Monday, January 6, 2014

Final 'Hail Mary' FYC Pleas

The nomination voting polls close for the 87th Academy Award on Wednesday, January 8th.  If Academy members are anything like me then this time of year is filled with endless anxiety and frustration.  Fears of being hopelessly behind just as the lull of the new year wants to push me forward.  Did I see everything I wanted to or needed to?  What did I miss?  How can I process all the hours of cinemas I've crammed in the past few weeks into a cohesive whole celebrating the very best of the past film year?  It's all a little too much.  If Academy members have this feeling, I'm understand, I sympathize...I'm here to help.  Here are some of my favorites, my last minutes pleas of the 2013 cinematic year that I hope you consider.  Heck, even if you haven't seen some of them, but are unsure of what to fill your ballots with, just go ahead a trust me.

BEST ACTRESS: Julie Delpy, Before Midnight
The leading actress category is pretty full and full of Oscar vets of varying degrees of worthiness, but one name that should have a higher profile is Delpy, the brittle heart and anguishing soul of Before Midnight.  She was worthy the last go around as well in Before Sunset, so perhaps more than little guilt over that upset could be remedied by nominating her here.  She brings such a volcanic display of passion, intelligence and anger to the third chapter of the Before series, but there's a consummate craft that modulates the performance and furthermore the film.  Delpy already earned Indie Spirit and Globe nominations for her effort, so this isn't totally out of the realm of feasibility, so plop the screener in, acknowledge these great films, or just check it off to rid thyselves of past sins.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Enough Said- Nicole Holofcener
It's a shame that Holofcener has never been nominated for writing before since her style is so specific and witty and almost elementary in what makes up good writing.  She came close, perhaps, a few years ago when her script for Please Give earned a WGA nomination, but the Academy has never bitten.  Sure, there's a bit of a Woody Allen thing that centers her films, as all her films take the perspective of a white and neurotic middle class woman grappling with white middle class issues, but Allen has been out of touch for years (decades?) and the Academy still bites when he's done something decent.  Holofcener, on the other hand, has always brought a brittle, perceptive economy to her films and Enough Said is one of her strongest, a deft, funny, utterly relatable human drama about real grown-ups.  Deceptively simple perhaps to a fault (and it's true that sometimes the filmmaking itself is somewhat pedestrian), but urgent, heartfelt, tender and real.

How about this-- any Oscar voter currently stumped, why not just vote for Noah Baumbach's joyous and scrumptious comedy of manners in every category.  I mean if The King's Speech was beloved enough to merit sound nominations, there really is no ceiling for the besotted ones.  And nothing in 2013 was deserving of unanimous praise than this witty, generous Greta Gerwig-headlined gift.  I've gushed time and time again about the may joys of the film and while I'm not silly enough to think for a second that this plea won't fall on deaf ears, I encourage each and all to find this gorgeous amalgam of vintage Woody Allen, French New Wave cinema and very contemporary hipster-dom and discover for themselves.  We can all dance around the streets to the tune of Bowie afterward.

BEST DIRECTOR: Spike Jonze, Her
Moving along from straight up fantasy to a very real contender that hopefully doesn't get shafted.  Hey Academy, remember, you once dug Spike Jonze-- you even nominated him for his feature directorial debut Being John Malkovich all the way back in 1999, so this isn't even that crazy to ask of you to acknowledge the pristine polish, magic and artistry he brought to Her.  While he's surely going to nominated for writing the screenplay to the boy meets operation system romantic dramedy, it's the direction of the film that's the real selling point-- all that fantastic, subtle, playful and evocative flourishes to a totally feasible, yet soft world building of a near future Los Angeles should not go unnoticed.  And while you're at it, please remind your production designer and director of photography friends that Her is worthy of slots there as well.

BEST COSTUME DESIGN: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire- Trish Summerville
Summerville already proved her laurels with her chic and stylish designs for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, becoming David Fincher's go-to costumer (she'll re-team with him on Gone Girl), but her Catching Fire costumes were eye-catching and alluring in contrasting the grimy and poor cloth in the districts to the opulent, whatsits all around the Capitol.  The budget clearly rose in the second chapter, and the film is a richer, bolder, more colorful thing because of it, but the artistry on display-- especially from Summerville-- was definitely Oscar worthy.

This probably won't happen and that's cool, however In a World... kind of got a bum rap.  Bell won the Screenwriting Prize at Sundance last winter and the film made but a minor splash when it premiered last summer, but the film is so sneaky and smart and deserved a lot more than it got.  Using the conceit of voice over artists as a microcosm of the film industry as a whole, Bell displayed such wit and insight in gender politics while maintaining an steely, amusing grip of the film as a whole.  It's a comedy, and a damn good one, but there's more to it.  Plus, if you're gonna ignore Holofcener, there should be a few female writers nominated this year-- 2013 was a great year for female actors and filmmakers, you just had to (as this film makes implicitly clear) really search for them.

BEST ACTOR: Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis
Likely one of the actors teetering on the dreaded sixth or seventh slots of a very crowded Best Actor race, but there's still a chance (right?) that Isaac's glorious chamber piece of a performance in the Coen Brothers' folk rock odyssey that right can prevail in the end.  In truth Isaac plays a difficult character-- a brooding failure of a folk singer trying to break through right on the cusp of when Bob Dylan was about to start a revolution.  He's not always likable in that cookie-cutter way we like our leading men to be, but the film goads us swiftly into rooting for him.  It helps that his voice is a thing of wonder and Isaac portrays Llewyn Davis as an uniquely charismatic, endlessly talented loser.  Plus, really, just think how cool the actors branch will look in history for nominating it?  Seriously, your grandchildren are judging you.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: The Spectacular Now- Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber
A certain amount of leeway can be forgiven for the lack of awardage for The Spectacular Now-- it's a movie about teenagers that all but touts its after-school-like programming as a badge of honor, but the fresh and invigorating adaptation of Tim Tharp's novel is perceptive and alive and allows for its actors to do great work in such a rare way, it would be shame for it be unacknowledged.  Perhaps it feels too-lived in and the film is likely too-little seen, but that's no excuse.  Neustadter & Weber were on the cusp of a nomination five years ago for the original screenplay (500) Days of Summer that never came to fruition, but their work on The Spectacular Now is better and bigger (by being smaller) that it's all the more deserving. 

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: Spring Breakers- Benoît Debie
I understand that Spring Breakers probably wasn't really your thing.  I'm okay with that, it wasn't really my thing either.  In fact, I didn't even particularly care for Harmony Korine's brash, the kids-are-not-alright neon nightmare.  However, separating tremendous technical achievements from the overall quality of a film is another matter and one that the Academy membership should appreciate as well.  Debie, the rigorous and exhausting talent who's lensed films like Enter the Void, The Runaways and Irreversible is a undisputed talent.  The fever dream shots make give the film the nightmare-dreamlike setting that it needed but didn't deserve.  His contributions were utterly fantastic and awards worthy.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: The World's End- Simon Pegg & Edgar Wright
Yeah, the pub carousing turned apocalyptic comedy probably isn't something that was ever on your radar, I understand that.  But the witty, inventive and intelligently sharp screenplay for The World's End handles so many neat parlor tricks that it was easy to forget that the film is actually quite moving.  All of the sci-fi/frat house comedy that's packed on the surface doesn't take away the quietly sobering grace notes of human connection and growing pains that face a group of high school friends now faced with the hobbles of grown-up existence.  Have a pint and get a sense of humor.

Okay, I was pretty rough on you, but heed my advise.

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