Sunday, February 19, 2017

Sizing up the 2016 competition: Natalie Portman in "Jackie"

I finally got around to seeing Jackie, completing the Best Actress nominee list for the Oscars.  Were it not for her win in Black Swan six years ago, Natalie Portman would probably be a slam dunk for the win.  Emma Stone has sort of run the table this season, however, so it appears that Portman will end up being another also-ran.  It's a shame because not only is Jackie a great film, but Portman does a fantastic job in her role as former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy.

Following John F. Kennedy's assassination in 1963, his wife Jackie is tasked with pulling herself together and managing a transition out the White House with her small children, all the while trying to figure out how she can start a narrative on the legacy of her late husband's presidency.

I have to admit, the accent was tad distracting at the beginning, but it helped to know that the real Jackie actually talked like that.  Portman went for authenticity.  With that, one risks distracting audiences and possibly even alienating them.  Ultimately I think it worked out fine.  It's a tough role, with multiple life events and motivations pulling the character in different directions.  Portman negotiated those intricacies seamlessly, and therefore carried the film.

Having seen all five nominees, I think I'd have to rank the performances as follows:

1. Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins)
2. Natalie Portman (Jackie)
3. Isabelle Huppert (Elle)
4. Ruth Negga (Loving)
5. Emma Stone (La La Land)

I don't want to make it seem like I thought Emma Stone sucked, it's just that those I ranked above her did a superior job in  my opinion  Stone did lovely work in La La Land, and it's a testament to a great year for women's roles that such a performance could be in someone's fifth spot (even though she'll very likely win the Oscar).

On to the Academy Awards next weekend.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Angela Lansbury officially joins "Mary Poppins Returns"

Playbill is reporting that Angela Lansbury has officially joined the cast of Mary Poppins Returns. Dick Van Dyke, who was announced as part of the cast in December, had announced at that time that Lansbury was part of the picture as well, but no official word was out until yesterday.  Not much was said about her character in the article, other than that her name is the "Balloon Lady."  Likely a cameo, probably similar to Meryl's role as Poppins's cousin, Topsy Turvy.   Other notable members of the cast include:

Emily Blunt (Mary Poppins)
Ben Whishaw (Michael Banks)
Emily Mortimer (Jane Banks)
Lin-Manuel Miranda (Jack)
Christian Dixon (The Milkman)
Colin Firth (William Weatherall Wilkins)
Julie Walters (Ellen)

Filming is currently underway in the U.K. with a release still set for Christmas Day, 2018.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Streep honored by Human Rights Campaign

Last night, Meryl was honored by the Human Rights Campaign at their Greater New York Gala.  Not surprisingly, she took the opportunity to again rip into the President and his policy agenda.  I recommend everyone read the full transcript of her speech in this Hollywood Reporter article.  In it, she eloquently describes how the "weight" of her acting honors drives her out of her comfort zone and natural instinct (which is to "stay the fuck home") and compels her to speak out against what she sees as intolerable behavior.

There are numerous fantastic quotes, but again, I recommend everyone read the full text for themselves.  The most I could find for video is below.  Quick diversion: I wonder if Meryl is flying to London this morning for the BAFTA Awards.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

My BAFTA predictions

The BAFTAs are a bit of an enigma for me at times.  At others, I look at the results in hindsight and think "duh."  More than the other "big three" awards shows, BAFTA tends very heavily to recognize British nominees.  One might think that's to be expected, but it makes for a trickier prediction plan.  The eligible films tend to vary as well.  If a movie isn't given a wide release in the U.K. by year's end (I think), it isn't eligible for BAFTA awards.  That's the same in the U.S. for Golden Globes, SAGs and Oscars.  This year, the most obvious performance missing from the lineup due to eligibility is Isabelle Huppert in Elle.  It will be interesting to see if she gets nominated next year.  If she manages to win the Oscar this year, I can't imagine she doesn't at least get a nom.  Ok, here are my acting predictions.

Actress in a Leading Role
Emma Stone (La La Land)

Seriously Meryl may have a chance here due to the U.K. connections of Florence Foster Jenkins (Stephen Frears, Hugh Grant, filmed in the U.K.), but unlikely.  I'm seeing Jackie today but for some reason the buzz around Natalie Portman seems to have significantly dwindled.

Actor in a Leading Role
Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea)

I honestly think Denzel Washington will win the Oscar, but he was snubbed here (bizarre).  So if Affleck doesn't win the BAFTA, I think it's game-set-match for Denzel at the Dolby.

Actress in a Supporting Role
Viola Davis (Fences)

Viola better win, but Naomie Harris also does a great job in Moonlight and she is English.  Only possible alternative to Davis in my opinion.

Actor in a Supporting Role
Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)

I'm pretty confident here, but maybe Hugh Grant?  His nomination may be seen as his one chance at an acting award, and since he didn't make the top five for Oscar (and he too is English), I wouldn't be shocked if it were him.  Dev Patel could also surprise.

The ceremony evidently begins at 7:00 pm London time (1:00 pm CST U.S.), but it won't be broadcast on British TV until two hours later for whatever reason.  I haven't seen anywhere to live stream, but I'm sure there will be something available if I dig around a bit.  Enjoy!

Friday, February 10, 2017

Filming begins on "Mary Poppins Returns"

Several sources have confirmed that filming has begun in Surrey, England on Rob Marshall's Mary Poppins Returns.  There had been some previous speculation that Meryl may have done her filming already, but I wonder if with the BAFTA ceremony this weekend, she'll be attending that and hanging around to complete her shooting.  In the Variety article I've linked above there's a nice summary of a few plot details, in addition to revealing some new cast members.

We still don't have a great idea of the extent of Meryl's role, but as I've mentioned before, I imagine it's rather small.  I picture something similar to her role in Lemony Snicket's.  Still hard to believe that this won't be released for almost two more years.  Can there really be that many special effects in a film like this?  Maybe they want to make the flying scenes look super realistic.  Who knows.

I'll post my BAFTA predictions tomorrow.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Sizing up the 2016 competition: Isabelle Huppert in "Elle"

Isabelle Huppert earned her first Academy Award nomination a couple weeks ago for her splendid performance in Paul Verhoeven's Elle.  I knew very little about this film going into it and didn't realize how totally fucked up the story is.  I say fucked up in a good way, of course.  The interpersonal relationships Huppert's character negotiates coupled with the macabre history she must convince us she's experienced provide the viewer with a wonderful display of acting prowess.

Huppert plays Michèle, who in the opening scene is raped in her home by a masked man.  As the daughter of an incarcerated mass murderer, she is wary of the police and does not report it.  Spoiler:  after suspecting a few people, we learn it's her handsome new neighbor, Patrick, and Michèle toys with a roleplay-like sexual relationship with him, before setting him up and allowing her son to whack him on the head and kill him at the end.

Of course the story is more complicated than that, but I don't want to focus on the plot as much as Huppert's performance.  There are so many things going on for this character: crazy locked-up dad, being raped, wanting to sleep with your rapist, having a son who's in denial about his own "son's" paternity, an affair with your best friend's husband, being at the head of a video game company and resenting your selfish mother.  How the hell can one work out the interplay of all these factors?  Well, Huppert apparently does it seamlessly, because on paper it sounds way over the top, but onscreen it actually works.

Sidebar:  I've been taking French classes for about a year and a half but watching a film in French makes it painfully obvious how much I struggle to to understand what's going on when the language is spoken quickly and conversationally.

If this were not a foreign film I'd be hard pressed to see how Huppert loses the Oscar.  Will enough voters see the film and not be turned off by its somewhat disturbing plot lines though?  She's already won the Golden Globe, New York Film Critics, Los Angeles Film Critics and National Society of Film Critics awards.  I've yet to see Jackie, but this performance is likely the only one that could prevail over Emma Stone and the La La Land train.  Bonne chance, Isabelle.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

My 2017 SAG predictions

 The Screen Actors Guild Awards are tomorrow night, so of course I have to post my film winner predictions.  It's fun this year that every category doesn't seem like an absolute slam dunk.  Without further ado:

Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture

I think Fences is a close second here, mostly because of the very strong performances of Denzel Washington and Viola Davis.  Moonlight is the better film in my opinion, and not dominated by one or two powerhouse roles.  Manchester by the Sea has the most nominations (3), but I actually think they'll come in 3rd.

Actress in a Leading Role
Emma Stone (La La Land)

I truly would not be shocked if Meryl took this, remembering that the voters include only actors and her Golden Globes speech probably spoke most closely to them, as far as industry insiders go.  Awarding Streep could be a political statement, and then they'll give the Oscar to Emma.

Actor in Leading Role
Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea)

Denzel is a very close second for me here.

Actress in a Supporting Role
Viola Davis (Fences)

Will win.

Actor in a Supporting Role
Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)

Maybe not as guaranteed as Viola, but pretty close.