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“Precious” tops the Indie Spirits

Gabourey Sidibe is Precious

This hasn’t been a very good year for people who like awards surprises. And, so, this year’s most high profile indie film, say it with me — “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” —  has won the lion’s share of the more high-profile awards at Film Independent’s Independent Spirit Awards, this year hosted by Eddie Izzard.

To be specific, “Precious” nabbed “Best Feature” from a field that included the very popular “(500) Days of Summer,” Berkeley-bred Cary Joji Fukunaga’s surprisingly assured directorial debut, “Sin Nombre,” and “The Last Station.” Director Lee Daniels, whose work on “Precious” has been the single most criticized aspect of the somewhat controversial film, nevertheless beat the Coen Brothers work on “A Serious Man,” Fukunaga, James Gray of “Two Lovers,” and Michael Hoffman of “The Last Station.” “Precious” also took the Best First Screenplay. The best not-first screenplay went to Scott Neustader and Michael H. Weber of “(500) Days.”

In the acting categories, Gabourey Sidibe received the Best Female Lead for playing Precious herself and, naturally, Mo’Nique proved to own her category fully across all award shows and won the Best Supporting Female category. Among the males, Jeff Bridges, took the Best Male Lead award that is deemed pretty much his due this year for the country music drama, “Crazy Heart.”

Since the $40 million dollar budget of “Inglourious Basterds” presumably put it beyond the realm of the Spirits, Christoph Waltz was not nominated for Best Supporting Male. Instead, he cut a deal in which he collected the award anyway in return for helping the show to end early. Just kidding. Woody Harrelson in his non-zombie-thwacking mode took the award for his work in the low-key stateside wartime drama, “The Messenger.” (My sympathies to Christian McKay of “Me and Orson Welles” — so much critical praise and so few awards even when this year’s male 500 pound gorilla is safely out of the room.)

Anvil! The Story of AnvilBest Foreign Film went to a film that doesn’t feel so foreign now that England is our 52nd state, “An Education.”  Best Documentary went to one some of you might actually have seen and found fun rather than upsetting, “Anvil! The Story of Anvil” defeated a list that included the highly praised “Food, Inc.” (For whatever reason, “The Cove” was not nominated.) Roger Deakins took the cinematography award for “A Serious Man.”

Among the special awards, the John Cassevettes Award, which goes to a film with a budget of less than $500,000, went to a favorite around these parts, Lynn Shelton’s “Humpday,” edging out another film we’ve kind of taken to our breast here, “Big Fan.” The latter film looked, literally, like a million dollars to me, so kudos to the penny-saving producers on that one. “A Serious Man” won the Robert Altman award for its acting ensemble.

You can see a complete list of nominees and winners here. You can also check and see if Indiewire ever corrects their typos here.

  

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Filmgoing young females end the reign of the Na’vi, finally

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Yes, so for those who read Friday’s post, The Hollywood Reporter‘s Carl DiOrio was wrong and Nikki Finke was more right than even she knew on her first, non-updated, version of her weekend box office post. The Nicholas Sparks adaptation starring Amanda Seyfried and Channing Tatum, “Dear John,” seriously exceeded even the most optimistic expectations this Superbowl weekend and took down, at last, the seven-weekend long domestic box office “Avatar”  juggernaut. The make-up of the audience that generated $32.4 million for Sony and Relativity Media according to Box Office Mojo was not surprising. As per Finke:

Females made up 84% of the opening weekend audience, while 64% of the moviegoers were under age 21.

Still, I should add that this was definitely a case of “Dear John” winning, not so much “Avatar” losing. James Cameron‘s science fiction spectacle from Fox is still holding remarkably well, dropping less than 25% this week and netting some $23.6 million. The distinctly shorter length of “Dear John” is another obvious advantage.

John Travolta in On the other hand, Pierre Morel’s all-out action picture, “From Paris with Love,” starring John Travolta and Jonathan Rhys Meyers is shorter still, but it’s possible this was just the wrong weekend to release that kind of a movie with male fans of balls-out action distracted by the year’s #1 sports event. The film came in a very poor third with only a bit over $8.12 million for Lionsgate. C’est la vie. And here’s one more plug for the Bullz-Eye feature on Parisian-based films of all genres, “We’ll Always Have Paris,” which I say completely without bias or pride of co-authorship.

In other news, “Crazy Heart,” the country music drama featuring a nearly certain Oscar-winning performance from Jeff Bridges, was not a tale of Americana-style heartbreak. It nailed a very respectable $3.65 million in 819 theaters, which got it into this week’s #8 position. The week’s biggest per-screen was for a movie that is technically a television miniseries. The “Red Riding” Trilogy, which originally aired on English television, nailed a per screen average of $15,500 thousand. Of course, that’s in exactly one theater. Still, not bad considering it’s actually three films.

  

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Will “Avatar” become the Octo-b.o. king?

HmmmYes, folks, at last we have a teeny-tiny bit of suspense and disagreement among the prognosticators of b.o. (that’s “box office” for those who’ve never read Variety).  Hot off the news that’s she stands to be mythologized by HBO — and make no mistake, the “no-holds-barred” fictional film blogger “Tilda” will be inspired primarily by Finke and not Sharon Waxman or especially Anne Thompson — she most definitely bars certain holds, including insulting people for sport — Nikki Finke writes that it’s just possible that “Avatar” could be knocked off its perch by a movie that few males will see except under the most extreme forms of feminine duress.

The kicker here, of course, is Superbowl Sunday, when a large majority of the male public will be obsessed with the game as well as the beer and fat-heavy snacks that go with the event. Of course, some women like football, some men lack the sports-obsession gene (that’s me), and lots of people who really don’t follow football at all will still be watching the game with friends and family. But many females will still be flocking to our nation’s cinemas, and the younger ones especially may be attracted to “Dear John.”

The wartime love story is currently at 30% on Rotten Tomatoes and directed by Lasse Hallström,who is a long way from his “My Life as a Dog” days as an arthouse favorite. La Finke notes that Sony and Relativity Media’s sentimental romance starring Amanda Seyfried and Channing Tatum was defeating the mighty Na’vi on Fandango by a margin of 20 percent. Even rival Fox execs concede re: Sony executives’ hopes for an upset: “They are not suckin’ on a crack pipe.”

Still, the more establishment voice of The Hollywood Reporter‘s jolly Carl DiOrio states fairly unequivocally that James Cameron will, in fact, reign for one more week — though that may well be it. Still, I wonder just what kind of pipe he and his editors might have been smoking that allows him to describe the violent action thriller-comedy, “From Paris with Love” as another female skewing movie — it’s certainly not a traditional romance.

From-Paris-With-Love_jpg_595x325_crop_upscale_q85

Okay, the title might skew could be misleading to some (at least those who don’t know their early James Bond), and women certainly won’t mind looking at “The Tudors” star Jonathan Rhys Meyers.  However, take one look at the trailers and clips and it’s clear this is a real testosterone-fest of an over-the-top action film, embodied by a goateed, shaven-headed John Travolta as a brutal CIA agent and Finke is probably right that it could steal some of the male thunder of “Avatar.” Well, everyone’s allowed the occasional foul-up and jolly Carl certainly is part of “everyone.”

The consensus seems to be that the film from future “Dune” director Pierre Morel will perform below the numbers for “Dear John,” especially given a male-drained Sunday. Its reviews, by the way, are about equally underwhelming. On the other hand, this highly biased critic definitely recommends you take a look at “We’ll Always Have Paris”  — a Bullz-Eye feature on Paris-based movies that I had, of course, absolutely nothing to do with.

That’s pretty much all the news that fits save for noteable Oscar-nomination driven expansions in terms of theater count of “Crazy Heart,” the very good “An Education,” and “Precious.”  Those latter two-films especially might also not be harmed by the big game.

Gabourey Sidibe in

  

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Traditional Oscar bait takes a back seat at 2010 Academy Award nominations

Or at least that’s how I read the nominations that were announced this morning at the unholy hour of 5:38 by Anne Hathaway and some guy you never heard of — actually Academy president Tom Sherak. The short version of what happened was that there no huge surprises. “Avatar” and “The Hurt Locker” both got nine nominations, with “Inglourious Basterds” netting eight, and “Precious” and “Up in the Air” getting six apiece. You can see a complete list of the nominations courtesy of Indiewire/Eugene Hernandez, but Nikki Finke was kind enough to perform a handy count-up of the nominations.

“Avatar” 9, “The Hurt Locker” 9, “Inglourious Basterds” 8, “Precious” 6, “Up in the Air” 6, “Up” 5, “District 9” 4, “Nine” 4, “Star Trek” 4, “Crazy Heart” 3, “An Education” 3, “The Princess and the Frog” 3, “The Young Victoria” 3, “The Blind Side” 2, “Fantastic Mr. Fox” 2, “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” 2, “Invictus” 2, “The Last Station” 2, “The Messenger” 2, “A Serious Man” 2, “Sherlock Holmes” 2, “The White Ribbon” 2.

Without going into a lengthy dissertation on what makes for high quality Oscar bait, let’s just say that in many prior Oscar races the fact that “Avatar” is an effects driven space opera and “The Hurt Locker” a rather grim, eye-level, and uncompromising look at men doing an unpleasant job, would have all but eliminated both films. Admittedly, both films, however, benefit from certain features which have helped numerous other films: a certain degree of social consciousness never hurts with Oscar. Of course, really strong political statements are more problematic, but “The Hurt Locker” is simply honest about the psychological effects of war and hard to argue with from any political position, I hope — it could have been made about any war and been equally valid. “Avatar” is considerably more pointed and arguably even partisan, as our conservative friends love to point out, but the protective coloration of science fiction makes it all go down a bit easier.

OscarsOnRedCarpet

As for “Inglourious Basterds,” Quentin Tarantino‘s entire body of work is a poke in the eye to the earnest, highly digestible “socially positive” values and traditionalist presentation preferred by Oscar. The fact that he even gets nominated as much as he does is testament to his unquestionable talent and appeal. “Up in the Air,” which beat “Basterds” in the screenplay category at the Golden Globes, seems like much more like the kind of film that Oscar traditionally favors. It’s non-polarizing nature might also help it with this year’s odd voting system for Best Picture. (Voters rate the films by preference, rather than simply voting for one film.) Still, with ten nominations breaking up the usual demographic voting blocks — with younger voters and older voters sometimes having very different views of the award-worthy nature of genre films, for example — I really think that about half of the films in this category have a pretty serious shot at winning the award.

Now, let’s take a look at the this year’s expanded list of ten Best Picture nominees as provided by Indiewire, doubled to ten this year from the usual five:

“Avatar”, James Cameron and Jon Landau, Producers
“The Blind Side”, Nominees to be determined
“District 9”, Peter Jackson and Carolynne Cunningham, Producers
“An Education”, Finola Dwyer and Amanda Posey, Producers
“The Hurt Locker”, Nominees to be determined
“Inglourious Basterds”, Lawrence Bender, Producer
“Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”, Lee Daniels, Sarah Siegel-Magness and Gary Magness, Producers
“A Serious Man”, Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, Producers
“Up”, Jonas Rivera, Producer
“Up in the Air”, Daniel Dubiecki, Ivan Reitman and Jason Reitman, Producers

Among the dark horses — the films I would be truly surprised to see win best picture — we have the very non-Oscar-baity “A Serious Man” which apparently beat out Tom Ford’s highly acclaimed “A Single Man” in the divisive sub-sub-sub category of minority-group driven movies whose title is “A (S-word) Man.” The Coen Brothers film is a scabrous comedy and also grim in a not obviously socially redeeming way. Disney/Pixar’s “Up”  and Neil Blomkamp’s science-fiction “District 9” are similar to “Avatar” in that they would be more Oscar friendly for certain of their elements (poignant comedy/smart political parable) if they were in non-animated and/or non-sci-fi but, unlike “Avatar,” they haven’t been sweeping up awards anyway.

Oddly enough, the two most traditionally Oscar-friendly films on the list, “The Blind Side” and “An Education,” are both fairly large dark horses in most categories simply because they haven’t won that many awards up to now, the exception being best actress where Sandra Bullock seems to be running neck and neck for Best Actress with Meryl Streep in “Julie and Julia.” “An Education” and “A Serious Man” have the further downside in what I see as fairly ridiculous charges of antisemitism against both films (covered really nicely in this piece from The Jewish Journal). As a person of Jewish ethnicity myself, I think people who feel this way are really missing the point. Still, some of them may be Academy voters.

<a href=”http://cuzoogle.com/2009/02/20/bet-on-the-oscars-and-prove-to-all-you-have-a-problem/”><img class=”aligncenter size-full wp-image-19855″ title=”OscarsOnRedCarpet” src=”http://www.premiumhollywood.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/OscarsOnRedCarpet.jpg” alt=”OscarsOnRedCarpet” width=”477″ height=”318″ /></a>
  

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