High Noon: Oscar madness, featuring Littwin and Denerstein

Mike Littwin: Hi Nooners, we’re going a different way today. No politics. Or least no politics unless they’ve been approved by Hollywood. We’re doing an Oscars preview instead. The Oscars, of course, are even more political than politics. And the show itself is more bloated than the Super Bowl. And they don’t just get the winners wrong, they often get them historically wrong — Forrest Gump over Pulp Fiction wrong or Dancing With Wolves over Goodfellas wrong. So why do we — why do I — care? We have noted critic and Colorado Independent contributor and my good friend Bob Denerstein to answer these critical questions, tell us who will win the Oscars and who should win, tell us why we do care and, most importantly, make the biggest prediction of the night: Will this Oscars telecast last as long as Saturday Night Live 40th Anniversary show?

Hi Bob. Have at it. Which one goes longer, SNL 40 or the Oscars? And will Jack appear on both shows?

Bob Denerstein: I think SNL 40 set a new standard for unforgivably long TV shows. In fact, the greatest thing about the SNL show may be that, by comparison, it will make Sunday’s Oscar broadcast seem fleet.

As for Jack Nicholson … Don’t know if he’s planning to attend. He never calls me.

But I’m thinking he might show up because he doesn’t need to be filling his idle hours at Lakers games. Not this year.

Littwin: Ok, let’s get down to it. All the best-picture buzz says it’s between Boyhood and Birdman. There was, though, if I remember, earlier buzz on Selma and The Imitation Game. Both of them were praised by the critics and then hammered for their historical inaccuracies. How much do you think that has mattered and how much should it matter? Should we care whether Selma gets LBJ right?

Denerstein: I think the race remains between Boyhood and Birdman. I’d be surprised if Selma had a real shot.

As for historical accuracy? Some of what Selma had to say about LBJ didn’t bother me. The picture could, however, have done without the suggestion that LBJ asked J. Edgar Hoover on to try to destroy the King family. Hoover was plenty devious all on his own.

Overall, Selma got things right, so I wasn’t really bothered by a bit of fudging, and I don’t think the Academy will care that much, either. The movie took the justifiable position that King was the prophet who stood outside the gates of power urging LBJ to forget political expedience and do what he knew was right.

Littwin: Why do you think Selma was so overlooked? It did get a best picture nomination, but everyone (well, me anyway) expected David Oyelowo to get a nomination for playing MLK. I thought he was great in the role, particularly in how restrained he was. And leaving Ava DuVernay out of the best directors seems pretty unforgivable to me.

Denerstein: I certainly agree about Ava DuVernay. She deserved a nomination, more than, say, Bennettt Miller (Foxcatcher) or Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game). She may have been overlooked because the picture wasn’t finished until shortly before its release and because Selma didn’t have a giant pre-release Oscar promotional push. David Oyelowo deserved to be nominated, as well. He may have been overlooked for some of the same reasons that DuVernay was bypassed.

But the underlying question here involves racism. I’m not sure it’s fair to say that there’s any direct racism at work here.

If there is, it has more to do with the industry as a whole than with the Academy. Also, you can’t discount the importance of screeners when it comes to Oscar nominations. Selma was late to the DVD party and many members of the Academy rely on screeners more than on attendance at actual theaters.

God forbid, voters should actually have to go to a movie.

Littwin: Yeah, I wouldn’t put it down to racism so much as inattention. Doesn’t Hollywood love biopics? Isn’t this Lincoln a century later. And the idea that the civil rights movement is told through the eyes of the actual participants is such an important thing – an anti-Glory. How much attention do you have to be paying if you’ve got a vote to understand that something really important had happened.

But back to the real world: So, Boyhood or Birdman and why? I would go with Boyhood, which I think is an extraordinary achievement. It took over a decade to make, but it’s a very small movie. In some ways, it’s nearly the opposite of Birdman, which I did like.

Denerstein: One more word about marketing. Oscar campaigns begin with the fall festival circuit. They are extremely calculated and have a major influence on audiences and on voters. They can determine what gets on everyone’s radar. Not fair, but that’s the way it is.

Why Birdman and Boyhood? Not sure, aside from the fact that they seem to have more to offer voters than the rest of this year’s eight-picture field. The Imitation Game, for example, was a bit muddled. Grand Budapest Hotel can seem like a bit of novelty.

It’s not easy to determine how these things happen. In the real world of Hollywood, studio push and previous awards can have some effect, as well.

Besides, the folks who admire those pictures tend to be more ardent about them than they might be about the rest of this year’s nominees.

Littwin: Which one do you think will win — and which one do you like, or do you think it should go to some other film?

Denerstein: If I had a vote, it would go to Boyhood. Of course, the fact that it took 12 years to make and involved considerable risk on the part of the director (Richard Linklater) and the cast is important. But beyond that, I thought it was one of the best movies I’ve ever seen about the fragmentation of contemporary American family life.

But …. I think Birdman will win. It has won at both the producers and directors guilds. It seems to have picked up steam during the final days of the voting.

I hope I’m wrong.

Littwin: Bob, you’re never wrong. I fear you’re right. I really liked A Violent Year, by the way. I have a feeling that 10 years from now, when I’m sitting in front of the TV and all three movies are on at the same time, I’ll be switching to that one.

How about best director? I’d love to see Wes Anderson get it for Grand Budapest Hotel, but that won’t happen. He’s too quirky for Hollywood at this point. But I think he’ll do a breakthrough movie like the Coen Brothers did with Fargo. From there, it was only a matter of time until they got the Oscar.

I don’t see how they can bypass Richard Linklater for Boyhood. How many more chances do you have to take as a director to pull something off like this before they have to recognize you if just for the chutzpah.

Denerstein: Wes Anderson may win an Oscar this year. He’s a good bet for best original screenplay. Whether that opens the door to wider acceptance remains to be seen.

Until recently, I’ve been thinking that Linklater would win best director. It’s an easy year in which to split votes, and it’s tough to discount the talent and determination it takes to make a movie over the course of 12 years.

But the fact that Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu won the Directors Guild award made me switch my prediction.

Again, I hope I’m wrong. I’d hate to see Linklater go home empty handed, particularly because he’s not the kind of director who’s likely to get another shot.

Littwin: Two more questions and we’ll let you go. First, in the actors’ categories, it seems that three of them are all but done. I’ve only seen two of the best actresses, but I love Julianne Moore, and she was very affecting in Still Alice. Patricia Arquette should be a lock. I don’t get the excitement about Whiplash, but I’m happy to go along with J.K. Simmons, if only for an actor using the initials instead of an actual name. So, it comes down to best actor…

…I don’t see how you make Birdman best picture and not make Michael Keaton your best actor. He is the movie. And here’s a good comic actor who gets the chance to take on brilliant turn and actually pulls it off. Of course, Eddie Redmayne, who played Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, is the favorite. If you play someone mentally or physically other-abled, that’s the sure route to an Oscar. He was very good. But Keaton really did something great.

How do you see it?

Denerstein: Well, it’s an odd year. It’s possible that the Academy will spread its largesse.

Of all the nominees, Keaton has the best story. He hasn’t starred in a movie in a while and — judging by his appearances on talk shows — he seems to have regained his enthusiasm for acting. I love the fact that he seems to be having a good time as an Oscar nominee. He’s not pretending to suffer through it.

The award very likely will go to either Keaton or Eddie Redmayne.

I’m leaning toward Redmayne because he won the Screen Actors Guild award for best performance and actors make up the largest voting bloc of the Academy.

One intriguing possibility: Keaton and Redmayne split the votes and Bradley Cooper wins. Even people who hated American Sniper agree that Cooper was terrific as Navy SEAL Chris Kyle.

To tell you the absolute truth. I have nothing resembling a rooting interest in this category.

It’s a funny year that way. There’s a lot of good work, but nothing that delivers the knock-out punch.

Littwin: Glad you mentioned Bradley Cooper, who, strangely, has been nominated in three consecutive years, and American Sniper. I think Sniper and the reaction to it combine to make it the most interesting movie of the year. I think you wrote maybe the smartest thing about the movie – that it was both a pro-war and an anti-war movie. I had the same reaction. I think this was a comeback movie for Eastwood – and it’s hard to make comebacks at his age — and gave a really nuanced look at a complicated character.

What do you think has made this movie so divisive? Maybe given the political realities, it was inevitable.

Denerstein: I think that’s right. Anything that even gets close to politics seems to ignite the inevitable red/blue divide. A movie that deals with the Iraq war was bound to rile both sides.

To me, though, American Sniper is almost apolitical. It’s a portrait of a modern warrior. I found it powerful and sad. I think that people sometimes confuse main characters with heroes. That seems to be the case with Chris Kyle.

I was on a panel recently at which someone criticized the movie for lacking a moral center, for not making a clear-cut judgment about what Kyle did in Iraq.

That may be true, but I see that as part of the movie’s strength. Eastwood leaves us enough room to make up our minds about Kyle, and it’s not a simple judgment.

Kyle didn’t start the Iraq war, and it’s a sure bet that once the bullets start to fly very bad things are going to happen.

Littwin: Thanks Bob. This was the easy part. Now comes the show, and you have to actually watch it. I don’t, but I will. No, I can’t explain it either.

* And here’s the trailer for The Imitation Game, which no one seems to be pulling for… Or as they say in that one pub in the Notting Hill part of town, “Keira Knightley!”:

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litwin hnMike Littwin has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow. A rapier wit.

user-avatar-pic Bob Denerstein was the longtime film critic at The Rocky Mountain News. He is now a Colorado Independent contributor and blogs at Denerstein Unleashed. He’s also a filmmaker and teacher.

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