Oscar History: 2012

It’s been quite some time since I’ve done an Oscar History post (about two and a half years) and I’m at 2012. It was a year in which Seth MacFarlane hosted the show – fresh off his comedy smash Ted. Here’s what transpired in the major categories with some other pictures and performers I might have considered:

The year saw nine nominees for Best Picture in which Ben Affleck’s Argo took the top prize. Other nominees: Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Miserables, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook (my personal favorite of the year), and Zero Dark Thirty. 

Many Wes Anderson fans would contend that Moonrise Kingdom should have made the cut. And I could certainly argue that The Avengers (perhaps the greatest comic book flick and the year’s biggest grosser) was worth a nod.

The nominations in Best Director were a huge surprise at the time. While Argo won the top prize of all, Affleck was not nominated for his behind the camera efforts. It was the first time since Driving Miss Daisy‘s Bruce Beresford where an Oscar-winning Picture didn’t see its filmmaker nominated.

Instead it was Ang Lee who was victorious for Life of Pi over Michael Haneke (Amour), David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook), Steven Spielberg (Lincoln), and Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild).

In addition to Affleck, it was surprising that Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty) was not included. And I certainly would have put in Tarantino for Django.

The race for Best Actor seemed over when the casting of Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln was announced. And that’s exactly how it played out as he won his third Oscar over a strong slate of Bradley Cooper (Playbook), Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables), Joaquin Phoenix (The Master), and Denzel Washington (Flight).

The exclusion of John Hawkes in The Sessions could have been welcomed, but I’ll admit that’s a solid group.

Jennifer Lawrence won Best Actress for Silver Linings over Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark), Emmanuelle Riva (Amour), Quvenzhane Wallis (Beasts), and Naomi Watts (The Impossible).

Again, no major qualms here. I did enjoy the work of Helen Mirren in Hitchcock (for which she did get a Golden Globe nod).

Supporting Actor was competitive as Christoph Waltz won his second statue for Django (three years after Inglourious Basterds). He was a bit of a surprise winner over Tommy Lee Jones in Lincoln. Other nominees: Alan Arkin (Argo), Robert De Niro (Playbook), and Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master).

Here’s a year where there’s a lot of others I thought of. Waltz won, but I think the work of Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson in Django was equally impressive. There’s Javier Bardem as one of the greatest Bond villains ever in Skyfall. Or John Goodman’s showy role in Flight. As for some other blockbusters that year, how about Tom Hiddleston in The Avengers or Matthew McConaughey in Magic Mike? And my favorite comedic scene of that year was due to Giovanni Ribisi in Ted…

In Supporting Actress, Anne Hathaway was a front-runner for Les Miserables and there was no upset. Other nominees: Amy Adams (The Master), Sally Field (Lincoln), Helen Hunt (The Sessions), and Jacki Weaver (Playbook).

Judi Dench had more heft to her part as M in Skyfall that year and I’ll also give a shout-out to Salma Hayek’s performance in Oliver Stone’s Savages.

And there’s your Oscar history for 2012! I’ll have 2013 up… hopefully in less than two and a half years!

Ted 2 Movie Review

Like many comedy sequels before it, Ted 2 often has a troubling time justifying its own existence. Seth MacFarlane’s follow-up to his wildly successful 2012 hit finds the director a bit more unshackled with choreographed musical numbers and more abundant political humor. This doesn’t achieve the effect of making this more funny. To go down a cliched road, Ted 2 is bearable but struggles a bit to come to life.

When we open, Ted is tying the knot with girlfriend Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth) and things are going smoothly in the talking bear’s world. Not so much for Johnny (Mark Wahlberg), who’s down on his luck after divorcing Lori (Mila Kunis, who doesn’t appear). Within a year, Ted and Tami-Lynn are fighting and they figure a solution to their problems may be a baby. Since Ted is anatomically challenged in that area, adoption comes into play and after Tom Brady humorously rejects the notion of being a sperm donor, it’s left to Ted’s longtime friend. It all leads down a dangerous road where Ted is eventually deemed not to be a person by the state and this is where our main characters enlist new lawyer and pothead Sam (Amanda Seyfried) to help.

Ted 2 clumsily draws comparisons of Ted’s plight to that of gays and African Americans. We expect nothing less from MacFarlane than seriously un-PC comedy, yet these jokes fall flat more frequently than they hit. In fact, nearly everything here just simply cannot match the freshness of the original. Returning characters like the Ted obsessed Donny (Giovanni Ribisi) and Sam Jones (Flash Gordon if you recall) aren’t granted moments as uproarious as we’ve seen before. Whereas the relationship of Johnny and Lori was a strength in Ted, the forced romance between Johnny and Sam adds little.

Even with all those negatives, like a middling Family Guy episode, there are genuine laughs to be had. Many are throwaway lines and sight gags and MacFarlane and his cowriters Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild are too talented not to have some of the material succeed. Certain celeb cameos work more than others – Liam Neeson’s is a trip. There’s also smile inducing references to 80s genre classics of the past including The Breakfast Club and Planes, Trains and Automobiles. And Morgan Freeman (as a top civil rights lawyer) is put to decent use mainly due to his voice, as Ted aptly points out when they meet.

As I began though, the sequels that populate film comedy usually can’t match what made its predecessor special. That holds true here and its occasionally preachy overtones don’t help. Ted 2 made this big admirer of the original sometimes happy, but not enough to warrant its second life on the screen.

**1/2 (out of four)

A Million Ways to Die in the West Movie Review

If Seth MacFarlane lent his considerable talents to doing an audio commentary for an old western film, it would probably have the same effect as watching A Million Ways to Die in the West. Yet it would probably be funnier.

The “Family Guy” creator and maker of the wildly successful Ted in 2012 hits a sophomore slump here. West is set in the Old West of 1882 and MacFarlane’s Albert Stark is well aware of his surroundings. He is an aimless and wimpy sheepherder whose only ability seems to be noticing that the era he lives in is a real bummer. Outlaws kill for no reason and there is a myriad of diseases that can kill you, not to mention even the old timey cameras and blocks of ice that can humorously lead to violent ends. He meets his sarcastic counterpart in Anna (Charlize Theron), who also is highly cognizant of the miserable time period they’re stuck in. Unbeknownst to Albert, she is married to a notorious gunslinger Clinch (Liam Neeson) and trying to get away from him. Meanwhile, Albert is trying to get over his ex (Amanda Seyfried) who just left him for the proprietor (Neil Patrick Harris) of a successful mustache grooming shop titled The Mustachery.

The first hour of West presents us with the idea of its main characters aware of their bad luck in being stuck in the West and stretches the premise about as far as it can possibly go. The second half is at times more of a traditional Western, albeit one with an extremely generous heaping of bodily fluid gags and occasional drug humor. As you’d expect, no ethnic group of religion is spared from the constant quips, but they often feel like they’d be about the 12th most amusing line on a “Family Guy” episode.

Unlike his TV show and Ted, MacFarlane moves from voiceover work to being in front of the camera. Unfortunately, MacFarlane the screen presence is surprisingly dull much of the time. Neeson has little to work with in his menacing bad guy role, but it is odd nowadays to see the actor searching for a family member that actually left him intentionally. Part of the problem is that MacFarlane saves most of the funniest lines for himself and leaves little for Neeson, Theron, or Seyfried to work with. Harris has his moments and there is a subplot with Giovanni Ribisi and Sarah Silverman that has its share of genuine laughs.

By now we’ve come to expect plenty of non PC lines and gross out moments from MacFarlane. There’s much of that to be found here yet it doesn’t come close to the comedic heights of “Family Guy” at its best or Ted. The supporting cast doesn’t have enough to do and even a couple of well done cameos don’t help much. I will, however, admit that watching Ribisi repeat his dance moves from Ted had me laughing hard, even it was only for about five seconds.

MacFarlane and his cowriters Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild seem to believe the Albert character’s ongoing musings about the Old West and its nastiness are uproarious enough to make this worthwhile. Too often, those jokes play out like Albert’s firearm shooting abilities in the picture – some hits but plenty of misses.

** (out of four)


A Million Ways to Die in the West Box Office Prediction

“Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane enters the world of film for the second time with A Million Ways to Die in the West, his directorial follow-up to the smash hit Ted from two summers ago. Unlike his previous effort, MacFarlane stars this time around and he’s brought along an all-star cast including Charlize Theron, Liam Neeson, Amanda Seyfried, Giovanni Ribisi, Sarah Silverman, and Neil Patrick Harris.

The R rated western comedy is unlikely to match Ted numbers, which debuted to $54 million on its way to a domestic gross of $218 million. However, I still expect it to do solid business. It may seem like an odd comparison, but I see last year’s Identity Thief as a mark of what I believe West could open at. That picture made $34.5M in its opening weekend and I credit that to the goodwill audiences had for star Melissa McCarthy after Bridesmaids. In the same way – many moviegoers are simply very curious to see what MacFarlane has up his sleeve this time.

There’s plenty of competition out there as there always is around this time of year, but not a whole lot in the way of comedies. Neighbors has already made the bulk of its money and Blended with Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore debuted weakly over Memorial Day weekend. Like Thief, I think West posts a low to mid 30s opening.

A Million Ways to Die in the West opening weekend prediction: $33.6 million

For my Maleficent prediction, click here: