Oscar madness kicks into high gear at the DGA and SNL

People who want a real Academy Award horse-race got probably the best possible news last night at the Director’s Guild Awards. As you’ll no doubt be hearing many, many times over the next month or so, the DGA Award for Best Director and the Oscar for Best Director have only not lined up six times in the history of both awards. Also, of course, the directorial Oscar and the Best Picture Oscar often tend to correlate as well because, sometimes rightly but occasionally wrongly, most of the credit for a good movie tends to go to the director.

Those who remained confident that “The Social Network” remained the favorite for an Oscar sweep despite it getting beaten out in the number of Oscar nominations by two films, were given a sharp jolt because the winner last night was not David Fincher, but the extremely talented fact-based-drama specialist Tom Hooper of “The King’s Speech.” Count me among the surprised.

I’ll save for later why I still think the Oscars’ are either movie’s ball game or could easily be a sort split decision. However, in an amusing not quite coincidence, “Social Network” star and Oscar nominee Jessie Eisenberg had a small surprise of his own to reveal as he hosted “Saturday Night Live” last night.

Let’s see Colin Firth pull that off with King George VI. Also, Mark Zuckerberg can’t complain that he was misrepresented in terms of height, at least. H/t Nikki Finke.

The winner in the best documentary DGA category, by the way, was Charles Ferguson of the hugely acclaimed “Inside Job” which might actually guarantee that it won’t win the Best Documentary Oscar, because that’s the way the documentary category often rolls. We’ll see. For you TV fans, I’ll post/paste the complete list of DGA Awards (nice wins for Mick Jackson and Martin Scorsese,) after the flip.

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Academy nominations stay truer to form even than usual

In a funny way, the most surprising thing about this year’s batch of Academy Award nominations was how strongly they stayed true to Oscar’s long-held habits — even a Film Drunk could see it this year. At least in terms of sheer numbers of nominations, the Academy was most generous to a historical/inspirational costume drama from England over a somewhat edgier and less traditionally fashioned tale ripped from today’s business headlines.

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The King’s Speech” led the nominations with 12, followed by “True Grit” with 10, and just eight for “The Social Network” — still very much the front-runner in my opinion — and “Inception.” Though Anne Thompson sees the momentum shifting in a more royal direction, I think it’s a big mistake this time around to read too much into sheer quantity. For example, I would be surprised to see a huge number of non-“technical” awards for “True Grit” or “Inception.” (Roger Deakins’ “True Grit” cinematography and the amazing effects of Christopher Nolan’s team being very likely winners).

Considering where most of the awards have gone so far, the only thing really going for “The King’s Speech” and against the previously prohibitive favorite, “The Social Network,” is aforementioned traditional Oscar genre prejudices and the inevitable backlash most highly acclaimed and award winnings films get. However, outside of infantile attention-hog critic Armond White, I actually haven’t noticed a huge anti-“Network” backlash though there were some off-target feminist complaints. (A movie about an almost literal boys’ club is going to depict a boys’ club atmosphere.) In any case, the rather enormous and still ongoing on- and off-line backlashes against “American Beauty,” “Crash” and “Titanic” clearly didn’t hurt those films’ Oscar prospects one bit.

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A movie moment for Mark Zuckerberg

When it came time for me to do my movie news dump late Friday night, I somehow managed to forget the news item from the middle of the week that Facebook founder and reluctant movie character Mark Zuckerberg had been named Time Magazine‘s Person of the Year. It’s an oversight I can’t bring myself to ignore completely.

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Looking at past selectees, 26 year-old billionaire Zuckerberg is hardly the only one to have a movie made about his exploits. In terms of sheer footage, he’s got nothing on such occasional film lead figures and frequent supporting players as Nelson Mandela, John Kennedy, Franklin Roosevelt, Mohandas Gandhi and, most frequent of all, Adolf Hitler.

What is unique about Zuckerberg is that “The Social Network” came out the same year as his selection and, in a peculiar way, probably helped him to get it. Reading the Time article about Zuckerberg by geek journalist and fantasy novelist Lev Grossman, I can only marvel at some very shrewd PR work by someone. The article goes out of its way to present a highly sympathetic alternative from the “angry-robot” of the movie to a figure more akin to the stiff but kindly Tin Woodman. If writer Aaron Sorkin and director David Fincher portrayed Zuckerberg as a bit like the treacherous Ash from “Alien,” Grossman turns him into the quirky but lovable Data from “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” The words “Eduardo Saverin” and the legal troubles portrayed in the film are never mentioned in the online version of the article that I read.

I strongly suspect Zuckerberg’s knowledge of movie history doesn’t extend much further back than “Alien.” However, even with all the image rebuffing a billionaire’s money and power affords him, I’m sure he’d prefer the old days of movie biopics where, if powerful celebrities were portrayed at all, they were portrayed positively. Not only were possibly imaginary warts not added, as they might have been by Sorkin and Fincher, very real ones were actively removed.

I’ve never seen it, but check out the trailer below for Billy Wilder’s 1957 biopic about perhaps the most ironically similar Time Person of the Year (back when it was “Man of the Year”) to Zuckerberg, aviation pioneer Charles A. Lindbergh. As the L.A. Times reminds us, Lindbergh was also the first person chosen and the only one younger than the Facebook fonder. What Zuckerberg feels he is doing to bring people together virtually, Lindbergh was instrumental in doing physically by demonstrating that a nonstop flight from New York to Paris was possible. At this point in history at least, in some ways Lindbergh’s achievement still dwarfs Zuckerberg’s. That may change fairly soon, but there’s no doubt what Lindbergh did commanded a huge personal risk and, eventually, a personal price with the most infamous kidnapping and murder case in American history.

Ironically, while it might said that the Jewish American Sorkin went hammer and tong against the Jewish Zuckerberg, Billy Wilder by all accounts went easy on the famous flyer when, under the circumstances, it would be entirely understandable for Wilder to despise Lindbergh. Working thirty years after the famous flight of “Lucky Lindy,” Wilder was able to completely ignore Lindbergh’s highly controversial early opposition to World War II and qualified support for Hitler as a bulwark against the Soviet Union, his antisemitism, white supremacist beliefs (though hardly unusual at the time), and links to the more openly Jew-hating Henry Ford. Wilder you see, was not just a liberal Jew who advocated for U.S. involvement in the war, but an actual escapee from Hitler’s Europe whose immediate family perished at Auschwitz.

If there was any revenge by Wilder at all, star James Stewart was nearly 50 when the movie was released, double the age Lindbergh was when he came to fame. Jessie Eisenberg might be, unusually for the movies, smaller and less physically fit looking than the real-life Zuckerberg, but at least he’s still only 27.

  

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L.A., New York online, and Boston Critics speak and “The Social Network” is the word + the AFI’s Top 10 (updated)

Jessie Eisenberg in

Three major critics groups gave out their awards on Sunday and, while there were differences, the common thread isn’t going to give Facebook boy billionaire Mark Zuckerberg any relief for his PR agita. The awards also have some good news for Best Actress contender Natalie Portman and possible Best Supporting Actor shoo-in Christian Bale. Among the Best Actor possibilities, however, it was a split with between actors portraying Zuckerberg and his fellow real-life guys turned movie characters, Aron Ralston, and King George VI.

Simply because of geography, the Los Angeles Film Critics is probably the most influential group. The awards here, however, were the quirkiest of the three, with a split of sorts between “The Social Network” and this year’s cinephile cause celebre, “Carlos,” which may well be shut out of the Oscars altogether for a number of reasons. Though a shorter cut of the reportedly action-packed-yet-thoughtful multi-lingual French film about the real-life left-wing terrorist of the 1970s has been playing to general plaudits, a 5.5 hour television version of the film by Olivier Assayas has had shorter but successful engagements here at the American Cinematheque and is much on the mind of many of us film geeks (I just blew another chance to watch it all in a theater and I’m not happy about it.)

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Assayas and “Network” director David Fincher tied while Fincher’s movie won Best Picture with “Carlos” as the runner up and also the Best Foreign Film winner. Aaron Sorkin won for his “Social” screenplay while Colin Firth won best actor for “The King’s Speech,” the first runner-up in the category was Edgar Rameriz for playing Carlos, yet another real life person.  Kim Hye-Ja from the cinephile-approved Korean thriller “Mother” and Niels Arestrup from France’s violent “A Prophet” won in the Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor categories. While those awards are unlikely to be replicated by the Oscars, Jacki Weaver’s hopes for a possible Oscar nomination and even a win for the Australian critical and festival hit, “Animal Kingdom,” are looking up ever more with another Best Supporting Actress award. The LAFC site has the complete list of winners.

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It’s your of end the week movie news non-filibuster

While Bernie Sanders did his thing on the floor of the senate today, Hollywood liberals, and a few conservatives too, we’re busy doing their thing so that the guys who owned all the studios would have all the more money to save from their big, big tax break. To wit…

* Robert Rodriguez and the other makers of  the modestly budgeted “Machete” got a nasty surprise from the Texas Film Commission, which appears to be reneging on $1.7 million in tax rebates. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, It has something to do with a law against providing the incentives to films portraying Texas and/or Texans negatively. Every film portrays people negatively. This reeks of political selectivity, probably related to the film’s deliberately nonpartisan lampooning of anti-immigrant hysteria and demagogic politicians. “Machete” goes out of its way to avoid naming the evil politician played by Robert De Niro as a member of either party, in fact.

If Texas doesn’t change it’s tune, and fast, I agree for once with the L.A. Times‘ Patrick Goldstein and seriously hope nobody from outside the state shoots a single foot of film in Texas until such time as the state seeks to elect non-mouthbreathers to statewide office. They have, indeed, fucked with the wrong Mexican.

Danny Trejo is

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