Thursday, February 19, 2015

The 2014 Markademy Awards

Now that Neil Patrick Harris is hosting the Academy Awards, he can finally say he’s done it all in the hosting world.  Oscars, Emmys, Tonys, World Magic Awards and, of course, the Markademy Awards back in 2008.  Who can forget his legend…wait for it…dary “Mark Is Bald” opening musical number?  (Oh that rascally NPH, what a card!)  That’s just another example of how the Markademy Awards is always on the cutting edge of awards shows.  Put it this way…Kanye West has never disputed any of my results.  He just reads this post and nods, saying “As much as I love Beyonce, Mark is accurate as usual!”  That’s right, he actually says that aloud, even though he’s in an empty room.  Come on, it cannot surprise you to learn that Kanye talks to himself.

Without further self-aggrandizement, let’s get onto the awards!

Actual Oscar nominees: Robert Duvall/The Judge, Ethan Hawke/Boyhood, Edward Norton/Birdman, Mark Ruffalo/Foxcatcher, JK Simmons/Whiplash
Should win: Simmons
Will win: Simmons

Alterna-ballot: Riz Ahmed/Nightcrawler, Dave Bautista/Guardians Of The Galaxy, Jason Clarke/Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, Nelsan Ellis/Get On Up
My ballot: Ahmed, Hawke, Norton, Ruffalo, Simmons
My winner: J.K. Simmons

There are a few slam-dunk choices in this year’s Academy Award race, and the Michael Jordan-from-the-foul-line of the bunch is Simmons’ inevitable Oscar for “Whiplash.”  People were talking up Simmons as a likely winner from the moment people first saw his instant classic role as the sociopathic Terrence Fletcher, and he’s never really been challenged, racking up virtually every precursor trophy during awards season.  It’s one of those borderline category-cheat cases where you could very easily argue that Fletcher is a co-lead role — since Ethan Hawke is here for an easy comparison, it’s like how he was supporting in “Training Day” while Denzel was the lead, despite the fact that Hawke actually has more screentime in the movie.

Still, I’ll happily co-sign a Simmons win because he was so good, and honestly, the Supporting category was created for actors like him.  He’s the poster boy for those veteran performers who have been around for years, played every role big and small, been in great movies and stinkers, yet he’s always good in everything and seems to be universally respected by his peers.

It’s a sign of just how great Simmons was that he’s been so dominant despite a very strong field of nominees — Robert Duvall is a pity vote that didn’t deserve to be here but c’mon, it’s Robert Duvall, I’m sure he was still probably pretty good in the role.  The field was so strong, in fact, that my alterna-ballot only has four other names rather than the usual five.  (My pick to take Duvall’s spot was the unknown Riz Ahmed, who almost stole the show in Nightcrawler as the innocent foil to crazy-ass Jake Gyllenhaal.)  There sadly wasn’t room for Dave “Batista” Bautista in the mix, and he would’ve fit right in alongside J. Jonah Jameson, the current Hulk and the old Hulk.  If only Eric Bana had done something good this year, we could’ve had all three movie Hulks hanging out in the Supporting Actor category!   

Actual nominees: Patricia Arquette/Boyhood, Laura Dern/Wild, Keira Knightley/The Imitation Game, Emma Stone/Birdman, Meryl Streep/Into The Woods
Should win: Arquette
Will win: Arquette

Alterna-ballot: Marion Bailey/Mr. Turner, Jessica Chastain/Interstellar, Carrie Coon/Gone Girl, Faye Marsay/Pride, Tilda Swinton/Snowpiercer
My ballot: Arquette, Bailey, Chastain, Stone, Swinton
My winner: Tilda Swinton

Controversy!  Now, Arquette has a shelf full of supporting actress trophies due to her rampage through the critics’ awards, and she’s almost as big a lock to win the trophy on Oscar night as Simmons or the upcoming Best Actress choice.  That being said, I’m giving the nod to longtime Markademy Awards favourite Tilda “~~~” Swinton under the Smilex gas rule.  Swinton in “Snowpiercer” alone wouldn’t have done it, but Snowpiercer combined with her role in “Only Lovers Left Alive” and, what the hell, even her brief cameo in “Grand Budapest Hotel” is enough for a lethal combination for award-worthiness.  Essentially, I’m punishing Arquette for not being in more movies last year, which is stupid but it’s my awards show, so it’s my rules!

Also, let’s be clear, Swinton was hilarious in the very weird Snowpiercer, and in many years that performance alone would’ve gotten her the duke.  I feel like Swinton is becoming the artsy, androgynous version of Bill Murray, where you could tell me she’s taken on any role or is involved in any situation (like, say, sleeping through a performance art piece) and I’d believe it.  My god, now I really want to see a movie where Murray and Swinton team up to solve crimes.  I want to watch that movie on a loop for the rest of my life.

Most of my alternate choices top the Academy’s field, which includes Keira Knightley’s nothing role, Laura Dern’s fine but nothing-special performance and the Obligatory Meryl Streep nomination.  (I love Streep as much as the next film buff, but this was not one of her more notable roles.)  I’m fine with Stone’s nomination, and it could be argued that she’s already won the unofficial “iconic film image of the year” due to the last scene of Birdman, though my friend Kyle will fight you to the death arguing about how stupid he felt that ending was. 

Actual nominees: Steve Carell/Foxcatcher, Bradley Cooper/American Sniper, Benedict Cumberbatch/The Imitation Game, Michael Keaton/Birdman, Eddie Redmayne/The Theory Of Everything
Should win: Keaton
Will win: Keaton or Redmayne

Alterna-ballot: Chadwick Boseman/Get On Up, Brendan Gleeson/Calvary, Jake Gyllenhaal/Nightcrawler, Tom Hardy/Locke, David Oyelowo/Selma
My ballot: Boseman, Gleeson, Gyllenhaal, Keaton, Redmayne
My winner: Chadwick Boseman

Finally, an acting category that will provide genuine suspense on Oscar night!  In one of the true oddities of the season, as Birdman has made a surge in the Best Picture race over the last month, Keaton’s seemingly-locked status as the Best Actor frontrunner has apparently fallen behind Redmayne.  You’d think that Keaton would be the one riding the wave if Academy voters were really as behind Birdman as they allegedly are, yet it’s Redmayne gaining steam.  It’s really a battle of two Oscar tropes — the “veteran actor in the role of a lifetime as a washed-up actor” versus “new young star playing a famous person with a disability.”  Redmayne, cliches aside, really was pretty extraordinary as Stephen Hawking, and despite my major problems with the movie itself, I can’t be upset if he ends up winning.

Except…Keaton was so damn good!  The other four nominees are playing real people, and I’d argue that Keaton’s role as Riggan Thompson is essentially playing a real person as well.  He’s playing himself, or, more accurately, Keaton is playing the pop culture perception of himself as a weirdo best remembered for a superhero role.  It’s such a perfect match that if any other had played the role, everyone would’ve said “that guy is just playing Michael Keaton.”  He does a terrific job of twisting and spoofing his own persona as well as making Riggan into his own unique man, and the performance is a great validation for everyone who felt Keaton has been a bit of an untapped talent for all these years.  This is what actually might end up hurting Keaton a bit, ironically — this isn’t a Julianne Moore or Jeff Bridges situation where an actor is a multi-time nominee and feels overdue for a win.  Keaton might join Bill Murray (Lost In Translation) or Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler) in the bin as major nominees who made Academy voters think “wow, good for them for finally getting that one elevated role…but we’re still voting for the person with the more traditional Oscar role.”  If Eddie Redmayne was Sean Penn, I’d say Keaton has no shot.

As great as Keaton was, however, he still doesn’t win the Markademy Award.  It’s interesting in this year of so many biopic nominees that most of them were playing real people who weren’t really well-known to the general public; most people are only learning about John du Pont, Chris Kyle and Alan Turing through these films.  James Brown, however, is one of the most well-known figures of the 20th century.  How the hell do you play James Brown without the performance falling back into a parody of his iconic mannerisms, yet also capturing enough of those mannerisms to recognizably pass as the man himself, YET ALSO somehow managing to harness some of his unmatched charisma and stage presence?  Despite this degree of difficulty, Chadwick Boseman pulled it off.  He didn’t try to copy Brown vocally (that would’ve been asking too much) but during the recreated live performances in “Get On Up,” Boseman throws so much passion and power into being on stage that the lip-syncing is not even kind of an issue.

I’m a little stunned Boseman didn’t gain more —- or, virtually any — traction during awards season for his phenomenal performance, though at least it got him a plum role in the Marvel movies.  Paycheck time! 

Actual nominees: Marion Cotillard/Two Days One Night, Felicity Jones/The Theory Of Everything, Julianne Moore/Still Alice, Rosamund Pike/Gone Girl, Reese Witherspoon/Wild
Should win: Pike
Will win: Moore

Alterna-ballot: Rose Byrne/Neighbours, Lisa Loven Kongsli/Force Majeure, Tilda Swinton/Only Lovers Left Alive
My ballot: Cotillard, Loven Kongsli, Moore, Pike, Witherspoon
My winner: Rosamund Pike

Another foregone conclusion of a category.  I mentioned earlier how Simmons has been the Oscar frontrunner for months, but Julianne Moore has seemingly had this one in the bag since the film was announced.  It’s as if everyone in Hollywood, en masse, finally decided that it was ridiculous she hasn’t won an Oscar yet and decided to remedy the problem immediately.  All that was left was for Moore to not be terrible in the role, and it’s like that would ever happen, so with one more great performance in the bank, Moore will finally get her overdue Academy Award.  “Still Alice” is as hard to watch as any film this year, just a gut-puncher that (to its credit) keeps going for 25 minutes after its would-be “happy ending” point.

You can make a case that Moore should have three Oscars already,* so I don’t think anyone is crying too much over her inevitable win even if her performance might’ve been third-best of the bunch.  Cotillard and Witherspoon have Oscars already, Jones is just happy to be there and Pike…well, okay, Pike should be winning this.  This is one of those situations where past Oscar mistakes beget “make-up” awards in the the future that just create more mistakes.  In a thin year for lead female roles, there’s little doubt that Pike created the most indelible one of the bunch, and had “Gone Girl” generated any traction with the Academy whatsoever, she might’ve had an outside shot at an upset.

* = as good as Kim Basinger genuinely was in “L.A. Confidential,” Basinger-over-Moore still looks and feels wrong as a result all these years later.  So that’s one supporting actress trophy for “Boogie Nights,” and you can argue Moore should’ve won Best Actress in 2002 for “Far From Heaven” instead of Nicole Kidman winning for “The Hours.”  (Which also co-starred Moore, and you can argue she could’ve won Supporting over category-fraud Catherine Zeta-Jones from “Chicago” that year, though if we’re picking alternate winners, Meryl Streep in “Adaptation” is my clear winner for 2002.)

Actual nominees: Wes Anderson/The Grand Budapest Hotel, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu/Birdman, Richard Linklater/Boyhood, Bennett Miller/Foxcatcher, Morten Tyldum/The Imitation Game
Should win: Linklater
Will win: Gonzalez Inarritu

Alterna-ballot: Damien Chazelle/Whiplash, Ana DuVernay/Selma, David Fincher/Gone Girl, Bong Joon-ho/Snowpiercer, Ruben Ostlund/Force Majeure
My ballot: Chazelle, Gonzalez Inarritu, Linklater, Miller, Ostlund
My winner: Richard Linklater

As mentioned, Birdman has made a surprising late surge into the pole position, and one of the cornerstones of that surge was AGI’s victory at the Directors’ Guild Awards.  The DGA winner almost always matches up with the Best Director winner, so you have to consider Inarritu the favourite on Oscar night….except I wonder if this is a case where you can see why the larger Academy pool might make a break from the directors.  Linklater’s story of spending 12 years shooting “Boyhood” in piecemeal fashion is a pretty great narrative, and I can see Academy voters in general having a larger respect for that than Inarritu’s more conventional “I made a great movie” narrative, as unique a film as Birdman is.  The narrative worked on me, that’s for sure; imagine all the care and planning that went into this 12-year process* and yet it’s the genius of both Linklater’s style and the film itself that it all looks as easy as the passage of time itself.

* = it was recently revealed that Linklater basically just told Ethan Hawke at some point that “if I happen to die, you’re taking over as director and finishing it.”

I’m also pulling for Linklater a bit more since this might end up being his only real chance at an Oscar, and he deserves some recognition for his low-key brilliance over the years.  Inarritu is the type of filmmaker who seems likely to keep making Oscarish movies in the future, so he’ll probably get more kicks at the can, perhaps even as soon as next year if “The Revenant” lives up to expectations.  I’d hardly be upset at an AGI win since he’s a terrific filmmaker and he made a great movie, yet I feel this should be Linklater’s moment.

Actual nominees: American Sniper, Birdman, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Selma, The Theory Of Everything, Whiplash
Should win: Birdman
Will win: Birdman or Boyhood

This year’s underwhelming nominee crop is giving me major 2011 flashbacks.  You have the few genuinely great films (Birdman, Boyhood, Whiplash vs. The Artist, Midnight In Paris, Hugo) that includes the likely winner, the one very good film (Selma vs. Moneyball), some real “meh” nominees (American Sniper, Imitation Game, Grand Budapest Hotel vs. The Descendants, The Help) and then the complete stinkers whose presence in any Best Picture list is a joke (Theory Of Everything vs. War Horse, Tree Of Life, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close).  I guess this year has fewer outright stinkers than 2011 but even still, the Academy didn’t exactly outdo itself with this weak crop.

Also like 2011, the Markademy Award list for Best Picture is also thin.  Only five movies passed my self-imposed bar of the “best” of the year, making for my smallest Best Picture field since 2006.  (Even 2011 had six nominees.)  This was also an odd year since, by and large, I enjoyed a lot more big-studio blockbusters than I did smaller indie-type movies.  Marvel had its best year yet quality-wise, the Planet Of The Apes franchise continues to be hugely underrated, and even the bi-annual Tom Cruise action movie ended up being a classic.

And yet tying both together is that the Oscars’ Best Picture and the Markademy Award Best Picture might end up with the same film.  This is a rarity — only two movies (Silence Of The Lambs and Unforgiven) have achieved the rare Academy/Markademy Best Picture double.  “Birdman” has a strong chance to join that illustrious list, which is something I wouldn’t have thought possible even six weeks ago when “Boyhood” was still seen as the major favourite.

So how and why is this weird, claustrophobic little dark comedy poised to win Best Picture?  Maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised, given how the classic backstage drama has long been a staple of Oscar night, going all the way back to the second Best Picture winner ever, “Broadway Melody.”  (Also one of the worst winners ever, but I digress.)  The actual production-within-a-production in “Birdman” doesn’t seem particularly plagued aside from, y’know, the fact that half the cast seems to be having some level of emotional crisis, but still, Oscar voters always love a good story about creative types dealing with the burdens of being creative.

I’d call it naval-gazing were it not for the fact that “Birdman” is a great movie.  Inarritu’s clever decision to shoot the film to look like one take* and with the ever-present jazz drumming score just ratcheted up the tension and kept the momentum at a fever pitch.  The performances are great, the story is great, the idea is great and maybe timely (minus the social media stuff, which already feels tacked-on) given how comic book movies are taking over Hollywood, and sorry Kyle, but I liked the ending.  Given how loosely the film deals with reality, the ending also enforces the fact that the whole thing could simply be Riggan’s delusion and the film is just his gradual descent into madness.

* = longtime Markademy Award favourite Emmanuel Lubezki finally won a hugely overdue cinematography Oscar last year for “Gravity” and it looks like he’ll get another for his Birdman work this year.

Interesting thing I didn’t realize until a recent Mark Harris article — have we been calling this film by the wrong title for months?  The full title is “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance),” and as Harris points out, the placement of those parentheses is really weird.  Firstly, if Inarritu had actually titled it “The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance,” there’s no way this movie would have half the traction it has, since that title is just too pretentious for words.  Secondly, given the themes of Riggan Thompson’s split personality, “Birdman Or” works as a title just unto itself.  It also would’ve led to Don Cherry seeing this movie and then angrily walking out when he realized it wasn’t a Bobby Orr biopic.

So with Birdman on top, here are the five movies that made the cut as the Markademy Award nominees for 2014….

1. Birdman
2. Force Majeure
3. Edge Of Tomorrow
4. Boyhood
5. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

The other candidates….

You probably haven’t seen or even heard of “Force Majeure,” a really interesting Swedish film that hinges on one particular moment in a family’s life and how they all react to it.  It’s both a really dark comedy and a genuine psychological profile, and it will inevitably lead to a discussion with your spouse or loved one if you see it together.  (One of my favourite aspects of Force Majeure was that such a scene is actually in the movie, when the other couple learns of Ebba and Tomas’ issue and they end up in a big argument themselves.)

“Edge Of Tomorrow” unquestionably should’ve been titled “Live, Die, Repeat.”  Let’s get that out of the way right now.  Beyond the title issue, this easily takes the title of most surprisingly awesome movie of the year.  “Groundhog Day as an action movie” is a great concept, Emily Blunt is the best and you have Tom Cruise in A-plus form in his classic role as a douchebag who learns some valuable lessons by the end of the film.  And given the movie’s structure, his character transformation is a lot more believable here than it is in, say, 40% of his other movies with this same arc.

How can I praise “Boyhood” in a way that hasn’t already been expressed by virtually every film critic in the world?  If it doesn’t win Best Picture, I feel like this might be a result that future generations might look back on as a mistake, despite the fact that Birdman is a great movie unto itself.  (If any of the other six nominees win, it’s DEFINITELY a mistake.)  Boyhood is the rare movie that kind of defies imitation, since it’s not like it’ll inspire a bunch of copycat films that are also shot over years and years.  It just depends on whether Boyhood’s idea and semi-universal story will stand the test of time…which is kind of ironic given how that’s the whole point.  Frankly, I think the casting people deserve a special award just because after 12 years, the kid grew up to actually look like Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette could’ve been his parents.

It was yet another huge year for the Marvel cinematic universe, and I literally mean ‘universe’ since “Guardians Of The Galaxy” proving that even D-list space comic heroes can be turned into box office gold.  I also mean ‘universe’ in the figurative sense since “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is the biggest game-changer towards keeping all of these films tied together in a narrative sense.  It’s also quite possible to enjoy Cap 2 if you’ve never seen any of the other Marvel movies…put it this way, my parents recently saw it on a plane and loved it.

Those are the five that were just good enough to crack my Best Picture list, and here are the 22 other films that were also very good and well worth checking out.

6. Snowpiercer
7. The Lego Movie
8. Foxcatcher
9. Whiplash
10. Dear White People
11. The One I Love
12. Guardians Of The Galaxy
13. Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes
14. Gone Girl
15. Pride
16. Nightcrawler
17. Selma
18. Interstellar
19. Life Of Crime
20. Top Five
21. Coherence
22. Calvary
23. Wild
24. They Came Together
25. Blue Ruin
26. Only Lovers Left Alive
27. Big Hero 6

And finally, here’s that Markademy Award crowd favourite, the Scenes of the Year!  A great scene or moment can come from any movie, good or bad, and here are the ones that are likely to best stick with me for years to come.

22. Scudder matter-of-factly talks down a knife-wielding weirdo (A Walk Among The Tombstones)
21. Sandra turns the radio up (Two Days, One Night)
20. The Kings’ home, the night before the march (Selma)
19. Andre visits his old friends (Top Five)
18. Riggen locks himself out of the theatre (Birdman)
17. Rama fights the Assassin (The Raid 2: Berandal)
16. Maggie and Milo lip-sync "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" (The Skeleton Twins)
15. The reveal of just how much is left of Alex Murphy (Robocop)
14. Laura invites Riggan up the stairs (Birdman)
13. Jerry Seinfeld's cameo (Top Five)
12. Rama fights Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man (The Raid 2: Berandal)
11. Cliff and Hefina make some sandwiches (Pride)
10. Groot and his fireflies (Guardians Of The Galaxy)
9. Doc sees the baby's picture (Inherent Vice)
8. Basically any of the "live" performances (Get On Up)
7. You can say that again!/Tell me about it! (They Came Together)
6. Quicksilver takes care of the Pentagon guards (X-Men: Days Of Future Past)
5. The list of upcoming sequels (22 Jump Street)
4. The classroom car (Snowpiercer)
3. Ebba, Tomas, Mats and Fanni have dinner (Force Majeure)
2. Cooper sees the videos from home (Interstellar)
1. Andrew plays "Caravan" and then just keeps going (Whiplash)

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