Sunday, January 12, 2014

Style or Substance? Golden Globes Predictions

One of the charms of the Golden Globes (besides the free-flowing alcohol and usually superior host choices) is the HFPA's recognition of *actual* comedy movies. Recent-ish nominees and winners have included Borat, The Hangover, and Bridesmaids. (Never you mind that The Tourist, Red, and Burlesque were all recently nominated... in the same year.) This year, that is not the case -- and I can't say I'm complaining. While none of the five Best Comedy/Musical nominees are actual comedies (or musicals, thank god), they are all excellent films well worthy of Oscar nominations themselves. (At least, I'm assuming they all are -- I have not yet seen Her.) In fact, I'd argue that the Comedy/Musical field is better top-to-bottom than the very top-heavy Drama field, which should make for a very interesting and unpredictable ceremony -- and one that should have even less correlation to the Oscars than usual. But it also means I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing with these predictions. So this should be fun! Let's dig in.

* = A film or performance I haven't seen
bold = my prediction

Best Supporting Actress
Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine*
Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years A Slave
Julia Roberts, August: Osage County*
June Squibb, Nebraska

Logic: This one will come down to Lawrence and Nyong'o, and the winner will either confirm or debunk a long-held supposition about the Hollywood Foreign Press Association -- that they are wowed by star power. If that's true, Lawrence would be a shoo-in and Roberts could be considered a dark horse. But they have also been known to nominate and award relative unknowns -- just look at this category back in 2011. This year, I think they'll go with the superior performance in Nyong'o. Hers was one of the best of the year regardless of gender or screen time, heart-wrenching and powerful. Lawrence was fine as yet another manic-depressive dream girl in Russell's film, but was not nearly in the same class as Nyong'o. Ditto Squibb and her profane, charming performance as Bruce Dern's wife. I obviously have not seen Roberts's or Hawkins's performances, but they don't figure to have a chance here.

Second choice: Lawrence
My vote: Nyong'o
Snubbed: Julianne Moore, Don Jon

Best Supporting Actor
Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
Daniel Bruhl, Rush*
Bradley Cooper, American Hustle
Michael Fassbender, 12 Years A Slave
Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

Logic: We'll know a lot about 12 Years a Slave's chances in the Best Drama category after these two awards are announced. If Nyong'o and Fassbender sweep, it would signal a likely win. If only one or neither are awarded, it might not be the film's night. This award could also have a big impact on the Best Actor – Drama race, where 12 Years will once again square off with Dallas. But more on that later. In this category, I think the gender-bending, deeply sympathetic performance of Leto will win out over the visceral, deeply misanthropic character work of Fassbender. Fassbender is responsible for many of the hardest to watch parts of a hard to watch movie, and I'm not sure a body like the HFPA will award a performance like that. Leto, on the other hand, is a star of screen and stage (with his terrible band) and would be an easy box to tick off on the ballot. Cooper was solid but not spectacular in Hustle, but there is no award for best perm. Abdi is so good in Phillips that I actually thought the filmmakers hired an actual Somali pirate. He could be an interesting option at the Oscars, but not here. I haven't seen Bruhl's film, but he's the least likely winner here anyway.

Second choice: Fassbender
My vote: Abdi
Snubbed: James Franco, Spring Breakers

Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical
Amy Adams, American Hustle
Julie Delpy, Before Midnight
Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Enough Said*
Meryl Streep, August: Osage County*

Logic: Although most of the nominees are very well-liked, it would be a big upset if anyone but Adams won this award. Delpy and Gerwig both co-wrote their (well-regarded) movies, but their stars don't shine as bright as the others'. Louis-Dreyfuss is a double nominee this year (also for Veep) and can work a room about as well as anyone. You can never count Streep out of any awards race, but no one is talking about her movie and it just doesn't seem to be her year. That leaves Adams, who was the standout among Hustle's excellent ensemble. The wavering English accent, the romantic scheming, and, of course, the sideboob -- she had it all. As a sidenote, however, my favorite performance of the bunch is Gerwig's. Her eponymous Frances Halladay is is hilarious, sympathetic, and has some of the best lines of the year. Check on the film on Netflix streaming if you haven't already.

Second choice: Streep
My vote: Gerwig
Snubbed: Amy Acker, Much Ado About Nothing

Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical
Christian Bale, American Hustle
Bruce Dern, Nebraska
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf Of Wall Street
Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis
Joaquin Phoenix, Her*

Logic: I'm by no means as certain about this category as I am about Adams above, but I have a hard time envisioning anyone but DiCaprio winning here. He's the biggest star with the meatiest, flashiest role of the bunch. Although some have questions about whether or not the film glorifies Jordan Belfort (I am not in this camp -- the movie plays like a more slapstick American Psycho), it can't be denied that DiCaprio put his all into the role. My next favorite and perhaps a dark horse is Isaac, whose Lleywn Davis is a rolling stone that cant' get out of its own way. There's something soulful in his work, even as his character does his best to be unlikeable. Probably the best of the bunch though is Dern -- his Woody Grant is another unlikeable -- but not unsympathetic -- character, weary and raspy but perhaps too subtle. He's another one with a better shot at the Oscars. Bale is the weak link here as a paunchy con artist -- and very much the straight man amidst three more livewire performances -- but the HFPA seems to really like the movie. I can't wait to see Her -- Phoenix is capable of perhaps the best work of anyone not named Daniel Day-Lewis. That said, the movie seems a bit small to have a shot at the Globes.

Second choice: Bale
My vote: Dern
Snubbed: Simon Pegg, The World's End

Best Actress in a Drama
Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine*

Sandra Bullock, Gravity
Judi Dench, Philomena
Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks*
Kate Winslet, Labor Day*

Bold: From everything I've read, this award is Blanchett's to lose. I will absolutely see the film before the Oscars, but for now all I can say is that she fits the profile -- foreign-born, respected veteran, and previous winner. Bullock is very much a threat here though -- her one-woman show in Gravity is very awards-friendly and, well, very good and a worthy potential winner. These two should provide an entertaining race at the Oscars. Dench is fine in Philomena, but the film is something of a trifle. (She's also in the same category as Streep though in that you can't really ever count her out.) I have not seen the other two performances, but I can't imagine a scenario where either of them wins, especially Winslet. Man, did the buzz for that movie die quickly. I still haven't brought myself to see Thompson's movie, but I guess I'll have to if she makes her way into the Oscar race.

Second choice: Bullock
My vote: Bullock
Snubbed: Amy Seimetz, Upstream Color

Best Actor in a Drama
Chiwetel Ejiofor,
12 Years A Slave
Idris Elba, Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom*
Tom Hanks, Captain Phillips
Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
Robert Redford, All Is Lost*

Logic: This is a really tough one to call -- perhaps the toughest of the night. Ejiofor, McConaughey, and Hanks all have a shot. Hell, I can even see scenarios where Elba (respected Brit playing a recently-deceased hero) and Redford (Hollywood legend getting a career-capping statue) pull off an upset. Of the remaining three, Hanks is probably the least likely winner. His film is easily my favorite of the three nominees in question, but he's won a ton of these things and the other two are red-hot. I think McConaughey has a great shot. In the parlance of awards season, his role has a lot going for it -- he lost a ton of weight, his movie has an important message, and, despite the material, it's a crowd-pleaser. But it's also the weaker performance in the much weaker movie. And Ejiofor's awards-season résumé blows McConaughey's away, what with the whole slavery thing. Plus he's British (as is the film's director). But none of that matters as much as the fact that his performance is excellent. I think he takes the trophy. (And likely the Oscar as well.)

Second choice: McConaughey
My vote: Hanks
Snubbed: none

Best Screenplay
Spike Jonze, Her*
Bob Nelson, Nebraska
Jeff Pope and Steve Coogan, Philomena
John Ridley, 12 Years A Slave
David O. Russell and Eric Singer, American Hustle

Logic: Man, it seems like 12 Years a Slave and American Hustle are heading for a big-time Oscar showdown. Are these the two front-runners right now (along with Gravity)? More on that in future posts. I could be putting too many eggs in the slavery basket (ugh... I'm sorry about that one, haha), but I think it wins out over Russell and Singer's script at this point in a clear case of substance over style. The opposite would absolutely not surprise me though. I doubt the HFPA will be looking at it this way, but while the Hustle script comes together very nicely in the third act and has some very well-drawn characters (especially Jeremy Renner's), it's also very voice-over heavy and some of the dialogue is a bit on the nose. Ridley's script is functional for the most part, but punctuated by some truly affecting, emotionally explosive scenes. Nelson's script has a great premise, but the actors make that movie, not the writing. I can't for the life of me figure out why the Philomena script was nominated other than the fact that it's British. (This year's ceremony seems a bit like BAFTA 2.0.) There are some nice moments, but it is altogether too cloying and full of unearned payoffs. If the HFPA was going to award Her, it would be here. More when I see the film.

Second choice: Russell and Singer
My vote: Ridley (presumably until I see Her)
Snubbed: Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach, Frances Ha

Best Director
Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity
Paul Greengrass, Captain Phillips
Steve McQueen, 12 Years A Slave
Alexander Payne, Nebraska
David O. Russell, American Hustle

Logic: This is a strong group. It wouldn't surprise me if this were the final five for the Oscars -- although Scorsese, the Coens, and even Spike Jonze could sneak in. Of these five, Greengrass and Payne are the low men on the totem pole. Both did fine work -- Phillips is one of the tightest action movies in recent memory and I really liked Nebraska's spare style. But they're both probably out here. Russell could be a spoiler. He's on a bit of a hot streak with his last three films receiving Globes nominations, but the film will be rewarded elsewhere and the other two seem like stronger candidates. McQueen is absolutely a contender, but I think the very trait that marks his direction works against him here. 12 Years is very uncompromising and difficult to watch at times. This works in the actors' favor, but I think it will miss out on the big awards because of it. That leaves Cuarón, whose invisible hand is present in every second of Gravity. It's big, it's showy, it's populist, and it is a stunning technical achievement -- the exact same formula James Cameron used to win here for Avatar. Let's just hope Cuarón's victory speech is less smug than Cameron's though.

Second choice: McQueen
My vote: Cuarón
Snubbed: none

Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy
American Hustle

Inside Llewyn Davis
The Wolf Of Wall Street

Logic: Other than maybe Amy Adams, this is the pick I'm most confident in. Llewyn Davis and Nebraska are too quiet, Her is too small, and Wolf is too long and too divisive to win here. It's my least favorite of the four that I've seen, but American Hustle has the cast, the Hollywood sheen, the charm, and the buzz needed to snag this prize. I do like the movie, but David O. Russell movies have offered diminishing returns since Three Kings, his best film. (Really.) Wolf is my favorite (the quaaludes scene! Jonah Hill's veneers!), and Llewyn Davis and Nebraska have both settled nicely toward the back end of my best films of the year list. I'm sure I'll have more to say once I've seen Her and once these movies all (likely) score Best Picture noms, but for now, American Hustle is just the piece of entertainment that usually wins here.

Second choice: The Wolf of Wall Street
My vote: The Wolf of Wall Street
Snubbed: Frances Ha

Best Motion Picture - Drama
12 Years A Slave 
Captain Phillips

Logic: I pretty much explained this one in the Best Director category -- Gravity is the populist crowd-pleaser while 12 Years is the serious critical darling. I don't see any of the other films as having a chance. Phillips is a worthy nominee, but is a tier lower than the other two. Philomena (really?) and Rush are just filler. I'm surprised Dallas Buyers Club didn't get nominated here, or that there was no room for, I dunno, The Great Gatsby or The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. A film like Mud never had a chance here, but would definitely belong. Regardless, these two films along with American Hustle will make for an intriguing Oscar race in the coming weeks. Due to a tweak in the Oscar schedule, we won't even know the Oscar nominees until the Globe winners are announced -- usually we'd know the nominees by now. I'm looking forward to the race. More comments when the nominees are announced next week.

Second choice: 12 Years a Slave
My vote: Gravity
Snubbed: Mud 

TV Notes: I don't keep up with television nearly as much as I do with film, but I'll be rooting for anything to do with Breaking Bad, as well as Arrested Development, House of Cards, and Orange Is the New Black.

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