2013 Oscar Picks

Tonight is Oscar night. I’ve been trying to see many of the nominees with moderate success. The Oscars are the only awards show I watch, and this year’s field is strong. For more info on the nominees or this year’s awards season, consult the IMBD Road to the Oscars page.

Here are the nominees followed by my picks for most of the awards I care about. Please post your picks and any other thoughts in the comments. Note that these are not predictions, merely my votes. I know I’ve missed some great films.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

Alan Arkin for Argo
Robert De Niro for Silver Linings Playbook
Philip Seymour Hoffman for The Master
Tommy Lee Jones for Lincoln
Christoph Waltz for Django Unchained

My Pick: Ugh, I’ve seen all but The Master (it’s in my queue) and liked them all. I’ll go with Tommy Lee Jones as a curmudgeonly, passionate abolitionist US Representative. I think gravitas might be the best word for his performance.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

Amy Adams for The Master
Sally Field for Lincoln
Anne Hathaway for Les Misérables
Helen Hunt for The Sessions
Jacki Weaver for Silver Linings Playbook

My Pick: Anne Hathaway, hands down. Her “I Dreamed a Dream” sequence is one of the most amazing and moving things I’ve ever seen in film. No other single performance has ripped my heart out like this one, in this or any other year.

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

Amour: Michael Haneke
Django Unchained: Quentin Tarantino
Flight: John Gatins
Moonrise Kingdom: Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola
Zero Dark Thirty: Mark Boal

My Pick: I’ve only seen Django Unchained, so I’ll go with Tarantino. As always, his script mixed amazing dialog, bizarre situations and blending of genres, memorable characters, and very dark humor. However, I really wish he had cut the awkward attempt at humor during the white supremacists’ hood scene. It just didn’t fit.

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published

Argo: Chris Terrio
Beasts of the Southern Wild: Lucy Alibar, Benh Zeitlin
Life of Pi: David Magee
Lincoln: Tony Kushner
Silver Linings Playbook: David O. Russell

My Pick: David Russell for Silver Linings Playbook. Great characters, sharp dialog, well-paced, nice blend of twists and humor and drama. It’s a rom-com about two people with varying degrees of mental illness, and it works!

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year

Brave
Frankenweenie
ParaNorman
The Pirates! Band of Misfits
Wreck-It Ralph

My Pick: Wreck-It Ralph, the only one I’ve seen. It was outstanding. Jenny says Brave was excellent as well, but she picks Wreck-It Ralph as well. And sorry, I can’t vote for anything called Frankenweenie.

Best Achievement in Cinematography

Anna Karenina
Django Unchained
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Skyfall

My Pick: Tough call. Django Unchained, I suppose. Tarantino’s films have a distinct look, and this one used a very rich, almost oversaturated palette to…hmm…make the blood look redder? Really, though, the camera work is outstanding.

Best Achievement in Editing

Argo
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty

My Pick: Argo. Your adrenaline starts flowing in the first scene and doesn’t let up until the last few minutes, largely due to the smart editing. Every scene was there for a reason.

Best Achievement in Production Design

Anna Karenina
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Les Misérables
Life of Pi
Lincoln

My Pick: Les Miserables. The whole production made me really glad I don’t live in the foulness of 19th century France.

Best Achievement in Visual Effects

The Avengers
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Life of Pi
Prometheus
Snow White and the Huntsman

My Pick: The Avengers, again, the only one of the five nominees I’ve seen. But come on, they managed to destroy Manhattan and made it look real. And very expensive to repair.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

Bradley Cooper for Silver Linings Playbook
Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln
Hugh Jackman for Les Misérables
Joaquin Phoenix for The Master
Denzel Washington for Flight

My Pick: Daniel Day-Lewis. I really wanted to pick Bradley Cooper for his amazing performance in Silver Linings, especially since Day-Lewis already has two of the golden statues, but Day-Lewis somehow managed to top my already high expectations for him in this role. His Lincoln perfectly portrayed the humanity, intelligence, fire, turmoil, eloquence, and charisma of the great president like no one else could.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

Jessica Chastain for Zero Dark Thirty
Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook
Emmanuelle Riva for Amour
Quvenzhané Wallis for Beasts of the Southern Wild
Naomi Watts for The Impossible

My Pick: Jennifer Lawrence. To be fair, I haven’t seen the other films, but I am very much on the JLaw bandwagon. Her performance here takes a fascinating, troubled, and quirky character and makes you love her despite her weirdness and dirty mouth, or maybe even because of them.

Best Achievement in Directing

Michael Haneke for Amour
Ang Lee for Life of Pi
David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook
Steven Spielberg for Lincoln
Benh Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild

My Pick: Ben Affleck. I don’t know why he wasn’t even nominated, and apparently lots of other people take issue with his being snubbed. Argo gave me new respect for his talents. However, of the actual nominees, I choose the also excellent David Russell, largely for eliciting such pitch-perfect performances from his entire cast.

Best Motion Picture of the Year

Amour
Argo
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Django Unchained
Les Misérables
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty

My Pick: Argo, which I just saw last night. Of the nine, I saw Django Unchained, Lincoln, Les Miserables, Silver Linings Playbook, and Argo and liked them all a great deal for what they were. But every single thing about Argo just seemed right. One of the most exciting, tension-filled movies I’ve seen in a long time, it’s fast-paced, educational (I was 1 year old when the Iran hostage crisis began and didn’t pay much attention to current events), timely, funny, moving, and simply well-made across the board. I can’t help but think, “THIS is why I go to the movies.”

I put the delightful Silver Linings Playbook a close second. Depending on my mood, I might flip-flop them. Silver Linings Playbook boasts probably the best ensemble acting and some of the most interesting characters in this year’s field. Yes, technically it’s a romantic comedy, which is normally a genre I avoid. However, it’s a quirky and atypical rom-com with a sharp script and outstanding direction.

Valentine’s Blog Soup 2/14/2013

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! Here is today’s helping of Blog Soup (r).

  • I know some people who consider Valentine’s Day a bit of a sham holiday, manufactured by the Hallmarks and florists and jewelers of the world to guilt-trip people into buying stuff. So they don’t really celebrate it. And yes, some of them are married. I mostly agree with them. However, we celebrate it anyway. I’m certainly not the best about doing romantic things for my wife, and to me V-Day is a good reminder to cherish my wife throughout the year, not just on holidays.
  • Jenny loves flowers but isn’t too big on chocolates except for certain ones. Reese’s peanut butter cups are always a hit, but she doesn’t like the assorted chocolates that come in the heart-shaped boxes they want you to buy…too many weird and disappointing things hiding inside.
  • To celebrate, Jenny is making us a tasty dinner at home tonight, and then we’re going out Saturday to see the Les Mis movie and enjoy a nice dinner alone. (Thanks, Mom and Dad!)
  • Despite my high hopes for the Cowtown half, I have developed a bit of irritation in my left knee and haven’t run in about two weeks. So I most likely won’t be running Cowtown. Although I hate to admit it, and will smack you if you say “I told you so,” my body doesn’t seem to like the really long distance running. I’ve been fighting minor injury after minor injury for months now – a hip ache, patellar tendon irritation, kneecap irritation, toe joint swelling, and a sprained ankle. Each time something happens, I need to take time off from training, which hinders my progress. It might be time to retire from the half marathon distance and stick to 5Ks and 10Ks. But hey, considering 5 years ago I couldn’t run a quarter mile without terrible knee pain, running a pain-free 10K seems like good progress to me.
  • We are working on plans for this fall and next year regarding work for me and school for the other three of us. Jenny will have clinicals twice a week during all four semesters, some of which could start at 7:00 or even earlier. They could also be on the weekends. Unfortunately, she might not know her schedule until a few weeks ahead of time. This presents a childcare challenge. Both boys will be in school this fall five days a week, Brenden in kindergarten (gulp!) at Bear Creek Elementary and Jonathan still at Colleyville Christian. I’m not sure yet what we will do on her clinical days, but regular class should be covered. For next year, I will probably switch to the 9:00pm-5:00am shift to make sure I get home before she has to leave. Leaving for work at 8:25pm isn’t much fun, but it’s great to get off work at 5:00am and have the road pretty much to yourself.
  • My awesome sister Lisa and I have both learned an important lesson from social media: people want to be entertained, not challenged.
  • Quentin Tarantino’s new film Django Unchained is up for several Oscars. The story of a freed slave turned bounty hunter, it’s part spaghetti western, part revenge tale, part love story, part social commentary, part history lesson, and all Tarantino. Although fascinating and brilliantly acted and filmed, it’s difficult to watch due to its in-your-face racism and brutality. At times I was utterly repulsed by the violence, but at the same time I felt guilty for wanting to shy away from it. The film makes you watch horrifying things that actually happened back in the days of slavery, things that are thankfully no longer part of our daily lives and that are much more convenient to simply forget. So it almost felt like I needed to keep watching to make it real instead of just something I heard in history class.
  • I wonder how many future bookings Carnival will lose over the ongoing Triumph fiasco. On the bright side, this might be a good year to find a deal on Carnival.

Blog Soup 1/26/2013

Welcome to the first Blog Soup of the new year!

  • I’m on shift 12 of 14 in a row at work. Don’t feel too bad for me, though. I did it to myself. We normally work six shifts in a row followed by a three-day or six-day break. I picked up a trade and a couple of overtime days last weekend, which is why I’m on such a long stretch. It also includes five shifts training a new guy. I am looking forward to some time off next week.
  • Next Thursday I’ll hit my nine-year anniversary in Dispatch. Before I know it, I’ll be having a retirement party and taking my grandchildren to Disney World.
  • I’ve been working on our spring season race calendar. Right now I only have two big events planned, but I might add some smaller events in between. First up is a return to the Cowtown half marathon on Feb 24. As you might recall, Cowtown was my first half marathon last February. I barely missed my goal of finishing under two hours. After a more leisurely and fun half at Disney World earlier this month, I am training hard to break 2:00 next month. I know my body is capable of it. The only question is whether everything will come together to make it happen that day.
  • Our other event is a 100K bike rally near our first house, the Cross Timbers Classic Bike Rally. It starts with a lap on the track at Texas Motor Speedway in north Fort Worth and does a loop through the surrounding area. Jenny and I both signed up for the 100K ride (62 miles). So far our longest ride was 50 miles at Hotter’N Hell back in August, so this one will be a new challenge.
  • I used some Amazon gift cards to get a cool new toy, an iHome rechargeable speaker dock for my iPhone. Why is that cool, you ask? It lets me carry the speaker to any room in the house and listen to my music or Pandora. I’ll mainly use it for listening during a soak in the bathtub (no outlets in the bathtub room) or in the kitchen while hanging out with the kids. It’s maybe a foot wide and has a built-in dock for my iPhone or iPad. For such a small unit, the sound is surprisingly good.
  • Aussie tennis star Samantha Stosur has better arms than I do.
  • I was thrilled by the deep run that young American Sloane Stephens enjoyed at this year’s Australian Open, especially her huge win over Serena Williams. Stephens is developing into a phenomenal player and also seems like a very warm and good-natured person. If she can stay healthy and handle all the pressure, she seems poised to take over as queen of American women’s tennis.
  • I don’t really understand the drama over gun control. The pro-gun people are all worked up because they think the government is trying to take all their guns, which is untrue. The anti-gun people think that tighter gun control laws will keep us safe, which is also untrue. Based on what little I’ve read, the measures being proposed would not have stopped most of the mass shootings from the last 10-20 years. Even if these new measures pass, I doubt they will have much impact. The only way to completely eliminate gun violence in America is to wave a magic wand and make all guns worldwide disappear. Even I don’t think that’s a good idea, even if it were possible.
  • An acquaintance of mine decided to take out $50,000 in student loans to get a master’s in film from a private school in California. Now she can’t find a job but owes nearly $700/month in student loan payments. She set up a crowdfunding site to raise money to pay her loan. Part of me wants to help, but the other part thinks she was unwise to borrow that kind of money to pursue a degree with such questionable marketability. Just thinking that makes me feel old.
  • Screw my man card. I wish I had Lady Gaga tickets for Tuesday.
  • Jonathan had his three-year-old checkup this week. He was very healthy as expected. He measured 90th percentile for both weight (37 lbs) and height (39.5 inches). His language and motor skills are normal. We’re working hard on potty training this weekend. It still amazes me to watch these two grow up.

Blog Soup 12/15/2012

Happy December! Here is today’s Blog Soup (r).

  • Yesterday’s elementary school shooting hit much closer to home than other recent mass shootings in colleges, high schools, malls, and movie theaters. My oldest son will start kindergarten next fall. Yes, the odds that a similar tragedy will occur at my sons’ schools are tiny, but yesterday served as a harsh reminder that no place can be completely safe, not even a kindergarten classroom. I ache for the families and friends of the fallen. In case you’re wondering, we’re not telling the boys what happened. They won’t hear about it from the news (we don’t watch it) and probably won’t hear anything from their friends, so we didn’t think it would help in any way to tell them. We don’t think they are old enough to process something like that well.
  • Speaking of my oldest son, Brenden is a ninja. The house can be quiet and still, perhaps late at night once we’ve put the boys to bed or early in the morning as I’m coming home from work. When he wants to see us, he can often creep from his room, descend the stairs, and suddenly appear in the living room or dining room virtually undetected. It can scare you at first. Then you smile and admire his ninja skills.
  • Speaking of being terrified by surprise appearances, have you seen the elevator prank video? Sweet Holy Moly. I’d like to think the rational side of my brain would prevail and I’d quickly figure out that I was being punked, but in reality I might just lose my business instead.
  • I just finished a fascinating book by Bart Ehrman called Misquoting Jesus that discusses the process of copying and distributing the early New Testament manuscripts. We have no original manuscripts left, only copies of copies of copies. In the copying process, the text of the manuscripts changed a bit in numerous places. Some changes were simple and harmless, such as an accidental misspelling. Others were intentional, perhaps to clarify a point of confusion, correct a perceived error by a previous scribe, or even to advance the scribe’s theological agenda. Textual criticism scholars study the various manuscripts like detectives and try to determine what the original text probably said, what changes were made in the manuscripts over time, and why.
  • Spielberg’s Lincoln deserves to take home a mountain of awards on Oscar night – acting, directing, set design, music, screenwriting, you name it. The story – Lincoln’s fight to pass the 13th Amendment to ban slavery – made a fascinating framework that focused on the man and his relationships rather than being a typical war movie. Daniel Day-Lewis and Tommy Lee Jones particularly stood out as Lincoln and sharp-tongued liberal Republican (yep, they used to exist!) Thaddeus Stevens, respectively. Watching the political battle to get the votes reminded me a bit of the modern-day question of gay rights. We’ve made some progress, and I expect a similarly heated battle within the next decade or two to finally grant gay Americans all the rights that straight ones already enjoy.
  • I am mostly glad to see Josh Hamilton go. Too much drama off the field, too many injuries, too much money. It’s amazing to me that in a sport where it’s considered great to get a hit one third of the time, we still think some players are worth $20 million a year or even more.
  • The financial realities of college are setting in. Four-year public schools are significantly more expensive than community colleges. Tuition at UTA in 2012 isn’t too much less than tuition at Baylor during my freshman year (1997). We still think the switch to UTA is worth the extra cost thanks to better job prospects after Jenny finishes her degree, though. But it was eye-opening when she started registering for classes.
  • Some woman stole our credit card number, used it to buy $1000 worth of high-end car headlight bulbs and other auto parts, and accidentally listed the billing address (ours) as the shipping address (also ours). So the stolen goods arrived at our house this week. Oops. Chase waived the charges, and we are returning the parts to the shipper. The woman’s phone number was listed on the shipping label, so I gave her a call. She identified herself as Jenny Box. I told her my wife had the exact same name. She hung up immediately and refused to answer when I called back. So I left a message telling her we had received the parts she ordered. Heh heh.
  • I am tired of the Christmas wars. Some Christians don’t seem to realize that some people celebrate other holidays in December, or that Jesus probably wasn’t actually born on December 25. It’s okay – no, good – to respect other people’s beliefs and not to demand that everyone celebrate the same holidays you do. You can wish me a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Festivus, or whatever floats your boat. I will wish you the same in return.

Rapid-Fire Movie Reviews

The Life of David Gale

Somehow I had missed a 2003 film called The Life of David Gale that starred three of my favorite actors: Laura Linney, Kevin Spacey, and Kate Winslet. Who cared what it was about with a cast like that? Turns out it’s about a liberal professor/death penalty opponent (Spacey) who ironically gets sentenced to death for the rape and murder of a colleague (Linney). Days before his execution, he agrees to a final series of interviews with a reporter (Winslet) to set the record straight. Yes, the story is a bit grim, but it unfolds like a mystery thanks to an excellent script, and the final twist made my jaw drop. For me, any movie that can do that is worth watching. As expected, the acting is phenomenal as well. One of the best films I’ve seen all year.

Martha Marcy May Marlene

This indie film stars Elizabeth Olsen, younger sister of Mary-Kate and Ashley from Full House. I discovered Elizabeth in the psychological thriller Silent House, an excellent performance in a so-so movie. Martha Marcy May Marlene describes the Olsen character’s two-year experience with an odd Manson-family style cult, her escape from it, and her struggle to readjust to life on the outside. The structure cleverly switches back and forth between her time in the cult and life afterward, in which she moves in with family temporarily. Time and reality blend together a bit in the girl’s mind, and the constant switching helps the audience feel some of her confusion. The cult’s programming reset most of her social skills, leaving her clueless about traditional social norms. I wanted a bit more character development and a less ambiguous ending, but otherwise I really liked it.

Lost in Translation

An Oscar-winner for Best Original Screenplay, Sofia Coppola (yes, of those Coppolas) wrote and directed this quirky, moving comedy-drama about two strangers who meet while traveling in Tokyo. Bill Murray plays an aging action star who is adjusting to the fading love in his marriage and fading prospects for his career. Scarlett Johansson is a lonely and neglected wife of a successful photographer and doesn’t really know who she is or what she wants from life. This film focuses much more on the characters and dialogue than plot. Not much really happens except Murray and Johansson develop a friendship, the kind of connection that both of them need but lack. Their interaction fascinated me, and Coppola did a masterful job of conveying some of the nuances of a cross-gender friendship. Few movies I’ve seen this year have moved me as much, but trying to describe it further could ruin the effect.

Saw III

Meh.

I loved the original Saw, which I found disturbing but surprisingly clever and well-done compared to the average horror flick. The sequel was OK, definitely a step down. The third installment was just…there. The film makers seemingly decided to replace the wit and morality-play elements of the original with as much gore as they could pack in while maintaining an R. The result is a mess, pun intended. Plot holes, apathy toward the characters, a muddy story, and other problems ensured that I am done with the Saw franchise. One interesting trivia item – one of the stars, Shawnee Smith, played Rhonda the pregnant girl in the ever-quotable 1987 classic Summer School.

The Lovely Bones

This strangely uplifting movie by Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings trilogy) tells the story of a murdered teen girl who gets caught in a purgatory of sorts, watching her killer run loose while her distraught family struggles to move on without her. How could this possibly be uplifting? Two reasons: 1) It’s really a celebration of life and all the beautiful moments that make it up – working on a model ship with one’s father, the anticipation of a first date and first kiss with the person you’ve been thinking about for months, the simple ability to embrace the people you love every day. 2) Jackson’s vision of the in-between state blew me away with its otherworldly color, gorgeous images, and soul-soothing sense of peace. Watch this one on Blu-Ray if you can. Also, in case you’re wondering, the director mercifully elected not to show the actual murder scene.

Yeah, it might be time to move some lighter fare atop my Netflix queue.

Blog Soup 10/27/2012

My birthday was this week, so I’ve been taking it easy. But now it’s time for more soup, says I.

  • First of all, happy birthday to me! I am now 34 years old. No, I don’t feel any different, nor do I feel old. However, this does mean that next year I’ll bump up to the next older division in most races (35-39), which should help my medal chances by making me among the youngest in my division instead of the oldest. There’s a silver lining in pretty much everything if you look for it.
  • I’m starting to consider the possibility of a Romney victory. No, I wouldn’t be happy about it, but the world isn’t going to end no matter who gets elected. Honestly, with a divided Congress and little interest in bipartisan action, I expect very little to get done no matter which guy wins. The very structure of our government is designed to slow down the pace of change. Maybe it seemed like a good idea at the time, but I’m questioning the wisdom of our current arrangement.
  • It’s benefits enrollment time at work, and we are switching to a new healthcare plan called a health savings plan paired with a health savings account. Our old plan was an EPO that had a sizable monthly premium, copays for office visits, and coverage for other expenses at a set percentage. The new plan has a tiny premium – $11/month for our entire family. The trade-off is that our deductible is $3000, and except for preventative care and some preventative drugs, we pay all medical costs until we reach the deductible. Since all of us are fairly healthy, I think we will save money with this plan barring any unusual medical expenses. Plus the health savings account lets us set aside money pre-tax for medical bills, and if we don’t spend the money, it remains in our account indefinitely.
  • One more thought on the election: if the race ends up as close as the polls suggest, we could end up with another electoral college disaster like we saw in 2000 with Bush and Gore. If it happens again and screws the Republicans this time, perhaps we will finally have enough momentum to reform or scrap the electoral college system.
  • I lost some training time earlier this month had to skip my Tyler trail run due to bronchitis, but I’m back to 100 percent now and feeling great. I finished a great 10k run on Thursday when I probably could have finally broken the 50 minute mark if I’d run the whole way. I hope to return to my normal weekly mileage next week and get back on track with my long runs. I’m signed up for two races right now: the Jingle Bell Run 5k in mid-December and the Disney Half Marathon in January.
  • I like scary movies, especially this time of year. Why? Maybe because I spend so much of my life trying to be safe and responsible. It’s fun to intentionally experience a situation that makes me feel slightly out of control and vulnerable. But I have to watch them alone because Jenny is NOT a fan.
  • I now have as many Tour de France titles as Lance Armstrong. I wanted to believe him, I really did. Many of us did. He’s still one of the best cyclists in history. But the testimony of so many people around him finally convinced me that he was dirty, just like so many others in the sport during that era. It’s sad when a clean athlete has no chance to compete because so many of his/her competitors are cheating.
  • Our church built our new sanctuary about 10 years ago and borrowed millions of dollars to pay for it. Now we are doing a fundraising campaign to pay off the debt over the next two years. I don’t like seeing churches borrow money, partly for practical reasons and partly because the Bible seems pretty clear that borrowing money is a bad idea. So I was pleased when the leadership pledged not to borrow any more money in the future.

Thank you, come again.