Movies

“We were happy here, for a little while”: Thoughts on THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

(Spoilers ahead) I once mentioned to a friend that the air in Europe feels different. It’s denser than air in the United States, heavy but sweet. I thought it might be Europe’s northern latitude, the different kinds of trees and plants, or maybe that the barometric pressure affected my sinuses. Then my friend, sort of a Continental person in her own right, stopped me and said, “It’s because the air in Europe is full of memory.”

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL captures that feeling of tangible memory. The movie is hilarious, suspenseful, and even violent, but every scene is cast in a precious haze. Most of the movie is an extended recollection. Ralph Fiennes is Gustave H., a concierge at the center of a caper in the fictional European country of Zubrowka, ca.1932. Decades later, an author (Jude Law) converses at the run-down hotel with F. Murray Abraham’s character, owner of a vast fortune and a “lively…but deeply alone” face.

It’s the perfect subject matter for director Wes Anderson, who sometimes draws fire for trading “real” emotion in favor of delicate set-pieces, symmetrical frames, etc. But Anderson, a nostalgic if there ever was one, has been on a hot streak lately. BUDAPEST–a love letter to Old Europe—is a good fit for his style of film making. With its quick cuts, pans, and jerky motions of the characters, the movie comes off as a hybrid between a stop-motion fantasy and “real-life.” It’s a true delight filmed inside a cuckoo clock.

Gustave and his protégé, Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori), race all over Zubrowka – a country full of alpine mountains, haunted estates, and all classes of rail-cars. While the movie takes place all over this fantastical country, the Grand Budapest Hotel represents all that was elegant and humane about pre-war Europe. To crib from my favorite Wes Anderson movie, the Grand Budapest is Gustave and Zero’s Rushmore. After Zero fails to impress Gustave with a spotty resume (Zero is on a trial period at the hotel pending Gustave’s approval), Gustave asks why he even wants work as a lobby boy. Zero answers honestly – “Who wouldn’t…at the Grand Budapest, sir? It’s an institution.” A slow smile spreads across Gustave’s face. He’s found a kindred soul. Later, distraught after insulting Zero, Gustave reaches for the proper words to convey his regret. He sputters, “This is…this is…below the standards of the Grand Budapest!” As Zero says later in the movie about Gustave, the two “shared a vocation,” less of a job and more of an identity rooted in a specific time and place.

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Ralph Fiennes is perfect in his comic timing and easy switches between gentility and ribaldry. He also has a curious way of movement. I don’t think anyone in Hollywood runs more hilariously than he does. The rest of the cast, with many of the usual Anderson regulars, seem like they’re enjoying all of the madcap situations. There are jailbreaks, high-speed chases, men posing as priests, silhouetted leaps across rooftops. Zero and Agatha’s romance, especially as it relates to F. Murray Abraham’s character, is a gorgeous depiction of memory and loss. A lovely close-up of Saoirse Ronan tells you all you need to know about Zero’s depth of feeling, what kind of world he inhabits, and what he’ll have to endure over the rest of his life.

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The comedy and preciousness in BUDAPEST is definitely leavened with a certain amount of doom. We see some darkness on display and a high body count–I’m still struck by how violent this movie is. Anderson throws out familiar horror and thriller tropes to great effect –they’re not exactly as tongue-in-cheek as you might expect from him. A chase sequence between Jeff Goldbum and Willem Dafoe’s characters brought to mind a similar scene from the 1949 noir The Third Man. Gustave, Zero and Agatha encounter a death squad officer in a truly terrifying scene, especially if you’re familiar with the kinds of atrocities committed in the Eastern European killing fields. Evil is all around the edges of Gustave and Zero’s story.

This works precisely because Anderson has always yearned for something that is lost. In BUDAPEST, he doesn’t shy from depicting the forces that stole his characters’ golden period away. Gustave has a moment just before the last big action sequence, when he recites to himself a poem about the end of an era. The gray-coated fascists (I forget the Zubrowkan word for Nazis) have taken over the hotel. Gustave would rather never see his home again than see them tarnish it. Their arrival spells the end of Gustave’s elegant era, and I get the sense that Gustave foresaw this end coming. But Gustave must go inside his ruined home to complete the story.

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“His kind of world was gone long before he came into it. But he certainly sustained the illusion with a marvelous grace.”

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Anatomy of a Best Picture: 12 Years a Slave

My achilles heel as a filmgoer has always been my ability to create unrealistic expectations for a highly anticipated movie. When 12 Years a Slave began making the festival rounds, earning glowing praise at each stop, I immediately took notice. Critics hailed it as a “game changer” and talked about it being a film experience that rivaled Spielberg’s Schindler’s List in its emotional impact. It instantly rocketed to the forefront of the Best Picture race and positioned itself as the film to beat during awards season. I visited all of my most trusted critics websites such as Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic which heaped plaudits on the production awarding it universal acclaim. I envisioned how the film would play out in my mind and I expected to experience one of the most moving and unflinching portraits of slavery in the history of the medium. When I finally did see 12 Years in the cinema I remember feeling strangely unmoved. I thought it was a very good movie that was handsomely mounted and powerfully acted but it wasn’t a masterpiece. Was I missing something? Did I allow my sky high expectations to mute what I had witnessed? I knew a second viewing would be essential before I could put my feelings on paper.

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Flash forward 4 months later, 12 Years a Slave triumphed at the 86th Academy Awards taking home 3 gold statues including the coveted Best Picture trophy. A week later, it was released on home video. I immediately went to the Target near my apartment and purchased a copy. I watched it a second time from the comforts of home that evening. I thought to myself, now free from the expectations I had placed on it, I could appreciate the film for what it was instead of what I wanted it to be in my mind. Surprisingly, this second viewing did not clear up my feelings about this film and, in fact, I found more flaws this time around then in my initial viewing. What the Hell was going on? Have I become some curmudgeon, incapable of feeling what thousands of critics and audience members felt around the world? Perhaps, I need to let this film continue to simmer in my thoughts. Until then, I will try to explain my reasoning behind why I was left underwhelmed by this film. Please feel free to disagree with me, I welcome the dialogue.

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In 1853, Solomon Northup released his memoir entitled Twelve Years a Slave. The work recounted his incredible story of surviving the antebellum south, toiling away on plantations under numerous masters both surprisingly genteel and incredibly cruel. What made Solomon’s tale all the more extraordinary was that he began his life as free man in Saratoga, New York. A well educated, soft spoken musician with a wife and two young children, Solomon was kidnapped in Washington D.C. and sold into slavery in Louisiana where he would endure a hellish existence that played out like a living nightmare. Director Steve McQueen uses Northup’s tale as a canvass to depict both a brutal, eye-opening account of slave life and an incredible story of survival from the depths of despair.

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Now it may seem, based on my initial commentary, that I flat out disliked this movie. Nothing could be further from the truth. On the contrary, there is much that I admired about McQueen’s film starting with the director himself. I was first introduced to his work two years ago, when he released his riveting portrait of sex addiction, Shame, in 2011. I appreciated the way he challenged his audiences with difficult subject matter and never made them too comfortable. He dove headfirst into the darkest recesses of the human condition and managed to do so without the slightest whiff of exploitation. These comments also apply to 12 Years a Slave. Here is an American production that asks its audience to tackle the subject of slavery head on and without remorse, to acknowledge the past sins of our nation so that we may reach some semblance of catharsis. McQueen is an unblinking, nonjudgmental presence that observes unspeakable atrocities and leaves it to the audience to come to their own conclusions. However, it may be his more academic style that also left me so cold emotionally. I so desperately wanted to feel something during my viewing experience and it just never happened. Perhaps McQueen didn’t want to pander the audience with overt emotional manipulation. Either way, the film engaged my mind and left me with much to reflect on.

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On the acting front there is, with one glaring exception, no fault to be found. Chiwetel Ejiofor, one of those actors who everyone recognizes but can’t recall his name, is magnificent as Northup. Playing a real life character who went from freedom to bondage and back again required Ejiofor to run the gamut of human emotions. Shock, confusion, anger, sadness, despair, he hits every nuance with subtlety and grace. What’s especially noteworthy is how he uses his face, and particularly his eyes, to express these emotions. McQueen elected, rightly I think, to forgo a voiceover narration in this film, requiring Ejiofor to portray much of what was written in Northup’s memoir without words. Viewing the film, you witness firsthand his triumph.

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Ample praise also goes to McQueen regular Michael Fassbender for his volcanic portrayal of slave master Edwin Epps. Described as a “nigger breaker” he uses scripture as justification for his vicious treatment of slaves on his plantation. After he doles out a particularly vicious beating he states, “Sin? There is no sin here. Scripture dictates a man can do as he pleases with his property!” He stumbles around like a lunatic, often drunk, terrorizing all in his path. Epps also harbors a twisted affection for one of his slave girls, Patsey, whom he rapes on an almost nightly basis. Fassbender, with his piercing blue eyes, is ferocious in this portrayal. One of the most truly evil characters since Ralph Fiennes psychopathic Nazi commandant, Amon Goeth, graced the screen, Fassbender makes Epps compulsively watchable even at his most odious.

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Newcomer Lupita Nyong’o, who plays the aforementioned Patsey, is also a real find. The heartbreaking scene where she begs Solomon to end her life probably locked up her Oscar win. A luminescent talent, I look forward to where her career takes her. Sterling supporting work from Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, and Sarah Paulson also deserve praise. There is one weak link to be found acting wise, and its a big one. Brad Pitt’s portrayal of Bass, the sympathetic Canadian laborer who ultimately helps Solomon obtain his freedom, is horribly miscalculated. This film is full of character actors that, while recognizable, are capable artists who disappear into their roles. Brad Pitt is a movie star, NOT a character actor. His appearance is distracting and has the effect of taking the audience out the film. You’re totally aware that it’s Brad Pitt, not Bass, that you’re watching. Im aware that Pitt is one of the producers of this film and he was instrumental in getting the film made, however, this doesn’t warrant him getting cast in a pivotal role. A bad mistake on the part of the filmmakers that is only magnified on repeated viewings.

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One of the oddest things about discussing 12 Years a Slave is that, despite harrowing subject matter and content, it’s absolutely gorgeous to look at. Filmed on location in New Orleans on several former slave plantations, the crew nails the look of the antebellum south. Lots of wide angled shots of sun drenched fields, beautiful oak trees, Spanish moss blowing in the wind, peaceful bayous gorgeously magnified by the colors of the sun. Its almost as if the set is mocking the horrific events that took place there. McQueen himself stated that he wanted the visuals in this film to evoke the works of Spanish painter Francisco Goya, “When you think about Goya, who painted the most horrendous pictures of violence and torture and so forth, and they’re amazing, exquisite paintings, one of the reasons they’re such wonderful paintings is because what he’s saying is, ‘Look – look at this.’ So if you paint it badly or put it in the sort of wrong perspective, you draw more attention to what’s wrong with the image rather than looking at the image.” One such scene, in which Solomon is almost lynched, demonstrates this perfectly. He is drawn up but then dropped and left to dangle, using his tip-toes to avoid strangulation, he proceeds into a sort of grotesque ballet to stay alive. McQueen holds this shot for an agonizing period of time, the only soundtrack being the growing chirp of cicadas as the hours stretch into dusk. The beauty of the surroundings in this shot provide stark contrast to the man struggling for his life at its center.

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Before I bring this piece to a close, I’d like to pose a few questions which I’ve been pondering since I watched this film. Firstly, if 12 Years a Slave is indeed the most realistic depiction of slavery in America, was it right to frame it through a survival story? Solomon Northup was an exceptional, intelligent man who could both read and write. He garnered preferential treatment from most of the masters he served under. Here was a man dropped into incredible circumstances and just as suddenly snatched out of the Hell fire. What about the many who weren’t so lucky to know true freedom? A similar criticism was launched at Spielberg and Schindler’s List. Is it a true depiction of the Holocaust to focus on 1100 Jews who miraculously survived versus the 6 million murdered? Perhaps to reach a mass audience, the filmmakers looked for an entry point where the public could grapple with the subject matter and not fall into despair. Secondly, why has it taken so long to bring a story like this to the screen? And why not from an American filmmaker? If you didn’t know, McQueen is British. Is the subject still too uncomfortable for us to confront? I don’t think so. Perhaps this film will open up the proverbial can of worms and push other filmmakers to have an honest dialogue about slavery as part of American history in their own works.

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12 Years a Slave is a difficult film and should be applauded for the important questions it asks of it’s audience. We are asked to do a lot of heavy lifting as we sift through the dark maelstrom of the human condition. Powerfully acted and beautifully shot, it didn’t deliver the emotional haymaker I was expecting. It engaged my mind but didn’t touch my heart. A very good film, even necessary, but I stop short of calling it a masterpiece. Grade: B+

Before GRAVITY: Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men

By Jonathan Babin

Most people who are film lovers have a firm recollection of the first film that genuinely changed their understanding of what the medium can achieve when it reaches its zenith. For me, that fond memory takes me back to high school. A friend of mine asked if I wanted to go see some movie called Children of Men. I had really no idea what the film was about, but I happily went along. This particular friend also had a fondness for good films, so I figured he knew what he was doing in this scenario.

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For years since that fateful night in early 2007, the film has stuck with me in ways most other films have not. Sitting in that theater on that given evening, I was witness to something extraordinary unfolding on screen. For those not familiar, Children of Men follows Theo (played brilliantly by Clive Owen) as he is thrust into the perilous role of caregiver for a young girl who has become pregnant. Doesn’t sound like much on the surface, I know. But Children of Men takes place in a future in which women can no longer get pregnant. Thus, this pregnancy is a truly miraculous occasion that puts both Theo and the young girl, who goes by Kee, in immense danger. Challenged for control of the girl’s destiny by the Fishes, a radical group led by the always masterful Chiwetel Ejiofor (Luke) and Theo’s ex-wife Julian (Julianne Moore), Theo must sacrifice everything to help get Kee to safety.

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There are many things that make Children of Men special in my mind. First, the performances are dazzling. Clive Owen has never been better as the unwitting citizen thrust into the mission of a lifetime. Supported superbly by Moore, Ejiofor, and newcomer Clare-Hope Ashitey as Kee, Owen takes the character of Theo to a place of compassion, nuance, and gives him a survivalist mentality that entrenches you in the singular goal of getting Kee and her baby out of harm’s way. Oh, and there’s Michael Caine. Sure, the tried and true thespian has had so many notable roles that it is hard to name them all, but Children of Men marks one of his five best. Yes, I said five best. He plays Theo’s stoner pal Jasper, a lovable, hilarious, tender, and thoughtful renegade who looks out for Theo and helps him along the way with a singular screen presence that few other actors in history have been able to match.

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Second, the visual effects (you can see where Cuaron was able to sharpen his skills for Gravity) are something to behold. There is a harrowing and hyper-realistic chase sequence between a car and several motorcycles. Shot from inside the car on a rig that defied the conventions of modern film making, this sequence has been hailed as one of the best tracking shots ever done on celluloid. In the film’s final act, another long take of Theo running for his life to escape all-out destruction of a war torn village is another achievement of the highest order. Alfonso Cuaron and his cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki are a tandem that few other director/cinematographer combinations in Hollywood can match in terms of their technical skill and precision in crafting shots that leave audiences wondering how it is they saw what they just saw. It is a true shame and travesty that Children of Men did not win Best Cinematography or Achievement in Film Editing, two of the three awards it was nominated for at the 2007 Academy Awards. Further still, the fact that it wasn’t even nominated for Best Picture keeps me up at night to this day. Okay, not really. But in the long line of Oscar injustices, this one will always be near the top for me

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All technical achievements and brilliant performances aside, Children of Men represents a film about hope. It epitomizes the idea that all people should strive for something more and that when given the opportunity to do something extraordinary for the common good of society, no one is immune from being chosen. Poignant, hilarious at times, thought-provoking, and revolutionary considering it is almost ten years old in a few years, Children of Men is a film that more people should see and deserves to be mentioned as one of the grandest achievements of the 2000s. Coming in the middle of a decade with so many memorable films, Children of Men somehow got lost in the shuffle. Perhaps it was the lack of recognition during awards season. Perhaps it was the limited release. Perhaps it was the lack of star power or a big-name director (at the time.) Alfonso Cuaron is now a power player in Hollywood from the director’s chair with the overwhelming success of Gravity, but few knew him in 2007. Whatever it was, Children of Men slipped through the cracks. Many films revered as classics have held that same fate but have thrived when re-examined in later years. In time, I hope Children of Men can reach that lofty position that I think it deserves.

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Children of Men is my favorite film. I highly encourage anyone reading this blog to find a way to see it. Its ability to frustrate, dazzle, uplift, and inspire hope is not a combination many films offer.

Breaking Down the 2014 Academy Awards, Kyle Bush Style

This year, as some of you may know, I took a new job and relocated from my home state of Texas to the East Bay of California. It’s certainly been an adjustment for me. I’ve lived in Texas my entire life and Cali is about as different an environment from the Lone Star state as you can get. Being separated from friends and family has been challenging and loneliness has taken a toll from time to time. Now, I’m not here to pander for your sympathy. I mean, manning up and growing a pair of stones is part of becoming an adult. I’m 25 years old for christ’s sake, getting out of your comfort zone is important for your intellectual and spiritual growth right? Anyways, as is often the case when a great change has occurred for me, I’ve taken solace in the comfy confines of the local movie theater more than ever. Lucky for me it’s been an absolute embarrassment of riches this year movie wise and I’ve had the chance to see all of the prestige pictures in the theater for the first time in awhile. I find myself being in a unique position to discuss the Oscar race. So, this being exactly one week until the 86th Academy Awards, I’d like to break down the big categories for my faithful readers and offer my analysis on who’s going to walk home with the coveted gold statues on Hollywood’s biggest night. Please read on dear readers and enjoy.

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The Best Picture Race: (12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, Her, Nebraska, Philomena, The Wolf of Wall Street)

2013 features one of the strongest groups of films nominated for Best Picture in years. I’ve seen 7, only Nebraska and Philomena remain to be watched, and they all made my top 10 best films of the year list. It was common thought amongst the illuminati of the industry that Steve McQueen’s staggering adaptation of Solomon Northup’s memoir, 12 Years a Slave, was the movie to beat this year for the big prize. Receiving rapturous buzz after its first screening at the Toronto Film Festival, many believed it would coast through awards season to easily capture the gold. It’s been labeled the “Big, Important movie,” providing a harrowing portrait of the slave experience in Ante-Bellum America. Many of you know that oscar voting is a highly political endeavor. Members of the academy would love to honor a challenging film that holds up a mirror to the grave sins of our country’s history. However, I hesitate to call this race quite yet. Alfonso Cuaron’s game changing space odyssey Gravity should not be overlooked. The film event of 2013, Gravity was THE movie to experience at the theater. A stunning achievement of state of the art special effects and technology, this picture was also a gripping survival story. Universally acclaimed by audiences and critics alike, Gravity could be the film that swipes the brass ring this year. Finally, if there is a dark horse candidate this year, don’t forget about David O. Russell’s American Hustle. Based on the Abscam scandal that took place in the 1970’s, this comedy/drama featured the best ensemble cast and was also one of the most flat out entertaining times at the movies this year.

What will win: 12 Years a Slave. The academy will make the big political statement by honoring Steve McQueen’s slavery epic. However, in my opinion, its not the best film of this bunch. Surprisingly it hasn’t stuck with me and wasn’t the emotional gut-punch I was expecting.

What should win: The Wolf of Wall Street. My personal favorite of this crop of films, Scorsese’s portrait of notorious stock broker Jordan Belfort was the wildest, most viciously entertaining movie of the year. Highly controversial, and perhaps misunderstood, Wolf asked tough questions and offered no easy answers.

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The Best Director Race: (Alfonso Cuaron, Steve McQueen, Alexander Payne, David O. Russell, Martin Scorsese)

Alfonso Cuaron owns this category and should be brushing up on his acceptance speech as I type these words. Even though it’s typical for the Academy to honor the director of the film that ultimately goes on to win Best Picture, I foresee a Picture/Director split this year between 12 Years and Gravity. Cuaron undertook a massive challenge with Gravity. Much of the technology needed for the making of the film hadn’t even been developed when it began shooting. The voters love to honor Directors who push the boundaries of film making and Cuaron’s achievement has been hailed as one of the greatest technological feats since 2001: A Space Odyssey. I wouldn’t bet against him.

Who will win: Cuaron. He already should have a Best Director trophy for his masterful work on Children of Men, this will provide vindication from the Academy.

Who should win: Cuaron. However, if I were to chose an alternate, Scorsese did some of his finest, funniest work in years on Wolf of Wall Street. The 71 year old master filmmaker still loves to push the boundaries of decency and court controversy.

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The Best Actor Race: (Christian Bale, Bruce Dern, Leonardo DiCaprio, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Matthew McConaughey)

Matthew McConaughey is clearly an actor who understands his history. Looking back over the years, there are 3 things that voters love regarding Academy Award winning performances: 1) An actor who portrays a real life person. 2) Playing someone with a debilitating/life threatening illness. 3) Undergoing a shocking real life physical transformation for the role. Check, check, and check. McConaughey’s performance as Ron Woodroof, a cowboy diagnosed HIV positive in the 80’s who became one of the most vocal crusaders against government approved AIDs treatment, was certainly a revelation. On a big time resurgence as of late, McConaughey reaches the pinnacle of his career with this role. It would be a shock if he went home empty handed next week. Hoping to play the spoiler, former front-runner Chiwetel Ejiofor may surprise if it turns out to be 12 Years a Slave’s night. Ejiofor’s performance as true life freemen turned slave Solomon Northup is a haunting and deeply moving portrayal. Tightly controlled, his eyes big pools of sorrow, Ejiofor makes you feel every second of his horrific plight onscreen. Don’t count him out.

Who will win: McConaughey. He delivers the best work of his career, both multi-faceted and deeply moving. I don’t see an upset in this category. Bring home the gold for Texas Matt. Hook em.

Who should win: McConaughey. If not him, then DiCaprio, who gives the most complex performance of his career as the aforementioned Jordan Belfort. Charming, funny, and sometimes viciously terrifying, Leo nails every wrinkle of his character. Working with Scorsese always brings out the best in DiCaprio and this may be the crown jewel of their frequent collaborations.

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The Best Actress Race: (Amy Adams, Cate Blanchett, Sandra Bullock, Judi Dench, Meryl Steep)

Cate Blanchett’s tour-de-force performance as the title character in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine has been winning raves and collecting accolades since it was released last summer. Making a clean sweep of all the precursor awards, Blanchett is a lock for her second Oscar. I finally got a chance to see Blue Jasmine after I blind bought it the other day at Best Buy and I was stunned by Blanchett’s work. Playing a housewife in the midst of a full blown mental breakdown following the arrest of her Bernie Madoff-esque husband, Blanchett is in a class of her own this year. If anything can derail her hopes, the recent scandal that developed regarding Woody Allen’s alleged rape of his adopted daughter Dylan Farrow when she was a child could be the straw that broke the camels back. I hope and pray the Academy isn’t foolish enough to punish Blanchett because of these allegations.

Who will win: Blanchett. No one else is even close in this category.

Who should win: Blanchett. If by some miracle she loses, than Amy Adams’ sexy portrayal as con woman Sydney Prosser in American Hustle is next on the list. Adams has been doing award caliber work for years and she is an Academy favorite, her time will come very soon.

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The Best Supporting Actor Race: (Barkhad Abdi, Bradley Cooper, Michael Fassbender, Jonah Hill, Jared Leto)

After close to a 5 year hiatus from acting, Jared Leto returned with a bang in Dallas Buyer’s Club. Leto plays Rayon, a drug addicted, transgender woman with AIDS who becomes an unlikely friend to McConaughey’s character in the film. A heartbreaking portrayal, Leto should be another surefire winner next Sunday. If anyone could pull off the upset, watch out for Michael Fassbender, whose ferocious performance as slave owner Edwin Epps in 12 Years a Slave stole the show from a supremely talented cast.

Who will win: Leto. He gave a sympathetic, moving performance completely holding his own with the equally magnetic performance from McConaughey. Leto also swept all of the precursor acting awards and should be clearing some space on his mantle for his Oscar trophy come Sunday.

Who should win: Fassbender. He gave the most three-dimensional portrayal of a truly evil character since Ralph Fiennes in Schindler’s List. Unfairly snubbed in the Best Actor category two years ago for his riveting performance in Steve Mcqueen’s Shame, he should be recognized for his brilliant work here.

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The Best Supporting Actress Race: (Sally Hawkins, Jennifer Lawrence, Lupita Nyong’o, Julia Roberts, June Squibb)

This years Best Supporting Actress race has quickly evolved into a two-horse race between Lupita Nyong’o and Jennifer Lawrence. The former portrays Patsey, a slave girl who lives a tormented existence on the plantation of Edwin Epps in 12 Years a Slave. In her film debut, Nyong’o is a breathtaking talent. Beginning the race as the sure frontrunner, her momentum has been stalled recently by Lawrence. Her role as Christian Bale’s wife Rosalyn in American Hustle is pure comedic gold. Stealing every scene she’s in, Lawrence is dynamite. You miss her every time she’s offscreen. Now, I’ll be the first to tell you, I wasn’t the biggest fan of her Oscar winning performance in last years Silver Linings Playbook. I thought she was overrated and undeserving of the praise she received for that film. However, I think she nailed it here. It may be too close to call but my head tells me Nyong’o takes the trophy this year though my heart is with Lawrence.

Who will win: Lean Nyong’o, though its very close. She was an absolute revelation in 12 Years a Slave.

Who should win: Lawrence. I wasn’t on board with her talent at first but she won me over with her hilarious work in Hustle. I loved this performance. Two Oscars in as many years, all by the age of 24, would be quite the feat.

Other Random Predictions:

. Despite the best efforts of the host and the producers, this years show will still drag over 3 and half hours in length.

. Of the winners, Cate Blanchett will give the classiest speech of the bunch.

. Whomever wins Best Supporting Actress will cry. Mark my words.

. At least one winner will give a shout out to recently deceased actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

. The camera will pan to George Clooney more than any other actor throughout the broadcast.

. There will be one too many montages and/or unnecessary musical numbers.

. After Seth Macfarlane’s controversial stint as host last year, Ellen DeGeneres will generally play it safe with her commentary.

Well, thats it folks. Enjoy the show and I look forward to discussing the aftermath next week. Until next time.

Giving In: The First One

Well, I’ve finally done it. I’ve caved in and decided to join the 21st century by starting a blog. I am notoriously behind the times when it comes to new media. I was one of the last members of my High School class to join Facebook. I don’t Tweet, Pin, Instagram, Snapchat, Tinder, or any any of that other bullshit. I don’t particularly have anything against these forms of social expression or the people that utilize them, I just don’t care to take part in them. Maybe its the spirit of the grumpy 75 year old man that inhabits my 25 year old body. Maybe I’m not that vain. Or maybe I am and I just want to conceal that fact from the  world at large. Shit I don’t know. So, if Im so not of the times, then why am I writing a blog you ask? This is a fair question and with this first post, hopefully I will have answered it.

For those who don’t know me, my name is Kyle Bush and I love movies. I realize that this statement isn’t exactly going to set the world on fire or the blogosphere atwitter, but it’s the truth. More than just the act of watching movies though, I thoroughly enjoy film criticism. Simply put, I get a kick out of bullshitting with people about the movies I watch. All of this was kickstarted Christmas of 1997 when I was 9 years old. My parents gave me a gift that would irrevocably change the course of my life. No, it wasn’t a Beanie Baby. It was the 1998 Leonard Maltin Movie guide. 1600 pages jam packed with reviews of just about every movie made in human existence. I was completely enraptured in this thing. I lugged the hefty tome with me wherever I went. Car trips, visits to the doctor, restaurants, bathrooms, Grandma’s house, everywhere I went this thing was under the crook of my arm. I poured through the pages, check marking all of the movies I’d seen and circling movies that I added to a “wish list” for future viewings. Before I get too far ahead of myself though, let me take a step back and briefly explain the set up for this gem of a reference guide. Films are listed in the guide alphabetically. Each entry contains the title of the movie, a list of cast and crew, a brief 200 or so word review, and a rating scaled from Bomb (Piece of shit) to 4 stars (Masterpiece). Ok, now back to my story. I was obsessed with this thing. I remember thinking to myself how cool it must be to get paid to watch movies and then rip them apart on a daily basis. “That’s the kind of job I want,” I would tell my folks with as much certainty as a 9 year old can muster, “I want to be a film critic.”

Now, with this thought germinating in my brain, I rolled up my sleeves and got to work. I went on a movie watching tear over the next few years. Blockbuster was like a sacred space for me and I relished trips there like a kid on the way to Disneyland. I watched the works of the new auteurs (Tarantino, Anderson, etc) then trekked backwards to the living masters, (Scorsese, Coppola, Spielberg) and finally the legends (Hitchcock, Kubrick, Welles, etc). I would rate the pros and cons of every movie I watched and assign it a star rating, all in my head mind you, then I would flip through and see how closely my thoughts matched up with my old buddy Leonard Maltin. Often I was in agreement with his assessments, other times I was completely flabbergasted with his idiocy. I remember shouting, “2 out of 4 stars for Taxi Driver? You’ve got to be fucking kidding me?!,”  completely startling my parents several rooms away. These types of exclamations became commonplace around our house as I grew older. I was on my way.

In 2000, my life as a wannabe film critic was again changed forever with my introduction to Roger Ebert. Again around Christmas time, maybe it was my birthday, I was gifted the 2001 edition of the Roger Ebert movie guide. Now this bad boy was nothing like its Leonard Maltin counterpart. Around 700 or so pages, this volume was filled with film essays from the previous year. Lengthier pieces that really delved down into the nitty gritty of what he viewed. Ebert was then the chief film critic of the Chicago Sun Times and was lauded across the country as one of the best and brightest in his field. He even won a Pulitzer Prize for criticism in 1975 for his works, the first and only film critic to have that distinction. It didn’t take much time at all for Ebert to quickly become my all time favorite film critic. I greatly admired his writing style. His pieces were thoughtful, entertaining, well written, and above all accessible. He didn’t come across as a film snob, even with his considerable credentials. He didn’t talk down to his audience. He was just a regular guy that loved movies and sharing that passion with his readers. It was a very infectious quality. Over the next decade or so I would always make the annual purchase of Roger’s latest movie guide and proceed to fly through the pages like it was a Tom Clancy bestseller. I also began venturing online to his website where I would read his archived reviews from decades past. In his later years, I even began following his blog. Just last year, April 2013 to be exact, Roger Ebert passed away after battling with Thyroid cancer. I was very saddened at his passing because honestly I felt like I knew him. You could hear his voice clearly in his reviews and he would often pepper them with biographical tidbits from his life as well. It was like a friend had died, not just a random stranger. It’s really Roger Ebert who I owe thanks to for finally growing a pair and sitting down to write this movie blog.

Now, before you start, I just wanted to remind you that in no way do I think I’m going to be the “Next Roger Ebert.” I would have to be the biggest egotistical dickweed in the world to think such a thing. What I am saying is that Ebert was a huge influence on me and I hope that I am able to emulate aspects of his style as I embark on this next phase in my life as a wannabe movie critic.

Anyways, in bringing this first post to a close, I wanted to give a firm answer to the question I posed in the beginning. I’m writing this blog because it’s finally time for me start putting these thoughts that have been collecting in my mind over the past two decades onto paper. I love movies and finally I get to kinda/sorta be a movie critic. It’s both exciting and terrifying for me. There have been so many incredibly gifted journalists, critics, and historians that have come before me in this field. It’s a daunting task to throw my hat into the ring and see what people think.  I hope at the very least I can entertain you and stoke the fires of some good discussions. I’ve finally given in, hopefully it’s worth it.

-Kyle