If it doesn’t, and if Philomena misses too, then that violent shaking felt across Los Angeles on Thursday morning won’t be an earthquake. It will be the wrath of Weinstein.

Predictions:
American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
Gravity
Her
Lee Daniels’ The Butler
Nebraska
Saving Mr. Banks
12 Years a Slave

Personal Picks:
Before Midnight
Captain Phillips
Gravity
Her
Inside Llewyn Davis
Mud
Nebraska
Prisoners
12 Years a Slave

BEST DIRECTOR
Alfonso Cuarón pioneered new filmmaking techniques in an effort to realize his vision for Gravity, while Steve McQueen fearlessly plunged the depths of slavery in America for 12 Years a Slave. Both are almost guaranteed a nomination. I say “almost” because they occupy the same frontrunner status held last year by Argo‘s Ben Affleck and Zero Dark Thirty‘s Kathryn Bigelow. Need a reminder of how that turned out? Still, I think last year’s omissions were the unfortunate result of a collective honest mistake, with many voters choosing less obvious candidates because they figured Affleck and Bigelow would be covered by others. So those who truly want to ensure that Cuarón and McQueen are nominated might be more careful this year and cast their vote accordingly, rather than assuming that everyone else will vote for them.

David O. Russell, included last year for Silver Linings Playbook should find himself back again for American Hustle. All three of these gentlemen were cited by the Director’s Guild of America (DGA), along with Paul Greengrass for Captain Phillips and Martin Scorsese for The Wolf of Wall Street. The same quintet were nominated by the British Academy of Film and Television (BAFTA) as well, a body which, like the DGA (and other guilds) shares some membership with the Academy. But the Oscar nominations rarely align with the DGA’s selections, so where will the discrepancy lie? A few weeks ago, I probably would have said that Greengrass was in and Scorsese out. That could certainly be how it goes. But I also wonder if the controversy surrounding Wolf of Wall Street won’t rally those fellow directors who were impressed by the movie — and by Scorsese’s ability to still make vital, passionately-debated movies at the age of 71 — to throw their support his way. On the other hand, Greengrass doesn’t just impress for the skill and effectiveness of his usual intense and vérité approach, but also for drawing such impressive performances from the four Somali leads, none of whom had ever acted professionally before.

Still, if he or Scorsese miss (assuming it’s one of them, and that only one nominee is different between the Academy and the DGA), who gets the fifth slot? The Director’s branch often backs filmmakers with esoteric or unconventional visions, and I’m guessing that tendency will show up this year and boost Her‘s Spike Jonze, a remarkable and highly selective director, into the final five.

There are plenty of other worthy names in the mix. Some stand a strong chance of breaking in (Alexander Payne for Nebraska), others a less likely chance (the Coen Brothers for Inside Llewyn Davis, Woody Allen for Blue Jasmine, J.C. Chandor for All is Lost) and still others pretty much no chance, no matter how deserving they may be (Richard Linklater for Before Midnight, Jeff Nichols for Mud, Jean-Marc Vallee for Dallas Buyers Club).

I’m really unsure what to do about Greengrass and Scorsese. I don’t think Scorsese would be nominated if The Wolf of Wall Street isn’t also nominated for Best Picture, which I’m not predicting. Since the Best Picture race expanded beyond five films, all of the directing nominees have had their movie in the Picture race as well. But only directors nominate directors, whereas the entire Academy votes for Best Picture. So given the different voting contingents, it’s conceivable that a director could be nominated while his or her film is not. Right? Probably unlikely…but conceivable. Grrrrrr. I’m probably backing the wrong horse here, but I’ll stick with my initial sense that Wolf will miss Best Picture but Scorsese will make it for Director.

Predictions: 
David O. Russell – American Hustle
Alfonso Cuarón – Gravity
Spike Jonze – Her
Steve McQueen – 12 Years a Slave
Martin Scorsese – The Wolf of Wall Street

Personal Picks:
J.C. Chandor – All is Lost
Alfonso Cuarón – Gravity
Spike Jonze – Her
Harmony Korine – Spring Breakers
Steve McQueen – 12 Years a Slave

BEST ACTOR
Here’s where it starts to get bloody. Because while it has been a strong year for movies, it has been an extraordinary year for performances. All of the acting races are rich with contenders, and as usual, Best Actor is the most crowded. It’s going to be brutal.

Since as far back as October, most Oscar pundits — professional and amateur — have expected the lineup to consist of Chiewtel Ejiofor for 12 Years a Slave, Tom Hanks for Captain Phillips, Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club, Bruce Dern for Nebraska and Robert Redford for All is Lost. That’s a goddamn beautiful list right there. But let’s pretend those five names are not in play. So maybe the category features Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street, Oscar Isaac in Inside Llewyn Davis, Michael B. Jordan in Fruitvale Station, Joaquin Phoenix in Her and Christian Bale in American Hustle (or Out of the Furnace, in which he is magnificent). Once again, a stellar line-up. Now let’s take those guys out of the picture too. How about Forest Whitaker for The Butler (nominated for a SAG award), Hugh Jackman for Prisoners (or Jake Gyllenhaal, just as good), Tye Sheridan for Mud (don’t discount him because of his youth; his performance is every bit as worthy of recognition as veterans like Redford, Dern and Hanks), Daniel Brühl for Rush (he’s being campaigned as a Supporting Actor, but that’s bullshit; he’s a lead), and Idris Elba for Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.

In a normal year, there would be somewhere between five and ten performances that are truly deserving. This year, you could fill the category three times over and, with any configuration, have a dynamite slate. So…yeah. The voters in the acting branch face an impossible challenge, and no matter how it shakes out, some people who were good enough to win won’t even get nominated.

Looking again at the five who have longest been considered the likely nominees, Ejiofor and McConaughey feel secure, while Redford appears to be the most vulnerable. He is the only actor onscreen in All is Lost, and he has barely any dialogue. It’s acting at its purest, from a highly respected industry legend who has only been nominated as an actor once, back in 1973 for The Sting. But surprisingly, he was passed over by SAG voters, with Forest Whitaker taking the spot he was expected to occupy. The only prize he’s collected is a Best Actor win from the New York Film Critics Circle, though he has been nominated by a number of regional critics organizations, and made the list for the Golden Globes and Broadcast Film Critics Association. Redford hasn’t played the campaigning game that can often make the difference, but he’ll have the support of his fellow actors.

Hanks could miss out too. The most powerful moments of his performance in Captain Phillips come at the very end of the movie, and they’re shattering. Up until that point though, his work is more subtle and contained. Excellent, but the kind of unflashy turn that could conceivably be overlooked. Still, the movie seems to be generating across-the-board support, and it’s the first movie Hanks has done in a long time that has that awards-friendly glow to it. His last nomination was for Cast Away back in 2000. It would be nice to see him back in the hunt.

Earlier in the season, I was unsure about Bruce Dern’s likelihood of going all the way, but Nebraska is holding strong, and Dern has been campaigning like a machine, appearing at countless Q&A’s and events to promote the movie and mingle with voters. At 77 years-old, Dern has been in the business a long time, worked with a lot of great people and collected an endless supply of colorful stories that have charmed audiences during all this promotion. His performance in Nebraska is low-key, but beautifully affecting. In the wake of the movie’s warm reception at the Cannes Film Festival, where he was named Best Actor, it was unclear whether Paramount would campaign him for Best Supporting Actor or Best Actor. He definitely belongs in the latter, but his chances of winning would be much better in the former. The studio made the right call going with the lead actor category, and Dern agreed, telling The Hollywood Reporter, “If I go supporting, I’m a whore.” He made similar remarks, in his typical, entertainingly frank manner, to Deadline. Dern should have a lot of support from the acting branch’s older members, many of whom he has worked with and/or known for years.

The last movie of the year to be seen by voters and critics was The Wolf of Wall Street, and by then the category seemed impenetrable. Yet many think DiCaprio can’t miss. Pete Hammond of Deadline wrote after one of the film’s first industry screenings, “It would be unthinkable to imagine he won’t be in the top five.” I have to disagree. Given the competition, it’s easily thinkable. And while I’m not counting him out by any means, the Academy has not sparked to DiCaprio of late. His last nomination was in 2006 for Blood Diamond. Since then, he’s been overlooked for J. Edgar (a superb performance, whatever your thoughts on the movie) and Django Unchained. Maybe voters will feel his time has come around again. Though even if they do, that doesn’t mean he’ll make the cut in such a competitive year.

Oh, and on a side note, can people please stop calling Leo’s performance in Wolf the best of his career? Because it’s not. It’s really good, and surely one of his most energetic and fun. It’s certainly a highly committed performance; he does so much impassioned screaming that it’s a miracle he didn’t permanently blow his vocal chords. But career-best? No. It’s not better than What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (will anything be?), and it’s not better than The Departed. So let’s everyone just dial it back a bit.

I do think DiCaprio, along with Forest Whitaker and Christian Bale, are the guys with the best chance of breaking the Ejiofor-McConaughey-Hanks-Dern-Redford stronghold. Whitaker’s win in 2006 for The Last King of Scotland is the only time he’s been nominated, so it would be nice to see him in play once again. (Personally, I think there are several stronger and more worthy performances that deserve inclusion, but I can’t deny I’d be happy for him). The SAG nomination means he can’t be discounted, but I’m unconvinced he’ll make the cut in the end. If Bale makes it in, he’ll have the momentum of American Hustle to thank. Not to suggest he isn’t great, because he is, but in such a fiercely competitive year, his chances would be lower if he weren’t in such a beloved movie (probably part of the reason that his buzz is all about Hustle instead of Out of the Furnace.) David O. Russell’s last two movies racked up seven acting nominations and three wins (Bale and Melissa Leo for The Fighter, and Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook). Silver Linings earned nominations in each of the four acting categories, and it’s possible that Hustle could do that same. But of the four actors likely to make that happen, Bale faces the steepest uphill battle. In his favor, he was nominated for a Golden Globe, a BFCA award and a BAFTA award. Keep in mind though, that the Globes have categories for Drama and Comedy, while the BFCA nominate six actors, not just five.

I wish Oscar Isaac stood a stronger chance for Inside Llewyn Davis, but despite impressing many voters even beyond the film with his performances at a few concert events celebrating the soundtrack, there’s simply too much competition. And I really, really wish — though this isn’t even in the remotest realm of possibility — that teenager Tye Sheridan had a chance for his wonderful work in Mud. 17 years-old now but 14 when he shot it, Sheridan gives a nuanced, emotionally bare performance that deserves as serious consideration as any A-lister in the running.

A lot could happen in this race, but having to commit to predictions, I think the biggest surprise might be that it plays out exactly how it looked at the start.

Predictions:
Bruce Dern – Nebraska
Chiwetel Ejiofor – 12 Years a Slave
Tom Hanks – Captain Phillips
Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club
Robert Redford – All is Lost

Personal Picks:
Chiwetel Ejiofor – 12 Years a Slave
Oscar Isaac – Inside Llewyn Davis
Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club
Joaquin Phoenix – Her
Tye Sheridan – Mud

(Even for me, whose picks mean absolutely nothing to nobody, the choices are impossible. I can’t sacrifice any of these guys, but I so badly want to include Bale and Hanks. What a year…)

BEST ACTRESS
Like the Best Actor race, this one has seemed inflexible for quite a while. Cate Blanchett is so certain to win this award for Blue Jasmine that filling out the rest of the category is pretty much just ceremonial. Michael Barker, co-president of Jasmine‘s distributor Sony Pictures Classics, told Deadline back in June that no matter what else came along, Blanchett had the Oscar in the bag. Not the first time studio execs have made such bold claims, but this one will probably play out. Still, since she can’t stand alone quite yet, the conventional wisdom has been that she will keep company with Gravity‘s Sandra Bullock (considered her strongest competition), August: Osage County‘s Meryl Streep, Philomena‘s Judi Dench and from Saving Mr. Banks, Emma Thompson. And like Best Actor, there was enough great work to fill the category a second time, if not quite a third.

Of the next wave of contenders, the only one likely to break through is Amy Adams for her multifaceted work in American Hustle. The dark horse candidates are Brie Larson, playing a director at a foster care facility in the acclaimed indie Short Term 12; Julie Delpy, continuing to amaze as she deepens her now 19 year relationship with her character Celine in Before Midnight; and newcomer Adèle Exarchopoulos as a young woman in the throes of first love in the French film Blue is the Warmest Color, for which she and co-star Léa Seydoux shared the Cannes Film Festival’s Palme d’or prize with the director — a first in that award’s history. The chances that any of them could hear their name read are slim to none, but they’ve received a lot of love on the critics circuit. Adams and Delpy earned Golden Globe nominations in the Musical/Comedy category, as did Julia Louis-Dreyfus for her terrific performance in Enough Said, and Greta Gerwig for Frances Ha. (I really like her, but I didn’t care for the movie.) The BFCA, with six available slots, found room for Larson alongside Blanchett, Bullock, Dench, Streep and Thompson.

Bérénice Bejo, a Supporting Actress nominee two years ago for The Artist, garnered some early talk for her role in The Past, from Iranian director Asghar Farhadi. He took home the Best Foreign Language Film award the same year, for the outstanding domestic drama A Separation. Alas, even the critics awards haven’t found room for Bejo, so any dreams of Oscar will have to stay that way. (Unfortunately, I haven’t yet had a chance to see The Past, or Blue is the Warmest Color, so I can’t factor Bejo or Exarchopoulos into my own picks.) And lastly there’s Kate Winslet, who starred in Jason Reitman’s Labor Day. The movie didn’t earn the kind of acclaim that usually meets Reitman’s work, and while Winslet is quite good in the role, the movie is pretty low on the radar. She managed a Golden Globe nomination, but that’s as far as she’ll go.

The category could definitely play out as expected, which is also how the SAG nominations went. But I don’t know…I have a feeling Streep might sit this one out. August: Osage County, with its grand pedigree and powerhouse cast, came into the season with high expectations, but it was met with mixed reviews and has not generated a lot of buzz. It did play well with SAG, who awarded it two individual nominations and one for Best Ensemble, so that counts for something since actors nominate actors. And this is Meryl Streep we’re talking about. She’s been nominated for lesser work than this, and she is revered and beloved by all. But she’s also not hurting for recognition, having won her third Oscar two years ago on her 17th nomination. It’s not impossible that voters could decide to pass her over this time around. If so, her loss would be Amy Adams’ gain. I’ve bet against Adams before and been wrong each time. Dare I underestimate her popularity with the Academy yet again? She could also make it in at the expense of Dench or Thompson, both of whom are safe but not certain bets. But if I go with a gut feeling that’s been building for a while, I’d say Streep misses.

Predictions: 
Amy Adams – American Hustle
Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock – Gravity
Judi Dench – Philomena
Emma Thompson – Saving Mr. Banks

Personal Picks:
Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock – Gravity
Julie Delpy – Before Midnight
Brie Larson – Short Term 12
Meryl Streep – August: Osage County

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
All of the advance buzz for Dallas Buyers Club focused on Matthew McConaughey, but when the movie hit, Jared Leto received as much acclaim and attention as his co-star, playing a transgender AIDS patient who becomes McConaughey’s business partner. Leto’s performance — his first after a six year absence from acting — has nearly swept the critics awards, and made him the frontrunner for the win. Expect him to be joined by Michael Fassbender for 12 Year a Slave. After missing out on a nomination for Shame (for shame, Academy), his previous collaboration with Steve McQueen, the magnetic Fassbender should be a slam dunk nominee this time around as a drunken, brutish plantation owner.

SAG rounded out the category with newcomer Barkhad Abdi for Captain Phillips, Daniel Brühl for Rush, and James Gandolfini for Enough Said. Abdi is a good bet to make it in. He’s been a consistent presence on the landscape all season long, earning Golden Globe and BFCA nominations in addition to SAG, and his inexperience as an actor makes his performance that much more impressive. Brühl’s chances are less assured. He too was nominated for a Golden Globe and BFCA award, which were pleasant surprises considering that Rush had largely faded from the conversation since its September release. The movie is said to have a lot of admirers, and while that support may not carry it into the Best Picture race, which once seemed possible, it could be enough to get Brühl nominated. However I should say, for what it’s worth, that by no stretch of the imagination is this a supporting performance. Brühl is without question a co-lead alongside Chris Hemsworth, and Universal’s decision to campaign him as a supporting actor is just a way to give him a better chance at getting nominated, since he would never be able to break into such an overcrowded Best Actor field. Bruce Dern must think him a whore. As for James Gandolfini, he is absolutely deserving of a nomination for his change-of-pace role as a tender divorced man entering into a new relationship. The SAG nomination is welcome recognition, but had he not passed away this year, I think he would have been squeezed out. He’s received plenty of nominations from critics groups, but I don’t think he’s going to make it into the Oscar race. Respected as he is, he’s still most associated with his television work, and Oscar voters aren’t necessarily sentimental about these things. He could make it, but I’m not counting on it.

Who else is waiting in the wings? Bradley Cooper and Jonah Hill deliver colorful, incredibly entertaining performances in American Hustle and The Wolf of Wall Street, respectively. Neither managed a SAG nomination, but that is likely because their films weren’t ready in time to be seen by enough voters. Cooper has Globe and BFCA nominations, but Hill missed out on both of those. Cooper’s chances may be better, since voters are expected to go big with American Hustle, whereas Wolf of Wall Street‘s popularity within the Academy is more of a question mark. Hill, meanwhile, is known to have done a lot of improv that provides Wolf with some of its funniest moments, so that could work to his advantage with his fellow actors.

Tom Hanks was considered a strong contender for his role as Walt Disney in Saving Mr. Banks, but after missing out on SAG, Globe and BFCA nominations, he would now appear to be a long shot. Another Best Actor frontrunner who has a chance here, though not as much as it might have seemed earlier in the year, is Matthew McConaughey for his work as a charming fugitive in Mud. Will Forte has received some love from critics for Nebraska, but I don’t see it cutting through the competition. Among the actors relegated to long shot/near impossible status but who are nonetheless worthy of consideration: Harrison Ford for the Jackie Robinson biopic 42; Woody Harrelson and Casey Affleck, both quite powerful in Out of the Furnace; David Oyelowo for The Butler; John Goodman for a small but excellent turn in Inside Llewyn Davis; the perennially overlooked Sam Rockwell in The Way, Way Back; and Chris Cooper for a standout performance in August: Osage County.

And then there’s James Franco. His Spring Breakers is far outside the realm of movies that Oscar voters pay attention to, but it’s a textbook case to demonstrate that their narrow box often excludes work that absolutely deserves recognition. There are a number of categories where Spring Breakers deserves to be cited (you already saw me include its director Harmony Korine among my personal picks for Best Director), and if Academy voters took off their blinders, how could they not stand up for Franco’s sensational work as a hilariously materialistic DJ and drug dealer for whom spring break is a state of mind? The film’s indie distributor, A24, has mounted a campaign for Franco, but they only have so much money to spend, and none of it is likely to penetrate the Academy’s bubble. If Franco had a shot, he probably would have needed a SAG nomination, and that actually seemed like a possibility. SAG voters, after all, nominated Nicole Kidman’s somewhat gonzo turn in The Paperboy last year. Unfortunately, Franco was passed over, and a similar fate awaits him tomorrow morning. But if he somehow manages to get a surprise nomination, expect the gathered journalists in the room to let out an enthusiastic round of applause, hoots and hollers.

Predictions:
Barkhad Abdi – Captain Phillips
Daniel Brühl – Rush
Bradley Cooper – American Hustle
Michael Fassbender – 12 Years a Slave
Jared Leto – Dallas Buyers Club

Personal Picks:
Barkhad Abdi – Captain Phillips
Michael Fassbender – 12 Years a Slave
James Franco – Spring Breakers
Jonah Hill – The Wolf of Wall Street
Jared Leto – Dallas Buyers Club

(Again, I agonize over my meaningless picks. Kills me to leave off Coopers Bradley and Chris.)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Lupita Nyong’o was in her final months at Yale Drama School when she auditioned for 12 Years a Slave, and at the moment she’s the frontrunner to win the Oscar for her debut film. Not a bad way to break into the biz. But first the nomination. She’ll be there. As will last year’s Best Actress winner Jennifer Lawrence, who tears it up in American Hustle. For many viewers, she’s been the standout. On the other end of the age and experience spectrum is 84 year-old June Squibb, the veteran character actress who steals the show as Bruce Dern’s outspoken wife in Nebraska. It’s hard to imagine she won’t make the cut. Another good bet, though not a lock, is Oprah Winfrey for The Butler. Winfrey doesn’t act too often, but when she does, she somehow pulls off the seemingly impossible challenge of embodying a character despite being one of the most ubiquitous figures in the world. No small task. She was nominated in this category nearly 30 years ago for The Color Purple, and I suspect she’ll be back.

That leaves one slot, and any number of people it could go to…all of whom could also land in the final five if Winfrey or Squibb should miss. 2011’s winner Octavia Spencer was touted as a likely nominee ever since Fruitvale Station came out in July, but her chances seem to have diminished in the season’s later days. She could still make it, but after missing out on SAG, the Golden Globes and even the BFCA, I’m not counting on it. All three of those groups did, however, nominate Julia Roberts for August: Osage County. Like Daniel Brühl, Roberts should be in the lead category, but The Weinstein Company didn’t want her and Streep to contend with each other. Can Roberts make it in? I’m not sure. But it would be nice to see her there again. Like Tom Hanks, her last nomination came in 2000, when she won for Erin Brockovich.

One nomination that almost certainly won’t happen, but should, is Scarlett Johansson for Her. Although she never appears on camera, make no mistake: she is the movie’s female lead, and creates a fully developed, three dimensional character with just her voice. Several critics groups have nominated her, including the BFCA, but that’s unlikely to make a difference. Although the performance is eligible for an Oscar nomination, I don’t see actors going there, no matter how much they admire the film and her work in it. Whether it’s Robin Williams voicing the Genie, or Andy Serkis being replaced by a creation of visual effects in The Lord of the Rings or Rise of the Planet of the Apes, if the performer doesn’t appear on camera, actors don’t seem to consider it an award-worthy performance. Too bad, since I would think actors would understand the challenges of this work, and should be all the more impressed when it connects so successfully. Maybe someday this barrier will fall, but I don’t think voters are ready yet. However, in this case, there is a way to get around it…sort of. Johansson’s work in Her was not her only great performance this year. She was also excellent as the jersey girl sexbomb with unrealistic notions of romance in Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut Don Jon. That performance is worth consideration on its own, but could pull double-duty as proxy recognition for Her.

If there’s a surprise in this category that catches most people off guard, it may well be Jennifer Garner for Dallas Buyers Club. She is not considered a likely contender, and in fact hasn’t received a single nomination in all of the precursor awards except as a member of the movie’s SAG-cited ensemble. But that Best Ensemble recognition was itself a big surprise, and the movie has been faring well in general. Garner is good in it, but doesn’t get to do the kind of transformative work that benefits McConaughey and Leto. Still, The Hollywood Reporter‘s awards analyst Scott Feinberg thinks she has an excellent chance, and his logic makes good sense. He says that voters only have time to watch so many movies, and when they find something they really like, they tend to vote for it across the board. It was by that reasoning that he was one of the few pundits to predict Jacki Weaver’s nomination last year for Silver Linings Playbook. There is usually at least one big surprise on nomination morning that most people didn’t see coming, and given the popularity Dallas Buyers Club seems to have, Garner could be it. Plus, after all of the accolades her husband Ben Affleck collected for Argo last year — not to mention the strange comments he kept making in his attempts to thank her, which made it sound like their marriage was a daily struggle — maybe voters feel that Garner has earned some recognition of her own. I can’t bring myself to predict it; I think this is the one acting category that will match the SAG list five-for-five. But if Garner does score a nod, I’ll definitely be applying Feinberg’s logic to future races.

Another surprise could be Sally Hawkins, who played Cate Blanchett’s sister in Blue Jasmine. She’s received a smattering of mentions from critics, as well as Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations. Never discount an actress in a Woody Allen film. Other names that have popped up but would make for shocking nominations, however well deserved, are Sarah Paulson for her cruel plantation mistress in 12 Years a Slave; Julianne Nicholson and Margo Martindale as family members harboring secrets in August: Osage County; Melissa Leo as the caretaker of a young man suspected of abducting two little girls in Prisoners; and Léa Seydoux as a new couple’s more experienced lover in Blue is the Warmest Color.

Predictions:
Jennifer Lawrence – American Hustle
Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years a Slave
Julia Roberts – August: Osage County
June Squibb – Nebraska
Oprah Winfrey – Lee Daniels’ The Butler

Personal Picks:
Scarlett Johansson – Her
Jennifer Lawrence – American Hustle
Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years a Slave
June Squibb – Nebraska
Oprah Winfrey – Lee Daniels’ The Butler

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Expect to see American Hustle and Nebraska among this year’s crop. Her, whether or not it can manage recognition for Best Picture or Best Director, would seem like a given here as well. I would also have said that the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis was a sure bet, but its lack of a WGA nomination, or broad guild support in general, makes it a tougher call. But the biggest question mark is Gravity. While the movie is expected to be one of the most nominated of the year, its chances here are cloudier. Even many who love the film would say that the story is slight and that the movie’s screenplay is not where it stands out. Others would argue that it’s much weightier on the story and thematic front that it’s been given credit for. I suspect the writers will pass on it, but given its frontrunner status for other top awards, it could absolutely land here.

The indefatigable Woody Allen stands a good chance at his 16th writing nomination for Blue Jasmine. He got the WGA nod alongside Hustle, Her, Nebraska and Dallas Buyers Club, which is another strong but by no means certain contender. I’d say Dallas‘ chances depend on what happens with Gravity and Inside Llewyn Davis. Saving Mr. Banks could find some love here, but having not been the big player so far that it was initially expected to be, it’s hard to anticipate what the Academy will do with it. Enough Said and Fruitvale Station are also on the fringe, but I’m not expecting either to get this far. And if the writer’s branch decides to throw a curve ball or two, look out for Mud, All is Lost or Prisoners.

Predictions:
David O. Russell, Eric Warren Singer – American Hustle
Woody Allen – Blue Jasmine
Spike Jonze – Her
Ethan Coen, Joel Coen – Inside Llewyn Davis
Bob Nelson – Nebraska

Personal Picks:
Spike Jonze – Her
Ethan Coen, Joel Coen – Inside Llewyn Davis
Jeff Nichols – Mud
Bob Nelson – Nebraska
Aaron Guzikowski – Prisoners

[Update, January 26: My personal picks originally included Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s script for This is the End, but last night I remembered that script doesn’t qualify as original because it’s based on a short film: Seth and Jay vs. the Apocalypse. I removed it from my list and replaced it with Bob Nelson for Nebraska.]

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
The Writers Guild nominations aren’t as much of a guideline in this category since, as always, some scripts were ruled ineligible for guild consideration. This was true for Best Original Screenplay too, but the only disqualified movie in that field which is expected to be a contender is Fruitvale Station, and that’s hardly a frontrunner. Not so on this side of the fence, where 12 Years a Slave, which could well be the winner come Oscar night, did not qualify with the WGA. But you can bet it will be on the Oscar shortlist, probably joined by Captain Phillips and Before Midnight. Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, the trio behind the latter, were nominated in this category back in 2004 for the previous film in the series, Before Sunset. They should repeat for this continuation which has been received just as enthusiastically, if not more.

Another strong possibility which didn’t meet the WGA’s standards is Philomena. With that and 12 Years out of play, the guild found room for August: Osage County and Lone Survivor. August still stands a chance with the Academy, but I wouldn’t bet on Lone Survivor. Not to take anything away from it; it’s a good movie. But a screenplay nomination seems like a stretch. The final WGA nominee, along with August, Survivor, Phillips and Midnight, is The Wolf of Wall Street, which I think will repeat here. Last summer’s beautifully spun teen romance The Spectacular Now collected a number of nominations from critics groups, but is a long shot to go the distance with the Oscars. Ditto the indie drama Short Term 12. These are the kind of wonderful small movies that, despite excessive praise from critics, never seem to attract the eyes necessary to lift them to Oscar-level awareness.

Predictions:
Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke – Before Midnight
Billy Ray – Captain Phillips
Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope – Philomena
John Ridley – 12 Years a Slave
Terence Winter – The Wolf of Wall Street

Personal Picks:
Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke – Before Midnight
Destin Daniel Cretton – Short Term 12
John Ridley – 12 Years a Slave
Carroll Cartwright, Nancy Doyne – What Maisie Knew
Terence Winter – The Wolf of Wall Street

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
It has not been a strong year for animation. At least, not in the mainstream. Several of the 19 films submitted to the Academy for consideration are foreign entries that did not get wide release or promotion here in the states, so I can’t speak to those. But homegrown projects were not, as a group, the best we’ve seen. If at least 16 of the 19 submitted films are accepted by the Academy, the field will qualify for five nominees. Less than 16 will mean a field of four nominees, and less than 13 will result in three. A three nominee field could sport an impressive group. Five will be pushing it, at least based on what Hollywood turned out.

There’s also been a change this year to how the nominees will be selected. In the past, a committee of 100 Academy members had to attend special screenings of all the qualifying films in order to vote for which to nominate. Now the committee will be larger, and its members will be allowed to view screeners of the nominees at home. But according to The Wrap, it is unclear if the Academy would provide those screeners or if they expect the studios to do so. (I’m guessing the former.)

Disney’s Frozen, a huge hit and well-reviewed fairy tale, leads the way, while The Wind Rises, Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki’s final film as director (he says he’s retiring), is a good bet. If the category tops out at three nominees, I expect Monsters University will round it out. But there will probably be at least four, and knowing so little about the foreign contenders makes it hard to tell what might make the cut. Only the French film Ernest & Celestine, a hand-drawn tale of friendship between a bear and a mouse, has landed on my radar, and word is that it’s excellent. Despicable Me 2 was a massive hit, but can the sequel get nominated if the original couldn’t? I suppose so, but I just don’t get what the big deal is with those movies…not that my personal feelings have any place in the subtle art of Oscar predicting. I just have to imagine that some of the foreign offerings are better than Despicable Me 2, or The Croods or most of the other Hollywood options (though I’ll admit I did like most of Epic). Of course, better doesn’t always mean anything. Depending on how much larger the voting committee is, and how members see the movies, the final slate could favor bigger, well-known films, or instead offer some surprises from beyond our borders.

Predictions:
The Croods
Ernest & Celestine
Frozen
Monsters University
The Wind Rises

Personal Picks:
Epic
Frozen
Monsters University
The Wind Rises

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Moving into the below-the-line categories, expect to see a lot of one word in particular: Gravity. It should come as no surprise that the astonishing outer space drama leads the way in this category, where it is likely to be joined by 12 Years a Slave and Inside Llewyn Davis. Those three movies were among the nominees for the American Society of Cinematographers award, where a three-way tie resulted in a seven-nominee race, rounded out by Captain Phillips, The Grandmaster, Nebraska and Prisoners. Usually there are one or two differences between the guild’s nominees and the Academy’s, but does the guild’s larger field mean the five Oscar nominees will come from this pool of seven? If so, that eliminates the gorgeous lensing of Her, which I had hoped would be a no-brainer.

If the branch looks beyond the ASC’s seven, and beyond the limits of traditional Academy fare, they would be wise to recognize the stunning work on display in Spring Breakers. Other films from earlier in the year that would make deserving nominees but that are probably too far removed from the Academy’s consciousness, whether by time or beause they aren’t sprinkled with whatever pixie dust deems them Oscar worthy: the Tom Cruise sci-fi film Oblivion, the creepy Mia Wasikowska thriller Stoker; and Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring, the last film shot by Harris Savides before his untimely death.

Based on no evidence whatsoever, I feel like the branch will take the opportunity to celebrate a striking black and white film whenever one is an option, so I’m guessing Nebraska will make the cut. As for that fifth slot, I could see it going to the beautiful imagery of The Grandmaster, the cold, dark compositions of Prisoners, the contrast of character intimacy and scenic vastness in All is Lost, and the simultaneously warm and cool clarity of Her. I’ll go with The Grandmaster. But man, what a tough call. Some really excellent work this year.

Predictions:
Phillippe Le Sourd – The Grandmaster
Emmanuel Lubezki – Gravity
Bruno Delbonnel – Inside Llewyn Davis
Phedon Papamichael – Nebraska
Sean Bobbitt – 12 Years a Slave

Personal Picks:
Emmanuel Lubezki – Gravity
Hoyte van Hoytema – Her
Bruno Delbonnel – Inside Llewyn Davis
Roger Deakins – Prisoners
Benoît Debie – Spring Breakers

BEST FILM EDITING
Best Picture frontrunners usually land a nomination for Editing, so expect Gravity and 12 Years a Slave to be here, and probably American Hustle and Captain Phillips as well. The fifth slot could go to another movie from the list of usual suspects, with The Wolf of Wall Street, Her, Nebraska, Dallas Buyers Club or Inside Llewyn Davis standing the best chance. Or it could go to a well-crafted, action-heavy movie like World War Z, Lone Survivor or The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. But the best shot may be Ron Howard’s Formula 1 race car film Rush, once considered a strong possibility for contention in the top categories. Things didn’t work out that way, but if Rush can get some love anywhere, it might be here.

Predictions:
American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Gravity
Rush
12 Years a Slave

Personal Picks:
Captain Phillips
Gravity
Inside Llewyn Davis
Spring Breakers
World War Z

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
12 Years a Slave will probably find a home here due more to its place as one of the year’s major players than because it’s one of the five best art/set decorated films of the year. Gravity has a good shot too, though its limited locations make me wonder if it will be overlooked. American Hustle is a possibility, but I’m not convinced. It’s 1970’s setting does make it a period piece — and the design branches love their period pieces — but it isn’t as elaborate or obvious as the kind of period pieces that usually score here, which makes me doubt its chances. I hope that the subtle futurism and wonderful color scheme of Her will be recognized, but for some reason I don’t feel confident about it. Moving beyond the big dogs, the dazzling excess of The Great Gatsby should land a spot, and since all of Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth films have been nominated, it would stand to reason that The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug will follow suit. It’s possible that the voters could be tired of these, but with all the new locations on display, the films aren’t necessarily repeating themselves. Still, the familiarity of the world casts some doubt at this point. Meanwhile, the elegant scenery of Stoker and Oblivion deserve consideration, and Saving Mr. Banks is a possibility here too.

Predictions:
American Hustle
Gravity
The Great Gatsby
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
12 Years a Slave

Personal Picks:
The Great Gatsby
Her
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Oblivion
Stoker

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Again, chances are good that we’ll see 12 Years a Slave here even though, yes, again, there are more interesting and imaginative choices to be made. American Hustle is expected to score here too, although I’m a tad wary. While the 70’s always allow for some entertaining fashion selections, the Academy doesn’t always take notice. Then again, signature pieces like the white macramé swimsuit worn by Amy Adams should push Hustle to the final five. The members of this branch are always on the hunt for an 1800s or early 1900s period piece and the elaborate outfits that mark that era, and they will likely find their champion this year in The Invisible Woman, a film about Charles Dickens and his younger mistress that was directed by and stars Ralph Fiennes. The Great Gatsby will probably break through here too. As for other period films that might pop up, there’s Saving Mr. Banks, although I’m not sure there is enough variety to secure it a nod. Inside Llewyn Davis features nice work too. Amidst the desaturated camerawork, the colors worn by John Goodman, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake and F. Murray Abraham stand out nicely.

On the less historical, more fantasy-based side of the closet, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a possibility. The previous Hobbit film missed in this category, but not for lack of worthiness, so perhaps it will happen this year. There’s also The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, which features a wide variety of creative looks. I was a little surprised that the first Hunger Games film didn’t land a nomination here, and wondered if its chances would have been better had it come out at the end of the year rather than in March. Catching Fire was a November release, so we’ll see if that makes a difference.

While not exactly fantasy, the clothes in Her do a lot to sell the concept of a near-future that is logically grown out of the present day. It’s probably not flashy enough to do the trick for these voters, but it would be a nice surprise if it showed up. And since contemporary clothing almost never gets recognized, no matter how well or uniquely designed and suited to its film it is, we will almost certainly be denied nominations for Blue Jasmine and Stoker, both of which would be commendable surprises from the costume branch.

Predictions:
American Hustle
The Great Gatsby
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
The Invisible Woman
12 Years a Slave

Personal Picks:
The Great Gatsby
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Inside Llewyn Davis
Stoker

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
This continues to be a frustrating category, not only because it is governed by some stupid rules, but because the evaluation process is flawed. Steve Pond lamented these issues last week in The Wrap. For starters, a song can only qualify if it appears during the course of the movie itself or if it is the first song during the end credits. If it’s the second song in the credits, it’s ineligible. That might not happen often, but it happens. Also, members are asked to judge the contenders — and for the second year in a row there were 75 eligible songs — by watching a DVD that contains clips of each number as it appears in the movie. This puts end credit songs at a disadvantage, since voters have to watch them over scrolling names, with no context for how they actually fit into their movie or build on the final scenes. Worse than that, clips are limited to three minutes. If a song is longer, it simply cuts off. How can a song be judged fairly if it isn’t even offered in its entirety? Okay, I’ll concede it’s unrealistic to expect voters to sit through every full movie that has an eligible song just to see how that song fits into the whole, so context may always be a problem. But since that issue may exist no matter what, why not send a CD which contains each song in full, so that members have a second option for listening to the many contenders? It might be easier to listen to all the options if they can take it in the car with them, or elsewhere on the go. At the very least, whether delivered on a CD, a DVD or both, it’s offensive to the process not to include each complete song.

So with all that said, what are we looking at? So many possibilities means a 100% accurate prediction is unlikely, but there are a couple of selections that are probably locks, beginning with “Let it Go” from Disney’s Frozen. It’s a fairly standard empowerment number, but Idina Menzel belts it out something terrific. U2 picked up the Golden Globe for “Ordinary Love,” their contribution to Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, and will probably be in the running here. In addition, there are five eligible songs from The Great Gatsby, including efforts by Jay-Z and Florence + the Machine. But the one with the most buzz is Lana Del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful.” Last month, there was an anonymous effort to mislead voters into thinking the song was disqualified, but there was no truth to it. Who knows if the trick was played by a rival studio, or one of the many Lana Del Rey haters out there, but the song is eligible, and in my opinion, deserving.

Unfortunately, my favorite song from a movie all year IS ineligible. “Fare Thee Well” from Inside Llewyn Davis, although new to me, is not new to the world. (If you’re a fan, check out some of its earlier incarnations courtesy of Vulture.) None of the wonderful songs from Llewyn Davis qualify, as they are all either older tunes being performed anew, or adaptations of previously existing ones. Several critics groups gave their Best Original Song award to the movie’s amusing track “Please Mr. Kennedy,” but the song borrows from a few similar pieces written during the era depicted in the movie, disqualifying it for Academy consideration.

One of the best songs of the year is not the typical studio-produced piece, but a bare bones rap clocking in at less than two minutes, performed by actor and musician Keith Stanfield, who plays a foster home resident in Short Term 12. It’s a song that would appear to perfectly encapsulate the intentions of the music branch, as it speaks directly to the character’s experiences and how he feels about his life. If the Academy’s goal is to recognize songs that are organic to their movies and have an impact on the story, than this isn’t just a nominee; it’s the winner.

Other songs that I really wanted to include among my personal picks were Ed Sheeran’s “I See Fire” from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, José González’s “Stay Alive” from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and Kings of Leon’s “Last Mile Home” from August: Osage County. If you’re interested in an assessment of the full field by someone who actually listened to all 75 contenders, here again is The Wrap‘s Steve Pond with his thoughts. In the end, anyone taking a shot at predicting this category is bound to miss at least one. But that won’t stop us trying. Having not heard anywhere near all of the options, here are my dart throws.

Predictions:
Let it Go – Frozen
Young and Beautiful – The Great Gatsby
The Moon Song – Her
Ordinary Love – Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
We Ride – Spark: A Burning Man Story

Personal Picks:
Young and Beautiful – The Great Gatsby
The Moon Song – Her
Oblivion – Oblivion
So You Know What It’s Like – Short Term 12
Becomes the Color – Stoker

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Gravity and 12 Years a Slave will show up again here, but this is a case where the frontrunners will earn below-the-line nominations on true merit, not just because voters are selecting it lazily and without consideration. Or…I suppose maybe that is why they will select them, but at least they deserve to be here.

I’m sure I’ve said somewhere on this blog before (feel free to look around for it) that my favorite film scores are those that do their primary job of serving the movie, of course, but are also memorable enough in their themes and motifs to stand on their own as listening experiences. I find such scores are tragically rare these days. The only one from 2013 that stayed with me in that way was Hans Zimmer’s music for 12 Years a Slave. Mark Orton’s score for Nebraska has been growing on me too, but is ineligible for Oscar consideration because much if it was used in an earlier movie. Even The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug didn’t offer up any new themes that resonated with me after the movie.

And yet there were a great numbers of scores this year that made an impression on me in the context of their films, even if most of them were not distinctive enough on their own to become essential additions to my soundtrack collection…other than to serve as nice background music. Which is relevant here because…oh right, it isn’t. I’m just saying, there was a wealth of excellent music that provided atmosphere and emotional resonance to their films, if not exactly classic themes that will become part of the zeitgeist. Alex Ebert, frontman for the band Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, just won a Golden Globe for his beautiful music from All is Lost, which plays an especially important role since the movie has barely any dialogue. Ebert was just one of many musicians who successfully dabbled in film composing this year. Skrillex worked with composer Cliff Martinez on Spring Breakers, and Muse contributed to the World War Z score composed by Marco Beltrami — though neither result appears on the list of 114 eligible scores). M83 created the music for Oblivion, and Spike Jonze enlisted his friends from Arcade Fire to provide original music for Her, either of which would be welcome nominees. Perhaps there were additional examples that I’m unaware of, but I thought this was interesting.

Among other scores that impressed me were Prisoners, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Mud, Stoker, Philomena, Labor Day, The Grandmaster and Out of the Furnace (the latter two are also missing from the eligibility list).

John Williams, who is basically retired at this point except for anything directed by Steven Spielberg, as well as his impending return to the Star Wars saga, was apparently such a fan of the novel The Book Thief that he approached the producers and offered his services. Nobody’s going to say no to that, and the results are of course being talked up for a nomination. Williams is always a good bet, but the score didn’t leave much of an impression on me. There has also been some buzz for Hans Zimmer’s Man of Steel score. It was decent (certainly not better than the Williams score we all know and love, not that it was trying to be…or needed to be), but I don’t see that nomination happening. Zimmer could also be a contender for Rush, and his protégé Henry Jackman is in the mix for Captain Phillips. Once upon a time, Disney musicals were a given for score nominations, so Frozen could crack the list, and Saving Mr. Banks — a movie about Disney — might earn another nomination for Thomas Newman (though frankly, the only parts of that score that stood out to me were the moments that incorporated music from Mary Poppins). I didn’t get a chance to see Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, but the fact that its music was among the Golden Globe nominees means it stands a shot at an Oscar nomination too.

It’s clearly a packed field this year, with many possible outcomes. But here goes.

Predictions:
Alex Ebert – All is Lost
John Williams – The Book Thief
Steven Price – Gravity
Alexandre Desplat – Philomena
Hans Zimmer – 12 Years a Slave

Personal Picks:
Daniel Hart – Ain’t Them Bodies Saints
Steven Price – Gravity
William Butler, Owen Pallett – Her
Clint Mansell – Stoker
Hans Zimmer – 12 Years a Slave

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
In December, the Makeup Artists and Hairstylists branch of the Academy announced the seven-film longlist from which the three nominees will be chosen. Focusing only on the quality of the work and not the quality of the film, their selections run the gamut from Best Picture contenders American Hustle and Dallas Buyers Club to box office hits The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, The Great Gatsby and Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa (no, I’m not kidding) to a couple of movies that are most definitely not Best Picture contenders or box office hits: The Lone Ranger and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (still not kidding). Like I said, the branch evaluates the work, not the film, and both Bad Grandpa and The Lone Ranger feature excellent makeup work. I haven’t seen Hansel & Gretel, but now that I’m Googling some of its makeup images, I gotta say: pretty cool. Nice to see that The Hunger Games got some attention, after the first movie didn’t even make it to the longlist last year. All in all, the seven options represent a nice cross section of hair-centric work, aging makeup and creature prosthetics.

Among the surprising omissions are The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (which may have been considered “been there, done that”), Rush, World War Z, Lone Survivor and Lee Daniels’ The Butler, which not only aged Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey and other actors over several years, but also did a pretty nice job transforming Professor Snape Hans Gruber Alan Rickman into Ronald Reagan.

Predictions:
American Hustle
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
The Lone Ranger

Personal Picks:
American Hustle
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (What can I say? The stuff looks great.)

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Always one of my favorite categories, as visual effects and music scores were the two movie components that got me interested in the Oscars in the first place. Like the Makeup and Hairstyling branch, the Visual Effects branch narrows the year’s options down to a longlist, and chooses the nominees from there. The VFX longlist consists of 10 films, and that number will be cut in half for five nominees. This royal rumble features Elysium, Gravity, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Iron Man 3, The Lone Ranger, Oblivion, Pacific Rim, Star Trek Into Darkness, Thor: The Dark World and World War Z. While there are certainly other movies that might have made it, like Man of Steel or Ender’s Game, there isn’t anything missing that I would consider a glaring omission.

Besides, we all know what’s winning this award anyway.

Predictions:
Gravity
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Iron Man 3
Pacific Rim
Star Trek Into Darkness

Personal Picks:
Same

BEST SOUND EDITING/BEST SOUND MIXING
By now, I have figured out what each of these things mean, and I understand the difference between them. Yay for me. In simplest terms, the sound editors record or create sounds that could not be captured during filming, either because dragons are not real (so I’m told) or maybe because the location was too noisy to get a usable recording of a particular real-world sound. Sound mixers then take all the sound effects and the music and the dialogue, and blend it all together in proper relation to each other.

Unfortunately, that does nothing to help me understand or predict what the best achievements in these fields are.

But I can make some educated guesses, and the first is that Gravity will be nominated in both categories. Captain Phillips has a pretty good shot at both too. Inside Llewyn Davis recorded its many song performances live during filming, just as Les Misérables did last year, so that gives it a good shot in the Mixing category. Beyond that, we can look to almost any big action movie as a possibility for one or both of these, meaning we could see The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Iron Man 3, Star Trek Into Darkness, Pacific Rim, Man of Steel, World War Z, Lone Survivor, Oblivion, The Lone Ranger or Elysium. Animated films sometimes pop up here, especially those from Pixar, which makes Monsters University a possibility, or by association, Frozen. 12 Years a Slave might slide in if voters fill it in down the line; Rush could find some traction here with its many car races; The Great Gatsby, with all of that music and party noise and excess feels like a contender; and All is Lost relies heavily on the soundscape to tell its story.

That broad array of options is about as specific as I can get, so here are the rest of those educated guesses.

Sound Editing Predictions:
All is Lost
Captain Phillips
Gravity
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Pacific Rim

Sound Mixing Predictions:
Captain Phillips
Gravity
The Great Gatsby
Inside Llewyn Davis
Star Trek Into Darkness

As for my personal picks, my limited understanding of these categories means I never have strong opinions, but I say each year that I think there should simply be one category, Best Sound Design, honoring a movie’s entire scope of sonic achievement. My picks for that imaginary category would be All is Lost, Gravity, Inside Llewyn Davis, Stoker and World War Z. I imagine if I had seen The Conjuring, that might find a place here too. But I didn’t, so it doesn’t.

With that, I think we’re done here. In keeping with tradition, I’m afraid I have no insight to offer for Best Documentary, Best Foreign Language Film or any of the short film categories. But since I’m sure I lost you somewhere around the sixth paragraph of Best Actor anyway, if not before, it’s just as well. The nominees will be announced tomorrow at 5:38am PT by Chris Hemsworth and Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs. And then tomorrow night, all the people who didn’t get nominated will try to put on a happy face when they attend the Broadcast Film Critics Association ceremony. The awards train stops for no one.

August 24, 2013

Holy Questionable Career Decision, Batman!

Filed under: Movies — DB @ 7:00 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

Well, wrong suit, but close enough.

Since Thursday evening, the internet — nay, the whole of Planet Earth, and possibly galaxies beyond — have been abuzz with the news that Batman’s cape and cowl, last donned by Christian Bale, will be taken up by Ben Affleck when the Dark Knight returns to the big screen in 2015’s sequel to this summer’s Superman reboot, Man of Steel. A sequel to a reboot of another character’s series? Those of you who don’t follow these things might find all of this too confusing. So let me take you back about a month.

It’s Saturday, July 20th, day three of Comic-Con 2013, and the San Diego Convention Center’s famed Hall H is awash in the stale, pungent stench that can only result when 6,000+ geeks pack into a large, windowless room, surging with adrenaline and not daring to exit for food or bathroom breaks during or even between panels, for fear that they might lose their seat or miss a major reveal. A reveal, for example, like the one made during that day’s Warner Bros. panel by Man of Steel director Zack Snyder, who teased the crowd with news that in the next Superman film, the hero would square off against the Caped Crusader.

I know that fanboys were creaming themselves at this news — an ejaculation of collective excitement that surely wasn’t helping the air quality in Hall H — but I have to say as someone who was never a comic book reader, I don’t really get the appeal of Superman vs. Batman. I know there is a long history of these two meeting up in the pages of DC Comics — sometimes as friends, sometimes as enemies — and I can see the attraction of having them fight side by side. But why do I want to see them fight each other? They’re both heroes, even if far apart ideologically. From what I understand, the source of conflict between the two — when it exists — is that Batman sees Superman as a boy scout whose vision (aside from being laser) is black and white in a word of grey, while Superman rejects Batman’s M.O. of revenge-fueled, vigilante justice. Maybe the past stories of antagonism between the two always give eventual way to a coming together against a common enemy. I don’t know. Like I said, I haven’t read the comics. But it does seem clear that pitting the two against each other in the upcoming movie is meant to be more than just a brief skirmish before they eventually join up (think Iron Man, Thor and Captain America pummeling each other in a scene from The Avengers). I’ll tell you one thing: if this clash of the titans is anything like the never-ending battles between Superman and Zod in Man of Steel, you can wake me when it’s over.

The Comic-Con announcement was made using a passage of dialogue from Frank Miller’s seminal 1986 graphic novel, The Dark Knight Returns. Snyder introduced Man of Steel actor Harry Lennix to read a brief snippet of dialogue from that book, and those familiar with Miller’s story knew what it meant. Those who didn’t got the picture a moment later when the Superman logo appeared on the screen, encased after a few seconds by the Batman logo. Snyder added that the currently untitled follow-up to Man of Steel would not necessarily be adapted from The Dark Knight Returns, but that the dialogue Lennix read represented the gist of what the filmmakers intended for the next installment. The decision to bring Batman into the Man of Steel sequel seemed to me like Warner Bros. and Snyder lacked confidence that their new Superman could support his own franchise. Before even giving him a chance to thrive on his own, he’s being paired with another iconic protagonist. But maybe the studio and DC are just in a rush to compete with Marvel’s Avengers success by building toward an already announced Justice League movie.

So that’s the background, which returns us to Thursday evening and the announcement that Ben Affleck will be playing Batman in the new movie. Even the Comic-Con bombshell caused less of a shockwave than word of Affleck’s casting. I’m not sure last November’s news that Disney had purchased Lucasfilm and would be making new Star Wars movies generated as much fevered chatter as this has. Some are fine with the choice. More appear to be indifferent. Most are outraged, and seem to think that this casting is a crime worthy of trial at Nuremberg.

Me, I’m just surprised. I can’t figure out why Affleck would be interested in such a move at this moment in his career. To understand why it puzzles me, let’s jump back in time again. After Good Will Hunting, Affleck and Matt Damon were Hollywood’s new golden boys. The following year, they each played supporting roles in prestige projects that competed for the Best Picture Oscar (Damon in Saving Private Ryan, Affleck in Shakespeare in Love). They also reunited on-screen in 1999 for pal Kevin Smith’s Dogma. But by and large, those next several years after Good Will Hunting were marked by forgettable movies from Affleck. Boiler Room struck a chord, and Changing Lanes was pretty good, but these were bright spots amidst a spate of bland studio fare and would-be blockbusters that included Pearl Harbor, Reindeer Games, Daredevil (another comic book character, this one from Marvel’s stable), Paycheck, Jersey Girl, The Sum of All Fears, Surviving Christmas and the dreaded Gigli. High profile romances with Jennifer Lopez and Gwyneth Paltrow didn’t help his falling public persona, and by 2004 Affleck was both punchline and punching bag (as this example shows).

So he smartly withdrew from the public eye for a couple of years. He married good girl Jennifer Garner, started a family, and re-emerged with a supporting role in the 2006 drama Hollywoodland, earning praise for his performance as George Reeves, star of TV’s Adventures of Superman. But it was the following year that Affleck really silenced the naysayers, impressing critics and audiences with his directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone. Anyone who dismissed his success behind the camera as a fluke was proven wrong by his follow-up, the extremely well-received heist drama The Town. And then came Argo, which swept through the 2012 award season with multiple wins for Best Director and Best Picture (including an Oscar for the latter). As Affleck’s directing career has ascended, he’s worked less frequently as an actor (outside of his own movies), being more selective about the movies he’s chosen to appear in, and balancing lead roles with supporting.

So here he is, director of the reigning Best Picture winner, reigning Best Director recipient from the Director’s Guild of America, back on top of the Hollywood food chain, no longer hunting for goodwill. He’s settled on his next directing gig — an adaptation of the Dennis Lehane novel Live By Night — and has accepted the male lead in David Fincher’s adaptation of the Gillian Flynn bestseller Gone Girl. With things going so well, I can’t see the upside for him in taking on the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman in a sequel to Man of Steel.

Accepting his Best Director award from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts earlier this year, Affleck poignantly spoke of being given a second act by the film industry. He echoed that sentiment when accepting Argo‘s Oscar for Best Picture. So why now, when his directing career is on fire, would he step back into the kind of commercial product that brought his career to a screeching halt in the first place? Man of Steel‘s reviews were pretty evenly split between positive and negative, and although audiences have turned it into a $200 million-plus hit, opinions seem just as divided. (I was disappointed, though the problems I had might not necessarily be an issue with the sequel.) I mention the critical and box office reception to point out that as blockbusters go, jumping onto the next Superman movie is hardly a career killer. It just isn’t something Affleck needs right now, and seems like a distraction from continuing on his post Argo trajectory.

Did he do it for money? Maybe, but come on…a guy like Affleck doesn’t have to make a move like this solely for financial reasons, and I would think that continuing to capitalize on his directing heat would be more appealing than donning spandex and cashing a many zeroed check. Did he do it to strengthen his business relationship with Warner Bros., possibly gaining the cache to direct a less commercial project down the line that might otherwise face an uphill battle to secure funding? It’s been done before. Whether it’s acting in a big studio movie and then a small indie, or acting in a big studio movie and then directing a small passion project, the one-for-them, one-for-me mentality goes back to John Cassavetes appearing in movies like The Dirty Dozen and Rosemary’s Baby, if not further. But Affleck’s movies as a director have been profitable for Warner, and well received by audiences and critics. While not blockbusters, his movies are solidly commercial, so unless he’s eyeing something particularly obscure, I can’t imagine he’d have trouble getting bankrolled any time soon.

It’s more understandable that Warner would want Affleck. His strongest relationship at the studio over these past few years has been with Jeff Robinov, who was president of Warner Bros. Picture Group until studio politics led to his recent departure. Robinov had a reputation as a filmmaker’s champion, enjoying close relationships with people like Affleck, Baz Luhrmann (both of whom commented on his situation as it was unfolding), Christopher Nolan, and Leonardo DiCaprio. Their loyalty to Robinov leaves future collaborations with Warner Bros. uncertain, so it’s no surprise that the studio courted Affleck to take on a cornerstone role like Batman. He’s already been given first shot at directing many of their projects in development, including — apropos of this new development — the eventual Justice League movie, a job which Affleck turned down. But he will make Live By Night for Warner, and he was apparently planning to write and direct the studio’s adaptation of Stephen King’s classic, The Stand. (Less than 24 hours after announcing Affleck would play Batman, Warner revealed that The Stand would shift to Scott Cooper, director of the Jeff Bridges Oscar winner Crazy Heart and this December’s highly anticipated Out of the Furnace. I hope any plans for The Stand involve more than one film, because even a three-and-a-half hour running time won’t do justice to that tome…but that’s another discussion.)

By securing Affleck for a prominent role in a major franchise, the Warner Bros. leadership can show Affleck that they are committed to the relationship. In the announcement, studio exec Greg Silverman said, “We knew we needed an extraordinary actor to take on one of DC Comics’ most enduringly popular Super Heroes, and Ben Affleck certainly fits that bill, and then some. His outstanding career is a testament to his talent and we know he and Zack will bring new dimension to the duality of this character.” Sue Kroll, Warner Bros. Pictures’ president of worldwide marketing and international distribution, added, “We are so thrilled that Ben is continuing Warner Bros.’ remarkable legacy with the character of Batman. He is a tremendously gifted actor who will make this role his own in this already much-anticipated pairing of these two beloved heroes.” Clearly, the studio wants to stay in the Ben Affleck business.

In addition, the studio will no doubt want to spin the Man of Steel sequel off into the next series of Batman films. The clock is ticking on rebooting that franchise now that the Nolan/Bale trilogy is done. After all, studios seem to think that audiences will lose all interest in a franchise if it isn’t relaunched within five years of the previous version – see Hulk, Spiderman, and Superman himself. Does that mean Affleck is committing to carrying on the Batman role in multiple movies, including Justice League? (Maybe they’re hoping he will change his mind about directing that DC answer to The Avengers.) Nothing has been officially announced beyond the Man of Steel sequel, but sources say that Affleck’s deal does include more than one time up at bat. I always take “sources” with a grain of salt, but in this case I’m inclined to believe it. Why would Warner cast Affleck as Batman if they didn’t intend for him to stick around?

That’s another reason that Affleck’s decision puzzles me. Let’s assume Warner Bros. will want him for at least three standalone Batman movies, plus Justice League. That means he’s looking at a long-term commitment that might prevent him from accepting more logical acting roles in between his directing gigs. By logical, I mean acting for great directors he could observe for his own developing method. The late, great Sydney Pollack used to say that even after years of directing, he would still take acting roles in films by the likes of Woody Allen and Stanley Kubrick in order to observe them in action. That’s exactly what Affleck should be doing. His decision to star for Fincher in Gone Girl makes sense, as did taking the lead in Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder. But what is he going to learn from Zack Snyder? How to fetishize tormented, provocatively attired girls?  (That’s not fair; I’ve never seen Sucker Punch. The trailer pummeled me into a brutal migraine, and I worried the full movie might kill me.)

After working so hard to rebuild his image, Affleck has put himself right back in moviegoers’ crosshairs by accepting the role of Batman. As I said earlier, the reaction amongst fans seems to be primarily vitriolic. If opinions are in fact more evenly split, it’s the dissenters that are making the most noise, as is usually the case. Petitions calling for Affleck’s removal from the project garnered thousands of signatures within a day of the news. Then again, these over-the-top reactions are nothing new when it comes to casting an iconic character, particularly in this franchise. When Christopher Nolan told the world that Heath Ledger would be playing The Joker, fans were skeptical at best, incensed at worst. Check out the graphic embedded here, showing various online responses to the news. I would love to see what all those people had to say once they finally saw Ledger take a wrecking ball to their concerns with his spectacular performance. And let’s not forget the response when Tim Burton cast Michael Keaton as Batman back in the 80’s. The internet didn’t exist yet to document the disbelief and disappointment, but word got around nonetheless. Then the movie came out, and Keaton’s performance was roundly applauded. So Affleck may yet have the angry mob eating its words. I hope so. I would love to see him prove them all wrong. I’m more interested in why he would play Batman than I am in whether he can. I don’t know if he has the right stuff for the character. I do know that statements like the ones made by Warner execs Silverman and Kroll, calling him an “extraordinary” and “tremendously gifted” actor, don’t quite hold up to scrutiny. Affleck has a twinkle in his eye and a charm that serves him well in roles with a comedic bent, as well as a penchant for quiet weariness that suited his self-directed work in The Town and Argo. But let’s not pretend his acting gifts are broad and varied. He doesn’t have the range or subtlety of his buddy Damon. That weariness I mention could absolutely work for Batman, while the playfulness could befit Bruce Wayne. I suppose it all depends on how Snyder and screenwriter David S. Goyer choose to present the character.

Even if Affleck is rejected in the role once people actually see it, I’m confident his credibility will survive thanks to his proven track record as a director. He’ll bounce back relatively unscathed in the long run. But why open himself up to the abuse in the first place? He’s been making the most of the second act that he spoke of in the BAFTA speech above, and this move just doesn’t seem in keeping with that revival. Just like after Good Will Hunting, Ben Affleck is once again a golden boy in Hollywood. I’m not sure why he wants to go down this road, but I’m rooting for him to stay golden.

July 19, 2013

Emmy Nominations 2012-13: Reaction Mishmash

Filed under: Emmys,TV — DB @ 5:00 pm
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The Emmys do not occupy the same level of alarming obsession I have for the Oscars. For example, I didn’t wake up at the ass-crack of dawn yesterday to watch the live nominations announcement, as I do every year for the Oscar nominations. But that hardly makes me immune to Emmy fever. I’m as hopped up on TV as I am on movies, so the Emmys are firmly on my radar. You won’t find me engaging in the same series of prediction and reaction posts that I dive into during Oscar season (many of you are grateful for that, no doubt) but of course I have plenty of thoughts on the good, the bad and the ugly of today’s nominations.

Now, once again, I have to make the point that the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences—and nearly every other body that hands out awards for television—faces an impossible challenge. There is a staggering amount of TV programming out there, and now that outlets like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon are producing content, the arena is even more packed. How can every show and all their components—acting, writing, directing, production design, etc.—be fairly evaluated? I’ve elaborated before, both in last year’s version of this post and in an earlier, more detailed overview, on the flawed process for Emmy voting at the nomination stage. And once again, you should read the latter, because I was right when I wrote it and I’m even more right now. (This is also a succinct summary of what’s wrong with the Emmys.)

So with that said, I offer a small selection of artists whose work this past year deserved to be recognized. I won’t get into which nominations did happen and shouldn’t have, nor will I argue that any of my choices that didn’t make it are more deserving than certain ones that did. For I am not immune to the problem I describe in my 2009 post; I don’t watch every TV show, so I can’t fairly judge what does and doesn’t deserve an Emmy nomination. I’m simply saying that the offerings below—whether at another’s expense or not—were worthy of the recognition.

But before we get to that, here are the nominations in what I consider the major categories, with some brief thoughts along the way. I’m not a fan of reality TV around these parts, so I’ve omitted those categories. BUT, a huge congratulations to my friend Carl Hansen, who earned his first Emmy nomination yesterday. He was an Executive Producer on Outstanding Reality Program nominee Shark Tank. Way to go, Carl!

OUTSTANDING COMEDY SERIES
The Big Bang Theory
Girls
Louie
Modern Family
30 Rock
Veep

Thoughts: A fine list, but the omission of Parks and Recreation is criminal. That show, along with its ensemble cast—which has to be the best on any current comedy series—continues to kill it every week, without fail. I also would have liked to see Arrested Development here. I know many people were disappointed in the new season, but I thought that while it had some problems, its density and ambition were staggeringly impressive. And even flawed, there was still more than enough hilarity.

OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES
Laura Dern – Enlightened
Lena Dunham – Girls
Edie Falco – Nurse Jackie
Tina Fey – 30 Rock
Julia Louis-Dreyfuss – Veep
Amy Poehler – Parks and Recreation

Thoughts: How great to see Laura Dern here. Enlightened was not renewed for a third season due to low viewership, but it was a beautiful show. This nomination for the always underrated Dern is a small but appreciated way to bid it a premature farewell.

OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES
Alec Baldwin – 30 Rock
Jason Bateman – Arrested Development
Louis C.K. – Louie
Don Cheadle – House of Lies
Matt LeBlanc – Episodes
Jim Parsons – The Big Bang Theory

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES
Mayim Bialik – The Big Bang Theory
Julie Bowen – Modern Family
Anna Chlumsky – Veep
Jane Krakowski – 30 Rock
Jane Lynch – Glee
Sofia Vergara – Modern Family
Merritt Wever – Nurse Jackie

Thoughts: Seven nominees and they couldn’t find room for Arrested Development‘s Jessica Walter? Jane Lynch’s role on Glee is pretty much played out at this point. She’s great, but I would swap her for Walter in a heartbeat. Or how about some love for Parks and Rec‘s Rashida Jones and Aubrey Plaza?

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES
Ty Burrell – Modern Family
Adam Driver – Girls
Bill Hader – Saturday Night Live
Tony Hale – Veep
Ed O’Neill – Modern Family
Jesse Tyler Ferguson – Modern Family

Thoughts: Bit of a surprise to see Modern Family‘s Eric Stonestreet left off, though it does keep the category from becoming a Modern lovefest once again. Still, I’d always nominate Stonestreet before Jesse Tyler Ferguson, who I’ve always found to be a little too one-note. Great to see Bill Hader and Tony Hale here, but the real delight is Adam Driver’s nomination for Girls. I didn’t expect voters to come through for Driver, so I had included him among my write-ups below. Well, now I can delete that. Every moment of Driver’s performance feels authentic, electric and unscripted. Kudos to the Emmy voters for not overlooking his sensational work. As for disappointing oversights, how about every single male actor on Parks and Recreation? Seriously, line up Nick Offerman, Aziz Ansari, Chris Pratt, Adam Scott and Rob Lowe. Now put on a blindfold and throw a dart. Throw a few. Whoever you hit, they deserve to be here. If this category is going to be dominated by one show, Modern Family ain’t the one. And I say that as a big fan. But these Parks and Recreation guys…they crush it. And how stupendous were Will Arnett and David Cross on Arrested Development?

OUTSTANDING GUEST ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES
Dot-Marie Jones – Glee
Melissa Leo – Louie
Melissa McCarthy – Saturday Night Live
Molly Shannon – Enlightened
Elaine Stritch – 30 Rock
Kristen Wiig – Saturday Night Live

OUTSTANDING GUEST ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES
Louis C.K. – Saturday Night Live
Bobby Cannavale – Nurse Jackie
Will Forte – 30 Rock
Nathan Lane – Modern Family
Bob Newhart – The Big Bang Theory
Justin Timberlake – Saturday Night Live

Thoughts: As long as we’re giving it up for SNL guest hosts, where’s the love for Martin Short? His Christmas episode was among the season’s strongest. At least they included Louis C.K., whose Abraham Lincoln sketch was the best of the year.

OUTSTANDING WRITING FOR A COMEDY SERIES
David Crane, Jeffrey Klarik – Episodes (Episode 209)
Louis C.K., Pamela Adlon – Louie (Daddy’s Girlfriend, Part 1)
Greg Daniels – The Office (Finale)
Jack Burditt, Robert Carlock – 30 Rock (Hogcock!)
Tina Fey, Tracey Wigfield – 30 Rock (Last Lunch)

Thoughts: The Office and 30 Rock each went out on a good note, but not good enough to exclude a single nomination for Arrested Development, whose writing was brilliantly ambitious on levels that I don’t think any other show ever has even aimed for.

OUTSTANDING DIRECTING FOR A COMEDY SERIES
Lena Dunham – Girls (On All Fours)
Paris Barclay – Glee (Diva)
Louis C.K. – Louie (New Year’s Eve)
Gail Mancuso – Modern Family (Arrested)
Beth McCarthy-Miller – 30 Rock (Hogcock!/Last Lunch)

OUTSTANDING DRAMA SERIES
Breaking Bad
Downton Abbey
Game of Thrones
Homeland
House of Cards
Mad Men

Thoughts: Yeah, that looks about right. Downton could have been left off. I love it, but the past two seasons have been uneven. I don’t watch them, but based on their reputations, it would have been cool if Justified or Sons of Anarchy had snuck in. There seemed to be a lot of love for The Americans, too. And why can’t The Walking Dead catch a break?

OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES
Connie Britton – Nashville
Claire Danes – Homeland
Michelle Dockery – Downton Abbey
Vera Farmiga – Bates Motel
Elisabeth Moss – Mad Men
Kerry Washington – Scandal
Robin Wright – House of Cards

Thoughts: Not that I watch the show, but I’m surprised not to see Julianna Margulies here for The Good Wife. I thought she was a perennial in this category. I also didn’t watch Orphan Black, but heard Tatiana Maslany was off-the-charts amazing. I thought she might find a place among the more recognizable names. On the other hand, I love that Robin Wright made it. I consider Wright, like Laura Dern, to be one of the most undervalued actresses around. Any and every bit of attention she receives is deserved. Great to see Vera Farmiga make the cut too. She did some impressive tightrope walking as the complex mother to Norman Bates. And even though I don’t watch Scandal, I kinda love Kerry Washington, so good for her making it as well.

OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES
Hugh Bonneville – Downton Abbey
Bryan Cranston – Breaking Bad
Jeff Daniels – The Newsroom
Jon Hamm – Mad Men
Damien Lewis – Homeland
Kevin Spacey – House of Cards

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES
Morena Baccarin – Homeland
Christine Baranski – The Good Wife
Emilia Clarke – Game of Thrones
Anna Gunn – Breaking Bad
Christina Hendricks – Mad Men
Maggie Smith – Downton Abbey

Thoughts: Emilia Clarke breaks in for Game of Thrones! Nice. Her character had a kick-ass season. She only stands to kick more ass as the show progresses, so I might have gone with her castmate Michelle Fairley instead. But hey, any love for Thrones is fine with me. Good to see Homeland‘s Morena Baccarin recognized too.

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES
Jonathan Banks – Breaking Bad
Bobby Cannavale – Boardwalk Empire
Jim Carter – Downton Abbey
Peter Dinklage – Game of Thrones
Mandy Patinkin – Homeland
Aaron Paul – Breaking Bad

Thoughts: The Station Agent‘s Dinklage and Cannavale, together again! Though frankly, I would sacrifice Cannavale in favor of House of Cards‘ Corey Stoll, who had a terrific, heartbreaking arc as a troubled congressman. I also think Sam Waterston was a worthy contender for The Newsroom. And while I didn’t see The Americans, I heard Noah Emmerich was outstanding. I’m thrilled to see Mandy Patinkin here after he was overlooked last year. Perhaps one of these days, another member of the amazing Game of Thrones cast will join the always deserving Dinklage. A little love for Charles Dance, please?

OUTSTANDING GUEST ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES
Linda Cardellini – Mad Men
Joan Cusack – Shameless
Jane Fonda – The Newsroom
Margo Martindale – The Americans
Carrie Preston – The Good Wife
Diana Rigg – Game of Thrones

Thoughts: Diana Rigg = Awesome. And Jane Fonda was a blast on The Newsroom.

OUTSTANDING GUEST ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES
Dan Bucatinsky – Scandal
Michael J. Fox – The Good Wife
Rupert Friend – Homeland
Harry Hamlin – Mad Men
Nathan Lane – The Good Wife
Robert Morse – Mad Men

OUTSTANDING WRITING FOR A DRAMA SERIES
George Mastras – Breaking Bad (Dead Freight)
Thomas Schnauz – Breaking Bad (Say My Name)
Julian Fellowes – Downton Abbey (Episode 4)
David Benioff, D.B. Weiss – Game of Thrones (The Rains of Castamere)
Henry Bromell – Homeland (Q&A)

Thoughts: I figured that Homeland would receive at least one writing nomination, but I wasn’t sure which episode it would go to. I’m glad to see it went where it belonged; that’s another write-up I did that I can now discard. “Q&A” was the stellar episode in which Carrie interrogates Brody after finally confronting him with evidence of his treachery and taking him into custody. Writer Henry Bromell used to write for NBC’s great police series Homicide: Life on the Streets, and penned many of that show’s most intense sequences: Det. Pembleton questioning suspects in an interrogation room known as The Box. He proved with “Q&A” that he still knows his way around that intimate setting. The session between Carrie and Brody is the episode’s lengthy centerpiece, and the writing—from the broad scope of Carrie’s approach to the carefully chosen words and brutal honesty with which she reaches him—is masterful (as are the performances by Claire Danes and Damien Lewis). On top of recognizing this excellent achievement, the nomination doubles as a tribute to Bromell, who died of a heart attack in March. Like James Gandolfini, he was a great contributor to dramatic television who left us too soon.

OUTSTANDING DIRECTING FOR A DRAMA SERIES
Tim Van Patten – Boardwalk Empire (Margate Sands)
Michelle MacLaren – Breaking Bad (Gliding Over All)
Jeremy Webb – Downton Abbey (Episode 4)
Lesli Linka Glatter – Homeland (Q&A)
David Fincher – House of Cards (Chapter 1)

Thoughts: Fincher!

OUTSTANDING MINISERIES OR MOVIE
American Horror Story: Asylum
Behind the Candelabra
The Bible
Phil Spector
Political Animals
Top of the Lake

OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTRESS IN A MINISERIES OR MOVIE
Jessica Lange – American Horror Story: Asylum
Laura Linney – The Big C: Hereafter
Helen Mirren – Phil Spector
Elisabeth Moss – Top of the Lake
Sigourney Weaver – Political Animals

OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTOR IN A MINISERIES OR MOVIE
Benedict Cumberbatch – Parade’s End
Matt Damon – Behind the Candelabra
Michael Douglas – Behind the Candelabra
Toby Jones – The Girl
Al Pacino – Phil Spector

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A MINISERIES OR MOVIE
Ellen Burstyn – Political Animals
Sarah Paulson – American Horror Story: Asylum
Charlotte Rampling – Restless
Imelda Staunton – The Girl
Alfre Woodard – Steel Magnolias

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A MINISERIES OR MOVIE
Scott Bakula – Behind the Candelabra
James Cromwell – American Horror Story: Asylum
John Benjamin Hickey – The Big C: Hereafter
Peter Mullan – Top of the Lake
Zachary Quinto – American Horror Story: Asylum

OUTSTANDING WRITING FOR A MINISERIES, MOVIE OR DRAMATIC SPECIAL
Richard LaGravenese – Behind the Candelabra
Abi Morgan – The Hour
Tom Stoppard – Parade’s End
David Mamet – Phil Spector
Jane Campion, Gerard Lee – Top of the Lake

OUTSTANDING DIRECTING FOR A MINISERIES, MOVIE OR DRAMATIC SPECIAL
Steven Soderbergh – Behind the Candelabra
Julian Jarrold – The Girl
David Mamet – Phil Spector
Allison Anders – Ring of Fire
Jane Campion, Garth Davis – Top of the Lake

Thoughts: Soderbergh!

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

OUTSTANDING WRITING FOR A VARIETY SERIES
The Colbert Report
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
Jimmy Kimmel Live
Portlandia
Real Time with Bill Maher
Saturday Night Live

Thoughts: Wow, Saturday Night Live still hanging on here. I would have thought Conan or Late Night with Jimmy Fallon would earn a place.

OUTSTANDING ANIMATED PROGRAM
Bob’s Burgers (O.T.: The Outside Toilet)
Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness (Enter the Dragon)
Regular Show (The Christmas Special)
The Simpsons (Treehouse of Horror XXIII)
South Park (Raising the Bar)

For what it’s worth, some stats: HBO was—to nobody’s surprise, I’m sure—once again the most nominated network, but I couldn’t believe how far ahead they were. With 108 nominations, they had just over twice as many as the second most honored network, CBS. (Really? CBS?) The most nominated program was American Horror Story: Asylum, with 17 nominations, followed by Game of Thrones with 16. And while I haven’t seen this factoid called out, I think Louis C.K. may have been the most nominated individual. Between his Saturday Night Live hosting gig and the multiple hats he wore on both his series and his HBO standup special, he received nine nominations. I would think that’s gotta be tops for the year.

Some people actually get paid to watch and write about TV, and are therefore likely to have seen all the eligible shows, so here’s a sampling of their reactions: Vulture‘s Matt Zoller Seitz, The Hollywood Reporter‘s Tim Goodman, and Entertainment Weekly‘s Jeff Jensen and James Hibberd. Goodman had a lot to say (he usually does), and actually wrote three different pieces reacting to (mostly railing against) the nominations. The initial two can be accessed through the one linked here. He talks about what I wrote of back in 2009: the impossible task of fairly evaluating all the choices out there. Then he goes on to damn the voters for too frequently eschewing bolder options in favor of the same old thing. He does have a point. I mean, I love 30 Rock, but it was past its prime. Did the final season really deserve an Outstanding Series nomination over Arrested Development or Parks and Recreation? He also suggests that it’s time for the Emmys to expand the major categories to ten nominees each, in order to better represent the overwhelming number of shows and performances vying for recognition. I think that’s a great idea; some of the categories already have seven nominees. But let’s face it: expanding the categories doesn’t mean that more critically favored but Emmy-retardant shows like Justified, Sons of Anarchy, The Americans or Hannibal would suddenly find a seat at the table. More likely, given Emmy voters’ tendencies, we’d just see more middle of the road choices. This year, the Outstanding Comedy category might have made room for Parks and Recreation, but it would probably have also included shows like Two and a Half Men, The Middle and Mike & Molly over Community, The Mindy Project or Arrested Development. Still, I agree with Goodman; it’s time for an expansion.

As usual many of the nominees released statements of gratitude. Best Reaction Statement: Don Cheadle, House of Lies (Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy) – “Given all the hilarious film work I’ve done, from Traffic to Crash to Flight, it’s nice to finally be recognized as the comic genius I am. Thank you, Academy members.” Second Best Reaction Statement goes to Emilia Clarke, Game of Thrones (Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama) -“Yer chomoe anhaan. Jin ha Khalaan, shekh ma shieraki anni. For those not fluent in Dothraki, it translates to: You do honor to me. This is for the Khal — my sun and stars.”

Now then, for your belated consideration…

These write-ups make no attempt to avoid spoilers, so if you come across one for a show you haven’t seen yet but intend to watch someday, I advise you to skip it.

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series: Denis O’Hare – True Blood
Although it’s past its prime and I watch it more now out of habit, there was a time when True Blood was really killing it (the current season has actually been pretty strong). But the Emmys have never had much use for it. A shame; its terrific second season earned it a nomination for Best Drama Series, and it has garnered some below-the-line nominations over the years – sound editing, makeup, casting, that sort of thing. But probably because it’s an out-there, gothic fantasy soap opera, it has often been unfairly overlooked, especially in the acting department. In five seasons, only a single acting nomination has been bestowed: Alfre Woodard for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series, from the third season. I like Woodard, but hers was hardly the most deserving or memorable performance True Blood has given us. Nelsan Ellis should have been cited in the first year or two for his great performance as Lafayette, and Michelle Forbes was robbed of recognition for her luscious turn as the second season’s antagonist, Maryann Forrester. And where was the Guest Star nomination after Season Three for James Frain as the sicko vampire Franklin Mott?

Also robbed after season three, was Denis O’Hare for his hilarious, whacked-out performance as extremist vampire king Russell Edgington. After being absent from season four, Edgington returned last year, colorful and crazy as ever, giving voters a chance to rectify their mistake. They failed to do so. O’Hare was nominated last year in the TV Movie or Miniseries group for his role on season one of American Horror Story. If he could get nominated for that, he surely deserves a nod for his far more memorable work as Edgington. (Come to think of it, why has American Horror Story been embraced so enthusiastically by Emmy voters while True Blood has been repeatedly stiffed? If anything, AHS is even more lurid and over-the-top.)

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Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series: David Lynch – Louie
In a three episode arc last season, Louie was under consideration to replace a retiring David Letterman as host of CBS’ Late Show. In order to see if he has the right stuff, the chairman of CBS sends Louie to an old school TV producer named Jack Dall to help whip him into shape. As I watched the episode, I was stunned and delighted to discover filmmaker David Lynch playing Dall. Like his films, Lynch is a little…odd. He’s pleasant and mild-mannered, but always seems just slightly out of sync with the world around him. As C.K. explains in this story about how he got Lynch to do the show, he wasn’t looking for the director to show up and be someone else; he wanted Lynch to be Lynch. Layering his own unique, deadpan persona on top of the cryptic, impatient Dall, Lynch was bone-dry hilarious, fitting right at home with the often surreal tone of C.K.’s show. Lynch the director would be proud of Lynch the actor, and Emmy should have taken note.

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Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series: Chris Colfer – Glee
An Emmy darling after its first season, Glee has largely disappeared from the awards landscape after subsequent seasons have proven uneven. It picked up some nominations here and there yesterday, but it has mostly dropped off the radar when it comes to awards. I can’t really argue with that. But one aspect of the show that was great from the start and hasn’t faltered is Chris Colfer, who plays Kurt Hummel, a character destined to be remembered as one of the most important in television history. The series may have jumped a number of sharks by now, but it tends to be at its best when Kurt is around, because Colfer is too genuine to let it get away with its more absurd tendencies. He’s a performer who exudes authenticity, and so it seems that the writers—by the very nature of having to serve him—are forced to come up with stronger material. And he never lets us down. His vocal range continues to astound, and across the entire television landscape he’s probably second only to Maggie Smith on Downton Abbey in his ability to deliver a line (especially a cutting one) with brilliant timing and precision. Colfer’s work on Glee has already earned him two Emmy nominations, plus a Golden Globe win, but his fortunes have faded along with the show’s. Too bad; he still deserves the accolades.

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Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series: David Nutter – Game of Thrones (The Rains of Castamere)
For the second year in a row, I’m bewildered by the absence of a single directing nomination for the impeccably produced and impossibly scaled epic series that deserves mention in this category for both its narrative accomplishments and its production quality. Seriously, how in the seven kingdoms does this series not get cited for Directing? While almost any episode of the season would actually be a worthy contender here, the obvious choice would be the now infamous ninth episode “The Rains of Castamere,” which climaxes with the shock and awe of the Red Wedding. (At least the episode scored a writing nomination.) The tension builds during the initial scenes at The Twins, and then when we get to those last ten minutes, in which the trauma is parsed out with thrilling dexterity. The closing of the hall door. The change in the music. The looks exchanged between Catelyn and Bolton. The stabbing of Talisa. The rain of arrows. Then we’re outside with Arya, her excitement disintegrating when she sees the Stark men being killed, followed by Grey Wind. Back in the hall, Catelyn’s desperate plea to Walder Frey. Bolton’s final betrayal and Robb’s death. And then Catelyn after she cuts her hostage’s throat, after she lets out a final wail for her murdered first-born, the camera slowly pushing in as she stands there utterly spent, her husband killed, her daughters captive and all her sons dead (as far as she knows). She stands there and we wonder, “Is it done?” And then just when maybe we think the worst is over, in steps one of Frey’s men to end her too. She falls out of frame. The camera holds for another moment before the credits roll in silence. C’mon, Emmy voters. This was a no-brainer.

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Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series: Mike White – Enlightened (The Ghost is Seen)
In just a single half hour of this little seen HBO gem, writer/actor Mike White delivers one of the most honest, heartwrenching, haunting portraits of loneliness I’ve ever encountered. He doesn’t just expose it from an objective, bird’s-eye view; he takes you inside it, right into its beating, yearning heart and shows what it feels like to live with it everyday, enveloped in it, trapped by it, resigned to it. The episode focuses on White’s own introverted character Tyler and the connection he makes with Eileen (nominated guest star Molly Shannon), the executive assistant to the head of the company, and therefore the unwitting foil in Amy’s mission to expose the illegal activities of the corporation and its CEO. The scenes between Tyler and Eileen are as awkward as they are sweet, and if this doesn’t sound like it belongs in a comedy category alongside shows like Modern Family or Parks and Recreation, well, Enlightened is indeed a different ilk, walking that fine line between comedy and drama, and probably leaning slightly toward the other side if we’re being honest. But whether it’s labeled a comedy or drama for awards purposes shouldn’t ultimately matter. The quality of the writing speaks for itself, and this exquisite episode should not have been passed over.

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Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series: Jack Huston – Boardwalk Empire
From the moment he was introduced about halfway through the first season, Huston’s Richard Harrow was one of television’s most interesting characters, and one of my favorites. A WWI veteran who wears a specially designed mask over half of his face to conceal a disfiguring battle wound, Harrow is soft-spoken and alone when he meets Jimmy Darmody in an army hospital. After joining up with Jimmy in the bootlegging business, the former sharpshooter discovered a sense of renewed purpose. Upon his promotion to series regular in the second season, Harrow’s role expanded and deepened. This past season, in the aftermath of Jimmy’s death, he became a caretaker to Jimmy’s little boy Tommy (a duty he shares with Jimmy’s mother, who provides him a room in her brothel). He also falls in love with a kind, pretty woman who loves him back, only to reach the conclusion that his hope for a normal life may not be in the cards.

Harrow is a man divided not just physically, but psychologically. He is gentle and sensitive with those he loves, but brutal with those who threaten him or the people he cares about. Both sides battled it out this season, and Huston’s consistent ability to underplay the character winds up making him one of the show’s strongest performers. It may be Harrow’s face that is damaged, but really his wound informs the way his whole body moves. Huston plays him with deliberate physicality – usually hesitant, but quick and determined when he becomes deadly. He still speaks softly—and nervously—but he also carries a big stick (in the shape of a shotgun). Huston—a member of the showbiz dynasty that includes aunt Anjelica and grandfather John—makes the dichotomy between Harrow’s halves into fascinating, essential, Emmy-worthy viewing.

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Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series: Scott A. Gimple – The Walking Dead (Clear)
This quiet, thoughtful episode, which provided a respite from the escalating tension between Team Prison and Team Woodbury, finds Rick, Carl and Michonne taking a drive to Rick’s old town in the hopes of securing weapons from the police station. What they find is the main street rigged with elaborate zombie traps, and the man responsible for it: Morgan, Rick’s former neighbor who saved his life after he woke up in the hospital and wandered home unaware of what had happened to the world. Morgan chose to remain behind when Rick went in search of his family, and this episode finally brought him back, as a broken, half-crazed shell so far gone that he initially doesn’t even recognize Rick, and tries to kill him. As Rick attempts to bring Morgan around, he sees him as a warning sign. He has been dangerously close to the same line that Morgan has crossed, and their encounter becomes an important step in his efforts to reclaim himself. Carl, meanwhile, reveals his own agenda for coming along: the recovery of a family photo that will offer the only picture of his mother that his baby sister will ever have. His determination to get it partners him with Micchone, still seen as an outsider by the group.

The episode offers a stark look at how the new world our characters populate can get the best of those who are incapable of retaining hope, and that survival—not just existence, but real survival—takes more than guns and ammo. Gimple provided an unexpected and creative way to bring Morgan back to the show that didn’t merely satisfy fans, but also furthered the overall story. He also did a nice job balancing Rick and Morgan’s reunion with the side journey that provided some badly needed development for an underserved Michonne.

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Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series: Patton Oswalt – Parks and Recreation
Having made memorable appearances on seven shows during the past year, Patton Oswalt was recently named TV’s Most Valuable Guest Star by Vulture. The most memorable of those appearances may have been on Parks and Recreation, as Pawnee history enthusiast Garth Blundin, whose opposition to Leslie’s planned repeal of numerous outdated town laws leads him to deliver the greatest filibuster in the history of filibustering. Star Wars and Marvel Comics fans should take note. (If Republicans filibustered like this in our actual Congress, we all might be less critical of them flagrantly overusing it.) Leslie and Garth eventually make a wager that finds them living in a Pawnee Historical Cabin with only 19th century tools and methods at their disposal. Oswalt is, of course, the perfect guy to play a part like this, lovably inhabiting a smug, know-it-all nerd and making sure we like him enough not to turn against him when he outdoes our beloved Leslie. Oswalt tapped into his own irrepressible enthusiasm for pop culture when he delivered the entirely improvised filibuster, which lasted for about eight minutes. Of course, only a short piece could be used on the show, but the full speech was released on YouTube and became a viral sensation. If nothing else, Oswalt deserved an Emmy nomination for going so imaginatively above and beyond the call of duty.

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Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series: Hugh Dancy – Hannibal
Not that I’ve been following reactions too closely, but the sense I’ve gotten is that the lion’s share of attention for Hannibal‘s acting has gone to Mads Mikkelsen for his quiet, controlled work as Hannibal Lecter. But it’s co-lead Hugh Dancy who delivers the show’s more gripping performance and who deserved recognition from Emmy voters. His Will Graham has such an acute, overdeveloped sense of empathy that he is able to imagine himself as the killers he hunts, executing their crimes himself and therefore gaining unique understanding into their methods and motivations. But this takes an increasingly dire toll on his state of mind, as he begins to identify so deeply with one serial killer in particular that he worries about crossing the line and becoming a killer himself. Hannibal takes us visually into Graham’s point of view to show us what he sees, but Dancy takes us much further and reveals things only an actor can. He wears the oppressive weight of Will’s visions in every fiber of his physical being. He cloaks himself in Will’s fatigue, isolation, and anxiety, drawing us so close that we can practically smell the fevered sweat that accompanies his sleepless nights and haunted dreams. There’s an obvious sadness and loneliness to Will, but while it is directly acknowledged, Dancy never plays it for sympathy. He earns the audience’s identification through the wholeness of his performance, not through cheap emotional manipulation. It’s a truly fascinating portrayal, understated and underrated. Dancy will likely be at the Emmys anyway, accompanying his nominated wife Claire Danes. But he should be there as a nominee himself.

This is off-topic, but I feel compelled to say that I have mixed feelings about Hannibal in general. On one hand, it may be the most gorgeously art directed and photographed TV show I’ve ever seen. The entire visual design is extraordinary. On the other hand, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anything so relentlessly, overbearingly bleak. This show is daaaark. Not just its highly disturbing imagery (made all the more unsettling because the crime scenes, like everything on the show, are staged so artfully), but the entire sensibility. There is precious little humor or levity to break the tension. It’s not so much a suspenseful tone as it is a severe one. It’s all so Serious and Heavy. In a way, the show has a hypnotic feel that distinguishes it from anything else I watch. But rarely did an episode go by that didn’t have me thinking at least once, “Jesus, this is too much!” (At least they seem to be having fun on the set.) It doesn’t help that some of the violence really bothers me…and I’m not someone who usually has an aversion to on-screen violence. All told, I’m debating whether or not to stick with it when the next season begins. I admire and appreciate so many things about it, but I can’t exactly say that I enjoy it.

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Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series: Jeremy Webb – Downton Abbey (Episode 5)
Jeremy Webb did earn a nomination in the Directing category, but I would argue that it was for the wrong episode. The nomination should have come for the subsequent installment, which delivered the shocking death of Lady Sybil. News of actor Dan Stevens’ departure from the show was all over the internet a few months before Downton‘s third season had its U.S. premiere, so we had a pretty good idea of what was coming down the road for his Matthew Crawley. But the departure of actress Jessica Brown Findlay was preceded by no such commotion, allowing the excellent work done by Webb, writer Julian Fellowes and the cast to take us by complete surprise. Sybil’s demise, which comes in the middle of the night, hours after delivering a healthy baby girl, seemed more shocking than so many other TV deaths because it felt so random. Downton Abbey may be classy, but it’s still a soap opera, with all the melodramatic ups and downs that go with such territory. But Webb directed the scene with such plain, stark realism that it transcended the melodrama. The veil between the audience and the screen dropped, and we were brought into the room along with the family, experiencing the terror, confusion and helplessness as palpably as they did while Sybil writhed in her bed, struggled to breathe, turned ghostly pale and finally expired. We shared in the stunned silence when Dr. Clarkson pronounced her dead, and then shared the pang of heartbreak when her newborn daughter began crying offscreen.

I realize that, as with the Game of Thrones example above, I’m focusing on one scene from an hour-long show. But sometimes that’s all it takes to make an episode. And to be clear, many moments that follow were handled just as effectively by Webb: the servants learning the news in the middle of the night, the Dowager Countess’ arrival the following morning, and the final shot of Sybil’s widowed husband Tom, holding his baby as he stands alone at a window of the house in which he has never felt entirely welcome.

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So there’s that. Finally, a few other odds and ends from further down the list of nominations:

-The nominees for Outstanding Directing for a Variety Special included Don Mischer for The Oscars. Sorry, but no. At the risk of beating a dead horse (and one that nobody other than me cares about), Mischer’s direction of the Oscars was, as I said at the time, incompetent, and has been for the past few years.

-There are a couple of categories that I hadn’t heard of before, one called Outstanding Special Class – Short-Format Live-Action Entertainment Programs, the other called Outstanding Special Class – Short-Format Nonfiction Programs. I noticed them this time because they included some nominees from the internet that made me smile: Zach Galifianakis’ hilarious faux-interview show Between Two Ferns was cited in the former, along with the brilliant web series Burning Love, while Jerry Seinfeld’s excellent Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee was nominated in the latter. Great to see these three programs recognized.

-There’s an award for Outstanding Music Composition for a Series, and this year’s nominees are Arrested Development, The Borgias, Downton Abbey, House of Cards, Last Resort and Mr. Selfridge. I find it hard to believe that all of those shows offered better dramatic scoring than Game of Thrones, on which composer Ramin Djawadi does better work on a weekly basis than most theatrical movies have done in the past few years. Since each show is cited for a specific episode, I’ll submit this past season’s fourth installment of Thrones. The music accompanying the climactic sequence (Daenarys taking ownership of the Unsullied) and end credits was worth a nomination on its own. Also missing here: composer Mark Mothersbaugh, the former Devo member whose scoring for Enlightened was the most original and effective I can recall for any show in a long while.

-The Emmys give awards for Art Direction, Cinematography, Lighting Design, and other such technical achievements. This year, an obvious nominee in all three of those categories would have been Hannibal, which as I mentioned above, is one of the most visually arresting shows I’ve ever seen. Amazingly, it was passed over in all of these categories. In fact, the show didn’t score a single nomination. If you’ve seen it, you’d agree: that’s unfathomable. (Anyone as geeky as me who might be interested in seeing the full list of nominations that includes these below-the-line categories like Art Direction, Makeup, Special Effects, Music, etc. can have at it here.)

Okay, that about does it. If you’re inclined to share any thoughts of your own, I’d love to hear them.

This year’s Emmy Awards will air Sunday, September 22 on CBS. Until then, I’ll close out with another favorite moment from Emmy past, as I did last year. This one doubles as a tribute to Glee‘s Cory Monteith, who died this week at age 31. The words “too soon” are too small. Here’s the clever, rousing opening to the 2010 ceremony, featuring host Jimmy Fallon, Monteith and some of his Glee comrades, and more.

June 21, 2013

The Great Gandolfini

Filed under: TV — DB @ 9:00 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

My heart plunged Wednesday afternoon when I read that James Gandolfini had died. I can barely comprehend that he’s left us this soon. The details of his death are as sad as the loss itself. We invest an awful lot of time and energy into the TV shows and movies we love, and when the performers pass away, the feeling of loss can be as genuine as for those we knew in person. I have relatives who have died who were less familiar to me than James Gandolfini. The Sopranos is probably my favorite TV show of all time, and Gandolfini was without a doubt one of my favorite actors.

When the show burst onto the scene in 1999, immediately launching Gandolfini into a new stratosphere of national recognition, I took pride in being one of the people who knew him when. His work in films such as True Romance, Get Shorty and A Civil Action had already endeared him to me. And like many—though relatively few in the scheme of how many millions came to know him after The Sopranos hit—I didn’t just know him as “that guy.” He was an actor who had earned name recognition, and his involvement in The Sopranos was one of the first things that caught my interest when the commercials began running on HBO.

I remember in the show’s early days, when it was saturating the pop culture conversation, a friend of mine who hadn’t seen it but knew me to be a committed fan asked me what the big deal was. I asked her to name a movie that she loved. Not one that was simply fun or entertaining, but one that was so compelling, so well acted and so well written that it blew her away. When she answered, I said, “Now imagine seeing that movie for the first time, every week. That’s The Sopranos.” And while it took an uncompromising creator in David Chase, an amazing staff of writers and a brilliant ensemble of actors to make it all hum, in the end it boiled down to Gandolfini and his portrayal of Tony Soprano. Many will say it was the role that defined him, but Gandolfini was too good to be defined by any one part. He succeeded in other roles during and after The Sopranos because he had too much depth and charisma to be pigeonholed by the role that made him famous. It will surely be the one for which he is best remembered, but no conversation about his work will ever start and stop there. His presence elevated anything he was in. He could make an otherwise forgettable movie like The Mexican worth seeing. He could make an already good movie better, most recently demonstrated by his three or four brief scenes in Zero Dark Thirty. Without even appearing on camera, he could convey ferocity, anguish and loneliness enough to break your heart, as he did voicing the lead creature in Where the Wild Things Are.

It was exciting when great directors like the Coen Brothers or Spike Jonze enlisted his talents, and it was disappointing when planned projects didn’t come to pass. (He filmed a role for Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close that was cut, and he also came close to starring opposite Leonardo DiCaprio as the dogged FBI agent in Catch Me If You Can when that film was going to be directed by Lasse Hallstrom. By the time Steven Spielberg came on board to direct, production had been delayed and Gandolfini was no longer available. The part went to Tom Hanks). I always looked forward to more collaborations between Gandolfini and other top actors and directors. A few years ago, he earned a Tony nomination for the play God of Carnage, in which he starred with Marcia Gay Harden, Jeff Daniels and Hope Davis. Just the other day, I watched a commercial for the new season of Daniels’ HBO series The Newsroom and saw that both Harden and Davis were guest starring. I hoped maybe they would try to get Gandolfini to come on at some point and round out the reunion. He was supposed to return to HBO on a limited series called Criminal Justice, for which he’d already filmed a pilot, and in a movie with Steve Carell about rival paleontologists in the 19th century, called Bone Wars. I looked forward to those too. Clearly, I was looking forward to a lot more from Gandolfini. We all were. There are a couple of posthumous offerings that will serve as final showcases for his talents. He had completed shooting two movies that will likely be released next year: one called Animal Rescue, written by Dennis Lehane and starring Tom Hardy and Noomi Rapace, and one called Enough Said, written and directed by Nicole Holofcener and starring Julia Louis-Dreyfuss and Catherine Keener.

And that will be all. I occasionally wonder what John Lennon would be doing today, or what Phil Hartman would be up to. What would Heath Ledger’s latest project be? There might be others about whom you ask the same questions. I will be asking it about Gandolfini for years to come.

As the tributes, statements and appreciations from friends, colleagues and admirers poured in, many pointed out that Gandolfini was not just a great actor, but a great friend. A great person. It’s easy to believe. Every time I saw him accept an award on TV—he earned three Emmys, a Golden Globe and five SAG awards (three for individual achievement, two as part of an ensemble)—he seemed truly humbled and almost embarrassed by the attention. The same was true when he appeared on Inside the Actor’s Studio. He was generous with his thoughts on process and the work, but reticent to be in the spotlight. At all times, he was quick to praise his co-stars, his writers and his acting teachers. Two remembrances I read—one from Tim Goodman of The Hollywood Reporter and one from Matt Zoller Seitz of Vulture—brought up a Television Critics Association event in the summer of 1999 where Gandolfini was honored with an award, and how uncomfortable he was when the press started to swarm; how he couldn’t wait to get out of there. As Seitz mentions near the beginning of his piece, Gandolfini didn’t understand why people were interested in what he had to say. Well, we were interested because our culture is always interested in what celebrities have to say. At least someone like Gandolfini was worth listening to. Once he realized that, he tried to use his voice to bring attention to things that mattered to him. He was an advocate for U.S. soldiers who returned from war with severe injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder. In addition to private work he did with these men and women, he actively produced two documentaries for HBO to raise attention to their experiences. By all accounts, this was a guy whose heart was as big as his talent. How tragic that it gave out on him.

Some of the writers who have eulogized Gandolfini online since his death Wednesday—including Entertainment Weekly‘s Mark Harris and Yahoo’s Richard Rushfield—talked about his refusal to apologize for Tony Soprano’s dark deeds, pointing out that he never sentimentalized the character, tried to soften him or ask for the audience’s sympathies. One of my favorite scenes in the show’s history—one that has always stayed with me among the series’ countless examples of excellence—exemplifies this. It’s the final scene of an overall fantastic episode titled “Cold Cuts,” from the remarkable fifth season. In the episode, Tony’s sister Janice is arrested at her stepdaughter’s soccer game for attacking another mother after an incident between the two girls. Much to his agitation, Tony’s name gets dragged into the local news coverage. He impresses upon Janice that such outbursts are bad for business and that she needs to control herself. She attempts to do so by taking anger management classes. Tony, meanwhile, can barely contain his own rage as frustrations on both his home and business fronts continue to mount. He sees Janice benefitting from her classes, and even though this is exactly what he wants, he resents her newfound ability to keep her cool. In the end, this is what happens.

When she explodes, he’s the happiest and most satisfied he’s been during the whole episode. That smirk he gives just before walking out of the dining room speaks volumes. The scene shows the kind of cruelty Tony is capable of even to the people he loves, and there are others like it throughout the series. As he walks away, with the aggressive strains of The Kinks’ “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” perfectly used on the soundtrack, we have to admit to ourselves—as we have many times before—that this character we love (or if not love, exactly, then feel for) is an unrepentant sociopath. And why did we feel so much for Tony? Because Gandolfini gave us no choice. You’ll notice in that clip that the closing credits begin to appear before the screen has gone to black, which is atypical for an episode of The Sopranos. It’s almost as if the director just couldn’t move on quite yet. Even with his back to us, walking away after that instance of emotional violence, James Gandolfini compelled us to watch him. And we watched in wonder.

I’m so sad he’s gone.

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