The Curious Case of Eddie Murphy – Part One

And now for a new category of blog posts that I plan to write from time to time where I focus on one actor, their body of work and the good, bad, and ugly of it.

We start with Eddie Murphy. He is an actor whose career I have followed very closely. The reason is simple: I believe Murphy to be one of the most talented comedians and actors on the planet. As a fan, he has given me some of the greatest comedic experiences I’ve ever seen and disappointed just as often.

He exploded onto the scene at only age 19, when he was cast a feature player on “Saturday Night Live”. In 1980, he joined the show at a low point in its history. Lorne Michaels had just left as producer (he would return in the mid-80s and never leave). SNL was only five years old, but all the players from the original cast had finally left to pursue movie careers – names like Aykroyd, Belushi, Murray, and Radner. 

Many wondered if SNL would survive. Murphy, it turned out, was the only real bright spot on the show for a while. His uncanny impressions of Stevie Wonder and James Brown. His now-classic characters Buckwheat, Mr. Robinson, and Gumby. 

The show would soon find its groove again, but it was obvious that Eddie was destined for bigger things. At age 21, he would co-star in 48 HRS., a buddy cop film with Nick Nolte. It’s one of the most memorable film debuts of all time, was a huge hit, and proved without a doubt that he would be a massive movie star. 

This is one of the most well-known scenes in the film and it’s crazy to think how great he is and this is his first movie.

In 1983, he would headline his own stand-up comedy special Delirious. It is widely considered one of the best stand-up specials of all time and it deserves to be. Murphy was a master at stand-up and was able to effortlessly combine his brilliant impressions with hilarious stories from his childhood. Here he is impersonating Michael Jackson.

1983 also brought us his second film, Trading Places. It’s a classic. Starring with Dan Aykroyd, Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Ameche, and Ralph Bellamy, the film is directed by John Landis, the man responsible for Animal House and The Blues Brothers. It manages to improve on Murphy’s already great debut. I go back and forth on what may favorite Eddie movie is, but this is probably it.

The massive success of his first two films meant it time to leave SNL. He would co-star with Dudley Moore in Best Defense in 1984, which Murphy promptly disowned as a piece of junk. This would turn out to be a minor speed bump in his career, however. In that same year, Murphy would headline his first picture: Beverly Hills Cop. 

Originally intended as a starring vehicle for Sylvester Stallone, Paramount ended up going in a different and more comedic direction. Even though 48 HRS. and Trading Places were big hits, it was unpredictable at the time whether Murphy could carry a movie on his own.

What happened? When it was released, Beverly Hills Cop became the highest grossing comedy of all time up to that point. It literally turned Eddie into the biggest movie star on the planet. At age 23. 

I think it’s probably safe to say that no other actor got off to the kind of amazing start that Murphy did. In four years, he went from bit player on SNL to the star of SNL to America’s box office king. It’s the kind of comedic hot streak that we rarely see, though Jim Carrey would experience it a decade later (he’ll be the subject of a Curious Case blog post in the future). 

Excluding Best Defense, everything Murphy touched from 1980-1984 turned to gold. It took only his first headlining role to break box office records for a comedy. 

What would follow? A really bad movie called The Golden Child, which is where The Curious Case of Eddie Murphy – Part Two will pick up.

Argo-mentum

Just a quick update on the Oscar race for Best Picture that I wrote about extensively earlier and will soon again.

Argo hit #1 at the box office this weekend in its third weekend. This is a very rare feat for a movie to do and it hasn’t happened in nearly two years when True Grit did.

Typically, a movie drops 40-50% weekend to weekend. This is not the case at all with Argo. It only dropped 25% in its third weekend. Besides being a major critical favorite (with a rating of 96% on Rotten Tomatoes), the Ben Affleck-directed film has clearly become an audience favorite. With drops that low, it is clear that moviegoers are telling their friends to go see it.

What does this mean? Right now, it means that Argo is the front runner to win Best Picture.

We will see Lincoln reviews in the days to come. That could change things, but early screenings suggest it’s very good, but not a masterpiece. If Lincoln does not connect with audiences in the way that Argo already has, it may not overtake the momentum (or Argo-mentum, as my lame headline suggests).

The other factor in the way of Argo is Les Miserables, which seems tailor-made for Oscar attention. No one has seen it yet though. So for now, Argo is the film to beat in the Oscar race.

Reading Is Bad For You

OK, not really.

However, this blog post will be focused on my own checkered and brief history with the generally bad idea of reading the book before seeing the movie. We all know how that typically turns out. Not well.

The truth is, I believe that because I’m such a movie lover, I tend to read books visually. I’m already casting whatever actors I think fit the characters in my head. So when the book is made into a movie, unless it adheres to own visual imaginings while I was reading the book, I’ll probably be disappointed.

Entertainment Weekly recently released this list: 26 Disappointing Movie Adaptations

http://www.ew.com/ew/gallery/0,,20483133_20577348,00.html

I don’t think I’ve read one of the books listed here with the exception of the Dr. Seuss entries. As for the films, I am actually a big fan of Clint Eastwood’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. If I’d read the book? Who knows?

It’s amazing to think of the list of famous movie series and great films that are based on books:

The Godfather. Psycho. The Harry Potter series. James Bond. Jaws. Jurassic Park. The Shawshank Redemption. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The Twilight series. The Lord of the Rings series. The Wizard of Oz. The Hunger Games. The Exorcist. Carrie. The Shining. Gone with the Wind. A Clockwork Orange. Blade Runner. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The Hunt for Red October. Die Hard. The Jason Bourne series. The Silence of the Lambs. No Country for Old Men. Planet of the Apes. Forrest Gump. Carlito’s Way. GoodFellas. All the President’s Men. Get Shorty. American Psycho. Fight Club. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. First Blood. Mystic River. Interview with the Vampire. 

Pretty good list, eh?

Often, when authors hit their peak, we see the floodgates open with adaptations of their work. Two examples:

from 1982-1987 – there were ELEVEN films based on Stephen King works: Creepshow, Cujo, The Dead Zone, Christine, Children of the Corn, Firestarter, Cat’s Eye, Silver Bullet, Maximum Overdrive, Stand by Me, The Running Man.

from 1993-1998 – seven John Grisham adaptations (pretty much covering his entire works  up to that point): The Firm, The Pelican Brief, The Client, A Time to Kill, The Chamber, The Rainmaker, The Gingerbread Man.

The Firm and Michael Crichton’s novel Rising Sun were both made into films in the summer of 1993. I happened to read both of them. While I thought The Firm was a decent movie and still do, I was somewhat disappointed due to some of its deviations from the novel. I recall being profoundly more disappointed in Rising Sun, which starred Sean Connery and Wesley Snipes as police officers who latest investigation leads them to underground Asian crime syndicates. It was not until years later that I began to appreciate the movie more. Why? Simple – I was comparing it to the book.

From that point on, I’ve been very reluctant to read a book that I know will be made into a movie. As I explained in my very first blog post (way back in the early to mid-part of October 2012), I like to walk into a movie fresh nowadays. The most recent example for me of having read the book is Dennis Lehane’s Shutter Island, which Martin Scorsese adapted and Leonardo DiCaprio starred in.

Strangely enough, when I read the book, I knew DiCaprio was playing the lead so I pictured him the whole time. I also tried to imagine what a brilliant filmmaker like Scorsese would do with the material I was reading.

And, for the most part, I was not disappointed in the movie at all. In fact, I think Shutter Island is a lot of fun because it’s Scorsese doing a Hitchcock movie (similar to what he did in 1991’s Cape Fear).

In closing, I guess I’m too much of a movie lover to allow the book to water down my viewing experience. I read quite a big of non-fiction still (lots of political stuff), but try to steer clear of popular books that will inevitably get the big-screen treatment.

For anyone reading this, I’m curious: ever read a book, saw the movie, and felt the film was better? What’s the most disappointing novel-to-screen adaptation you’ve seen? What’s the best? Ever thought the casting of a role was completely the opposite of your book reading experience? Ever saw a movie and then decided to read the book it’s based on? Fire away.

 

Andrew Shepherd, One-Term President

Yes, I’ve been around politics a bit in my lifetime, as anyone who knows me personally is aware of. So it’s natural that I’m interested in movies about politics. I’ve always paid attention to the history of the American Presidency and films featuring fictional U.S. Presidents are, of course, of huge interest to me.

One of the most famous is The American President, directed by Rob Reiner from 1995. It’s no secret that Reiner is a liberal person, so the movie reflects those tendencies.

A quick disclaimer: I decided immediately that this blog will not be political at all in nature. I get enough of that in my “real” life and my blog about “reel” life will not focus on it (clever, huh???). So my comments here are not meant to reflect one side or the other, but just to make a rather humorous and I think undeniable observation.

The American President shows the fictional term of Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas). He’s a first-term President who’s a widower and the movie mostly centers on the controversy that comes with him finding his first girlfriend since his wife’s passing. The film is penned by Aaron Sorkin, a brilliant screenwriter who has brought us “The West Wing” and The Social Network, among others.

The film in many ways is a Capra-esque tale. It reflects what its makers believe politics should be and not necessarily what they are. Reiner and Sorkin are clearly reflecting the U.S. President that they would want to see in real life.

So, in the movie’s climax, the character of President Shepherd goes off-script in a news conference, as his team have strongly encouraged. The point of his news conference: his Administration is going to focus on getting all the guns out of homes. The music swells. His team is emotional. The President is back!

He’s also running for reelection and the movie leads us to believe that his inspiring speech has just sealed that reelection. Ahh – only in the movies! Anyone who follows politics, even a little, will tell you that President Shepherd’s stance on this issue would totally and completely assure one of the biggest electoral defeats in the history of American politics.

I do not make this statement as a political one. It’s just simple reality. The American President is a fine picture that I’ve seen several times. But anyone with a political brain in their head knows that the real ending of that movie would be Shepherd’s opponent, Richard Dreyfuss’s character, being inaugurated.

This Trailer Is Jay-Z and Kanye Approved

Apparently, if you want people to like your movie trailer nowadays, the secret is to put a Jay-Z or Kanye West song in it. Or a Jay-Z/Kanye collaboration.

I first noticed when Kanye’s “Jesus Walks” played in the Jarhead trailer:


Then Kanye’s song “Power” played in the trailer for The Social Network:

and Limitless:

I guess they needed Jay-Z to get in on the Bradley Cooper movie trailer action, too – so here is Jay-Z track “Reminder” in the Hangover II teaser.

The makers of Safe House must have figured two is better than one, so their trailer features the collaboration “No Church in the Wild”.

Not to be out done, the makers of next year’s Great Gatsby liked that particular song too.

Jay-Z’s solo work got some attention. His “Beware of the Boys” is featured in The Dictator trailer:

And “Oh My God” is played in next year’s Gangster Squad trailer:

And his song “Brooklyn Go Hard” is featured in next year’s Jackie Robinson biopic 42:

That’s NINE movies in the last few years. I’m a big fan of both artists and must admit that I thought the trailer for Safe House was so good (in no small part because of the music) that it was a big letdown when I actually saw it.

Movie studios research the hell out of what works in trailers and I guess Jay and Kanye test through the roof. So don’t be surprised if “Big Pimpin” is blaring through the Hunger Games sequel teaser in a few months.

UPDATED:

This post was written in October 2012 and we’ve got, yes, a couple more Kanye-centric trailer. There’s his track “Runaway” featured in The Hangover Part III trailer:

And – possibly the best yet – the Yeezus track “Black Skinhead” from Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street:

I’ll update more as they come…

Oscar Predictions: Best Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress

And now, my third and final entry of Oscar predictions. We are now to who will be nominated in the categories of Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress. As with the other posts, there are broken down into four sections: Shoo-Ins, Strong Possibilities, Possible, and Long Shots.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Shoo-Ins

Just as Joaquin Phoenix is a lock for a Best Actor nomination in The Master, so is co-star Philip Seymour Hoffman in this category. And just as Daniel Day-Lewis is a lock for Best Actor in Lincoln, early screenings of the film have made it clear that Tommy Lee Jones will be nominated for his work in the film.

Strong Possibilities

I almost put Alan Arkin in the shoo-in category for his role in Argo. The only thing holding me back a little is that he won six years ago for Little Miss Sunshine. However, he looks in.

Possible

We’ll start with performances from two actors in films no one’s seen. First is Russell Crowe for Les Miserables and second is Leonardo DiCaprio for Django Unchained. Regarding DiCaprio, the Supporting Actor category has a rich history with films directed by Quentin Tarantino. Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction), Robert Forster (Jackie Brown), David Carradine (Kill Bill – Vol II) and Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds) were all recognized for their work with Quentin.

Robert DeNiro is said to give one of the best performances in recent years in Silver Linings Playbook. William H. Macy has received similar buzz for The Sessions. Dwight Henry could see a nomination for Beasts of the Southern Wild, especially if the movie gets a Picture nomination. Same with Ewan McGregor for The Impossible.

Buzz seems to be growing for Michael Pena in End of Watch. Having seen the film, I’d love to see him get nominated. And Matthew McConaughey has had a good last couple of years and the Academy may feel it’s time to recognize him for this summer’s hit Magic Mike. 

Long Shots

Because Alan Arkin is likely to be recognized for Argo, that probably leaves co-stars Bryan Cranston and John Goodman out. The muted buzz for Anna Karenina will likely leave Jude Law out. Other long shots include Jim Broadbent for Cloud Atlas, Albert Brooks in This is 40, and James Gandolfini for Killing Them Softly.

WHO WILL GET NOMINATED?

Sounds like a horse race between Hoffman and Jones at this point and the rest of the field is fairly unpredictable.

Alan Arkin, Argo

Robert DeNiro, Silver Linings Playbook

Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master

Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln

William H. Macy, The Sessions

Best Supporting Actress

Shoo-Ins

NONE

Strong Possibilities

While I’m not saying there’s any shoo-ins as of yet, there are four strong possibilities. No one has seen Les Miserables yet, but Anne Hathaway is already getting major attention. Amy Adams is likely to be included in a lot of nominations that The Master will receive. As Lincoln’s wife, Sally Field is a good bet to get in. And Helen Hunt is getting rave reviews for The Sessions.

Possible

Jessica Chastain, who got nominated last year for The Help, is said to have an important role in the Bin Laden manhunt thriller Zero Dark Thirty. Maggie Smith is a Hollywood legend and could be nominated for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Frances McDormand could receive her third Supporting Actress nomination for Promised Land. 

Right now, I’m predicting performances in Silver Linings Playbook will be recognized for Actor, Actress, and Supporting Actor. A nomination for Jacki Weaver in this category would bring it to four.

Long Shots

If the movie is a major critical hit that gets a Picture nomination, Scarlett Johannson could sneak in as Janet Leigh in Hitchcock. Same goes for Kerry Washington in Django Unchained.

Who Will Be Nominated?

Amy Adams, The Master

Sally Field, Lincoln

Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables

Helen Hunt, The Sessions

Jacki Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook

So, there you have it! I’ll revisit these categories over the next three months as we get closer to the nominations!

Movie Perfection: Tiny Dancer

There are times in life where we’re presented with something so wonderful and perfect that all we can do is smile very widely in appreciation. We’re not trying to smile. It’s just comes naturally because of what is occurring.

From time to time, we experience that in a movie. I experienced that in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous. I experienced it because of brilliant writing, from Crowe as a screenwriter. Just as importantly, I experienced it from another writer, Bernie Taupin. And from great performers in the movie. And from another great performer – Elton John, who sings Taupin’s words in one of my favorite movie scenes ever.

Almost Famous takes us on the journey of a teenage writer who lands a gig with Rolling Stone magazine. It’s autobiographical – director/writer Crowe had just that job before moving on to direct Say Anything and Jerry Maguire. 

In the film, we see this wide-eyed teenage kid William go from worshiping the records of Zeppelin and Dylan and Bowie to being a part of that world, following around a fictional band named Stillwater. And he meets Penny Lane, a “band aid” (not groupie, that’s insulting according to her), played by Kate Hudson who gives the best performance of her career.

Because of Crowe’s background, Almost Famous feels entirely authentic. We suspect that the good times and bad times we see behind the scenes of Stillwater’s concert tour is based on real-life experiences. And like Crowe’s greatest work, the writing is first-rate and emotionally satisfying.

The band is going through some rough times and on the verge of breaking up when the star of the band, guitarist Russell (Billy Crudup) takes William to a high school party in Topeka, Kansas because he wants to hang with “real people”.

The scene at the party is fantastic. Russell drops a whole lot of acid, proclaims himself “a Golden God!” on top of the roof of the house of the party, and jumps into the pool, much to William’s chagrin.

The drama that we’ve seen in the past few minutes of the movie — the band breaking apart — leads the audience to believe the movie may go down a darker road. Russell and William are picked up from the out-of-the-way house party by the band and its tour bus. In the immediate scene following, we witness the band members, William, Penny Lane, and the hangers-on of the band all sitting uncomfortably on the bus heading to the next non-descript gig.

And, then one of the greatest scenes in recent film history unfolds. Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” starts to play over the scene. As an audience, we assume that it’s simply what we’re used to in movies — a song trying to dictate the tone of the scene. About a minute into the scene, one of the Stillwater band members begins to sing along to the track. We, as an audience, realize that everyone in that bus is also listening to the song. Within a few seconds, almost everyone on the bus is belting out Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s timeless classic. The final holdout is Russell, who finally gets a huge smile on his face and sings along with everyone else. All the drama we’ve witnessed in the last acts of the film is resolved. For all the drama these characters have between each other — music unites them.

As if the emotion of all that isn’t enough — the last part of the scene has William turning to Penny Lane. He’s frustrated with his writing assignment and his process of trying to interview the band. He expresses his thoughts to her: “I need to go home”. Penny looks at him, smiles widely, and replies: “You are home.”

William and the audience experience the same reaction at the same second: this is where William belongs. This is his destiny. And this is why Almost Famous is one of the best movies in recent memory. And this is why I can’t listen to “Tiny Dancer” without thinking of that scene.

And this is why that scene is Movie Perfection.

Oscar Predictions: Best Actor/Actress

As a continuation of my post from two days ago regarding Oscar predictions, here are my thoughts on who we will see nominated in the categories of Best Actor and Best Actress. As with my first, I will predict in four categories: Shoo-Ins, Strong Possibilities, Possible, and Long Shots.

BEST ACTOR

SHOO-INS

Daniel Day-Lewis is a lock for a nomination in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. He is considered by many to be the finest actor working today and with the awards attention that the film is bound to receive, it is unfathomable that he won’t be nominated. Interestingly, if Day-Lewis were to win the Oscar, he would set a record by being the only person to win Best Actor three times (he won in 1989 for My Left Foot and in 2007 for There Will Be Blood). Nine actors have won the award twice. Other than Day-Lewis, more recent ones include Sean Penn, Tom Hanks, Dustin Hoffman, and Jack Nicholson.

The other shoo-in is Joaquin Phoenix for The Master, who gives possibly a career best performance. The Academy loves to reward a comeback and after Phoenix’s strange history since his last nomination for Walk the Line (including his bizarre documentary I’m Still Here and notorious appearance on David Letterman’s show), he’ll get noticed.

STRONG POSSIBILITIES

John Hawkes is a near shoo-in for his performance as a quadriplegic in The Sessions and Denzel Washington is said to give his one of best performances in the upcoming Flight.

POSSIBLE

This list is longer with a number of actors possibly filling that fifth slot. I’m convinced Hawkes will be nominated and I’m predicting Washington even though the film’s not out yet. Two possibles are for films no one’s seen yet but depending on reviews could get in: Hugh Jackman in Les Miserables and Anthony Hopkins as Alfred Hitchcock in Hitchcock. Bradley Cooper could certainly see his first nomination for Silver Linings Playbook, which has received fantastic buzz since its festival screenings. In Arbitrage, Richard Gere has gotten some of the best reviews of his career. He’s never been nominated before and the Academy may feel it’s time. Bill Murray playing President Franklin D. Roosevelt seems like an Oscar match, however the film’s buzz at festival screenings was mixed. The Austrian festival favorite Amour gave its lead Jean-Louis Trintignant fabolous reviews and it’s not too rare for the Academy to fill a slot with an actor in a foreign film (Benigni and Dujardin have won in recent times). And the extremely positive reaction to Argo could certainly propel Ben Affleck to his first acting nomination.

LONG SHOTS

So you get the idea that this field is extraordinarily crowded this year. There’s always the possibility of a long shot though and they are: Suraj Sharma for Life of Pi, Brad Pitt for Killing Them Softly, Jamie Foxx for Django Unchained, Jake Gyllenhall for End of Watch, and Matt Damon for Promised Land.

THE PREDICTIONS

Having said all that, I’m finding it very difficult to pick the fifth nominee. I could easily see it being Hopkins, Jackman, Cooper, Gere, Trintignant, or Affleck. If Washington somehow if left out, two of them could fill in. This list is very subject to change, but here goes:

Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook

Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

John Hawkes, The Sessions

Joaquin Phoenix, The Master

Denzel Washington, Flight

BEST ACTRESS

Directly opposite from Best Actor, the field for Best Actress this year is one of the weakest in recent memory. Only ten actresses get mentioned here and half will get in. It’s been a pretty disappointing year for strong female roles.

SHOO-INS

Just one. Jennifer Lawrence will get her second nomination in three years and not for Hunger Games. Her performance in Silver Linings Playbook is getting raves and it doesn’t hurt that she headlined the aforementioned picture, which was one of the year’s biggest blockbusters.

STRONG POSSIBILITIES

Again, just one. Marion Cotillard won Best Actress in 2007 for La Vie En Rose and had a showcase role in Dark Knight Rises in the summer. Her foreign film Rust and Bone drew her great notices on the festival circuit.

POSSIBLE

I see three out of the next five getting in. No one’s seen Hitchcock, as I mentioned, but Helen Mirren is likely to be looked at for playing Hitchcock’s wife. Emmanuelle Riva got raves for Amour. Quvenzhane Wallis, a child actress, headlines the indie favorite Beasts of the Southern Wild. Naomi Watts is getting positive advance word for The Impossible. And Keira Knightly may be nominated for playing Anna Karenina, even though the film is said to be just OK.

LONG SHOTS

You can never totally count Meryl Streep out and her work in Hope Springs might get a look. The others are Judi Dench for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Mary Elizabeth Windstead in the indie Smashed.

THE PREDICTIONS

Lawrence and Cotillard are in. The others are tough to predict right now and I’m leaving Naomi Watts out at the moment, even though I believe she’s got an excellent shot.

Marion Cotillard, Rust and Bone

Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook

Helen Mirren, Hitchcock

Emmanuelle Riva, Amour

Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild

That’s all for now, folks! I’ll be back soon with predictions for Supporting Actor and Actress!

Purple Mile

An incredibly talented aspiring musician from the Midwest must deal with his dysfunctional family, an exciting yet slightly dangerous new love interest, and battle his competitors in the local music scene in order to break out and make it big.

That is the plot to 1984’s Purple Rain starring Prince.

It is also the plot to 2002’s 8 Mile starring Eminem.

Both of these films represent a career pinnacle for those artists. In 1984, Prince had released the soundtrack to Purple Rain, his fifth album. His previous album, 1999, gave him his first taste of major commercial success with the title track and Little Red Corvette. 

The movie and soundtrack brought him to the next level. Six of the nine songs on the album were hits: the title track, When Doves Cry, Take Me With U, The Beautiful Ones, Let’s Go Crazy, and I Would Die 4U. The film was a blockbuster and exposed Prince to a completely new audience.

In 2002, Eminem had released two hugely successful albums. That summer, he released his third, The Eminem Show, another hip hop classic. In November came 8 Mile, the film and soundtrack. The movie grossed $50 million dollars in its first weekend, blowing away industry expectations. 

Just like the song “Purple Rain” is considered by many to be Prince’s signature song, the anthem of 8 Mile “Lose Yourself” is considered to be Eminem’s signature tune.

What impresses me most about 8 Mile is that it probably would have been a hit simply by cashing in on Eminem’s enormous popularity at the time. The studio and Eminem aimed higher than that, however. It’s directed by Curtis Hanson, who had already made critical hits like L.A. Confidential and Wonder Boys. There is more talent behind the camera for 8 Mile than Purple Rain and it shows. Still, if you watch Eminem’s movie, it’s fair to call it “The Hip Hop Purple Rain” due to their many plot similarities.

Both movies represent the work of two of music’s greatest, most influential, and important artists of the last half century. Neither has gone on to do much in the film industry — Prince starred in and directed 1986’s Under the Cherry Moon and 1990’s Graffiti Bridge, which paled in comparison to his inaugural film. Eminem has played himself in Funny People and the TV show “Entourage”.

It’s their music that will put them in the pantheon of the greatest artists. However, both films are an integral part of their considerable legacies. It’s been ten years since 8 Mile has been released and today marks Eminem’s 40th birthday. His work and Prince’s work has and will continue to stand the test of time.

What Will Be Nominated for Oscars This Year?

This is the time of year when many movie pundits start making predictions on what will be nominated for the Oscars. We are officially in “Oscar season”. Why? This is when the movies that are typically given awards consideration are released – between the months of September and December. In general terms, the spring is when movies of all genres are released that aren’t considered Oscar contenders and there’s usually a giant release like this year’s Hunger Games. The summer is blockbuster season when studios release the movies they hope make a LOT of money. Kids are out of school, so this is when lots of superhero flicks, raunchy comedies, and franchise hopefuls come out.

We see that in the fall as well with some BIG releases, like Skyfall and The Hobbit. Autumn, however, is primarily awards season. There’s lots of film festivals, like Toronto, Telluride, and New York. This is where a lot of awards hopefuls screen first, which allows for critics to get the word out on whether it’s great or not. It’s when certain performances jump to the forefront of consideration.

Having said that, there are a few major awards contenders that no one has seen yet: Les Miserables, Zero Dark Thirty, Hitchcock, Django Unchained, Promised Land, and The Hobbit. Just in the last week, advance word on films such as Lincoln and Flight has come out due to screenings done at the N.Y. Film Festival.

I follow the Oscar race very closely. Why? Because I’m a movie fanatic — haven’t you readers figured that out yet??

So, in the post, I am predicting what I believe will be nominated for Best Picture and Director. I will categorize the possible nominees by the following: Shoo-Ins, Strong Possibility, Possible, and Long Shots.

As the unseen films listed above start to gather buzz, the list will be updated in the future, but I am factoring these movies in now and what I think their chances currently are.

Here goes:

BEST PICTURE

This category has been the subject of some controversy among film buffs in the last four years. For decades and decades, the nominating process for Best Picture was simple. Five nominees. Every year. Simple right? Then in 2009, the Academy changed the rules. Now, there would be 10 nominated Pictures (even though every other category would remain 5).   Why the change? Many have speculated that 2008’s omission of The Dark Knight being nominated was a big factor. In that year, generally considered pretty weak for movies, Dark Knight won over critics and audiences in a way few movies do. Not often are the MASSIVE blockbusters such critical darlings too. Many pundits predicted the Academy would do something they normally don’t: nominate the movie that audiences seemed to like the best. They didn’t. So, the 10 movie format was done for 2009 and 2010. In 2011, the format changed again where the number of nominated Best Pictures can fall anywhere between 5 and 10 movies (once again, all other races stay at 5). Last year, nine movies were nominated. I read the guidelines for how Best Picture nominees are chosen now in the new format and got a headache. It’s something about combination of #1 votes and #2 votes and how many ballots the movie appears on. Bottom line? It’s a stupid process. The Academy should simply take it back to five.

Why? In broad terms, there are usually only up to 3 movies that really have a chance to WIN the award. In some years, it’s very easy to predict. Everyone knew Schindler’s List would win in 1993. Everyone knew Titanic would win in 1997. It is very rare that it’s a wide open race and by the time the Oscars air, the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards have already taken place and we have a general idea what and who is going to win… though upsets have happened, though relatively rarely. Also, it is well-known that the winner of Best Picture and Best Director usually match up. 62 out of 85 times as a matter of fact. More importantly, there has been precisely ONE time in the last EIGHTY years where the Director of the Best Picture winner was not nominated for Best Director. That would be in 1989 when Driving Miss Daisy won and its director Bruce Beresford didn’t get nominated. What does that all mean? It means if a movie gets a Best Picture nomination and the director isn’t nominated, that movie stands ZERO chance of winning Best Picture… or 1 out of 80 if you’re gonna be a stickler. Keeping it at five is clean and simple. But, it’s not that way so I have to predict accordingly:

SHOO-INS

Argo came out this weekend and was met with critical and audience acclaim. It also had a big opening weekend (it helps a movie get a nomination when it’s a hit). Why? More viewers tune in when they’ve seen the movies nominated. The 1998 telecast in which Titanic cleaned up is the most watched Oscars in history. Another highly rated telecast more than others? 2004 when Lord of the Rings: Return of the King won. Argo is not the type of hit those movies were, but I had to make that point somehow.

The other shoo-in? Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. It’s not out yet, but early word is already out and it’s mostly quite positive. If Spielberg’s War Horse got nominated last year, which got a fairly lackluster reception from critics and audiences, there’s no way this won’t get nominated.

STRONG POSSIBILITIES

Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master is about as close to a shoo-in as it can be without me calling it that. The people who love it really love it. Anderson is considered by most, including me, to be one of the very greatest directors working today. The only reason I’m not calling it a total shoo-in is that I’ve seen it and know some critics are beginning to start a small backlash against it. It’s a tough film to categorize and there’s been a small amount of controversy with it due to its allusions to Scientology. Still, at the end of the day, it’s in.

Les Miserables looks like a movie built for Academy Awards. It’s from the director of The King’s Speech. It’s got an A list cast. It’s a musical. The only reason I’m not calling this a shoo-in? As I mentioned, no one’s seen it yet and it could be a critical and commercial flop. That seems highly unlikely though.

Silver Linings Playbook won the Audience Award at the Toronto Film Festival, arguably the most influential of all the festivals. It’s not out yet, but it’s said to be a real audience pleaser that’s gotten great reviews so far. The performances by a first-rate cast are said to be outstanding. It looks like it’s in.

Ang Lee’s Life of Pi recently had festival screenings and the response was overwhelmingly positive. It’s based on a known best-seller and looks Academy friendly.

POSSIBLE

We’ll list the five that no one’s seen: Hitchcock, Zero Dark Thirty, The Hobbit, Promised Land and Django Unchained.

The Academy loves movies about making movies and Hitchcock centers on the making of 1960’s classic Psycho, with previous winner Anthony Hopkins playing Hitchcock and previous winner Helen Mirren as his dedicated wife, who contributed much more to Hitchcock’s films than most realize.

Zero Dark Thirty is about the manhunt to kill Osama Bin Laden and comes from Hurt Locker director Kathryn Bigelow, who won for that film in 2009.

The Hobbit? You’ve probably heard of it. Peter Jackson directs the adaptation of Tolkien. His three Lord of the Rings films all received nominations and third installment won.

Promised Land comes from Milk director Gus Van Sant, stars Matt Damon, and is a drama that challenges the fracking phenomenon going in the country. Sounds like something liberals could eat up.

Django Unchained comes from Quentin Tarantino. Pulp Fiction and Inglourious Basterds were nominated and QT is widely considered in the very top tier of working directors whose films are Events.

Robert Zemeckis’s Flight screened at the NY Film Festival last week and is said to be great, even though a lot of the attention centered on Denzel Washington’s performance.

The Austrian film Amour won the Palm D’or at the Cannes Film Festival this year and is a critical favorite. Another critical hit that did very well on the art-house circuit is Beasts of the Southern Wild and the same can be said for Wes Anderon’s Moonrise Kingdom. 

Cloud Atlas is based on a best-seller and comes from the creators of The Matrix trilogy. It’s screened at festivals and seems to be one of those hate-it-or-love-it type of pictures.

The Impossible has received very positive notices on the festival circuit. It stars Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor and takes place during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. The Sessions is another festival favorite, starring John Hawkes as a paraplegic who seeks out a sex therapist, played by Helen Hunt.

LONG SHOTS

Remember how mentioned the controversy about Dark Knight being the country’s favorite and yet it didn’t get nominated? Don’t count on Dark Knight Rises being nominated either, especially because its reviews weren’t nearly as rapturous as its predecessor. Same goes for The Avengers. And The Hunger Games. 

Skyfall is said to be one of the best Bond films ever, but it’s hard to see the Academy nominating it.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was an art-house and critical hit over the summer, but that’s probably not enough to make it a factor.

Anna Karenina reteams Atonement team of director Joe Wright and star Keira Knightley but it hasn’t received the positive buzz that film did, which led to its nominations.

THE PREDICTIONS

Seeing that anywhere from five to ten films will get nominated and that nine did under the new format last year, I’m going with 8 Pictures getting the nod. They are:

ARGO

BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD

FLIGHT

LES MISERABLES

LIFE OF PI

LINCOLN

THE MASTER

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK

BEST DIRECTOR

Now that I’ve explained the Pics being nominated, it’s safe to say that all five Directing nominees will be from those movies. That said, here’s the list on the four categories:

SHOO-INS

Ben Affleck for Argo, Steven Spielberg for Lincoln, and Paul Thomas Anderson for The Master

STRONG POSSIBILITIES

Tom Hooper for Les Miserables, Ang Lee for Life of Pi.

POSSIBILE

Michael Haneke for Amour, Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty, David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook, Gus Van Sant for Promised Land, Sacha Gervasi for Hitchcock, Benh Zietlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild, Robert Zemeckis for Flight, Wes Anderson for Moonrise Kingdom, and Peter Jackson for The Hobbit, and Quentin Tarantino for Django.

LONG SHOTS

Christopher Nolan for Dark Knight Rises, Sam Mendes for Skyfall, Joe Wright for Anna Karenina, Ben Lewin for The Sessions, Juan Antonio Bayona for The Impossible, Tom Twyker and Andy and Lana Wachowski for Cloud Atlas.

THE PREDICTIONS

Ben Affleck, Argo

Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master

Tom Hooper, Les Miserables

Ang Lee, Life of Pi

Steven Spielberg, Lincoln


So there you have it. My initial predictions for Picture and Director. The acting posts will be coming in the next couple of days, so stay tuned!