Gotham Takes a Ride

The Gotham Awards were held this evening in the Big Apple and the annual ceremony honoring the year’s best in independent filmmaking provided a couple of legitimate surprises. Chloe Zhao’s Western The Rider was a surprise winner for Best Feature, beating out the favored The Favourite and If Beale Street Could Talk. The Rider premiered all the way back in April after originally screening at Cannes in May 2017. The acclaimed film from director Chloe Zhao has not been on my Oscar radar screen whatsoever.

Should it be? If you look at Gotham’s winners for the last few years, you may deduce that the answer is yes. From 2014-2016, the honored feature (Birdman, Spotlight, Moonlight) went on to win Best Picture in the biggest race of all. Call Me by Your Name from last year got a nomination. On the flip side, the recipients from 2012 and 2013 (Moonrise Kingdom and Inside Llewyn Davis) failed to garner Academy recognition. The Rider will more than likely fall in that camp, unlike fellow nominees The Favourite and Beale Street. The other two features nominated were Madeline’s Madeline (an Oscar non-factor) and First Reformed (more on that in a minute).

The Actress race also provided an unexpected winner in the way of Toni Collette for Hereditary. She won out over Glenn Close, who seems bound for an Oscar nod in The Wife. Best Actress is crowded this year, but the fourth and fifth slots seem open to several leading ladies. If Collette can manage some critics awards (which are coming very soon), expect her name to earn more chatter. For the time being, I still believe a nomination is a reach. That could change.

For Actor, Ethan Hawke was a victor for First Reformed. Unlike Actress, this year’s crop of potential Actors at the Oscars is a little weaker. Hawke seems to be gaining momentum at the right time. Last week, I included him in my predicted five for the first time. I feel better and better about it.

Speaking of First Reformed, Paul Schrader (who also directed it) picked up the Screenplay award. Somehow he has never been Oscar nominated… not even for his Taxi Driver screenplay over four decades ago. In order to get his first, his original script would need to knock out one of the following contenders in that race: The Favourite, Roma, Green Book, Eighth Grade, or Vice. That could be a tall order, but it’s certainly possible.

Check back tomorrow as the National Board of Review (a significant precursor) unveils their winners. I’ll have reaction to that with updated Oscar predictions on Thursday!

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!

Moonrise Kingdom Movie Review

There is a moment in Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom when its central character, 12 year old orphan Sam (Jared Gilman), asks a fellow kid why he doesn’t like him. The response: “Why should I? Nobody else does.”

Such is young Sam’s lot in life. He’s been bounced around from foster home to foster home. Some might lazily (and accurately) describe him as quirky or eccentric, which is a term that could be used for pretty much every character in a Wes Anderson picture.

A chance meeting for Sam leads him to Suzy (Kara Hayward), a fellow 12 year old whose people skills are severely lacking as well. They become pen pals and hatch a plan to run away together. This all takes place on a small New England island circa 1965 and it is Sam’s Khaki Scout summer camp which allows for the opportunity to make an escape and pair up with Suzy.

Wes Anderson is known for his unique visual style and his screenplays (with Roman Coppola cowriting this time around) that rely on dry humor with occasional serious overtones. And that style is on full display in Kingdom, the director’s coming-of-age picture that follows the same path as many that have come before it. This might sound sacrilege to the legions of die hard Anderson followers. And don’t get me wrong – much of the clever dialogue and colorful characters you’d expect from his work is included.

While the picture’s two leads are young unknowns, this is filled with recognizable faces in supporting roles. We have Anderson mainstay Bill Murray and Frances McDormand as Suzy’s parents who are trapped in a loveless marriage. There’s Bruce Willis giving an understated performance as the island’s police captain who doesn’t have much to do until Sam and Suzy go missing together. Tilda Swinton turns up as a social services worker. And Bob Balaban plays an island local who serves as the film’s narrator, warning us of an impending storm that will work its way into the plot. The best supporting performance belongs to Edward Norton as Sam’s scout leader who cares a lot about his pupils and does a truly terrible job keeping track of them. On the downside, Anderson’s penchant for putting famous actors in over-the-top roles doesn’t always succeed here, particularly in the case of Harvey Keitel as a scout commander and Jason Schwartzman playing a scout official helping the young couple execute their grand escape. These two characters serve as examples of being too farcicial in a screenplay that doesn’t need them.

It is Sam and Suzy who are at the core here and if the casting of Gilman and Hayward didn’t work, neither would the entire movie. Luckily these young actors are very impressive and we enjoy watching their relationship blossom. These are two emotionally damaged kids who find a true friend in each other for the first time. Maybe it is true love as they believe. Maybe not. While the adults here spend most of their time worrying about Sam and Suzy, many of them are even more damaged. This includes Suzy’s parents and Willis’s character. Moonrise Kingdom has its fair share of laughs and it looks beautiful like every Wes Anderson production. Where it succeeds best is making you care just enough about Sam and Suzy that you hope they don’t grow up to be as unhappy and and lonely as the adults who populate their world.

*** (out of four)