Friday, December 20, 2013

MUD (2013)

Ellis (Tye Sheridan) spends his day much as you’d expect a 14-year-old would. He lives on a dilapidated houseboat with parents Senior (Ray McKinnon) and Mary Lee (Sarah Paulson) and, when he’s not helping his father sell fresh catches of fish in town, he explores the rural Arkansas environs with best friend Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), who lives with uncle Galen (Michael Shannon), an oyster fisherman. One morning the boys set off to a nearby island in the Mississippi River where Neckbone found an abandoned boat in a tree (left by a recent flood) to which they plan to stake claim. When they arrive a disheveled, enigmatic man named Mud (Matthew McConaughey) has already moved in. At first he only asks Ellis to bring him back food while he waits for a mystery woman. But each time Ellis visits the requests increase, and Mud parcels out more of his strange story. He has been obsessed with Juniper (Reese Witherspoon) since high school, and throughout their troubled history she has become involved with abusive men and turned to Mud for help, usually by him beating them up. The last time, however, he shot the man dead, and now he hides on the island. Ellis becomes fixated on this less than requited love story and agrees to acquire various parts and supplies to make the tree-bound boat seaworthy so Mud can run away with his dream girl. In town Ellis discovers Juniper holed up at a nearby motel, but also learns that the murdered man’s father has hired thugs to kill Mud. Relative newcomer Sheridan has a natural, commanding presence, and McConaughey gives his opaque drifter an earthy charm and a menacing reticence. Writer/director Jeff Nichols’ film starts out as a boys’ adventure tale and gradually evolves into a bittersweet coming-of-age story that forgoes cheap nostalgia. Like Ellis we want to get swept up in his romantic idealism, but events and Nichol’s world-weary parental figures remind him (and us) that adults are as adept at casual deceit and emotional blindness as feckless youths. Despite an ending that nearly succumbs to action film tropes, Nichols maintains an enveloping tone of almost magical realism.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


The original ANCHORMAN was the first Will Ferrell movie I could recommend without reservation. With the terrific comic chemistry between Ferrell and Christina Applegate (as rival and lover Veronica Corningstone) Burgundy became the most endearing of film blowhards. The sequel, again directed by Adam McKay, moves the story from ‘70s San Diego to ‘80s New York, where the anchor couple faces a marital crisis when the network promotes Veronica and fires Ron, sending the egomaniac into a tailspin. Then Freddie Shapp (Dylan Baker) offers him the chance to gather his old news team – Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd), Brick Tamland (Steve Carell) and Champ Kind (David Koechner) – and join the Global News Network’s innovative 24-hour program. Because Ron feels threatened by GNN’s handsome star anchor Jack Lime (James Marsden) he makes a foolish wager. However, in his desperation to win Ron stumbles upon the novel concept of giving viewers the news they want, and his ratings go through the roof. This sudden success boosts Ron’s already inflated ego and wins him a new girlfriend in GNN’s black station chief, Linda Jackson (Meagan Good). But soon our Icarus with salon-quality hair flies too near the sun. Kristen Wiig and Greg Kinnear are welcome cast additions, but the movie is overstuffed with celebrity cameos and gives Applegate little to do. McKay and Ferrell’s script never attains the original’s narrative cohesion and too often evokes and attempts to surpass sublime moments from its predecessor. The advent of the 24-hour news cycle creates dispiriting comedy and mainly serves to remind viewers of the depressing state of current television news. The original movie used feminism to spark Ron and Veronica’s professional and emotional friction. Except for a dinner in which Ron meets Linda’s family and a love scene in which a Jackie Robinson film clip appears, the sequel’s interracial romance doesn’t provide much kick because Ferrell and Good never ignite comically. While some may “agree to disagree” that the movie has plenty of laughs (which it does), I found it more strained and less of a “big deal” this time around.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


Modern horror movies have become little more than fictionalized snuff films, with few scares and less humanity. While horror need not satirize society as George Romero’s seminal zombie pictures did or tap into a zeitgeist anxiety like THE EXORCIST, it should at the very least frighten its audience. This gripping tale of paranormal terror does just that. Based ostensibly on a true story, the film is set primarily in 1971 in and around a Rhode Island farmhouse with a past that includes witchcraft and filicide. Unaware of this Carolyn (Lili Taylor) and Roger Perron (Ron Livingston) move into the rustic home with their five lively daughters. Strange noises, sentient doors opening and closing, and frequent sleepwalking by one of the girls, quickly fray the family’s nerves. After they begin to explore the cluttered, dusty cellar, the phenomena increase and become more malevolent, so the Perrons turn to paranormal experts Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) and Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson). Lorraine, a psychic recovering from an exorcism gone awry, persuades her husband, a demonologist with ties to the Catholic Church, to verify the claim. The Warrens surmise that a demon has attached itself to the Perrons and soon discover it has done the same to them when it starts threatening their daughter as well. With admirable restraint writers Chad Hayes & Carey W. Hayes parcel out hints of the impending horror in the film’s first half. Director James Wan shrewdly follows this example, using off-screen sounds and vague shapes lurking at the edge of vision or just out of focus to foment anxiety. As the demon begins to manifest itself Wan uses misdirection and asymmetrical framing to create a palpable sense of dread and keep the viewer off balance. His most potent tool, however, is his remarkable cast. Wilson’s wonky sincerity and Livingston’s flannel-shirted stability lend credibility to the escalating events, while Taylor and Farmiga, with their ferocious commitment within the film’s genre trappings, draw us in. We experience their desperate terror when the scares come and, in the end, their relief, and take comfort in the triumph of human decency.

Friday, November 22, 2013


Elderly Billings, Montana, resident Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) is convinced that he has won a million dollars. So fervently does he believe this that, when we first meet him, he has set off on foot for Lincoln, Nebraska, to claim sweepstakes money promised by the form letter in his coat pocket. It’s not clear whether Woody’s mind has gone due to age or decades of unrepentant drinking or whether he’s simply delusional. He refuses to recognize the scam and repeats his quixotic attempts to the exasperation of brash wife Kate (June Squibb) and oldest son Ross (Bob Odenkirk), who still harbors resentment over years of paternal indifference. Younger son David (Will Forte), stuck selling stereo systems and recently separated from his live-in girlfriend, reluctantly agrees to drive his father to Lincoln to “get out of Billings for a while” and in the hope that Woody will then “shut up” about the money. The odyssey takes them across the flat, barren terrain of the Midwest, with Phedon Papamichael’s black and white camerawork underscoring the stark, unforgiving landscape. En route they stop in Woody’s hometown, Hawthorne, Nebraska, to visit family, and there David gets some insight into his taciturn father’s life in the recollections of a former girlfriend and his one-time partner Ed Pegram (Stacy Keach), among others, until news of the prodigal son’s impending “riches” sours the reunion. Director Alexander Payne’s films routinely (and wryly) observe the foibles of flawed, misguided folk and have been accused (not entirely without justification) of being misanthropic. Thanks to Bob Nelson’s shrewdly observed and often funny screenplay, Payne transcends his tendency to condescend and displays a genuine tenderness for most of the characters. The acting is exceptional. Squibb is explosive as the lioness protecting her pride, Keach uses charming menace to mark his meager territory, and Forte moves subtly between frustration and compassion. But Dern turns the nearly mute Woody into the role of a lifetime. We see a world of regret in his eyes and root for redemption, however small. When it comes, it is surprising and supremely satisfying.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


In Nazi Germany circa 1938 young Liesel (Sophie Nélisse) adapts to her new life in the modest home of amiable Hans (an excellent Geoffrey Rush) and brusque wife Rosa (Emily Watson) after her mother vanishes for vague reasons. Her prized possession is a book taken from the graveside of her brother, who died in transit. While Hans patiently teaches Liesel how to read and write at night, the girl spends her days playing street football or with neighbor boy Rudy (Nico Liersch) who challenges her to races in the hopes of getting a kiss. The Nazi party indoctrinates the children with songs and propaganda at school and gathers the neighborhood together for the periodic book burning under the watchful eye of Burgomeister Hermann (Rainer Bock). At one such gathering Liesel manages to steal a smoldering book from the ashes and smuggles it home. Her fear of being found out, however, is overshadowed by the arrival of Max (Ben Schnetzer), a Jewish refuge whom Hans must hide in the basement in repayment of a debt to the young man’s dead father. Because Hans refuses to join the Party, work is in short supply. So with another mouth to feed Rosa earns extra money doing laundry for the Burgomeister’s wife, Ilsa (Barbara Auer). While delivering clean clothes to the Hermann home Liesel discovers a library of books that proves too great a temptation. Michael Petroni’s adaptation of the young adult novel by Markus Zusak is faithful to a fault. Every memorable scene from the book makes an appearance on screen but few receive sufficient time or dramatic significance to carry much weight or generate much suspense. Conversely director Brian Percival milks every meaningful look and moment, giving the film a sluggish pace. The filmmakers don’t seem to trust the material or the audience’s capacity to absorb it. Instead they feel the need to make life under the yoke of the Third Reich easily digestible for the masses. Even the dead pulled from bombed out buildings look serene and are unsullied by dirt or blood. The contrast between the courage of the book’s Liesel and the timidity of the filmmakers could not be more stark.

Thursday, November 7, 2013


We first met Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy) in their twenties some eighteen years ago on a train to Vienna as they fell in love then parted ways after one fateful night in director Richard Linklater’s BEFORE SUNRISE (1995). Nine years later in BEFORE SUNSET (2004) we found them again, this time in Céline’s hometown of Paris at a promotion for Jesse’s book about their encounter. In spite of their committed relationships (he is married with child; she with another man) they fitfully succumbed to the rekindled embers of the past as Linklater closed that film with the tantalizing hint of further romantic complications. Now they (and we) are nine years older still. Since then Jesse has divorced his wife, moved to Paris with Céline, fathered twin girls, and written more books to varying degrees of commercial and critical success. We drop in on him during an uncharacteristically stilted airport conversation with his grown son Hank (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) as the boy prepares to return to his mother. During the car ride back to the home of Patrick (the Greek author hosting him and his family for a summer of conversation, food, and drink) Jesse ponders whether he should be a more regular presence in his son’s life while Céline considers a change in career, as their towheaded children snooze in the back seat. Their courtship period has passed. On the cusp of middle age they negotiate the treacherous waters of family, career, and the mutability of love. Linklater’s script (co-written with Delpy and Hawke) keeps the talk flowing, and the dialogue’s loose structure and natural rhythms give the sense of being privy to the most intimate of conversations. While Delpy’s unaffected performance fits the material perfectly, Hawke at times feels self-conscious (though, in fairness, I’m unsure whether it’s the actor or the character). For the heartbreaking penultimate scene, however, they each achieve a vulnerability that’s breathtaking. In all three films (each richer than the last) Linklater, Delpy and Hawke avoid pat closure and provide the uneasy comfort that with life and relationships imperfection is the rule, not the exception.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

GRAVITY (2013)

Director Alfonso Cuaron begins his film orbiting over Earth with Emmanuel Lubezki’s fluid camera moving languidly toward the Hubble Space Telescope where a tethered Mission Specialist Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) works on the satellite, fighting the queasiness of zero gravity. Meanwhile veteran Mission Commander Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) cracks jokes and darts around on a jet pack, hoping to break the spacewalk record. This first shot lasts over ten minutes and has a beauty and serenity that lulls us into forgetting the opening title card’s admonishment: “Life in space is impossible.” The voice of Houston (an unseen Ed Harris) breaks in with the news that a cloud of debris moving at great speed is on a collision course with the astronauts. Before the crew can escape, the shrapnel strikes, leaving their spacecraft devastated, communication with Houston disrupted, and Kowalski and Stone stranded. Armed with a depleted jet pack, dwindling oxygen tanks, and a tether holding them together, the castaways make their way toward the nearest potential refuge, the International Space Station. Cuaron’s screenplay, which he co-wrote with son Jonas, makes space the ultimate antagonist – dispassionate and merciless. Every action Kowalski and Stone take for survival is fraught with obstacles and mortal danger, which makes for riveting, breathless cinema. The writers stumble (most likely at the studio’s behest) when they add a maudlin human-interest back-story for Stone in which she lost her daughter in an accident years ago and must learn to let go. That quibble aside, you are unlikely to see a more economical, pulse-quickening adventure this year. Bullock is compelling, and Clooney is Clooney, which is just fine. The film’s technical achievement is as brilliant as it is subtle. With the help of ace cinematographer Lubezki and a battalion of special effects gurus, Cuaron drops us into the action and completely convinces us that we, like Stone and Kowalski, are adrift in space. When we emerge on shaky legs from the theater (where the movie should be seen, dare I say in 3-D) gravity never felt so good.

Friday, October 18, 2013

12 YEARS A SLAVE (2013)

Near the end of his remarkable film, director Steve McQueen holds a close up of the anxious face of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor). The slave has convinced Bass (Brad Pitt), an abolitionist from Canada, to send a message to his former employer in the North to help him regain his stolen freedom. But hope has been stymied and trust betrayed before, so he waits. And for a brief moment Northup looks directly at the viewer, not accusing but with anguish. This startling shot reminds us that this is not merely a film about humanity’s capacity for both shocking cruelty and unfathomable resilience, but a jolting glimpse into our at times shameful collective national history. In recounting this history McQueen and screenwriter John Ridley, who adapted Northup’s book of the same name, refuse to indulge in cheap melodrama and allow a muted tone to provide apt counterpoint to the oppression on display. The filmmakers let shots linger past comfort and deny the viewer easy catharsis. We watch the horrific particulars of life in the antebellum South through the eyes of Northup, an educated free black man who lived comfortably as a musician in upstate New York with his wife and two young children before being lured to Washington, D.C., for a job, kidnapped, and sold into slavery under a false name to a plantation owner in Louisiana. He manages to hide his ability to read and write, but his organizational and carpentry skills earn him the favor of kindly master Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) and escalating hostility from construction supervisor Tibeats (Paul Dano). This conflict forces Ford to sell Northup to jealous master Epps (Michael Fassbender) whose green eye frequently wanders to hardworking slave girl Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o) over his wife’s (Sarah Paulson) violent objections. Rounding out an exceptional cast are Paul Giamatti and Alfre Woodard in small but memorable roles. Ridley’s episodic script weaves a rich tapestry with matter-of-fact care, anchored by McQueen’s striking visuals. However, Ejiofor carries the film on his broad shoulders and in his eloquent eyes with a quiet dignity that speaks volumes.

Friday, September 20, 2013


Writer/director Edgar Wright and writer/actor Simon Pegg’s first feature, SHAUN OF THE DEAD, paid hilarious homage to George Romero by asking the question “What if there was a zombie apocalypse and nobody noticed?” HOT FUZZ, their second film collaboration, poked fun at action movie tropes while exposing an underbelly of fascism hidden beneath the civility of a quaint English country village. This third installment in their so-called Cornetto Trilogy follows middle-aged Gary King (Pegg), an alcoholic poster boy for arrested development. He drives the same car and has the same goals from when he was 18. To that end he persuades his four best mates from high school to return to their hometown and finish what they started 20 years earlier – the Golden Mile, twelve pints in twelve pubs. Unlike Gary, his friends surrendered years ago to the compromises of adulthood but agree, as men of a certain age do, to this one night of drinking and (limited) debauchery. As the pub-crawl proceeds the men stumble upon regrets and missed opportunities from their past. Shy Steven Prince (Paddy Considine) confesses his feelings for Sam Chamberlain (Rosamund Pike), brother of fellow crawler Oliver (Martin Freeman), and meek Peter Page (Eddie Marsan) confronts a former school bully. Andy Knightley (Nick Frost), meanwhile, works out his boiling resentment at Gary’s sins against him. For much of its first half the script by Pegg & Wright moves briskly along in this fashion, a bittersweet musing on the perils of mourning lost youth. Then the robots turn up, and comic carnage ensues. How this transpires is far more enjoyable than why, so I will forgo the former for the sake of surprise and spare the latter. In this outing director Wright tones down his somewhat tiresome visual flourishes and relies instead on generous writing and an excellent cast. The tone shifts between the serious and the silly work well until the filmmakers paint themselves into a corner, which leads to a less than satisfying ending. Although there’s a part of me that longs for Wright and Pegg to just grow up, I’m not so secretly glad that they haven’t. Go figure.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

STOKER (2013)

South Korean director Park Chan-wook’s English-language debut feature starts off as a family drama about introverted India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) whose father Richard (Dermot Mulroney) dies in a fiery car crash on her 18th birthday. Her less-than-grief-stricken mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) remains cold, so the girl retreats further inward, getting what comfort she can from family housekeeper Mrs. Garrick (Phyllis Somerville). The arrival of Richard’s brother Charles (Matthew Goode) at the funeral reception begins the film’s subtle evolution into chamber horror, complete with cruelty, violence, and dark family secrets. Neither Stoker woman has set eyes upon the prodigal before, but Charles, tacitly receptive to Evelyn’s flirtation, insinuates himself into the household over the open suspicion of India, the unspoken disapproval of Mrs. Garrick, and the concern of meddling relation Gwendolyn Stoker (Jacki Weaver) paying an unexpected visit. Despite her initial reservation India finds herself drawn to her enigmatic uncle, who likewise shows an unsettling interest in the inner life of his withdrawn niece. This mutual fascination turns deadly, however, when India spurns a local teen’s hormonal advances. Compared with his notoriously violent OLDBOY, the revenge tale as perverse Greek tragedy, Park’s stylish work here feels subdued. He embraces the gothic elements in Wentworth Miller’s spare screenplay, and his cool visual palate clashes with his saturated images, which seem ready to burst like overfed parasites, and add to the film’s perpetual sense of unease. But its rich atmosphere cannot compensate for its meager story. When major revelations finally arrive late in the film, even patient viewers may be past caring. More problematic, the deliberate pacing undermines the grisly potential of certain sequences, eliciting chortles of disbelief rather than gasps of terror. Mulroney and Weaver are engaging but have far too little to do. Goode’s creepy turn feels plastic, while Kidman sleepwalks through much of her role. Wasikowska, on the other hand, makes India’s psychological awakening both relatable and mesmerizing.

Thursday, August 22, 2013


Guillermo del Toro is a versatile cinema fabulist. PAN’S LABYRINTH, his heartbreaking dark fairy tale set in 1944 fascist Spain, stands as one of the finest films of the last ten years. Meanwhile, on the other end of the tonal spectrum, his freewheeling adaptation of HELLBOY, a series of graphic novels about a coarse, sulfurous, cigar-chomping hero, overflows with goofy humor and infectious energy. In del Toro’s latest fantasy opus Earth becomes the target of regular assaults by giant monsters called Kaiju that rise up at increasing intervals from a portal in the ocean’s depths and wreak havoc on seaboard cities. To combat these alien behemoths the military develops Jaegers, a fleet of titanic robots manned by neural-linked pilot/fighters. For a time this stems the tide of destruction; however, budget cuts shut down the official Jaeger program and replace the robots with towering, supposedly impenetrable, coastal walls. But the Kaiju learn and evolve and soon break through these barriers. Luckily Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) has quietly kept the Jaeger program on line. He enlists former pilot Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) to rejoin the ragtag remainders, including grizzled veteran Herc Hansen (Max Martini) and his hotheaded son Chuck (Robert Kazinsky), and, after extensive try-outs, Stacker’s aide Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) proves the best neural match to co-pilot a Jaeger with Raleigh. Meanwhile bickering scientists Dr. Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day) and Gottlieb (Burn Gorman), desperate to permanently close the Kaiju portal, turn to underworld black marketeer Hannibal Chau (Ron Perlman) for help. In the final analysis a movie like this is measured by the quality and quantity of monster vs. robot mayhem, and in this regard the filmmakers deliver spectacularly. The script by Travis Beacham & del Toro also provides enough satisfying if superficial character moments to appease those who prefer the IRON MAN series ethos to that of the TRANSFORMERS. The solid performances are serviceable, and Perlman brings some welcome humor to what is otherwise an overly serious summer popcorn picture.

Saturday, July 13, 2013


With Bryan Singer’s dull SUPERMAN RETURNS reboot forgotten, the franchise turned to Christopher Nolan, the man who saved Batman from camp, to give the comic book hero another new beginning. He produces and shares story credit with David S. Goyer but abdicates directorial duties to Zack Snyder. Most of the film’s first half embellishes upon and modifies Superman’s well-trod origin story with some degree of success. On dying planet Krypton General Zod (Michael Shannon) stages a military coup and attempts to stop Jor-El (Russell Crowe) from sending newborn son Kal-El off the doomed home world to Earth. The babe escapes, Zod and his cohorts are captured and exiled, but Krypton explodes. Kal-El’s craft lands in Kansas where farmer Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) and wife Martha (Diane Lane) adopt him and name him Clark. As the boy grows his powers become evident, but Pa Kent asks him to refrain from using them, even to help others, in order to hide his otherness. This conflict drives adult Clark (Henry Cavill) into the wide world doing odd labor-intensive jobs until drawn inexorably to the Arctic and the spaceship buried beneath the ice, where he learns his true identity. There he also meets Daily Planet ace investigative reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and begins to confront his destiny as Superman. While Goyer’s screenplay focuses on Kal-El as the stranger in a strange land and the fear his alien origin engenders, the film flirts with unexpected poignancy. Costner and Lane exude homespun decency, while Adams elicits sparks from an otherwise somber Cavill. However, once Zod and his minions arrive intending to turn Earth into a new Krypton, director Snyder jettisons any thematic groundwork laid and commences a 40-minute aural and visual assault that leaves viewers’ ears ringing and heads pounding. Most distressing, the numbing carnage undermines Superman’s established moral character, because he seems to tacitly accept the unseen but inevitable casualties incurred during his devastating battle with Zod. In reimagining Superman the filmmakers have obliterated him beyond recognition.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

THE HEAT (2013)

After striking gold in the crude yet warm-hearted BRIDESMAIDS, director Paul Feig and star Melissa McCarthy return to the crass comedy well with this sporadically funny but overlong female buddy cop movie. Despite an impressive success rate, FBI agent Ashburn (Sandra Bullock) rubs colleagues the wrong way with her strict adherence to procedure and a know-it-all confidence. Supervisor Hale (Demian Bichir) transfers her to Boston to apprehend a drug kingpin, with the hope that she may learn people skills by interacting with local law enforcement. Enter foul-mouthed force of nature Detective Mullins (McCarthy), a tough native who follows her instinct wherever it may lead (usually into chaos) to the resignation of her demoralized sad sack Captain Woods (Thomas F. Wilson). Of course these polar opposites must team up in the investigation, and of course both will come to like and respect each other before the end credits role. Katie Dippold’s script leans heavily on the gender switch concept and finds little else that’s fresh. The story is meager, and the characters are mere sketches filled in perfunctorily by a game cast. In his previous feature, director Feig paced his film and shaped each scene to perfection. Here he attempts to bolster the thin script with improvisation, and the results are decidedly mixed. In scene after shapeless scene the gifted McCarthy seems to have been given free rein to embellish dialogue. But her riffs miss more than they hit, and the pace drags. It comes to a standstill during the unfunny Mullins family scenes, noisy nadirs that waste the talents of Jane Curtin and Michael Rapaport, among others. Furthermore Feig fails to maintain a consistent tone, with the humor lurching from the bellicose to the heartfelt to the violent. (Want to see a tracheotomy played for laughs? This is your movie.) Although Bullock makes an amiable foil for McCarthy, her evolution from straight-laced agent to rebellious rogue fails to convince. However, Michael McDonald’s subtle, knowing turn as sadistic villain Julian proves the axiom forgotten by too many actors and filmmakers nowadays. Less is more.

Friday, June 21, 2013

WORLD WAR Z (2013)

Although based on Max Brooks’ apocalyptic novel, this epic zombie picture most closely resembles Danny Boyle’s jarring 2002 shocker 28 DAYS LATER. Whereas the earlier film began in the eerily quiet aftermath of an infection that turned the populace of Great Britain into rabid, swarming monsters, screenwriters Matthew Michael Carnahan, J. Michael Straczynski, and Drew Goddard & Damon Lindelof waste no time plunging us into the midst of a citywide panic at the onset of what we learn is a global epidemic. Ex-United Nations investigator Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) escapes an overrun Philadelphia with wife Karin (Mireille Enos) and their two daughters thanks to a helicopter extraction care of former boss Thierry (Fana Mokoena). His family’s shelter on an aircraft carrier is conditioned, however, upon Gerry returning to fieldwork to locate the source of the plague and, accompanied by scientist Andrew Fassbach (Elyes Gabel) and a squad of soldiers, to find a cure. Gerry first arrives at a desolate and decimated military base in South Korea, only to find all the infected bodies burned. Former CIA operative (David Morse) suggests they travel to Israel where senior Mossad agent Jurgen Warmbrunn (Ludi Boeken) oversees security for the heavily fortressed country by retaining the undead masses outside its towering walls. There Gerry learns that the best hope for a vaccine may lie at a World Health Organization laboratory in Wales, which leads him onto one of the most harrowing commercial flights committed to film. Director Marc Forster sets a relentless pace, deftly handles both the large- and small-scale action, and elicits a surprisingly grounded performance from Pitt. With their willingness to kill off characters indiscriminately and dispassionately, the filmmakers maintain an air of dread seldom experienced in big studio summer fare. The film’s tense final sequence upends expectations further. Our hero achieves success, such as it is, not through weapons proficiency in an absurd shooting gallery video game, but through courage and willing sacrifice for a greater good – qualities too rarely on view in the movies these days.

Thursday, June 6, 2013


Sarah Polley (best known for performances in the ebullient GO and the devastating THE SWEET HEREAFTER) has evolved into a filmmaker of exceptional merit. AWAY FROM HER, her sensitive adaptation of Alice Munroe’s short story “The Bear Came Over The Mountain,” earned her an Oscar® nomination, and her tender direction helped earn Julie Christie the same. In her new film the writer/director turns documentarian and aims the camera at her own family (and sometimes herself) to explore through collective memory the life of her vivacious mother, Diane, who died in 1990 when Polley was 11 years old. For this project she enlists father Michael, brothers John and Mark, sisters Susy and Joanna, and several family friends and colleagues, some under mild duress, to tell from beginning to end their story of Diane. With these storytellers’ recollections, Polley combines archival footage, seamless reenactments, and written narration recited by Michael, at times punctuated by her request for a line redo, to create an idiosyncratic and deeply personal story. By definition a documentary is factual and objective, but in practice the documenter’s point-of-view prevents true objectivity. Polley is a shrewd enough filmmaker to use this unconventional approach to underscore the elusiveness of objective fact, and gives each story, even those that seem to contradict, equal credence. In a pivotal sequence she shows the danger of presupposition by revealing how one direct investigation leads to a dead end, while a tangential one bears unexpected fruit. Wryly referring to her interview style as an interrogation, Polley is not afraid to ruffle feathers. But her persistence pays off with funny, bracing candor from many of her subjects, particularly the touching Michael. By and large Polley avoids the precious, a real danger inherent in material this close. Instead she transcends the personal and finds the universal. Her film reminds us that our lives are but stories we construct, through memory and action. In some lives we play major roles; in others mere bit parts. And sometimes we must allow our story to change in order to discover who we truly are.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

IRON MAN 3 (2013)

Beginning with 1987’s LETHAL WEAPON Shane Black spent a decade as an overpaid writer of big, smart-ass action movies. But dwindling box office mirrored the diminishing aesthetic returns, and Black vanished until his 2005 directorial debut, the underrated KISS KISS BANG BANG, a crackerjack comic thriller starring Robert Downey, Jr. The latest IRON MAN installment reunites director Black (who co-wrote the script with Drew Pearce) and Downey (as Tony Stark) and retains the prior film’s invigorating fusion of the wiseacre and the world weary, energizing a series in danger of becoming inert. After a fitful flashback to New Year’s Eve 1999 in which we watch pre-Iron Man Stark brush off eager technology maven Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) to spend the evening with pretty geneticist Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall), we return to present day with Stark attempting to recuperate from the apocalyptic attack on New York City by Loki (see THE AVENGERS). Traumatized and sleepless, he spends his nights tinkering in the lab while beloved but beleaguered Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) runs the business. The stalwart Colonel James Rhodes (Don Cheadle), meanwhile, changes his branding from War Machine to the Iron Patriot and becomes part of President Ellis’ (William Sadler) security team. An international terrorist calling himself The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) blows up the Chinese Theatre, which hospitalizes Stark’s right hand man Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) and brings the inventor before cameras vowing harsh justice. Before a plan can be set in motion, Maya turns up at Stark’s home warning that Killian, her current employer, is in league with The Mandarin. Then all hell breaks loose. While the busy script keeps the action brisk and dialogue crackling, Black gives Downey and Paltrow room to hint at the deep feelings just beneath Stark and Pepper’s glib surface banter. This grounds the outlandish action and keeps human stakes high amidst the CG carnage. In the last decade Black and Downey, former poster boys of vapid excess, have seasoned with age, proving that you can be a grown up and still play with toys.

Friday, May 24, 2013


The best STAR TREK films attain a careful balance between reverence to the source material and the sly upturning of expectations. In the 2009 prequel, director J.J. Abrams and screenwriters Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman violated the space/time continuum to give Leonard Nimoy (the original Spock) a cameo and themselves permission to disregard any inconsistency within the established Star Trek universe they may create in future films. The movie was enjoyable enough, with sharp casting and strong character rapport, to overlook this breach. Now Abrams and the writers (with the addition of Damon Lindelof) return to the wormhole in this slapdash sequel, and proceed to unravel the fabric of the franchise with careless abandon. After a busy prologue in which Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban) race from indigenous space savages and rescue Spock (Zachary Quinto) from an active volcano where he attempts to set off a cold fusion bomb (to save said savages), we return to Starfleet where Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood) reprimands and demotes Kirk for violating the prime directive. However, the demotion is short-lived after an attack on Starfleet command forces Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) to send Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise to an isolated planet in Klingon territory, where the attack’s mastermind, Kirk’s future nemesis Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch), has taken refuge. Despite some genuinely harrowing scenes and a handful of engaging character moments -- most involving Quinto, Simon Pegg (as Chief Engineer Scott) and the underused Urban -- the script feels like roughly patched together scenes from better films. Perhaps the puzzling title refers to the willful blindness to which fans of the TV and film series must succumb in order to overlook the gaps in narrative logic through which a fleet of starships could pass. But the filmmakers’ ill-conceived emphasis on confused plotting is merely their second greatest sin. The film’s dramatic centerpiece is ripped whole cloth from 1982’s THE WRATH OF KHAN. This shameless, cynical piece of pilfering is lazy, inexcusable, and unforgiveable.

Thursday, May 23, 2013


Films rarely address the awkward transition from feckless youth to dutiful adult in a way that actual grownups might recognize. Too often we spend 90 minutes in the tiresome company of a man-child whose Peter Pan syndrome finally beats us and his screen peers into weary submission. However, this wry, off-kilter comedy does a gender switch, and the whimsical results are discerning, sometimes melancholy, and always humane. 27-year-old Frances (Greta Gerwig) lives the life of a bohemian, barely making ends meet as a student teacher and apprentice at a New York dance studio. She refuses her soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend’s offer to move in, because she prefers to continue living with current roommate and best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner). Until now she has blithely deferred adult responsibilities and relationships and has come to rely on her friend’s comforting, stable presence. She often says of Sophie, “We’re the same person.” After Sophie announces her plan to move out and spend more time with boyfriend Patch (Patrick Heusinger), Frances’ carefree life begins to unspool. Noah Baumbach & Gerwig’s script feels daft and unruly, not unlike Frances herself. Director Baumbach matches this tone with a loose, irreverent shooting style reminiscent of the French New Wave films of the 1960s, nicely evoked by Sam Levy’s unfussy black and white cinematography. As the unmoored Frances bounces from the couch of rakish Lev (Adam Driver) and adoring Benji (Michael Zegen) to her parents’ (played by Gerwig’s mother and father) home in California to dance colleague Rachel’s (Grace Gummer) apartment to a weekend in Paris to a summer job at her rustic alma mater, she begins to confront the compromises of adulthood. Gerwig’s canny performance keeps us on Frances’ side even as we long to shake some sense into her, and Sumner’s grounded Sophie makes the perfect foil for flighty Frances. We recognize the perfection of their match and feel their growing pains as the friendship necessarily evolves. The witty final shot is both button and grace note that clarifies the film’s enigmatic title.

Friday, April 19, 2013

ROOM 237 (2013)

In 1980 Stanley Kubrick released his film adaptation of Stephen King’s popular horror novel THE SHINING to mostly tepid reviews. The basic premise of the book and film is that a blocked writer, hired as caretaker for an empty, isolated Colorado resort during the winter, becomes possessed by the malevolent spirit of the Overlook Hotel and tries to kill his wife and young son. Initially many fans of the book, myself included, felt that Kubrick’s slow, sterilized approach to the pulpy material missed the forest for the trees – or the hedge animals for the maze. We had hoped Kubrick would make Stephen King’s book. Instead he made a Stanley Kubrick film. During the intervening years, however, the movie worked its way into the subconscious of film culture and began inciting passionate discussions about Kubrick’s true intent, since he clearly failed to make a traditional horror movie. In this enjoyable if somewhat repetitive documentary, director Rodney Ascher gives several SHINING obsessives the chance to expound upon their respective theories, which run the gamut from cogent but unlikely to cheerfully goofy. The most plausible contends that the film depicts the Native American genocide by white settlers, using the Overlook’s preponderance of Southwestern décor, the wash of blood from the elevators, and the ubiquitous horror trope “built on Indian burial grounds” as its basis. The next believes Kubrick was making reference to the Holocaust, with the writer’s German-made typewriter and the repetition of the number “42” (the Nazi’s final solution began in 1942) among its offered evidence. Another suggests Kubrick is confessing to his involvement in the “staged” films of the Apollo moon landings, a widely held conspiracy theory of the time. One points out the impossible geography of the hotel, while another runs the film backward and forward at the same time to find hidden meanings. After a recent viewing of THE SHINING, I believe this is Kubrick’s attempt to drive his audience crazy using visual disorientation and invasive sound design. Based on the evidence of this documentary, he just may have succeeded.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


Director Steven Soderbergh’s professed final feature film begins as a tacit critique of our over-medicated culture, from pharmaceutical companies saturating the market with psychotropic medications to ethically challenged doctors testing them on patients to compliant consumers turning to chemicals as a first resort. But then Scott Z. Burns’ clever script alters its makeup and transforms into a winding thriller where greed, deceit and betrayal are more lethal than any side effect. Four years earlier Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) had her life and marriage torn apart when, soon after the nuptials, hedge fund manager husband Martin (Channing Tatum) earns a prison term for insider trading. Shunted from her upstate mansion to a Manhattan apartment, Emily works and waits for Martin’s return. When that day arrives she has an emotional breakdown and drives her car into a wall. This suicide attempt leads her into the care of Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), a psychiatrist with a growing practice and lucrative, well-funded drug studies on the side. After several prescriptions fail to help, Banks consults with Emily’s former upstate analyst Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who suggests he try the antidepressant Ablixa. The new drug works wonders on Emily’s mood but causes her to sleepwalk for extended periods. During one such sleepwalking incident Emily commits an act of shocking violence, and someone must pay. Burns and Soderbergh use subtle misdirection and sharp casting to deftly manipulate audience empathy. With a face that invites sympathy while maintaining aloofness Mara makes for a convincing depressive. Likewise Law treads the fine line between sincere concern and suspect opportunism, while Zeta-Jones hints at the repressed urges bubbling under her brittle professional demeanor. Once the story evolves, however, the filmmakers upturn expectations and skillfully navigate each slippery twist to a satisfying, morally ambiguous conclusion. Throughout his career Soderbergh has proven to be an exemplary film craftsman, and here he is at the top of his game. It would be a shame if this truly were his swan song.

Saturday, February 23, 2013


This year, thanks to the grim slate of Oscar contenders, torture and degradation go mainstream.  From the indignities of aging in AMOUR, to the Iran hostage crisis in ARGO, to the cruelties of slavery in DJANGO UNCHAINED, to Russell Crowe’s singing in LES MISÉRABLES, to depictions of actual torture in ZERO DARK THIRTY, the Academy seems determined to distract us from the self-important presentations, insufferable acceptance speeches and endless musical numbers we will inevitably endure during the telecast.

Predicting the predilections of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is an annual ritual.  The challenges are myriad in even the most straightforward of years.  And this year is anything but straightforward.  When Oscar® nominations were announced on January 10, 2013, snubbing Ben Affleck for Best Director, there was a seismic shift in award season momentum.  Call it the ARGO Effect.  Now, that movie, well liked but never considered front-runner material, has quickly become the film to beat.  Until that fateful date the producers of LINCOLN were practicing their acceptance speeches.  Now, to quote Cole Porter, anything goes.

Nevertheless there are touchstones to guide you through the chaos.  Close observers know that, in almost every instance, the Academy wants its Best Picture winner to also win the most awards overall.  Using this truism as a guide, the ripple effect will likely influence certain technical awards, definitely Adapted Screenplay, and possibly Supporting Actor – the latter made more possible by the lack of a clear front-runner.

That said, this year has the potential for more upsets than any year since 2002.  Therefore, choose carefully (but not too carefully) and wisely (but intuitively), and you may walk away with the Oscar® pool winnings.

And the nominees for Best Picture are:


Before the nominations came out LINCOLN was the presumptive favorite.  Thanks to the Affleck Best Director snub, ARGO is a lock.  Director Bigelow was likewise snubbed.  However, thanks to the faux torture scandal ZERO DARK THIRTY has been removed from serious Best Picture contention.  BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD has the David vs. Goliath factor, LIFE OF PI has the life-affirming factor, and SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK has the Weinstein Oscar®-machine factor.  None will vanquish the Academy members’ need to tell Affleck how sorry they are with a Best Picture award for ARGO.

Should Win:     ZERO DARK THIRTY
Will Win:          ARGO

And the nominees for Best Director are:

Michael Haneke, AMOUR
Steven Spielberg, LINCOLN

This one’s a tough call.  Normally, we could use the DGA Award and/or Golden Globes as a guide.  Since Affleck won both of those and isn’t nominated here, we must use other rationale.  Spielberg was the frontrunner, but the ARGO Effect seems to have damaged LINCOLN the most.  And he’s won the prize twice before (for SCHINDLER’S LIST and SAVING PRIVATE RYAN).  Lee also won for BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN.  I think the Academy will go with someone who hasn’t won previously.  Zeitlin is too new.  Haneke’s film is too French (which is interesting, considering he’s Austrian).  I’m going out on a limb and predict that Russell takes this horserace, primarily because of the strength of the Weinstein Oscar® machine.  But, then again, it may be saving its juice for Best Actress.

Should Win:     Michael Haneke, AMOUR
Will Win:          David O. Russell, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
Overlooked:    Ben Affleck, ARGO
Kathryn Bigelow, ZERO DARK THIRTY

And the nominees for Best Actress are:

Jessica Chastain, ZERO DARK THIRTY
Emmanuelle Riva, AMOUR

Here is another category that could easily go several ways.  Your safest best would be Lawrence.  She’s the closest thing to a frontrunner.  She won the SAG and Golden Globe (Comedy), plus she’s got the Weinsteins behind her.  Chastain would be a reasonable bet, too, as she won the Golden Globe (Drama); but the torture “scandal” could take her out of the running.  Riva, however, was not a nominee for either the Golden Globes or SAG Awards, so she’s the wild card here.  More importantly, she gives the kind of performance the Academy loves.  I think it will be a close vote and Riva squeaks out a win.  But if Lawrence gets called to the stage I wouldn’t be surprised.

Should and Will Win:   Emmanuelle Riva, AMOUR
Overlooked:                Rachel Weisz, THE DEEP BLUE SEA

And the nominees for Best Actor are:

Daniel Day-Lewis, LINCOLN
Joaquin Phoenix, THE MASTER
Denzel Washington, FLIGHT

Neither Jackman nor Phoenix belongs in this category; the former mediocre, and the latter too mannered.  Cooper is very good in a terrific movie, while Washington is terrific in a not very good movie.  However, if Day-Lewis doesn’t win this, I will be shocked.  I can’t even imagine who would get the award if not him.  (Now watch this become the upset category of the evening.)

Should and Will Win:   Daniel Day-Lewis, LINCOLN
Overlooked:                Jamie Foxx, DJANGO UNCHAINED
Jean-Louis Trintignant, AMOUR

And the nominees for Best Supporting Actress are:

Sally Field, LINCOLN

Adams is great, but the movie (again) is a difficult one.  Weaver is wonderful but doesn’t really stand out.  Field gives, to my mind, the best supporting performance in the field (okay, I didn’t see Hunt, so sue me).  She’s going to lose to Hathaway, however, because the Academy must give the award to someone who (1) lost weight and/or (2) sings and cries through one long, snot-filled, take.  I also predict Hathaway’s acceptance speech is the most insufferable of the evening.  I hope I’m wrong.

Should Win:     Sally Field, LINCOLN
Will Win:          Anne Hathaway, LES MISÉRABLES
Overlooked:    Isabelle Huppert, AMOUR

And the nominees for Best Supporting Actor are:

Alan Arkin, ARGO
Philip Seymour Hoffman, THE MASTER
Tommy Lee Jones, LINCOLN

This category is another one that could go a number of ways.  Hoffman is the long shot because he’s in a problematic film.  De Niro returns to form after a long dry spell, but his great performance is but one in a very strong ensemble.  Arkin is marvelous; but I’ve seen this before, and I suspect the Academy has, too.  He could, nevertheless, ride to victory on the ARGO Effect.  Jones and Waltz are closest to frontrunner status.  Jones won the SAG Award, and Waltz won the Golden Globe.  Jones won almost twenty years ago for THE FUGITIVE, and Waltz won a mere three years ago for INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, so the Academy may hesitate to give it to him again so soon.  Your best bests are Arkin, Jones or Waltz.  I’m going with Jones.

Should and Will Win:   Tommy Lee Jones, LINCOLN
Overlooked:                Matthew Macfadyen, ANNA KARENINA

And the nominees for Best Adapted Screenplay are:

Lucy Alibar & Ben Zeitlin, BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD
Tony Kushner, LINCOLN
David Magee, LIFE OF PI
Chris Terrio, ARGO

Considering the strength of the field, this would be tough to predict under normal conditions, with a lean toward Kushner’s LINCOLN adaptation.  Thanks to the ARGO Effect, however, you would be wise to go with Chris Terrio.  For a more in-depth discussion of this year’s best adapted Oscar®-nominated screenplays, please go to the On the Page® podcast available at

Should Win:     David O. Russell, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
Will Win:          Chris Terrio, ARGO
Overlooked:    Tom Stoppard, ANNA KARENINA

And the nominees for Best Original Screenplay are:

Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola, MOONRISE KINGDOM
John Gatins, FLIGHT
Michael Haneke, AMOUR
Quentin Tarantino, DJANGO UNCHAINED

This one has a potential for surprise.  Thanks to his WGA win Boal could be considered the frontrunner.  However, neither Haneke nor Tarantino were nominated for a WGA, so they could split the vote or one or the other win outright.  An argument could me made that the torture “scandal” has tarnished ZERO DARK THIRTY’s chances, but one could also be made that the directorial snub of Kathryn Bigelow makes its victory here more likely.  I’m going with the latter scenario.  For a more in-depth discussion of this year’s original Oscar®-nominated screenplays, please go to the On the Page® podcast available at

Should and Will Win:   Mark Boal, ZERO DARK THIRTY
Overlooked:                Rian Johnson, LOOPER

This wraps up The Pope's Picks for 2012.  Thanks for reading this far, and we'll see you in 2013.


Michael Musa and I join screenwriting teacher Pilar Alessandra at her On the Page podcast to discuss the 2012 Oscar-nominated screenplays.  Just copy the below link into your browser and click on the Oscar podcast.

The program runs about 1:15.  Enjoy.

Friday, February 22, 2013


Every year people around the world try to think like members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.  Why should I be different?  My predictions have been divided into two parts.  Part 1 includes the categories you probably don't care about (i.e., technical awards, documentaries, foreign film, etc.) unless you’re entered into an Oscar® pool.  Because of potential volatility in the major categories these choices could mean the difference between victory and defeat.  Here we go with Part 1 of my Wills and Shoulds for 2012:

Best Animated Film


I’ve only seen two of the nominated films, FRANKENWEENIE and PARANORMAN (the latter just missed my blog review cut-off).  Both are horror movie homages.  The first succeeds as a love letter to Frankenstein; the latter stumbles awkwardly as a zombie movie pastiche.  Either way, the Annie Awards seem to indicate that this will be WRECK-IT RALPH’s year.  Who am I to argue?

Will Win:          WRECK-IT RALPH

Best Foreign Language Film

AMOUR (Austria)
KON-TIKI (Norway)
NO (Chile)
WAR WITCH (Canada)

AMOUR is a terrific film, and I haven’t seen any of the others.  But even if you’ve seen none, keep the following in mind.  If a Foreign Language Film nominee also gets a Best Picture nomination (which AMOUR did), you would be wise to pick that.

Should and Will Win:   AMOUR

Best Documentary Feature


The only documentary I saw this year was WEST OF MEMPHIS, which wasn’t nominated.  I’ve heard good things about THE GATEKEEPERS, HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE and SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN, the latter of which won a DGA award, a PGA award, and a WGA award.  Absent any other information, let’s go with the latter.


Best Cinematography

Roger Deakins, SKYFALL
Janusz Kaminski, LINCOLN
Seamus McGarvey, ANNA KARENINA
Claudio Miranda, LIFE OF PI
Robert Richardson, DJANGO UNCHAINED

All the nominees this year are exceptional.  However, Deakins is so long overdue that I would love to see him win for his re-imagination of the James Bond look.  That said, in recent years each time a 3-D film was nominated for cinematography, it won.  So I’m going to choose Miranda.

Should Win:     Roger Deakins, SKYFALL
Will Win:          Claudio Miranda, LIFE OF PI
Overlooked:    Greig Fraser, ZERO DARK THIRTY

Best Film Editing

Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
William Goldenberg, ARGO
William Goldenberg, Dylan Tichenor, ZERO DARK THIRTY
Michael Kahn, LINCOLN
Tim Squyres, LIFE OF PI

LINCOLN and LIFE OF PI were a little long but gorgeously constructed, while SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK perfectly matched the tempo and tone of Russell’s filmmaking.  Goldenberg and Tichenor deserve the gold for ZERO DARK THIRTY, but Goldenberg will stand at the podium alone thanks to the ARGO Effect (which I shall define in a subsequent post, but you will soon get the drift).

Should Win:     William Goldenberg, Dylan Tichenor, ZERO DARK THIRTY
Will Win:          William Goldenberg, ARGO

Best Costume Design

Jacqueline Durran, ANNA KARENINA
Joanna Johnston, LINCOLN

I didn’t see SNOW WHITE or MIRROR MIRROR, and the costumes for LES MISÉRABLES just felt wrong to me.  (Crowe looked uncomfortable in everything he wore, but that may be due to his terrible singing.)  I think the choice comes down to Durran or Johnston.  If the Academy starts to feel bad for handing the night to ARGO (as I suspect it will), it may give this award to LINCOLN as a consolation prize.  However, they may also see LINCOLN's inevitable Best Actor Oscar® as recognition enough.  I tend to agree with the latter logic and therefore pick ANNA KARENINA.

Should and Will Win:   Jacqueline Durran, ANNA KARENINA

Best Production Design


ANNA KARENINA’s design is the most conceptually innovative of the bunch.  However, I think this will come down to LIFE OF PI or LINCOLN and how the Academy intends to space out awards.  I’m leaning toward LIFE OF PI.

Should Win:     ANNA KARENINA
Will Win:          LIFE OF PI

Best Original Score

Mychael Danna, LIFE OF PI
Alexandre Desplat, ARGO
Dario Marianelli, ANNA KARENINA
Thomas Newman, SKYFALL
John Williams, LINCOLN

Newman deserves the Oscar® for his refreshing incorporation of the iconic James Bond theme (not to mention a great score on top of that).  Danna won the Golden Globe and is the frontrunner, unless the ARGO Effect gives a surprise statue to Desplat, so I will go with him.

Should Win:     Thomas Newman, SKYFALL
Will Win:          Mychael Danna, LIFE OF PI

Best Original Song

“Before My Time”, CHASING ICE
“Everybody Needs a Best Friend”, TED
“Pi’s Lullaby”, LIFE OF PI
“Skyfall”, SKYFALL

Can there be any doubt that Adele will win?

Should and Will Win:   “Skyfall”, SKYFALL

Best Sound Mixing


As we get into the more esoteric categories, evaluation becomes more difficult and the choice more arbitrary.  In any other year SKYFALL would win or, if it were a better movie, LES MISÉRABLES, because it’s a musical.  In this instance, however, let’s count on the ARGO Effect.

Should Win:     SKYFALL
Will Win:          ARGO

Best Sound Editing


If not for the torture “scandal” and the ARGO Effect, this would and should go to ZERO DARK THIRTY.

Should Win:     ZERO DARK THIRTY
Will Win:          ARGO

Best Visual Effects


With the other movies, you feel like you’ve seen everything before.  You believe the tiger is real.

Should and Will Win:   LIFE OF PI

Best Makeup


The makeup in THE HOBBIT was impressive (maybe the only thing).  And while there’s a chance the Academy will honor LES MISÉRABLES for its “realistic” look, I’m going with my gut.


Best Documentary Short Subject


I read an article that thought INOCENTE would win.  It’s all I have.

Will Win:          INOCENTE

Best Animated Short Subject


PAPERMAN is sweet little romantic movie and the likely winner.  However, HEAD OVER HEELS is touching and has a more seasoned sweetness and romance.  Though it’s unlikely to prevail, I’m going to pick it anyway.

Should and Will Win:   HEAD OVER HEELS

Best Live Action Short Subject


Again, I read a few articles, and I’m taking a best guess.

Will Win:          ASAD