Thursday, February 11, 2016

2016 Oscar Predictions

Is it possible for a movie like "Mad Max: Fury Road" to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards? Is that something that could ever actually happen? If ever it could, this would be the year.

In case you haven't heard, the Oscars are extremely difficult to predict this year. The cottage industry of awards predicting seems to be at a loss when it comes to the major categories. Although some categories have been coming into clearer focus -- DiCaprio, you're on deck -- many remain a great big question mark, with strong arguments to be made for each nominee. To me, frankly, that makes this year a lot more fun!

Look, plain and simple, we're probably not going to be winning our Oscar pools this year. And you know what? I'm discovering that there's a great deal of freedom in that. Awards don't matter; we all know that, right? Your favorite movie should not be dictated by any voting body. The movies that people think about and talk about over the years are rarely the ones that win awards. So why do we even care about movie awards (to whatever degree we do care)? Because they're fun! And in this year of unpredictability, I think there's an opportunity to have more fun than ever before. We're all going to be surprised.

So I'm embracing the anything-could-happen spirit of this year's Oscars. What does that mean for my predictions below? In all honesty, it means I'm going to be mostly wrong. But who cares?! Let's just do what we're supposed to do and have fun with it!

Best Sound Editing
  • Mad Max: Fury Road, Mark Mangini and David White
  • The Martian, Oliver Tarney
  • The Revenant, Martin Hernandez and Lon Bender
  • Sicario, Alan Robert Murray
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Matthew Wood and David Acord
Best Sound Mixing
  • Bridge of Spies, Andy Nelson, Gary Rydstrom and Drew Kunin
  • Mad Max: Fury Road, Chris Jenkins, Gregg Rudloff and Ben Osmo
  • The Martian, Paul Massey, Mark Taylor and Mac Ruth
  • The Revenant, Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montano, Randy Thom and Chris Duesterdiek
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Andy Nelson, Christopher Scarabosio and Stuart Wilson
As a public service, I use this space every year to remind people of the difference between these two categories. The biggest clue is in the word "mixing" - the Sound Mixer is the person you want to curse out for making the dialogue all quiet and the action eardrum-splittingly loud; the Sound Editor is the person who essentially "creates" the sound, gathering up what was recorded during production and finding or recording all other necessary sounds.

Although outer space movies often perform well in Sound Editing, war movies often do better. And even though it's not strictly a "war movie," I'd say Sicario hits the mark here.

A conservative guess for Sound Mixing might be Star Wars, if you want to go that way. But my prediction is that it will go to Mad Max.

Best Visual Effects
  • Ex Machina, Andrew Whitehurst, Paul Norris, Mark Ardington and Sara Bennett
  • Mad Max: Fury Road, Andrew Jackson, Tom Wood, Dan Oliver and Andy Williams
  • The Martian, Richard Stammers, Anders Langlands, Chris Lawrence and Steven Warner
  • The Revenant, Rich McBride, Matthew Shumway, Jason Smith and Cameron Waldbauer
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Roger Guyett, Patrick Tubach, Neal Scanlan and Chris Corbould
Once again, Star Wars is the conservative bet here, especially since LucasFilm heavily promoted JJ Abrams' return to the practical effects of yore over the digital-drenched modern methods. But Mad Max did practical effects too, and its suped-up cars and real-world explosions stand out amongst the decades of spaceships and aliens we've grown accustomed to since, well, the original Star Wars. I'm predicting Mad Max.

Best Costume Design
  • Carol, Sandy Powell
  • Cinderella, Sandy Powell
  • The Danish Girl, Paco Delgado
  • Mad Max: Fury Road, Jenny Beavan
  • The Revenant, Jacqueline West
I'm no expert here, but Carol feels like the right fit for this category. More than the other nominees, the costumes in Carol help convey character.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
  • Mad Max: Fury Road, Lesley Vanderwalt, Elka Wardega and Damian Martin
  • The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared, Love Larson and Eva von Bahr
  • The Revenant, Sian Grigg, Duncan Jarman and Robert Pandini
Again, not an expert, but this seems like a win for The Revenant.

Best Live Action Short Film
  • "Ave Maria," Basil Khalil and Eric Dupont
  • "Day One," Henry Hughes
  • "Everything Will Be Okay (Alles Wird Gut)," Patrick Vollrath
  • "Shok," Jamie Donoughue
  • "Stutterer," Benjamin Cleary and Serena Armitage
While not my personal favorite of this bunch, I think "Stutterer" will win; it hits that sweet spot of cuteness, overcoming adversity, sympathetic hero... things that the Academy loves to vote for. (For the record, these are all really strong this year. Seek them out! They can usually be rented through your cable provider or streaming online under the name Shorts HD.)

Best Animated Short Film
  • "Bear Story," Gabriel Osorio and Pato Escala Pierart
  • "Prologue," Richard Williams and Imogen Sutton
  • "Sanjay’s Super Team," Sanjay Patel and Nicole Grindle
  • "We Can’t Live Without Cosmos," Konstantin Bronzit
  • "World of Tomorrow," Don Hertzfeldt
I have a strong personal favorite here. A very strong personal favorite. I love Don Hertzfeldt's "World of Tomorrow." Not only is it very funny in the ways Hertzfeldt usually is, but it's also packed with intelligent, well-thought-out sci-fi concepts that I think too many people mistake for merely goofy. On top of all that, there are moments of profound depth, both emotional and intellectual. This is a great movie, and I want it to win.

Best Film Editing
  • The Big Short, Hank Corwin
  • Mad Max: Fury Road, Margaret Sixel
  • The Revenant, Stephen Mirrione
  • Spotlight, Tom McArdle
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey
I think the snappiness of The Big Short will have the greatest appeal to voters.

Best Original Song
  • “Earned It” from Fifty Shades of Grey, music and lyrics by Abel Tesfaye, Ahmad Balshe, Jason Daheala Quenneville and Stephan Moccio
  • “Manta Ray” from Racing Extinction, music by J. Ralph and lyrics by Antony Hegarty
  • “Simple Song #3” from Youth, music and lyrics by David Lang
  • “Til It Happens to You” from The Hunting Ground, music and lyric by Diane Warren and Lady Gaga
  • “Writing’s on the Wall” from Spectre, music and lyrics by Jimmy Napes and Sam Smith
I honestly don't know how Sam Smith's other movie song from the year -- Furious 7's "See You Again" -- didn't get a nomination. It may lay on the sentimentality pretty thick but, damn it, it works! In that song's absence, I think "Writing's on the Wall" will win.

Best Original Score
  • Bridge of Spies, Thomas Newman
  • Carol, Carter Burwell
  • The Hateful Eight, Ennio Morricone
  • Sicario, Jóhann Jóhannsson
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens, John Williams
Ennio Morricone's score for The Hateful Eight went over well for just about everyone, even those who weren't very high on the movie itself (which, by the way, I was high on). Not only that, but the aging Morricone has never won a competitive Oscar. I think this is looking like an easy win for him.

Best Production Design
  • Bridge of Spies - production design: Adam Stockhausen; set decoration: Rena DeAngelo and Bernhard Henrich
  • The Danish Girl - production design: Eve Stewart; set decoration: Michael Standish
  • Mad Max: Fury Road - production design: Colin Gibson; set decoration: Lisa Thompson
  • The Martian - production design: Arthur Max; set decoration: Celia Bobak
  • The Revenant - production design: Jack Fisk; set decoration: Hamish Purdy
This is one of those categories where there's a strong case to be made for each nominee. Very tough call. If The Revenant ends up having a good night, this award will get swept up in that. The Danish Girl is nothing if not lush and artful. But I'm betting on Bridge of Spies to pull through on this one. Call it a gut feeling, but the matter-of-fact recent-history on display in this movie really stands out.

Best Cinematography
  • Carol, Ed Lachman
  • The Hateful Eight, Robert Richardson
  • Mad Max: Fury Road, John Seale
  • The Revenant, Emmanuel Lubezki
  • Sicario, Roger Deakins
One of the strongest elements of The Revenant is its cinematography. If Emmanuel Lubezki wins, he'll be the first-ever cinematographer to win three consecutive years, and it would be well-earned. And then there's the vaunted 70mm photography of The Hateful Eight, which distinguishes it amongst the nominees. Still, I'm hopeful Oscar voters will take this opportunity to finally give an award to Roger Deakins. Deakins is in the top tier of cinematographers, having shot some of your favorite Coen Brothers movies, Bond movies, and -- guys, come on! -- the effin' Shawshank Redemption! And he's never won an Academy Award! If anyone is well past due for an Oscar, it's him.

Best Animated Feature
  • Anomalisa, Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson and Rosa Tran
  • Boy and the World, Alê Abreu
  • Inside Out, Pete Docter and Jonas Rivera
  • Shaun the Sheep Movie, Mark Burton and Richard Starzak
  • When Marnie Was There, Hiromasa Yonebayashi and Yoshiaki Nishimura
The true standout here, in both style and subject matter, is Anomalisa. But this also happens to be the same year that Pixar released its best movie in five years, arguably longer. I have a feeling that the Academy will throw its weight behind the movie the whole family can enjoy together, Inside Out.

Best Foreign-Language Film
  • Embrace of the Serpent, Colombia
  • Mustang, France
  • Son of Saul, Hungary
  • Theeb, Jordan
  • A War, Denmark
It's a rare year wherein I've seen zero of the foreign nominees, but here we are. You're going to want to take my prediction with a grain of salt. Even so, I'll note Son of Saul is the foreign-language nominee I've heard the most talk about, so I'm eyeing that for the win.

Best Documentary Feature
  • Amy, Asif Kapadia and James Gay-Rees
  • Cartel Land, Matthew Heineman and Tom Yellin
  • The Look of Silence, Joshua Oppenheimer and Signe Byrge Sørensen
  • What Happened, Miss Simone?, Liz Garbus, Amy Hobby and Justin Wilkes
  • Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom, Evgeny Afineevsky and Den Tolmor
The tender, sad, and sympathetic portrait of Amy Winehouse is far and away the most-beloved documentary of the year. I expect that to translate to votes.

Best Adapted Screenplay
  • The Big Short, Charles Randolph and Adam McKay
  • Brooklyn, Nick Hornby
  • Carol, Phyllis Nagy
  • The Martian, Drew Goddard
  • Room, Emma Donoghue
The late-game groundswell of support for The Big Short is unlikely to result in a Best Picture win, but I think it will be enough to carry this category.

Best Original Screenplay
  • Bridge of Spies, Matt Charman, Ethan Coen and Joel Coen
  • Ex Machina, Alex Garland
  • Inside Out, Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley, Ronnie del Carmen
  • Spotlight, Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy
  • Straight Outta Compton, Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff, S. Leigh Savidge, Alan Wenkus, Andrea Berloff
In sort of a reverse-Big Short, Spotlight had a lot of support upon its initial release in early November. But as the Oscar contenders piled up in the weeks that followed, Spotlight started to get a bit drowned out and is now unlikely to win Best Picture. I think this is the award it will win.

Best Supporting Actor
  • Christian Bale, The Big Short
  • Tom Hardy, The Revenant
  • Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
  • Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
  • Sylvester Stallone, Creed
In a field of killer nominees, Stallone is the standout here. This is a fantastic moment for him: his career coming full-circle to the role that made him a star, representing a perfect opportunity for the Academy to acknowledge a lifetime of achievement.

Best Supporting Actress
  • Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
  • Rooney Mara, Carol
  • Rachel McAdams, Spotlight
  • Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
  • Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs
This is one of the most challenging categories this year. You could spend gallons of ink on each of these performances. But you have to pick one, and Alicia Vikander's one-two punch this year (see also Ex Machina) looks like the clincher.

Best Actor
  • Bryan Cranston, Trumbo
  • Matt Damon, The Martian
  • Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
  • Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
  • Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl
This was another one of the tough-to-predict categories early on. But as time has gone by, Leonardo DiCaprio has pulled ahead as the clear front-runner. This is looking like the year DiCaprio "finally" gets his Oscar.

Best Actress
  • Cate Blanchett, Carol
  • Brie Larson, Room
  • Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
  • Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
  • Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
This is another strong category that's tough to predict. Cate Blanchett is always a top contender. There's always a lot of love for Jennifer Lawrence. Saoirse Ronan has been on the radar for a long time, and I think the Academy is looking for a chance to christen her. And Charlotte Rampling gave, by all accounts, an incredible performance in 45 Years and could be seen as being due for a Stallone-style career acknowledgement. But Brie Larson gave a powerful performance that, for a lot of people, came out of nowhere. I think she'll take the win here.

Best Director
  • Adam McKay, The Big Short
  • George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Alejandro G. Iñárritu, The Revenant
  • Lenny Abrahamson, Room
  • Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
One of the toughest categories this year. In a typical year, The Revenant would be a no-brainer. Iñárritu took a big swing, faced immense challenges, and ended up with a very impressive piece of work that most people (myself included) consider a tremendous success.


He did just win last year for Birdman. And while that doesn't always figure into the equation for voters, I think it will this year.

I'm going to propose a crazy theory. Like Iñárritu himself, I'm going to go big. I might fall on my face, and laugh at my foolishness in years to come. But maybe, just maybe, my wild prediction will pay wild dividends. My prediction: George Miller will win.

Best Picture
  • The Big Short, Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner
  • Bridge of Spies, Steven Spielberg, Marc Platt and Kristie Macosko Krieger
  • Brooklyn, Finola Dwyer and Amanda Posey
  • Mad Max: Fury Road, Doug Mitchell and George Miller
  • The Martian, Simon Kinberg, Ridley Scott, Michael Schaefer and Mark Huffam
  • The Revenant, Arnon Milchan, Steve Golin, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Mary Parent and Keith Redmon
  • Room, Ed Guiney
  • Spotlight, Michael Sugar, Steve Golin, Nicole Rocklin and Blye Pagon Faust
Following up on my crazy prediction in the Best Director category, another crazy prediction: Spotlight will win this one.

Like I said, this year is so unpredictable that any of these nominees could swoop in for the win. Some of you may want to consider the following alternate: Tom McCarthy could win Best Director and Mad Max could win Best Picture. Seriously, this year is crazy enough for that scenario to be plausible!

Or maybe I'm overthinking it, and the obvious resolution will be The Revenant winning Director and Picture. It's a really tough call this year!

As for me, I'm sticking with Miller for Director, and Spotlight for Picture.

Am I crazy?

Thursday, October 8, 2015

I Missed 'Sandman' - a collection of fractured memories

First, there was the Mature Readers section in the comic book store when I was a kid.

Frank Miller had recently put the dark in "The Dark Knight," while Alan Moore had been busy deconstructing the entire notion of costumed vigilantes in "Watchmen." Wolverine was removed from the PG-rated action of the X-Men and could now be found gouging out people's eyes in his solo series. Sensing a market for darker fare, DC inaugurated their Vertigo imprint. Comics were no longer "kid stuff." Now they were being made for grown ups.

The Mature Section in my comic book store was not really removed in any practical sense from the kid-friendly comics populating the rest of the store. It was basically one thin, but tall, white shelf (whereas the "safe" books were on wire-frame shelves or display cases).

And even though there was no physical line to be crossed, no territory to be breached, make no mistake about it: I did not look at the mature comics. I was a good kid. There was a dot matrix-printed piece of paper which was laminated -- laminated! -- clearly displaying the word "mature" at the top of that white shelf. I respected the intent of the sign and stayed away.

But there they were, conspicuously visible from anywhere in the store. Flipping through back issues of "The Amazing Spider-Man," I'd see them from the corner of my eye whether I wanted to or not. Those weird, creepy, expressionistic covers, all charcoal and sepia, or paper cutout-style cubism. What the hell was supposed to be happening inside those books? All I could do was wonder.

The early '90s were an exciting time for comic books. This was the period when people who happened to have a copy of Action Comics No. 1 in their basements discovered they could sell it for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Meanwhile, DC took it upon themselves to kill Superman, shining a great big spotlight on not only The Man Of Steel himself but the comic book industry as a whole. Comics had grown up. Everything was bagged and boarded. Buying a comic book was an investment in the future.

Except it wasn't. The Death of Superman was hyped as a collector's dream come true. But DC sold so many copies that it was never going to be worth anything.

I'm glad that when I go into a comic store today, the books aren't sold in bags and boards by default. If you're buying a comic book as an investment, because you think it's going to become valuable, you're being cynical. The only reason anybody should ever buy a comic book is because they want to read it. That is what gives it value.

"I can't breathe in here!" said the comic book.
I was at the radio station and, during some down time, my friend Bobby showed me some of the first pages of "Sandman" that I'd ever seen. He had volume one of the trade paperbacks, "Preludes and Nocturnes."

Out of context, I didn't quite understand what I was looking at. There was a guy in a diner, and he seemed to have some sort of telepathic power over everything happening there. On the TV above the counter, a children's puppet show was airing. The sinister man in the diner seemed to concentrate his telepathic abilities on the puppet show, causing the host to demonstrate the "proper" way to cut your wrists in order to effectively kill yourself rather than just "cry for help."

"Isn't that brilliant?" Bobby asked.

It was brilliant, in that life-affirming way with which teenagers tend to regard suicide: less of an action, more of a circumstance they've managed to avoid for another day, like a car accident. Some years later, when you've got a couple friends with scar tissue and another who met with greater success, you take a bit more pause.

Did I mention that I was a co-host of a college radio show while I was still in high school? That's a whole different conversation, but it happened.

So on another night at the station, Bobby was conspiring to get a team of our friends together to dress as The Endless for Halloween. "The Endless," as elaborated in the pages of "Sandman," were a family of ethereal manifestations of universal forces. They were distinct from the gods, as they didn't require human worship in order to exist.

Did I mention that "Sandman" is some deep business?

I was one of the people Bobby was trying to recruit. I forget which of The Endless he wanted me to be, but I'm sure it wasn't flattering; in high school, I was never offered anything flattering. One time, some friends tried to get me to be the Wife of Bath in a video project for Lit class. This would have involved me putting on a dress and sitting in a bathtub. Come to think of it, maybe they weren't really my friends. Anyway.

The one thing I remember about Bobby's master plan was that he wanted our friend Meg to be Death.

"Why Meg?"

"You still haven't read it, have you?" asked Bobby?

I hadn't.

"It'll make sense when you do."

He was right. I didn't read "Sandman" for another eight or so years after that. But when I finally did... yeah, that was good casting. Meg was totally Death - the skin and hair color, if not the height.

Due to general apathy, the Endless theme-costuming didn't happen. But it was a great idea! Of course, I didn't know how great an idea it was at the time, as I still hadn't read the books.

Death - Exploding goth kids' brains since 1989
Looking back now, I think I've pinpointed the exact year when geek culture took over the mainstream: it was 2007. That was the year your parents finally heard of San Diego Comic-Con, VH1 was airing "The World Series of Pop Culture," and Kevin Smith was using the shiny new medium of podcasting to promote the first-ever "Crazy 4 Cult" exhibit at Gallery 1988 in Los Angeles. Things like that had been bubbling up for years prior, but 2007 is when they really took hold. The following year, the first "Iron Man" movie would hit, and all bets were off after that.

As for me, I was finally reading "Sandman."

Of course it's great! Of course it is. I knew it was going to be, didn't I? What I didn't know was what it was actually about.

It's not really about guys with psychic powers getting children's TV hosts to commit suicide on air. Well, maybe it was originally. The first collected volume is very much gothic horror, with gargoyles and demons and a variety gooey monsters.

But as the series goes on, it becomes so much more than that. "Sandman" progresses into an exploration of the very nature of storytelling itself. Author Neil Gaiman posits the dream state as the original storytelling medium, thereby casting Sandman/Dream/Morpheus/Oneiros/Shaper/many-other-names as the originator of all stories. Every myth, legend, fantasy, history, and work of art known to humanity is fair game, and Gaiman examines them all. "Sandman" is a contemplative exploration of the human compulsion to tell stories about where we come from, where we're going, and how we cope with everything in between.

And I missed it. There it was, the whole time, on the tall, white, Mature Readers shelf. I could have been there at the time, been a part of this magnificent thing as it was unfolding. But I was a good kid. I stayed away.

When they put the cover of "Ramadan" on the projector screens, I clapped really loud, really hard. It was way too much, as it turned out. I guess I probably embarrassed myself.

But really, it was everyone else in the audience who should have been embarrassed. They had applauded so enthusiastically for everything before this. Now, when the moderator finally presented "Ramadan," the crowd was losing its gusto? Screw you guys! "Ramadan" is arguably the best one-off story in the entire run of "Sandman." It's this beautiful, elegiac piece, perfectly paced, with a stunning, bittersweet conclusion. And what do these people do? They give it the weakest applause of the entire panel.

Part of the blame was Vertigo's. They'd spilled the beans via press release a couple weeks before Comic-Con. Neil Gaiman was returning for one more "Sandman" arc! His first in more than 10 years! So now, instead of a pure 25th anniversary retrospective with a surprise announcement at the end, the audience was just waiting for their first look at new pages. Gaiman deserved better.

The final issue of "Sandman: Overture" came out at the end of last month. I was delighted to finally read a Sandman story as it was unfolding in comic book stores.

Comic book stores don't really have Mature Readers sections anymore. You just read what you want to read, whoever you are. It's probably better that way.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

"Gravity Falls" spec

Click here to read.

Here's an original spec script I wrote for the Disney XD show “Gravity Falls.”

This is NOT a produced episode. I did this as a writing sample, and provide it here for entertainment.

If you're a fan/regular viewer of the series, you'll notice that Ford Pines is completely absent from this story. I wrote this script in early 2015, BEFORE the episode that introduced Ford to the series. As you read, be sure to place everything in that context.