Each year, a heavy amount of anticipation is given to the Screen Actors Guild nominations. They are in many ways the first “inside view” we get as to what the Academy is liking during the awards season. After all, the actors branch is the largest one in the Academy’s membership, and presumably most – if not all – of those actors are also in SAG.
Of course, it would be and is often a fault to take these nominations too seriously when assessing the Oscar race. Yes, they are a very good indicator for the actors and actresses who get nominated, but keep this in mind: (a) these nominations are made very early in the season, meaning most voters didn’t see every film in contention yet and (b) these are acting-based nominations, and “Best Ensemble” does not equate to “Best Picture.”
Still, they’re the first clues we get, so let’s put them under the magnifying glass.
Welcome to another film awards season. I originally ran a site called “Awards Addict” which featured content on the road leading up to the Oscars. This year, I’m happy to say that content will be available at The Wise Guise for your reading pleasure. I know. You’re welcome.
As for those of you wondering about my credentials for covering the Oscar race, I’ve been doing so since 2005. I’ve got a pretty consistent record of knowing what the Academy likes and doesn’t like despite some of the more ludicrous choices we’ve seen grace the stage at the actual event. I’ve also personally been to Academy screenings and have an idea of who the typical Academy member is and what they like.
Now that you have an idea of my background, let’s get into this year’s race. For those of you unfamiliar with how the game is played (and the Oscar race is nothing more than a Hollywood game), the whole season begins with a slew of critic groups announcing their picks to garner buzz for contenders.
For the longest time, the general thought was “Gravity” and “12 Years a Slave” would be the critical darlings attracting the most top honors. But the first two Best Film awards of the season popped that consensus bubble quite rapidly. With the New York Film Critics’ choice of “American Hustle” and the National Board of Review’s stunning support of “Her,” this awards season has already gotten compelling in its infancy.
So what do these two choices ultimately mean?
When the first “Hunger Games” film launched in March 2012, it was a massive success on all levels. Crowds loved it, critics adored it and the box office was unreal, with the film bringing in over $400 million in the U.S. alone.
Flash-forward to a year-and-a-half later, and the second entry in the series, “Catching Fire,” has arrived. In that time, a new directior, Francis Lawrence, came on the scene, and the girl (Jennifer Lawrence) who played the girl on fire (Katniss Everdeen) has become a mega-star with an Oscar now in her possession.
Do either one of these factors make the new installment feel different? Actually no, not at all. “Catching Fire” shines in its consistency with the first film, with the same visual style and intensity in performance carrying over. Perhaps the fear for survival feels a tad diluted compared to the first go-around, but its replacement is the intrigue of a power struggle between rich and poor.
One of the most-talked about films of the year and frontrunners for Best Picture is Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave”. Starring a myriad of actors in small roles and based upon a true story of a free black man enslaved for 12 years in the 1840s and 1850s, it is a film unlike any other you’ve ever seen. Alex and Joseph each present their thoughts.
Alex Beene – Examining an Instant Classic: What makes “12 Years a Slave” Great
I suppose I should start with some elaborate explanation as to why you’re just now reading a Wise Guise recap of “12 Years a Slave.” Steve McQueen’s sprawling historical drama has been in theaters for weeks, garnering universal acclaim from critics, strong awards buzz and – not surprisingly – some walk-outs from audience members not anticipating such intensity in its filmmaking.
In reality, we’re just a group of busy Southerners who have a hard time being able to keep ourselves grounded at a computer long enough to reflect on such an experience. And yet, perhaps that additional time given to ponder on this masterpiece of a film helps in attempting to detail why this historical recap on one of slavery’s darkest stories is an essential lesson for Americans eager to get a brutally realistic take on a once-divided nation.
For “12 Years a Slave’s” true accomplishment is not in providing a by-the-books overview of Civil War-era America, but rather in giving viewers a very intimate story of one man’s stunning story of survival. Once-free Northerner Solomon Northup, brilliantly portrayed by Chiwetel Ejiofor, is drugged and thrown into the ownership of Southern landowners. The setting is perfect for a bombastic melodrama over the battle for rights and acceptance.
Yet, McQueen ignores the common plight of other films in the genre. More than anything, this is about survival. Northup spends little time screaming about his freedom and instead utilizes most of his life as a slave simply trying to live until the next day.
[Today, we're honored to have a guest contributor review "The Counselor", the Ridley Scott-directed, Cormac McCarthy-penned film with the all-star cast and less-than-stellar reviews. Don't miss what R. Rooney Roux, CSA has to say about this movie dividing so many critics and viewers alike.]
Knowing how difficult it may be to pass up a Ridley Scott directed film featuring Brad Pitt, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem, and Michael Fassbender, I, nonetheless, encourage you, entreat you, implore you to do just that.
How does a premiere writer-director team take such incredible screen talent and produce such a travesty of a film? Primarily, they use a tired, unoriginal plotline of pretty boy lawyer-type wants more. The namesake of the film has it all. Plenty of money from a successful law practice, brand new Bentley convertible coupe and the love of his life – the beautiful, sexy, you could even say “perfect” Laura, played by Cruz. But of course, it’s not enough. He’s got to have lots more and in the process places Laura in the crosshairs of all the Juans, Pedros, Manolitos and Chingons that work south and north of the Rio Grande. So take on a couple more clients, you idiot. No, I think I’ll make a big hit and jump in bed with some Mexican Drug Lords. Even after he is told over and over not to do it by the guys who know what happens when one lies down in a bed of rattlesnakes, he smugly says, “I’m in.” Everyone in the theatre knew he was thinking ‘how bad can they really be?’ How bad can these people be? Can you say beheading and snuff film?
Many in the auditorium cheered as the Navy SEAL team took down the final three pirates at the movie’s climax, yet I sat silent. I know I was supposed to cheer at the superiority of our military (of whom I am incredibly proud, because HOLY COW they are good!), yet the moment felt somehow different than a similar scene in Zero Dark Thirty when SEALs took down Osama Bin Laden. It wasn’t as if the United States was wrong to kill the Somali pirates holding Captain Phillips hostage. In fact, the young men were committing one of the oldest and most contemptible international crimes. Yet, while grateful for the U.S. military and our incredible Navy SEALs who keep innocents like Captain Phillips and ourselves safe and free every day, I simultaneously mourned for those slain pirates. Not particularly the moment of their death, but instead the tragic inevitability of their life that led them to that moment.
After what felt like an incredibly long dry patch in my movie outings, I’m excited to not only share my thoughts on one movie I’ve seen recently, but THREE of them. Read more