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Movies - The Oscars posts

Saturday January 17, 2015

The Remarkable Symmetry of Bennett Miller's Films, Nominations

I was thinking about this as I lay in bed this morning. Yeah, I know. I used to think about better things in bed.

But there is a remarkable symmetry to Bennett Miller's films/Oscar nominations:

  • Miller has made three feature-length films in his career.
  • Each title is one word with three syllables: Capote, Moneyball, Foxcatcher.
  • Each has received a nomination for best film (Moneyball) best director (Foxcatcher) or both (Capote).
  • Each has received a nomination for lead actor (Hoffman, Pitt, Carell).
  • Each has received a nomination in a supporting acting category (Keener, Hill, Ruffalo).
  • Each has been nominated for screenplay. 

Here's the chart:

Film Picture Director Lead  Supporting Screenplay Total
Capote x x x x x 5
Moneyball x   x x x 6
Foxcatcher   x x x x 5

“Moneyball” also got nominated for editing and sound mix, “Foxcatcher” for makeup.

The final similarity? Save Hoffman in 2005, nobody wins. Which, yes, fits with his movies, in which his leads win but lose (Capote), lose but win (Moneyball), or try to buy winning and lose everything (Foxcatcher).

Bennett Miller's lead actors 

Unsurprisingly, the middle one had the best box office.

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Posted at 10:31 AM on Jan 17, 2015 in category Movies - The Oscars
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Thursday January 15, 2015

The Best Picture Nominees by Rotten Tomatoes Score

Via Rotten Tomatoes:

RT Score
Oscar Noms
Selma 99% 2
Boyhood 98% 6
Whiplash 95% 5
Birdman 92% 9
The Grand Budapest Hotel    92% 9
The Imitation Game 90% 8
The Theory of Everything 79% 5
American Sniper 75% 6

The worst rated best picture nominee I can remember is “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” from two years ago. It was rotten at 46%.

Every best picture winner in recent years has been ranked 92-98%. The last best picture winner to rank below 90% was “Crash” in 2005: 75%.


“Selma”: highest rated, least nominations. 

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Posted at 12:34 PM on Jan 15, 2015 in category Movies - The Oscars
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The Bad Box Office of the Best Picture Nominees

There are a lot of stories making the rounds about this year's Oscar nominations. Both “American Sniper” and “Mr. Turner” did surprisingly well while “Selma” was all but denied. As was “The LEGO Movie.” As was “Life Itself,” the documentary about the life and death of film critic Roger Ebert. But then its director Steve James also directed the hugely acclaimed “Hoop Dreams,” which went unnominated in the documentary category in 1994. So ... fool me twice, I guess. 

But for me, the big story is still the box office. Its lack. 

Here are your eight best picture candidates, their domestic box office totals, and their widest distributions:

Movie Box Office Theaters
The Grand Budapest Hotel $59.1 1,467
The Imitation Game $42.0 1,566
Birdman $26.5 862
The Theory of Everything $26.0 1,220
Boyhood $24.3 775
Selma $15.5 2,179
Whiplash $6.1 419
American Sniper $3.3 4

Reminder: in 2009 the Academy broke a 60-plus-year tradition and expanded its best picture candidates from five to 10 mostly because popular movies weren't getting nominated and people were turning away from the Oscar broadcast. The Academy didn't want to become marginalized. Thus: 10 nominees. Then five to 10. 

And it seemed to work. 

In 2009, the Academy nominated five pictures that grossed more than $100 million domestic, including Nos. 1, 5 and 8 on the year (“Avatar,” “Up” and “The Blind Side”). In 2010, five more with more than $100 mil, including Nos. 1 and 6 on the year (“Toy Story 3” and “Inception”). 2011 was a step back: just one with > $100 mil domestic, “The Help,” which was the 13th most popular movie of the year. In 2012, six movies breached $100 million, but none higher than 13th: Spielberg's “Lincoln.” Last year? Four, including the sixth-highest-grossing film, “Gravity.” 

And this year? The highest-grossing film topped out at $59 million and 53rd place for the year.  

It's actually worse in the acting categories. The highest-grossing film in Best Actor is “Imitation Game” at $42 million; in Best Supporting Actor, it's “The Judge” at $47. Rosamund Pike's “Gone Girl” ($167) and Meryl Streep's “In the Woods” ($106 and climbing) at least get us over the $100 million mark, but they're the only two among the 20 acting candidates. Everythign else is below $50 million.

This will change, obviously, but by how much? “Into the Woods” will do better but not because of Oscar. I could see “Imitation Game” gaining some moviegoers. Will they expand “Birdman”? Will they re-release “Whiplash”? Are people psyched to see “American Sniper” now? Will its distributor let folks outside NYC and LA see it?

It's a bit worrisome. In 2009, when the Academy expanded its best picture category, I created the following to chart to indicate why it had done so:

 The Annual Box Office Rankings for Best Picture Nominees, 1991-2008*

BPN BO rank
BPN BO rank
BPN BO rank
BPN BO rank
BPN BO rank
2008  16 20 82 89 120
 2007  15 36 50 55 66
 2006  15  51 57 92 138
 2005  22  49 62 88 95
 2004  22  24 37 40 61
 2003  1  17 31 33 67
 2002  2  10 35 56 80
 2001  2 11 43 59 68
 2000  4 12 13 15 32
 1999  2  12 13 41 69
 1998  1  18  35 59 65
 1997  1   6 7 24 44
 1996  4  19 41 67 108
 1995  3  18  28 39 77
 1994  1  10 21 51 56
 1993  3  9 38 61 66
 1992  5 11 19 20 48
 1991  3  4 16 17 25

* Best picture winner represented in red.

Then for comparison's sake, I added this one. 

BPN BO rank
BPN BO rank
BPN BO rank
BPN BO rank
BPN BO rank
1970 1 2 3 4 11

 Here's this year's nominees:

BO rank
BO rank
BO rank
BO rank
BO rank
BO rank
BO rank
BO rank
2014 53 76 94 96 100 115 138 158

Yes, I'm concerned that the stories we share these days tend to be cartoonish; that there are fewer and fewer serious stories that we all know and care about. I think this is helping an increasingly fragmented and polarized society become more so.

But mostly I'm worried about what the Academy might do to rectify the situation. Particularly if the ratings tank on Feb. 22. 

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Among the nominees, Wes Anderson was most popular at the box office. It's a position he's never been in before.

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Posted at 11:20 AM on Jan 15, 2015 in category Movies - The Oscars
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Hurriedly Handicapping Best Picture: Are We Down to 4, 3 or 2?

2015 best picture nominees

The likeliest candidates. But one of these things is not like the others. 

Before the nominations came out, I thought we were down to four candidates for best picture: “Birdman,” “Boyhood,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “The Imitation Game.” So where are we now that the Academy has released the Kraken?

Here are the Academy's eight nominees for best picture, along with nominations in other relevant categories:

Movie Director Editing Screenplay Acting Noms
American Sniper   x x 1 6
Birdman x   x 3 9
Boyhood x x x 2 6
The Grand Budapest Hotel x x x   9
The Imitation Game x x x 2 8
Selma         2
The Theory of Everything     x 2 5
Whiplash   x x 1 5

It's rare when a movie wins best picture without its director being nominated (although it happened two years ago with Ben Affleck and “Argo”), so we do seem down to those four.

However, it's even rarer when a movie wins best picture without its editor being nominated (last time: “Ordinary People” in 1980). So if that's the case, then we're down to three.

Screenplay is a wash. It eliminates nothing save “Selma,” which is nominated nowhere else but song. Acting matters since the Academy is mostly made up of actors, and that favors “Birdman,” with three, over “Grand Budapest” with zero. (Although two films this century, “Slumdog Millionaire” in 2008 and “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” in 2003, won best pic without an acting nomination.)

Let's look at that recent history. These are the nominations for each year's best picture winner this century:

Year Movie Director Edit Scrnply Acting Total noms Most noms?
2013 12 Years a Slave x x x 3 9  
2012 Argo   x x 1 7  
2011 The Artist x x x 2 10  
2010 The King's Speech x x x 3 12 x
2009 The Hurt Locker x x x 1 9 x
2008 Slumdog Millionaire x x x 0 10  
2007 No Country for Old Men x x x 1 8 x
2006 The Departed x x x 1 5  
2005 Crash x x x 1 6  
2004 Million Dollar Baby x x x 3 7  
2003 Lord of the Rings: Return of the King x x x 0 11 x
2002 Chicago x x x 4 13 x
2001 A Beautiful Mind x x x 2 8  
2000 Gladiator x x x 2 12 x

I was surprised that “Most noms” is a meaningless category—just six of 14 this century—but it helps to be at least near the top. Last year, both “Gravity” and “American Hustle” had 10 noms, one more than “12 Years.” “Lincoln” had 12 in 2012 (not a bad slogan, actually), while “The Artist” was only one off of “Hugo”'s total of 11 nominations in 2011.

So what does it all mean? 

Under normal circumstances, the lack of an editing nomination should end “Birdman”'s chances. Except voters may give it a pass since it's essentially one long single shot. It's an actors' movie, almost like a play (hence the three acting nominations), and the Academy's acting body should appreciate that.

“Boyhood” has fewer overall noms, but it's got director, editing, two acting, and, perhaps most importantly, heart.  

“The Imitation Game” has all its nominations in a nice, neat row. It's just not a very good movie. It's also the most conventional among the four. “Grand Budapest” is two-dimensional, Andersony and funny, “Boyhood” is episodic and took 12 years to make, “Birdman” is pungent, attacks Hollywood for giving awards “for cartoons and pornography” and ends with a question mark.

My thought? We're down to three. “Birdman,” “Boyhood” and “Imitation Game.” 

My hope? That 12 years of work, and a lot of heart, give “Boyhood” the win.

My fear? The unconventional voters will split among the American indies, allowing the lesser film, “Imitation Game,” to win. 

We'll find out Feb. 22.

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Posted at 09:44 AM on Jan 15, 2015 in category Movies - The Oscars
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The 2014 Oscar Nominations: Honesty and Popular Don't Go Hand in Hand

2014 oscar nominations

Announcing the actresses: Adams out, Cotillard in. C'mon, Marion/ It's time that we began ...

Just when you thought the Oscars were going populist, they pull themselves back out.

In 2009, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences expanded its best picture category from five to 10 (and soon after, anywhere from five to 10), in part, it was believed, because the broadcast, and thus the award, was losing popularity. Big box office hits weren't getting nominated; people tuned out. Thus the expansion. And immediate paydirt! “Avatar,” the biggest hit of 2009, was nom'ed, as was “Toy Story 3,” the biggest box-office hit of 2010. But was this partly an illusion? Would these movies have been nominated anyway? Was it a last gasp of a melding of critically acclaimed and popular? Because the following year, 2011, the biggest hit among the nominees was “The Help,” which topped out at 13th, and in 2012 it was “Lincoln,” which also topped out at 13th. Last year, yes, “Gravity,” the sixth-biggest box office hit of 2013, was nominated. But this year we're definitely back to square one. 

Among the eight best picture nominees, the one at the top of the box-office chart is “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” which grossed $59 million and isn't even among the 50 most popular movies of the year. (It's 53rd.) That's right, Wes Anderson is most popular—a title I'm sure he never thought he'd ever be able to claim. 

In fact, the total domestic gross of the eight nominees, $203 million, is less than the total domestic grosss of “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” ($208 million), which was only the 10th highest-grossing film of the year. 

So here we are again. Just us cinephiles.

Is it better this way? Could any popular movie have been nominated? “Guardians of the Galaxy” maybe? (Right. Sci-fi.)  “Captain America”? (Right. Superhero.) “Interstellar”? “Gone Girl”? “The LEGO Movie”? Hey, how about this? “LEGO,” the fourth highest-grossing movie of the year, and highly critically acclaimed, didn't even get nominated in Best Animated Feature.


The Academy went white and male, too. That's the spin you'll probably hear about more. “Selma” was shut out except for picture and song. Its director, Ana DuVarney, didn't get nominated, nor did its lead, David Oyelowo. Nothing for Angelina Jolie as director for “Unbroken” nor Gillian Flynn for best adapted screenplay for “Gone Girl.”

But the obvious follow-up: Should they have been nominated?

I admit I wasn't a big fan of “Gone Girl.” I could see either DuVarney or Oyelowo among the nominees, but both are crowded fields. Oyelowo certainly would've gotten my vote.

Here's the good news: the big winners are two of the best movies of the year: “Birdman” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” each got nine nominations. “Imitation Game” wound up with eight (really?) while “Boyhood” got six. 

The surprise winner was “American Sniper,” Clint Eastwood's late entry into the conversation, which tied “Boyood” with six nominations, include picture, actor, adapted screenplay and editing. Oddly, its most prominent figure, director Eastwood, didn't get nominated.

A pattern, AMPAS? Let's look.


  • “American Sniper”
  • “Birdman”
  • “Boyhood”
  • “The Grand Budapest Hotel“
  • ”The Imitation Game“
  • ”Selma“
  • ”The Theory of Everything“
  • ”Whiplash“


  • Wes Anderson ”The Grand Budapest Hotel“ 
  • A.G. Iñárritu ”Birdman“
  • Richard Linklater ”Boyhood“
  • Bennet Miller, ”Foxcatcher“
  • Morten Tyldum ”The Imitation Game“


  • Steve Carell, ”Foxcatcher“
  • Bradley Cooper, ”American Sniper“
  • Benedict Cumberbatch, ”The Imitation Game“
  • Michael Keaton ”Birdman“
  • Eddie Redmayne  ”The Theory of Everything“


  • Marion Cotillard, ”Deux Jours, Une Nuit“
  • Felicity Jones ”The Theory of Everything“
  • Julianne Moore ”Still Alice“
  • Rosamund Pike ”Gone Girl“
  • Reese Witherspoon ”Wild“

MISSING: Golden Globes winner Amy Adams for ”Big Eyes.“ 

Supporting Actress

  • Patricia Arquette ”Boyhood“
  • Laura Dern, ”Wild“
  • Keira Knightley ”The Imitation Game“
  • Emma Stone ”Birdman“
  • Meryl Streep ”Into the Woods“

MISSING: Jessica Chastain for ”A Most Violent Year.“ Which hasn't played anywhere yet. Glad to see Dern there. Knightley? Please.

Supporting Actor

  • Robert Duvall, ”The Judge“
  • Ethan Hawke, ”Boyhood“
  • Edward Norton, ”Birdman“
  • Mark Ruffalo, ”Foxcatcher“
  • JK Simmons, ”Whiplash“

Original screenplay

  • Wes Anderson ”The Grand Budapest Hotel“
  • E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman, ”Foxcatcher“ 
  • Dan Gilroy, ”Nightcrawler“
  • A.G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo, ”Birdman“
  • Richard Linklater, ”Boyhood“

Adapted screenplay

  • Paul Thomas Anderson, ”Inherent Vice“
  • Damien Chazelle, ”Whiplash“
  • Jason Hall, ”American Sniper“
  • Anthony McCarten, ”The Theory of Everything“
  • Graham Moore, ”The Imitation Game“

Still don't understand the lack of Nick Hornby love. That's a tough adaptation. Still don't get the Graham Moore love. ”Imitation Game“ was at best a cookie-cutter biopic. Ditto ”Theory of Everything.“ But I'm happy to see Paul Thomas Anderson in there. Not to mentin Mr. Chazelle. 

Animated Feature 

  • ”Big Hero 6“
  • ”The Boxtrolls“
  • ”How to Train Your Dragon 2“
  • ”Song of the Sea“
  • ”The Tale of the Princess Kaguya“

MISSING: ”The LEGO Movie.“ I've heard ”Song of the Sea“ is beautiful, though. 

Documentary Feature

  • ”Citizenfour“
  • ”Finding Vivian Maier“
  • ”Last Days in Vietnam“
  • ”The Salt of the Earth“
  • ”Virunga“

MISSING: ”Life Itself.“ Thumbs down.


  • Roger Deakins, ”Unbroken“
  • Emmanuel Lubezki, ”Birdman“
  • Dick Pope, ”Mr. Turner“
  • Robert Yeoman, ”The Grand Budapest Hotel“
  • Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski,”Ida“ 

Just when you're finally getting the recognition you deserve, the president of the Academy pronounces your name ”Poop.“ Sorry, Dick Pope. Seriously, Academy presidents, do a run-through or something.

Film Editing

  • ”American Sniper“
  • ”Boyhood“
  • ”The Grand Budapest Hotel“
  • ”The Imitation Game“
  • ”Whiplash“

MISSING: ”Birdman.“ Because of all the single shots? And does this kill its chances for best picture? The last time a film won best picture without being nominated for film editing was in 1980 with ”Ordinary People“: 35 years ago. 

Foreign Language Film 

  • ”Ida“ (Poland)
  • ”Leviathan“ (Russia)
  • ”Tangerines“ (Estonia) 
  • ”Timbuktu“ (Mauritiana)
  • ”Wild Tales“ (Argentina)

MISSING: ”Force Majeure.“

Production Design

  • ”The Grand Budapest Hotel“
  • ”The Imitation Game“
  • ”Interstellar“
  • ”Into the Woods“
  • ”Mr. Turner“

A lot of prognosticators got this way wrong. They were thinking ”Birdman“ and ”Maleficent“ and ”Unbroken.“ But the Academy was not kind to Angelina Jolie this year. Too old, I guess. 

Costume Design

  • ”The Grand Budapest Hotel“ 
  • ”Inherent Vice“
  • ”Into the Woods“
  • ”Maleficent“
  • ”Mr. Turner“

Original Score

  • Alexandre Desplat, ”The Grand Budapest Hotel“
  • Alexandre Desplat, ”The Imitation Game“
  • Jóhann Jóhannsson ”The Theory of Everything“
  • Gary Yershon, ”Mr. Turner“
  • Hans Zimmer ”Interstellar“ 

Original Song

  • ”Everything is Awesome“ (Shawn Patterson, Tegan and Sara, ”The LEGO Movie“) 
  • ”Glory“ (John Legend and Common, ”Selma“) 
  • ”Grateful“ (Diane Warren, ”Beyond the Lights“)
  • ”I'm Not Gonna Miss You“ (Glen Campbell, Julian Raymond, ”Glen Campbell ... I'll Be Me“)
  • ”Lost Stars“ (Gregg Alexander and Danielle Brisebois, ”Begin Again“)

Makeup and Hairstyling

  • ”Foxcatcher“
  • ”The Grand Budapest Hotel“
  • ”Guardians of the Galaxy“

Sound Editing

  • ”American Sniper“
  • ”Birdman“
  • ”The Hobbit“
  • ”Interstellar“
  • ”Unbroken“

Sound Mixing

  • ”American Sniper“
  • ”Birdman“
  • ”Interstellar“
  • ”Unbroken“
  • ”Whiplash“

Visual Effects

  • ”Captain America: The Winter Soldier“
  • ”Dawn of the Planet of the Apes“
  • ”Guardians of the Galaxy“
  • ”Interstellar“
  • ”X-Men: Days of Future Past“

Animated Short

  • “The Bigger Picture”
  • ”The Damn Keeper“
  • ”Feast“
  • ”Me and My Moulton“
  • “A Single Life”

Documentary Short 

  • “Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1”
  • “Joanna”
  • “Our Curse”
  • “The Reaper (La Parka)” 
  • “White Earth“

Live Action Short 

  • “Aya”
  • “Boogaloo and Graham”
  • “Butter Lamp”
  • “Parvaneh”
  • “The Phone Call“

Thoughts? I'm sure I'll have more as the day progresses. 


”Birdman“ leads with nine nomations. ”How did we end up here ...?"

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Posted at 07:54 AM on Jan 15, 2015 in category Movies - The Oscars
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