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

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

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

Life of Pi
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

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
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

Beasts of the Southern Wild
Django Unchained
Les Misérables
Life of Pi
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.

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.



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.

I Volunteer as Tribute

I finally saw The Hunger Games, the spring 2012 blockbuster about a government-mandated contest that pits 24 randomly selected teenagers against each other in a fight to the death on live TV. Think Survivor with no tribes, more clothing, and knife fights instead of Tribal Councils. Those who know both say the book was better. I’ll probably agree once I read it, but I did greatly enjoy the movie and was actually a bit disappointed when it ended.

One thing that intrigued me about The Hunger Games was the notion of sacrifice. The movie opens with a timid, frail little girl getting chosen as a Tribute to compete in the Games against her will. Only one of the 24 Tributes will survive. Knowing her little sister wouldn’t last five minutes, Katniss (played by the excellent Jennifer Lawrence) volunteers to take her place. Katniss is a skilled archer and has honed her survival skills in brutal, poverty-stricken District 12, becoming her family’s chief provider and emotional core after the death of her father turned her mother into an empty shell. The odds are against her, yet she goes anyway with no hesitation.

I’ve thought over the years about the notion of dying to protect someone. Millions of people risk their lives to protect others in various ways – police officers, firefighters, Secret Service members, and soldiers, to name a few – but risking my life isn’t part of the job description for a flight dispatcher. So probably the only way I’ll ever need to do that is a freak occurrence such as a mass shooting, a car accident, or a burning house. In the unlikely event that I ever find myself in that position, I’ll need to quickly make a profound decision:

Am I willing to die for this person?

As a younger man, say in my teens or early twenties, if I were honest with you and myself, I think I would hesitate for pretty much anybody. Perhaps I would convince myself to take the bullet or jump on the ticking bomb to save a close family member, but perhaps I would chicken out, especially if we weren’t close. I might rationalize it by saying the person would’ve wanted me to save myself instead because I was still young and had my whole life ahead of me, or by saying they wouldn’t die for me, or by saying it was clearly God’s will for them to die and for me to live. But there’s a really good chance I would save myself. I’m not proud of that, but at least I’m honest.

Things are different now.

I’ve been married for nearly ten years to my best friend and partner for life. We have two wonderful little boys. One of my primary missions in life is to ensure that those three people stay safe and have everything they need. An interesting protective instinct has grown within me, an instinct that I believe can override my own instinct for self-preservation if I ever find them in danger. If some guy pulls out a gun in our church or a movie theater, I’ve already programmed myself with Job 1: protect Jenny and the boys at any cost. Don’t think. Don’t rationalize. Don’t hesitate. Just get between them and whatever is threatening them.

I’m no hero. I don’t have spectacular survival skills or great marksmanship or unusual bravery. What I do have is a mission: ensuring the survival of those three people. It’s actually quite liberating to make other people your primary mission, to love them enough that you know you would die for them without hesitation. It took a while to get here, but I think this is one of the most important parts of growing up.

The Week Ahead

This is a crazy but very exciting week for the Box household. Here is our agenda:

Monday – the boys start swim lessons at the Grapevine public pool. They’ll go five days a week, thirty minutes a day for the next two weeks unless we have something else going on. They took a few lessons last year, but these will be a bit more involved.

Tuesday – We hope to close on our refi around lunchtime! Then we’ll pick up the boys from school and go to Great Wolf Lodge in Grapevine. This will be the boys’ first night in a hotel and first night sharing a bed with each other, and I’m not sure how it will go. We’ll do our best to wear them out in the indoor water park.

Wednesday – Play at Great Wolf in the morning, nap, and then swim lessons.

Thursday – Jenny has Mommy Day, so I’ll be taking the boys to and from school and then to swim lessons. (oh boy…help, Jenny, what do I do?!?) While they’re at school, I hope to run or do some yoga and then meet my mom and her parents for lunch. That night, our babysitter is coming over to watch the boys while we see The Dark Knight Rises at Studio Movie Grill.

Friday – I hope to visit the office of Gary Tylock to discuss getting LASIK for my right eye. Yep, I finally decided to go for it. In the afternoon, I’m taking Brenden to his friend Landry’s birthday party at 4:00. Then we’re hosting Brenden’s 4th birthday party at 6:30 while the DVR records the Olympic opening ceremony. Jenny’s parents are taking the boys home that night because…

Saturday – Jenny and I plan to ride in our first organized bicycle ride, The Goatneck in Cleburne. We’ve already gone farther in training than the 27 miles we signed up to ride there, so I’m confident we can finish this one. We’ll spend the rest of the day trying to recover and watching the Olympics.