Thursday, January 2, 2014

MEMO TO THE A.M.P.A.S. (3RD EDITION): WHEN SELECTING THE NOMINATIONS THIS YEAR FOR THE ACADEMY AWARDS, DON'T FORGET TO CONSIDER....

Dear the 6,000+ Voting Members of the "Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences":

Your ballots have already been sent out, and I hope that you take careful time to and when considering your choices for the nominations, and later, for the eventual winners of the Academy Awards. While, I must confess that, in regards to determining who should be considered, at the moment, with screeners and special screening for members such as yourselves, you've got more of an advantage than I, since you've all probably (and hopefully) seen more eligible movies from 2013, or at least hopefully, the majority of the major and best movies from that year. That said, it can be easy to forget or simply overlook a film, a performance, or a technical achievement or skill that is Oscar worthy, from the past, particularly if it isn't fresh in your minds, or if you haven't bothered to see it yet.

With that in mind, for this, my annual memorandum, I wanted to promote and/or remind you all of some films, performances and technical work that deserves Award nominations, some I believe I can safely presume to be on your immediate radar, like the Alfonso Cuaron film "Gravity", which easily ranks among the best films I've seen this year, and more than deserves, the purported nominations it should get for Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actress for Sandra Bullock, and among other Awards Cinematography for Emmanuel Lubezki's stunning work. That said however, while it's unusual, it's not unprecedented for someone to be nominated twice in the Best Cinematography in the same year, and Emmanuel Lubezki, should also be recognized for his cinematography in "To the Wonder". It'd also interesting how he's because a master of how the two different kinds of cinematography, the more classical golden hour work, and of the more unusual CGI stage lighting, for "Gravity". Both should be strongly considered and nominated.

Another film on your guys' radar is David O. Russell's "American Hustle", for many reasons, it's worthy of numerous Awards, including most Acting awards and Original Screenplay, Directing, and Picture.  and I'd like for you guys to remember it for Michael Wilkinson's Costume Design. The acting, writing and director will probably get much of the focus, and Production Design, I presume will be remembered, but the Costume Design is quite elaborate, and perfectly matches the films characters and era, yet retains a stylized look that's quite memorable.

Now a film that should be on your radar more is Richard Linklater's "Before Midnight" which I consider among the very best films of the year so far. There's a legitimate shot that it might get a nomination for Adaptive Screenplay, which it should, but it should also be considered for Picture, Directing, and especially for both Best Actor and Actress for Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. Yes, they've been playing these roles for two decades, and writing them almost ten years now, but that still makes them incredibly complicated acting roles. They're on the screen for most of the movie, and have to believably read long elaborate pieces of writing as though it's natural, back-and-forth with each other. It's quite spectacular some of the best acting around.

Another film with spectacular acting is "What Maisie Knew" from the directing team of Scott McGehee & David Seigel and on top of Picture, Adapted Screenplay and Directing nominations it should get, the entire cast of the movie, should be considered for all the Acting awards. Now, among it, being a lesser-known and watched film up 'til now, it has an issue with this movie where it becomes tricky to determine which category, any of the adult roles should be considered in, considering their screen. The star of the movie is young Onata Aprile, who's only about seven or eight years old, and although I wouldn't about a Best Actress nomination for her. However if I had to separate it, I'd place Julianne Moore, in the Best Actress category, and Steve Coogan, Alexander Skarsgard and Joanna Vanderham in the appropriate Supporting categories, and I particularly would stress Vanderham's performance, but one of the reasons the movie is so great is not only because the acting is so good, but the film allows each of the actors to really show off their range and skill in the movie, giving each of them memorable showcase scenes as well as great work they do with each other.

I also want to point out Derek Cianfrance's "The Place Beyond the Pines", and that movie should also be heavily considered for multiple nominations, like Picture, Director and Screenplay, the most memorable role is Ryan Gosling's Supporting work, as a stunt driver who's character is the catalyst for the rest of the film.

Now, I'm gonna switch and talk specifically about certain categories, as oppose to the major films themselves. For instance, in the Best Actor, while there's a few good names out there, like the aforementioned Ethan Hawke, as well as Christian Bale for "American Hustle", a performance that's been overlooked is Michael Shannon's in "The Iceman". He's got a lot to do in this film, and with incredible subtlety he has to do it. The character ages decades, and as he goes from cold-blooded killer to cold-blooded family fan, it's one of his strongest performances.

Even with, only a limited viewing of the films of 2013, the Best Actress category is one of the strongest I've remembered. (And there have been strong ones in recent years.) On top of Delpy, Bullock, Moore and Amy Adams ("American Splendor) there's been plenty of great Lead actress roles and performances this year. Elle Fanning's work in "Ginger & Rosa" is quite possibly here best performance yet, and she plays someone who's considerably older than her age, so it's even more striking when you consider that. Another young girl who's performance should be noticed in Saskia Rosendahl in "Lore" the German movie about a group of young siblings, lead by Rosendahl, who's job is to travel across country in WWII, on their own. I already mentioned "To the Wonder" for Cinematography, and while, from a Terrence Malick standpoint, the film is a slight disappointment, it was still a very special film, and the best acting performance from the movie was by Olga Kurylenko, and her performance shouldn't be overlooked. She had the most to do, and the role has the most range, and she's the character we end up caring for the most. Another name being overlooked, granted in a less-than-stellar movie to say the least, but Amanda Seyfried I was convinced, had more insight into the title character in "Lovelace" than the filmmakers did. That's another, very striking performance. Another great performance by Greta Gerwig in the likeable if slightly overrated "Frances Ha", however, saying all that, if I absolutely have to narrow this category down to one performance to recommend right now, it would be Gaby Hoffman, and her title character performance from "Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus". Now, it's gonna take a bit to even find the screener of this film, because of the awkward title debacle; sometimes it's just known as "Crystal Fairy", other times it uses it's even longer title "Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus and 2012"; it's just awkward and odd. But, while the movie certainly has it's flaws, I urge all you voters to find the screener or DVD, and screen this movie, for her performance. It's the most daring and memorable performance I've seen all year. It might seem like a movie of a narcisstic asshole trying to get high, but there's more to it than that, and her work in particular makes this movie a lot better than it probably had any real right to be.

While I've mentioned a few performances worthy of Supporting Actor consideration like Gosling's, Coogan's and Skarsgard's work, two memorable supporting acting work are being almost entirely overlooked. From the aforementioned "Lore", Kai Malina, or Kai-Peter Malina as he's referred to in the credits, played the memorable Jewish escapee who Lore finds attractive. That's a unique and memorable performance from a really good film. From a not-so-good but memorable film, James Franco's work in "Spring Breakers", has to be in the conversation for Best Supporting Actor. Now, I wasn't a particularly big fan of the film, and in particular, the entire second half of the movie, which seemed to dive into this violent gang warfare drama, out of nowhere, which seemed almost from another movie than the demented Spring Broke-esque docudrama from the first half, but his performance as Alien a gangster-rapper wannabe, is something to behold, and certainly keeps you watching. It's partially a cosmetic choice, but what he does with this character is really quite something. I must confess, I didn't know it was him when I watched the film, 'til afterwards; you can argue that, he probably didn't need to be in the movie, but you can't argue it's brilliance; one of the most memorable pieces of acting this year.

I must admit, outside of the names I already mentioned, I don't have much to recommend in the Supporting Actress category. The only other one I've seen and would almost consider if it wasn't more than a cameo basically would've been Susan Sarandon's work in "The Company You Keep", but other than that....  So in terms of other categories and recommendations, I'd like to mention in the Cinematography, while it might not be the most visually appealing, the black & white VHS-styled look of "Computer Chess", is perfect for Andrew Bujalksi's mumblecore tone to this period piece about a computer chess tournament and in some ways itself, just as tricky and difficult to create considering the film's low budget.

And finally in the Best Documentary category, while I haven't seen all the nominees yet, two on the shortlist I highly recommend are "Blackfish" about SeaWorld's dubious practices regarding their killer whale, which might have led to multiple deaths and dozens of injured trainers over the years. But, for a more original work, I've grown to appreciate Sarah Polley's film "Stories We Tell" the more I think about it. This experimental autobiographical work by the filmmaker behind "Away From Her" and "Take This Waltz", challenges a lot of film convention, as well as takes a look at perspective and deconstruction of stories in ways that haven't been done before.

So, in conclusion, please consider these recommendations strongly when filling out your ballots, even if that means taking a quick second look at them before filling them out, and if you haven't seen any/all of these titles yet, well, I couldn't urge you voters more strongly than to see all the above films, and I'm sure many others. I wish I could've seen more of the films you all have to view before filling out your ballots and been more of a help in that regard. Still, I'd rather you all disagree or not vote for these recommendations, after considering them to begin with, so you've all be informed (or reinformed possibly), good luck filling your ballots.

To recap shorthandedly:

BEST PICTURE
Gravity
Before Midnight
What Maisie Knew
The Place Beyond the Pines

BEST ACTOR
Ethan Hawke-"Before Midnight
Christian Bale-"American Hustle
Michael Shannon-"The Iceman

BEST ACTRESS
Sandra Bullock-"Gravity"
Julie Delpy-"Before Midnight"
Amy Adams-"American Hustle
Julianne Moore-"What Maisie Knew"
Onata Aprile-"What Maisie Knew"
Elle Fanning-"Ginger & Rosa"
Saskia Rosendahl-"Lore"
Olga Kurylenko-"To the Wonder"
Greta Gerwig-"Frances Ha"
Gaby Hoffman-"Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus and 2012"

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Bradley Cooper-"American Hustle
Steve Coogan-"What Maisie Knew"
Alexander Skarsgard-"What Maisie Knew"
Ryan Gosling-"The Place Beyond the Pines"
Kai-Peter Malina-"Lore"
James Franco-"Spring Breakers"

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Jennifer Lawrence-"American Hustle"
Joanna Vanderham-"What Maisie Knew"

CINEMATOGRAPHY
Gravity
To the Wonder
Computer Chess

DIRECTING
Alfonso Cuaron-"Gravity"
David O. Russell-"American Hustle"
Derek Cianfrance-"The Place Beyond the Pines

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Gravity
American Hustle
The Place Beyond the Pines

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Before Midnight

COSTUME DESIGN
American Hustle

PRODUCTION DESIGN
American Hustle

DOCUMENTARY
Blackfish
Stories We Tell

Sincerely,
David Baruffi
c/o "David Baruffi's Entertainment Views and Reviews".
davidbaruffi.blogspot.com
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