Feb 28, 2014

Oscar Pool Confidential

Due to popular demand (two people), and despite the fact that you must already be fed up, exhausted and the damn thing has not even begun yet, here are my predictions to aid you in your Oscar office pool.
This year there are several worthy and justly heralded contenders in all the main categories, so it may be a bit more nail-biting fun than usual (don't quote me on this).
For Best Picture, I believe it is a toss up between Gravity and 12 Years A Slave. Gravity is a classic Hollywood entertainment with two of the biggest stars on Earth, it has made a shitload of money and it is not at all challenging or controversial, which the Academy loves. But 12 Years A Slave is The Important Message Movie that makes Hollywood feel good about itself, so there. In my view, neither one deserves the prize. My favorite is Nebraska. I also loved American Hustle and much enjoyed The Wolf Of Wall Street.
Here then, are my predictions/favorites. For Oscar Pool, vote with your cynical head, not with your heart. Don't blame me if you lose.

Will Win: Toss up between 12 Years A Slave and Gravity. They should declare a tie.
Inching towards Gravity. 12 Years a Slave is too grim, which rarely wins Oscars.
Should Win: Nebraska

Will Win: Alfonso Cuarón
Should Win: David O. Russell, Alexander Payne, Martin Scorsese and Cuarón

Will Win: Matthew McConaughey
Should Win: McConaughey, Bruce Dern

Will Win: Cate Blanchett
Should Win: Cate Blanchett, Sandra Bullock

Supporting Actor
Will Win: Jared Leto
Should Win: Michael Fassbender

Supporting Actress
Will Win: Lupita Nyong'o
Should Win: Jennifer Lawrence

Original Screenplay
Will Win: Her
Should Win: Nebraska

Adapted Screenplay
Will Win: 12 Years A Slave
Should Win: The Wolf Of Wall Street 

Will Win: Emmanuel Lubezki
Should Win: Emmanuel Lubezki

Foreign Language
Will Win: The Great Beauty
Should Win: The Great Beauty, The Hunt

Will Win: Gravity
Should Win: American Hustle

Production Design
Will Win: Gravity
Should Win: Gravity

Costume Design
Will Win: 12 Years A Slave

Should Win: The Great Gatsby, American Hustle

Makeup and Styling
Will Win: Dallas Buyers Club
Should Win: Dallas Buyers Club

Visual Effects
Will Win: Gravity
Should Win: Gravity

Sound Mixing
Will Win: Gravity
Should Win: Gravity, Inside Lllewyn Davis

Sound Editing
Will Win: Gravity
Should Win: Gravity, All Is Lost

Original Score
Will Win: Gravity
Should Win: Nebraska, which is not on the list.  

Original Song:
Will Win: Happy
Should Win: No one 

Animated Feature (I haven't seen most of them. Winging it here)
Will Win: Frozen
Should Win: The Wind Rises. Stands a chance, it's Miyazaki's last film.   

Animated Short (winging it). Like betting on horses, I go by the name.
Will Win: Mr. Hublot 

Will Win: 20 Feet From Stardom
Should Win: 20 Feet From Stardom 

Documentary Short (winging it)
Will Win: The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life 

Live Action Short (winging it)
Will Win: Helium

May justice prevail. 



Feb 21, 2014

Child's Pose

This engrossing and bitterly entertaining Romanian film (winner of the Golden Bear at last year's Berlinale) by Calin Peter Netzer  is the farthest thing from the yoga pose suggested by its title.
It is a nerve-wracking excursion into the soul of a possessive, controlling, manipulative mother, played by the extraordinary Luminita Gheorghiu, and the fallout of her all consuming motherly love for her only son. Cornelia is a wealthy Romanian woman, an architect, who lives a life of privilege in Bucharest. She is a wannabe sophisticate. Her ringtone is ostentatiously Bach, she has artistic friends, and as a successful professional woman in a fucked up country, she bears her entitlement regally. We get to meet her as we listen in on a conversation in which she complains  about her son's estrangement from her. He won't invite her over, he's with "that woman", he won't read the books she gives him, etc. Her sister counsels her to stop meddling. Evidently, this is impossible. This is a woman so controlling, her own wimpy husband calls her Controlia. Then her son is involved in a car accident and she reacts like a one-woman SWAT team ready to rescue him.
To hear her speak of her son, you'd think he was a young, clueless teen: the "poor boy", her "baby". So it comes as a shock when we first see him at the police station, a fully grown man, looking spineless. Cornelia barges in, without even blinking at the grieving family of the victim, and having placed some strategic calls to friends in high places, starts conducting the intricate operation to save her boy from prosecution. She's from the city, these are the outskirts, and the police seem to know the drill. They try to conduct a proper investigation, but influence has been wielded, as inexorably as the march of time, to judge from the looks of the officers' weary faces. Anybody who comes from a country where corruption is the oil that greases society's wheels will recognize with a chill the inevitability of Cornelia's efforts; the despairing certitude of impunity. 
Child's Pose is the story of a mother who has alienated and emasculated her son by loving him too much. It is also about power and influence, in a personal sphere and in the bigger scheme of things. Cornelia's tactics are reminiscent of the secret police in a tyrannical regime. She uses the help as informants, sneaks into the son's house and rifles through his things, decides everyone's fate without batting an eye. Nothing fazes her. She is unmoved by people begging her to stop. It is her duty as a mother to save her son. She goes through whatever she has to do: paying off witnesses, finding a friendly doctor to conduct the police lab tests, trying to get a sympathetic court expert, cheating the law with ruthless efficiency; with hauteur, even. She acts without the slightest sense of compunction. Worse, she shows no trace of empathy for the bereaved family and their unspeakable tragedy. She only feels for her son.
All the actors are fantastic, but Gheorghiu happens to be one of the greatest actresses alive today. Without a shred of self-indulgence, she embodies a woman for whom it is natural to be in the right all the time. She acts by conviction, not emotion, which is why her performance is so powerful. This makes Cornelia hateful but understandable. Cornelia is purposefully oblivious to her own toxicity, because it comes, in theory, from a good place. It comes from love. Gheorghiu underplays her manipulations to such extent that she is both an object of revulsion and pity. She is a fascinating anti-hero. Now compare this master class in performing a mother from hell with Meryl Streep's garish carnival of emotion in August: Osage County. Gheorghiu doesn't pander and she doesn't reach; she doesn't play for laughs, even though the character would seem to beg it. She doesn't insult the audience with cheap emotion. She understands to her steely core Cornelia's totalitarian devotion.
Cornelia schemes and orchestrates without the slightest ruffle in her cap, but then she has to start confronting the consequences of her own meddling. This movie has some bitter ironies in store for her, even though she refuses to accept them. Carmen, her daughter in law, punishes Cornelia by granting one of her most fervent desires: the wish to know everything about her son. I was amazed by Carmen's composure during the course of their devastating conversation. I would have thrown Cornelia out of the house by the hair, but Carmen knows better. She gets her where it hurts.
Then her son obliterates her with a simple request that, for a controlling person, has got to be the ninth circle of hell: "Don't call me. Let me call you".
Cornelia soldiers on, apparently undiminished. We wonder when, if ever, is she going to change (her son has prophesied never). She finally reaches a catharsis, within which she is still calculating to the very end. You hate her, but you have to admire her. You have to pity her. She is to blame, but who could blame her?  

Feb 11, 2014

She Was The Best

Spunky, adorable Shirley Temple, a great actress and the most luminous of child stars. She managed to grow up into a dignified woman, in great contrast to the lurid stories of child actors of later years.  Hopefully, the children of today will discover her movies.