Category Archives: Film

The Trouble With Portraying Sexuality

There’s something that’s been sitting on my mind for a while now, and I wasn’t really aware of the cognitive dissonance until I had a recent discussion with a friend of mine. In feminism, a movement apparently in its third wave according to academics, yet still struggling to find a unified front on many issues, there is a bit of an issue when it comes to the public perceptions of female sexuality.

Basically, it boils down to two views. First, you have the idea that sexuality should not be shameful. Sex isn’t something to shame people for having. Doing such can cause all sorts of psychological problems, first off. It’s a completely natural process that, unlike most animals in the world, is enjoyable for recreational purposes and is not solely a procreational action.

Unfortunately, when it comes to shame over sex, women get the worst rap. We all probably know the double standard by now… men who have multiple partners are conquerors. They’re virile. They’re manly. They can hold their tally like a trophy, the quantity of their conquests far outweighing their abilities (or inabilities) in the bed itself. Meanwhile, women are to keep their sexual lives quiet. Women with multiple partners are sluts. Shameful. Dirty. Broken. In a weird twist, sometimes people that want to help protect women from being sexual victims apply the term “victim” all over the place, even when sex is fully consensual… because it’s inconceivable for some people that a woman might seek out and desire sex. So, there’s the faction that wants to eliminate sex as a dirty word and deed, particularly for women. If a woman wants to be a stripper, let her. If she wants to be a prostitute/escort (when legal), why not? If she wants to dress provocatively, she should be allowed without being called names, or seen as “asking for sex.” Consent is different from how one dresses one’s self.

But then, there’s the other faction. The faction that says they’re tired of women being objectified and seen as sexual pleasure units. That’s tired of cleavage and boobs and butt on every single advertisement. That’s tired of having products directed at women (and men) because of their chromosomal makeup. Tired of the media using tired, false gender narratives and tropes, like the damsel in distress. But, mostly, tired of just being deemed as sexual, being boiled down to physical bodies and sexual performances. Tired of being “Hot Girl #3” on the TV.

Now, some of these things are shared by both groups, like being tired of the tropes and the gendered products. But sometimes, even those things find fractions between the factions. Because, despite being feminists and desiring an equality between all genders and sexualities, there’s just too many problems and not enough solutions.

It is definitely a problem that women exploring their sexualities are seen as sluts and looked down on. It is also definitely a problem that society demands sexual performance from women. It’s a hypocrisy that continues to harm our social makeup where men expect sex from women, and women have the choice of either being degraded for complying or degraded for not complying. And then possibly being raped and blamed for it by society. It’s not exactly a kind world for women today (and the scary thing is that it seems like it might be kinder than it once was).

I’ll give an example of the disparity. In the BBC show “Sherlock,” a show I find to be quite fantastic, in season 2 we were introduced to what is perhaps Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most infamous female character, Irene Adler. Appearing in “A Scandal In Bohemia,” she is the one woman Sherlock Holmes has shown obvious affection and admiration for. To quote,

To Sherlock Holmes she is always THE woman. I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name. In his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex. It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler. All emotions, and that one particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably balanced mind. […] And yet there was but one woman to him, and that woman was the late Irene Adler, of dubious and questionable memory.

In the BBC show’s re-imagining of the character, she was recreated as a dominatrix, using her wits and dominance in the bedroom to put powerful people in compromising positions and obtain information she hoped to use to her advantage. In her first meeting with Holmed, she introduced herself in the nude as an attempt to throw him off his game. It worked. …but this portrayal exemplifies exactly the difference in the factions.

On the one hand, there shouldn’t be anything wrong with a woman willingly working in the sex industry. (We’ll skip the discussions of abuse and slavery for now to make the discussion simpler, but I wouldn’t count anyone coerced or forced into that industry in any fashion as working in it willingly.) There shouldn’t be anything wrong with a woman using her body or sexuality for any (legal) reason, even to win a battle of wits against a certain private detective. However, some feel that being portrayed as a sex worker diminished the focus on Adler’s mental acuity and ability as written originally by Doyle. It felt like a cheap gimmick, a typical jump in today’s media to make the woman a sexual being, an object of pleasure.

This is, of course, not helped out at all by show-runner Steven Moffat’s rather well-documented casual sexism and poor treatment of female characters in his other show, “Doctor Who.”

Personally, I think the Adler character (unlike many of the women in “Doctor Who”) was well done. The sexuality wasn’t really a focus the way I saw it. It was never portrayed in a gaudy, ridiculous fashion. Rather, it was run as a counter to Sherlock’s discomfort with the sensual, as sensuality requires physical and emotional responses that he has spent years ridding himself of for the sake of logic and reason. Others, like my friend, disagree.

The sad thing is, there’s not really a way I can see out of this sort of conundrum. It seems perfectly obvious to me that both factions have absolutely correct and poignant points. Both of these hypocritical philosophies of our society (particularly American) are damaging. On their own, they’re bad enough. Combined, they are a maelstrom of harm and sexism. And that’s just for the women. It damages men, too, as does our portrayal of men in the media. So, should one aspect be focused on more than the other? Can both be fixed without a complete reset of social norms and ideals? Or is this something we will constantly be fighting against, one way or another?

I honestly have no idea what should be done about these problems, save this: We need to talk about them and realize they’re problems. While we may not agree on the solutions, as long as we agree something is wrong, we can start to work toward answers. And since the world is full of people smarter than me, maybe the answer is just waiting for someone to mention the problem to the right person.

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And We’re Back

Hello, all. I’m back.

So. It’s been a little while since I’ve written here, huh. Last time I wrote was March 12… and my last “real” post was Feb. 10. Almost an entire year…

…so it’s probably safe to say the “a post a day” experiment kinda fell through.

Still. Not too shabby. I made it an entire year and nearly a half with at least one post per day… that’s a lot of writing. If I had kept it up last year, I would have had SO MANY VIEWS. Even with basically 11 months of no writing, I somehow managed 13,948 views last year. Compare that to the year before’s 15,185. It makes me feel almost popular. Or, well, makes me feel like the lyrics to “Beauty and the Beat” are popular. But enough of that.

2013 was an interesting year. I got my first ever lead role, the opportunity to play Coriolanus in a staged reading of Shakespeare’s “Coriolanus.” Less than a month later, I was cast in a TCF television pilot “Toss-Up,” again cast as the leading role. That opened up several other venues for me, such as a decently-sized part in a TCF short film produced by “Seinfeld” director Tom Cherones and a recurring role in the webseries “Alabama Ghostbusters.” Finally, in October, I was blessed/lucky/really really really super lucky enough to somehow manage to be cast as Jean Valjean in a local production of “Les Miserables,” my favorite musical and a dream role of mine for years.

I started out 2013 not talking to my best friend. Not because I was mad at her or something. No, rather because I’m the kind of person that can come to the conclusion (unfortunately often) that people are better off without me in their lives…  Around late February, I started dating a girl (my fourth girlfriend… possibly I only decided to date her beyond my attraction to her because I knew it would end when she went to grad school) that played my fiance in the TV pilot… and had we not dated, I wouldn’t have been asked to go to a wedding that my best friend was the maid-of-honor for, and I may still not be talking to her (as painful as that would be for me).

I haven’t managed to get “Camp Gethsemane” produced yet, sadly… I’m going to make a really big effort this year. It’s in the midst of yet another edit, a big edit that changes a few second act things and hopefully makes it all for the better… but a production would be amazing. I also haven’t managed to find a better job yet… though I did start hosting trivia at bars and restaurants around Tuscaloosa and Birmingham, and the extra income is pretty nice. Also, I seem to be decent at it. People like me well enough. (P.S. If you know any bars/restaurants that might like to host trivia, let me know!)

It’s been a year of changes, for sure. A year of opportunities… not my worst year… and hopefully, not my best to come, but a pretty decent one all-in-all.

Which brings me to 2014. The new year. And new years tend to bring new resolutions. Something that, usually, I duck out on because come on. Those are made with the intent of being broken, most of the time.

Still. I feel I should resolve a few things. So I’mma try.

First, I am going to lose weight. I wanted to for Les Mis, but Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas were right there and it is pretty much impossible to lose weight during those holidays. I plan to shed at LEAST 40 pounds and KEEP it off throughout the year. Maybe even work out and get some toning and muscle, not this semi-sentient fat I have at the moment.

Second, I’m going to get something I’ve written produced. Hopefully “Camp Gethsemane.” I will do it, damn it. I have screenplays and plays at the ready. Some need work, yes. But that can be done. I just want something to show for my work.

Third, I am going to write at least five more of the projects in my head. It’s a tall order. I may need help with some to keep me honest. I still have to edit and polish some of the things I’ve already written. But I also need to get new things done, too. I need to write, need to produce. I have two one-act mythology plays and two screenplays that need finishing. The fifth, I have many many ideas that could be the fifth… And the desire to write new things may help me finish my old things. If you’re a writer and want to help keep me honest, please let me know. No joke.

Fourth, I am resurrecting this blog. But it won’t be a once-a-day blog anymore. That just doesn’t seem feasible. With trivia taking up several of my nights, and all the acting I did last year, writing once per day became basically impossible. Les Mis is one reason “Camp Gethsemane” has been mid-edit since October. Still, I hope to write in this blog semi-regularly… and maybe add a new segment where I try new things in the kitchen, things I’ve never done before, like new techniques (like frying things) or foods (like fish). Which brings me to…

Fifth, I’m going to step out of my comfort zone. I’ve been getting there. Hosting trivia has REALLY helped me become a more social and sociable person. As has finally being on stage in a visible way. I’m going to audition for more things in town, of course… but beyond that, I want to just do things I don’t normally do. Talk to people more. Hang out with people more. Being a hermit really gets lonely, and I really hate the feeling sometimes. And maybe, just maybe, if I step out of my comfort zone, I can be more comfortable with who I am. It seems oxymoronic, but trust me. I’m not intensely comfortable even in my comfort zone.

All in all, I hope to move forward with life in 2014. Professionally, romantically, creatively… I need to stop being stagnant. I need to stop being jealous of other people’s romantic and professional successes and start making others jealous of mine. I’ll let you know how that goes as it moves along.

Oh, and expect more of my randomness on this blog, because there’s a lot I wanted to say last year that I never got to… If 2014 is as ridiculous as 2013 was, I’m sure I’ll have a bunch to gab on about.

It’s good to be back.

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A Quick Update

So, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog. I was already strongly considering dropping the “daily” feature of the blog due to life getting in the way and the blog taking up a decent chunk of time… It should be pretty obvious at this point that I’m not really doing this as a daily blog anymore.

Still, I do want to write more often than I have been. There are still many things to talk about. Movies, plays and restaurants to review, politics to discuss, subjects to ponder about… all sorts of things. And I plan to do so, just in a slightly irregular fashion.

To update about life, though: I finished the most recent version of my play “Camp Gethsemane” and have started in on three other plays now. After a few more people read this version of CG, I’ll go back to spruce it up again and then I may be at the place I need to be for a production.

I was also cast as the lead role in a TV pilot from the UA TCF department, which has designs to be shown at a festival in New York City. The show is called “Toss-Up,” and you can help out by donating some money to the IndieGoGo we have set up here. It’s a comedy about a high school history teacher/tennis coach basically forced by his boss into being the Quizbowl coach, despite knowing nothing about it. It doesn’t help that their team is pretty crappy. You can watch the brief teaser-trailer here to get a very tiny taste of the show.

I’m also no longer single… We’ll see how long she tolerates me. And I spent about a week and change being super deathly ill, like to the point where I couldn’t even eat or drink for a couple days without severe pain. It sucked and I still don’t know what I had, though I’ve got a good idea.

Also, for those curious, I got a record 50 percent of my Oscar guesses right, though I would’ve had more if I’d actually slowed down and paid attention to what some of the technicals are and what they mean. All I can say is that “Life of Pi” ruined me a bit.

Anyway, I do have an old review of “Othello” to put up, as well as a review of “Oz: The Great and Powerful,” which wasn’t as bad as I was afraid it might be, though I still found it lacking in certain areas. I’ll have a full review up sometime this week, I’m sure.

For now, my apologies on my lengthy silence. You’ll hear a bit from me from time to time. Just keep a lookout.

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Big Screen Ballyhoo – “The Pirates! Band Of Misfits”

As I continue to watch movies in my efforts to see at least 50 percent of the Oscars list, I suppose I was bound to eventually find a movie that was only just okay. Not bad, sorta fun, but nothing special.

This time, that movie is “The Pirates! Band of Misfits.” Nominated for Best Animated Film, this is one of the two films, along with “ParaNorman,” nominated for the Oscar that wasn’t also nominated for the equivalent Golden Globe. Take that as you will. The movie was directed by Peter Lord, which makes sense since he’s the co-founder of the production company, Aardman Animations, the company that brought you “Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit,” “Chicken Run” and “Flushed Away.”

The movie focuses on a ragtag group of misfit pirates lead by The Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant). While they’re not really particularly good at pirating, the crew absolutely adores their captain. After being embarrassed by other more monetarily successful pirates when attempting to enter the Pirate of the Year competition, The Pirate Captain and his crew go on a frenzy of unfortunately unsuccessful attempt to raid ships for their gold. Just when he was about to lose hope, he raids the ship of none other than Charles Darwin (David Tennant). Darwin, rightly recognizing The Pirate Captain’s “parrot” Polly as a once extinct dodo bird, attempts to convince The Pirate Captain to let him present it at the Scientist of the Year award. The Pirate Captain, intent on doing it himself and using the rewards he believes a victory would bring him to win the Pirate of the Year award.

This brings The Pirate Captain and his crew sailing into Victorian London, something that is immensely risky for the pirates as Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton) has a nearly irrational vicious hatred for pirates. The crew goes anyway, staying at Darwin’s place. Darwin continues attempting to steal Polly with his trained chimp Mr. Bobo, but finds himself unable to do so, and only The Pirate Captain’s second in command Number Two (Martin Freeman) seems to notice what Darwin was up to.

As you should probably be able to guess, there are hijinks and laughs and people being gotten the better of. It’s not really anything new or exciting for a film, animated or otherwise. The story is pretty standard, though some of the jokes included are humorous the first go ’round, such as The Pirate Captain’s thought that the monsters drawn on maps actually exist in those spots.

The animation is just like the animation this studio has always done, a bit of choppy claymation that’s not bad, but nothing to really write home about either. I still think “The Nightmare Before Christmas” had some of the best claymation I’ve ever seen in film. The movie does star several well known voices other than the ones I’ve already mentioned, including Jeremy Piven, Salma Hayek, Brian Blessed, Al Roker and Anton Yelchin. It does have some good scenery and some well-done animation in the gags, but the story is kind of weak and predictable. Still, it’s great as a family or kids movie. You could definitely do a lot worse.

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Big Screen Ballyhoo – “The Sessions”

As I continue to fulfill my quest to watch 50 percent of the Oscar nominated movies this year, I keep finding movies I enjoy. Which is quite nice, to be sure. Still, I’m going to have to pick up my pace to reach my goal.

My most recent viewing was “The Sessions,” nominated for Best Actress for Helen Hunt, and directed and written by Ben Lewin. I don’t know if I’ve seen a more crowd-pleasing movie nominated for an Oscar outside of “The Avengers.” While some critics may think “crowd-pleasing” means uncreative and boring, or unchallenging, I think the movie was just fantastic.

The movie, which I’m going to go ahead and say is rated R and has quite a bit of nudity and sexual content considering the subject, is based on the true story of Mark O’Brien, a writer and poet effectively paralyzed from the neck down due to polio. Unlike Disney “based on a true story” movies (with the possible exception of “Cool Runnings”), this movie has a lot of heart and goes places you didn’t necessarily expect it to, containing a powerful amount of emotion that you don’t realize until you get toward the end.

O’Brien (John Hawkes) spends most of his time in an iron lung. He can be out of the iron lung for about four hours every day, depending on how he’s feeling and how excited he gets. The movie is told in a partial first-person narrative style, based on an article O’Brien wrote called “On Seeing a Sex Surrogate.” The movie kicks off with O’Brien’s condition being shown, his care in the hands of a rather rough-looking woman. A Catholic, he goes to church and strikes up a conversation with the new priest, Father Brendan (William H. Macy). After consulting with the Father, O’Brien decides to fire his current caretaker and look for someone new. He finds a new caretaker in Amanda (Annika Marks). Unfortunately, after developing strong emotional feelings for her and telling her so, she is unable to reciprocate and leaves.

He ends up having two caretakers after that, Vera (Moon Bloodgood) and Rod (W. Earl Brown). O’Brien’s wit, charm and generally good disposition allows him to strike up conversations easily with his caretakers on a variety of subjects, making their relationships seem very comfortable. Eventually, O’Brien gets an offer to write an article about disabled people in the area and how they manage to have sexual lives. This gets O’Brien thinking about his own sexuality, his virginity and how he wants to get rid of it. So, he looks into hiring a sex therapist, after getting an okay from his priest.

He finds help in Cheryl Cohen-Greene (Hunt). Limited to six sessions together, they work together on helping O’Brien discover his body and eventually work into sex and sexual intimacy. As they have their sessions together, they learn more about each other and open up to one another, becoming more emotionally invested than therapist and client.

The movie has some real heart in it, and never in a massively cheesy way, I don’t think. It’s got great humor, and O’Brien is very charming and humorous despite his condition. The moments shared between O’Brien and Father Brendan are often quite humorous, but also contain a level of conflict that’s very interesting to watch, I feel. After all, a Catholic priest is basically having to approve of an extra-marital sexual affair between a man and a married woman, as we discover. Such a decision doesn’t come lightly to a priest, I’m sure.

Hunt is well deserved in her Oscar nomination, I find, and I think the writing of the movie was very good. Much better than a certain other screenplay that got an Oscar nomination… Different category, sadly. Anyway, the movie seems to be pretty funny throughout, without any real expectations of heavy emotional investment, but the end really has the potential to be a tear-jerker. It sneaks up on you a bit, hitting you before you realize what’s happened, and that is that O’Brien has won you over with his charm, the same way he wins over most of the people in his life.

I strongly suggest the movie if you’ve got time to see it. It’s worth a viewing.

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Big Screen Ballyhoo – “Silver Linings Playbook”

I absolutely love stories about dysfunctional people. Honestly, they may be my favorite stories, be they in books or theatre or film.

“Silver Linings Playbook” is definitely one of those movies. Directed by David O. Russell, this movie is one of the Oscar darlings, with nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing and each of the four acting Oscars, the first movie since 1981’s “Reds” to manage that feat.

The movie starts with Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) being taken home from a mental health facility by his mother Dolores (Jacki Weaver). Pat’s immensely superstitious Philadelphia Eagles fan father, Patrizio (Robert DeNiro), is a bit worried about Pat being home from the facility, but tries to use Pat as a lucky charm to help the Eagles win and thus boost his income for his bookmaking, intended to support his eventual restaurant.

Pat’s return to the life at home is troubled at best. He has to go to court-mandated therapy with Dr. Patel (Anupam Kher), where we learn why he was in the hospital. Apparently, Pat nearly beat the man his wife Nikki (Brea Bee) was cheating on him with, and the song that was playing when he discovered them – his wedding song, Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour” – sets him off into hysterics when he hears it or imagines it playing.

Pat ends up going to dinner with old friends, and friends of his wife Nikki, Ronnie (John Oritz) and Veronica Maxwell (Julia Stiles). While there, he meets Veronica’s sister Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a very recent widow who is just about as messed up as Pat is. She still acts as though she’s married to her dead husband, as Pat acts with Nikki, and has recently lost her job because she slept with several coworkers.

Pat, trying to reach out to Nikki and prove he’s a better man, agrees to help Tiffany with a dance competition in return for her slipping a letter to Nikki under the radar, in spite of the restraining order currently against him. While dancing together, with some choreographic assistance from Pat’s mental health facility friend Danny (Chris Tucker), they both work on their neuroses and friendship, growing as people and learning more about themselves.

Honestly, this may be my favorite Best Picture nominee, even moreso than “Les Miserables.” Like I said, I absolutely adore stories about broken people. Someone suggested that’s because I’m dark or something… but I like to think of it as the stories being more honest about people. The perfect people are always the ones we can’t actually connect with. Superman is easily one of my least favorite superheroes because he’s just too good. He’s got too much. In the same way, stories about “ordinary, normal people” turn out too often to be about people that have nothing wrong with them beyond being, say, lonely or in not the greatest job.

I’m not suggesting everyone’s secretly bipolar or depressed or any other medical malady. I am saying, though, that stories about broken people crawling back toward normalcy, trying to etch out a life despite their fractured psyches, are far more interesting and compelling for me. People that live lives that aren’t a perfect fit, that aren’t exactly comfortable, trying to figure out how to make it work… that’s what I enjoy, and that’s a large part of what “Silver Linings Playbook” is.

This is a fantastic movie, I think, and I’d put it in my top 5 of 2012 now. Granted, I’ve seen it in 2013… so maybe I’ll put it on a top movies of 2013 list at the end of the year. The acting, particularly from DeNiro, Cooper and Lawrence, is phenomenal. Cooper and DeNiro share some frightening and amazing moments, and Lawrence is certainly showing off her talents throughout the movie. It’s perfectly paced, amazingly acted and utilizes music and editing very well. The moment where Pat begins to have a breakdown searching for his wedding video is one of the more emotional and harrowing moments of the film, and fights with some of the best moments of the year.

Now that the movie is finally out in wide release, do yourself a favor and go see it. It’s so much more than a romantic comedy. It’s a story of people that anyone should be able to connect with.

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Big Screen Ballyhoo – “Amour”

Have you ever noticed that foreign films really seem quite foreign? Not just because of the language or whatnot… they just feel different than American/Western films.

“Amour” is certainly no exception. Directed by Michael Haneke, with Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Director, Actress and Best Foreign Film (Austria), “Amour” definitely stands out when compared to its fellow Best Picture nominees.

The movie is a rather simple concept: An elderly couple, Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) and Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant), live together in their apartment in Paris. They are retired music teachers with a daughter, Eva (Isabelle Huppert) who lives abroad in the UK, I believe. The movie is mostly a slice of life style film, focused entirely on the lives of Anne and Georges inside their apartment.

One day, Anne spaces out for a period of several seconds, if not minutes, prompting a visit to the doctor. While she abhors visits to the doctor, it’s discovered that Anne has had a stroke. The surgery to remove the clot goes wrong, leaving Anne partially paralyzed. Anne despairs, not wanting to live in this condition, while Georges despairs that she’s telling the truth. Anne’s condition worsens after a second stroke, limiting her to near paralysis and extremely simple speech, such as repeating the word “Hurt” over and over.

I’m personally surprised that only Riva received a Best Acting Oscar nomination, although the Best Actor category was quite contentious. Still, Tringtignant did a rather fantastic job acting opposite of his wife, a man struggling with the same decision everyone that sees a despairing and invalid loved one struggles with: Be selfish and keep them around or end their suffering?

Still, the movie is distinctly foreign in feel. Confined to one location, there is very little musical backing to speak of anywhere in the film, forcing the acting to be the focus of attention. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but there are moments where I felt the movie dragged on a bit, perhaps.

It is, though, a pretty compelling story with some fantastic acting in it. The movie is in French, though, meaning subtitles are required for the majority of Americans, something I know many people dislike. Still, I’d say give it a chance… but it’s certainly not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. I’d definitely say this is one of the more artistic films of the year as opposed to a crowd pleaser.

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Big Screen Ballyhoo – Golden Globe Winners

So, now we get to look at how well I did with my Golden Globe picks. Now, I did pick these before the Oscar nominations came out… had I had the Oscar nominations, some of my picks would’ve changed. But I didn’t. I’m mostly curious to see how well I did… This could be a decent year of picking for me.

I’ll put the right answers in bold, and, if incorrect, my own in italics.

Best Motion Picture – Drama

“Django Unchained”
“Life of Pi”
“Zero Dark Thirty” (I picked this because it was the Oscar frontrunner… though neither are now.)

Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy

“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”
“Les Miserables”
“Moonrise Kingdom”
“Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”
“Silver Linings Playbook”

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama

Daniel Day-Lewis (“Lincoln”)
Richard Gere (“Arbitage”)
John Hawkes (“The Sessions”)
Joaquin Phoenix (“The Master”)
Denzel Washington (“Flight”)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama

Jessica Chastain (“Zero Dark Thirty”)
Marion Cotillard (“Rust and Bone”)
Helen Mirren (“Hitchcock”)
Naomi Watts (“The Impossible”)
Rachel Weisz (“The Deep Blue Sea”)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy

Jack Black (“Bernie”)
Bradley Cooper (“Silver Linings Playbook”)
Hugh Jackman (“Les Misérables”)
Ewan McGregor (“Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”)
Bill Murray (“Hyde Park on Hudson”)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy

Emily Blunt (“Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”)
Judi Dench (“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”)
Jennifer Lawrence (“Silver Linings Playbook”)
Maggie Smith (“Quartet”)
Meryl Streep (“Hope Springs”)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture

Alan Arkin (“Argo”)
Leonardo DiCaprio (“Django Unchained”)
Philip Seymour Hoffman (“The Master”)
Tommy Lee Jones (“Lincoln”)
Christoph Waltz (“Django Unchained”)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture

Amy Adams (“The Master”)
Sally Field (“Lincoln”)
Anne Hathaway (“Les Misérables”)
Helen Hunt (“The Sessions”)
Nicole Kidman (“The Paperboy”)

Best Director – Motion Picture

Ben Affleck (“Argo”)
Kathryn Bigelow (“Zero Dark Thirty”) (See above reasoning for Best Picture – Drama.)
Ang Lee (“Life of Pi”)
Steven Spielberg (“Lincoln”)
Quentin Tarantino (“Django Unchained”)

Best Screenplay – Motion Picture

“Argo”: Chris Terrio
“Django Unchained”: Quentin Tarantino
“Lincoln”: Tony Kushner
“Silver Linings Playbook”: David O. Russell
“Zero Dark Thirty”: Mark Boal (Again, I really thought “Zero Dark Thirty” was the movie to beat.)

Best Original Song – Motion Picture

“Act of Valor”: Monty Powell, Keith Urban (“For You”)
“The Hunger Games”: Taylor Swift, John Paul White, Joy Williams, T-Bone Burnett (“Safe and Sound”)
“Les Misérables”: Claude-Michel Schönberg, Alain Boublil, Herbert Kretzmer (“Suddenly”) (This result may change my Oscar pick.)
“Skyfall”: Adele, Paul Epworth (“Skyfall”)
“Stand Up Guys”: Jon Bon Jovi (“Not Running Anymore”)

Best Original Score – Motion Picture

“Anna Karenina”: Dario Marianelli
“Argo”: Alexandre Desplat
“Cloud Atlas”: Reinhold Heil, Johnny Klimek, Tom Tykwer
“Life of Pi”: Mychael Danna
“Lincoln”: John Williams (This’ll make the Oscar picks more difficult, too.)

Best Animated Film

“Hotel Transylvania”
“Rise of the Guardians”
“Wreck-It Ralph”

Best Foreign Film

“The Intouchables”
“A Royal Affair”
“Rust and Bone” (Had I known “Amour” would get a Best Picture nomination, I’d’ve picked it in a heartbeat.)
So, ultimately, I ended up with eight correct guesses, including every single acting pick. Which I think is fantastic. “Zero Dark Thirty” really hosed me, though, and this plus the Oscar nominations will make me rethink my Oscar picks. Still, eight out of 14, that’s better than 50 percent! I think I’m potentially on a roll. If I can get more than 50 percent on the Oscars, I’ll be doing fantastically. And be very proud of myself.
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Big Screen Ballyhoo – “Zero Dark Thirty”

This is a rather difficult movie to get a solid reaction to. Which is my first reaction… and, strangely, quite telling about the movie.

“Zero Dark Thirty” has been advertized as Kathryn Bigelow’s (“The Hurt Locker”) movie about the massive manhunt for Osama bin Laden, terrorist and mastermind of 9/11. I don’t think that advertizement is quite right having now seen the movie. Yes, the hunt for bin Laden is the crux of the plot and the driving motivation for the main character, but the movie is about her more than the search.

The movie focuses on Maya (Jessica Chastain), a CIA operative whose only task with the agency during her entire time there has been to find bin Laden. She starts in Pakistan in a cell with fellow CIA operative Dan (Jason Clarke), two years after the events of 9/11. This set of scenes, where they (pretty much entirely Dan) are torturing and interrogating a detainee, has caused a lot of ruckus and protest, but I’ll talk about that later. When Maya is introduced to her new workplace and coworkers, including her boss Joseph Bradley (Kyle Chandler), she sets herself up as extremely driven, somewhat forceful and very independent in her thinking. These traits continue to grow and grow throughout the entire film.

As the movie progresses, Maya remains intent on hunting down bin Laden through whatever leads possible, specifically trying to desperately find bin Laden’s supposed most trusted courier, a slippery sort that may not even be alive and is certainly going by a nom de guerre. Throughout the movie, we’re given a modern history lesson, remembering terrorist attacks that have happened in the past decade that many have tried, and sometimes succeeded, to forget, such as the London bombing and the hotel terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia.

If the ultimate result of this work escapes you, then you haven’t likely been conscious for the past couple of years. Unlike another film of 2012 that I actually found somewhat similar in subject matter and treatment of the history, “Argo,” even though the endings of both movies are known before going in, “Zero Dark Thirty” doesn’t set itself up as a thriller the way “Argo” did, and that’s why the story isn’t about bin Laden to me, partly. It’s not an edge of your seat “Will they get him and how?” story. Part of that is because we know so much about it, unlike the story involved in “Argo.” This movie sets itself up to be constantly chaotic and worrisome. Not a tense thriller, per se, but a consistent pace of loss and desperation. The movie is confusing and desperate, though easily followed and actually well organized. It’s even organized into chapters, almost as though it were a mini-series being shown all in one go.

But beyond the confusion, chaos and desperation is the focus on Maya. The movie continues just slightly past the operation that took out bin Laden, and the final scene of the film allows the sense of catharsis that I was honestly worried we’d never get. “Zero Dark Thirty” doesn’t really send your emotions on a rise and a fall… in its very first scene, it puts them in a tense, somewhat uncomfortable spot and leaves them there until the end. And what a fantastic first scene, too. Honestly, the very first and very last scenes were my favorite parts of the film. The first scene is what I’m calling the 9/11 scene, where the audience is left staring at a black screen for a minute or two, listening to the sounds of people talking on phones and radios while the 9/11 attack was underway. It’s harrowing, uncomfortable and pitch perfect for setting up the movie.

As for the torture/waterboarding scenes… Look, I think most Americans generally accept that we probably tortured some people in our hunt for bin Laden. It’s pretty much a certainty. America doesn’t exactly have the best track record with prisoners anyway, if anyone recalls Abu Ghraib. Is the movie supporting that? No. No more than “Die Hard” supports single-handedly taking on a bunch of gun-toting terrorists. Whether the torture was the right or wrong thing to do is left entirely to the audience. This movie makes no moral statements about the hunt for bin Laden, and the waterboarding isn’t the only uncomfortable thing done in the movie, in my opinion. The movie is about telling the story of one woman’s drive to find bin Laden. Everything else is up to you.

Now, it’s a good movie, definitely… but the catharsis is perhaps a bit wanting, and the emotions are perhaps a bit single-note, though constantly rising. It’s certainly not my favorite movie of 2012, or even my favorite Best Picture nominee… but it is good. And Chastain does a fantastic job, particularly in the final scene. The film will probably take home at least one Oscar, and I think people should see it, even if it’s just to remember what the world has been through over the past decade.

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Big Screen Ballyhoo – Oscar Nomination Reactions

So, if you were perhaps unaware, the Oscar nominations for 2013 came out. And, as they do nearly every year, they’re causing just a bit of controversy.

This year, 53 films have been nominated (By my count. I could be wrong. Counted 54 the first time.). Still, even with 53 nominated movies, with several getting a huge handful of nominations (“Life of Pi” got 11, which ties it with the most nominations a movie has ever won.), there are people that feel there were snubs and missing nominations. And I’m a bit inclined to agree.

First off, for Best Picture. This has been a pretty good year for movies. There are only two movies I’ve seen this year that I didn’t like, and I’ve seen more movies this year than most. Even though I’ve only seen 13 Oscar nominated films this year, but I’ll get to that in a bit. The way the Best Picture category now works is that it allows for any number between five and 10 nominations. They changed it from five to 10 some years ago to widen the field and potentially make it more exciting for the viewers at home. Then they made it variable when they couldn’t produce 10 Best Picture material movies. This year, I really think there were 10 possibilities. Such as, while I haven’t yet seen it, “Moonrise Kingdom.” Or, out of what I have seen, “Skyfall” or “Cloud Atlas.” The last of which I will bring up again in a second.

Then you have Best Director. What the what happened here? The two most talked about sure-fire “will definitely be nominated” directors were Kathryn Bigelow for “Zero Dark Thirty” and Ben Affleck for “Argo.” Yet neither got a nomination. And neither did Tom Hooper for “Les Miserables.” Hooper and Bigelow’s absences mean the two defending champions, both having won the Oscar for Best Director (and Best Picture) for the last film they made, are out of the race. It also means that Bigelow’s movie “Zero Dark Thirty” is no longer the top contender for Best Picture, as the Academy rarely splits director and picture for the Oscars. And poor Affleck… at least his movie got nominated a few times, including for Best Picture. His last movie got ousted by a massive roster of good films. Still, I think he really deserved the Best Director nod. Yes, you can’t get all the Best Picture directors a nomination, but their absences were very shocking.

And now, to chat about “Cloud Atlas.” As you may recall, I enjoyed “Cloud Atlas” a decent bit. I even said it’s practically a shoe-in for the Oscars.

And it was shut out entirely.

No nominations for Make-Up, Costumes, Visual Effects… nothing. It’s freakin’ crazy, in my mind. It makes NO sense. First, why is it that Make-Up only gets three nominations when there are clearly other deserving films? Second, not a single nomination? “Flight” gets a nomination for Best Original Screenplay, despite being one of the WORST screenplays I’ve seen this year, yet “Cloud Atlas” doesn’t even get mentioned? It’s an absolute travesty in my mind. Just a shame.

Anyway, there are other people who have some other complaints about the Oscar nominations, if you’re curious. Me, I’m just going to buckle down and try to watch as many of these things as I can. Even if I exclude Documentaries, Short Films and Foreign Films (except for “Amour,” a Best Picture contender), I’ve got 17 movies left to watch by February. Better get cracking.

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