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Superman v.

On the way out of “Batman v. Superman: No Idea Why They’re Fighting,” I saw a boy, probably 9 or 10 years old, walking with his mother. Like everyone else in the theater after the initial shock had faded, he had this baffled look on his face. Finally, as he approached the door, he turned to his mother and said, “So, wait, like, nobody won?”

I suppose that’s as good a summation of the facacta movie as any though I’m not here to add to Ben Affleck’s sadness or Anthony Lane’s brilliance. It has all been said about “Batman v. Superman.” What I do want to talk about for a minute is Superman, and why it is ceaselessly depressing to me what director Zack Snyder and others are doing to him.

I have never been a huge comic book guy, but I have always loved Superman. When I was a kid, there was a half-hour animated superhero show after school on Channel 43 in Cleveland. It was called “Superman and Friends” (I think).  I never missed it. The showed featured three mini-cartoons. The first cartoon always featured Superman. The second one usually was just Superman Part II, though every now and againt it featured Superboy (and Superdog). The third cartoon was another hero, usually Aquaman but on special days, it might feature the Flash or Wonder Woman or someone like that.

Through the years, I never grew tired of these Superman cartoons, even though the plotlines were the same. Superman would run into some master villain and, in about seven minutes (all the time they had) crack the case and save the world. There never was much drama. The villain would invent some robot that was just as strong as Superman (not), or some monster would be released, or Bizarro Superman would show up for a fight or, mainly, Lex Luthor would get hold of kyrptonite. It would look dim for Superman for about 21 seconds, and then he would figure out some fairly obvious solution (send Bizarro back to his dimension!) and save the day just in time for him to turn back into Clark Kent and have some witty banter with Lois Lane.

LOIS: “Where have you been all this time?”

CLARK KENT: “Gee Lois, I got locked in the bathroom.”

LOIS: “It’s OK Clark, we can’t all be Superman!”

I loved Superman then and love him now . My office overflows with Superman stuff my family has bought for me through the years (they always buy me Superman stuff). And I’m only now coming to grips with why I so thoroughly loathed the last Superman movie (“Man of Steel Destroys Things”) and, even more, loathed “Batman v. Superman.”

Superman has too many powers. This is the complaint that my buddy Michael Schur always airs. Superman can go as fast as the speed of light. He is strong enough, essentially, to do anything. He is impervious to pain, and his body cannot be pierced by bullets. He can see through stuff (though not lead, a plot device often used) and he can burn things with his eyes, and he can blow a wind so cold it will form ice and, at the end of Superman II, he kissed Lois Lane and made her forget that he was Clark Kent. There’s a decadence here — does this guy REALLY need to be able to see through walls? — but that’s Superman.

Superman’s only physical obstacle, of course, is kryptonite, which –fortunately for hackneyed comic book writers everywhere — is readily available at every corner villain store or at a museum with one mopey security guard. It goes without saying that kryptonite plays the key role in “Batman v. Superman” because BvS is the sort of dull, uninspired movie that needs kryptonite.

I would not argue with Michael’s complaints about Superman except to say that I think it misses the point about Superman: He is not like other superheroes. Others, like Iron Man and Batman and Wonder Woman and Spiderman especially, the thrill is in the escape and the capure. They have limited powers and, so, are often in real danger. Their plight seems hopeless. They somehow find a way.

Superman is not like that. He cannot be defeated. He is never the underdog. If some new thing came along that could crush Superman, he would undoubtedly discover a new superpower to counter it (“Hey, look, I can go inside the computer and defeat the virus! I had no idea!”). This is the part that “Man of Steel” and, especially, BvS get so, so, so, so wrong. They treat Superman like he’s just a strong superhero who can fly and shoot heat lasers from his eyes.

But he’s not. He’s Superman.

And in missing that, they they miss the part that has always made Superman so compelling to many of us: He’s good. That’s his real superpower. He does not have delusions of grandeur, does not long for revenge, does not feel underappreciated. He’s Superman. He’s utterly incorruptible, thoroughly kind, intensely decent. Those seemingly silly gags of Superman coming down and saving a cat from a tree are important because that’s Superman — his singular purpose is to help people. He will use his Superpowers to save a cat so that a little boy or girl will be happy. That goodness is wired into his kryptonian DNA. The world’s problems, every one of them, are his problems.

Zack Snyder took this goodness away from Superman, and in doing so he took away everything that was ever interesting about the Man of Steel. He and actor Henry Cavill gave us a muscular vacant lot, a brooding Superman who will do a few good things if the mood strikes him, but feels put upon for even that.

“You don’t owe this world anything … you never did,” his earth mother tells Superman in BvS, in one of the worst and most depressing bits of advice a mother has EVER given their child. I cannot imagine what was happening in the writer’s heads when they wrote that line.

I don’t want to get into the BvS plot (in part because I still don’t understand it) but I do need to say: Snyder pulls off a bit of movie jujitsu so horrifying that he should be forced to answer for it in front of some sort of movie tribunal.

In “Man of Steel.” he has Superman fight General Zod in Metropolis, destroying countless buildings and killing however many people happened to be in those buildings. It was so un-Superman, that it made me want to throw up. Superman would sooner GIVE UP than allow all those people to die; that’s what made him Superman. He doesn’t make the sort of cynical calculations that others have to make (a few thousand die now so millions don’t die later). He saves EVERYONE.

So that was bad enough. But then, Snyder started off BvS with that very same fight, only this time from the perspective of Batman, who now sees the destruction caused by Superman and it (I guess) plants in him the rage that will lead to their battle.

That takes some real gall there, to first give us a grotesque version of Superman and then to build a whole second movie around his grotesqueness.


As mentioned, I’m no comic book expert and so I cannot say what true fans think of Superman. Maybe they are thrilled to see him go a little bit dark. Maybe they enjoy seeing him conflicted. Maybe they want him wearing deeper blue and red colors and fighting a lot at night.

I want a Superman in bright blue and red who wants to not only catch the bad guy but one who will do everything he can to make sure no one gets hurt along the way. I want a Superman who laments every loss, even among the so-called bad guys. I want a Superman who loves Lois Lane, sure, but one who knows that his greater purpose will prevent him from ever fully embracing that love. I want a Superman who realizes that his greatest weakness is not kryptonite, but that he is only one man and cannot be everywhere, and so has to inspire others to be their own heroes too.

I suppose that’s corny and childlike, and maybe comic book heroes are not like that anymore. I also suppose that’s a harder story to tell than one with kryptonite and bad guys kidnapping someone Superman loves. I despised Batman v. Superman, of course, because it’s a terrible movie, but mroe than that I mourn for the Superman I grew up with.

And don’t even get me started on Affleck as Batman. He didn’t “Kapow!” even one henchman.

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By In Movies

Oscar Predictions 2016

UPDATE: Well, serves me right for picking the Oscars unemotionally. I was THRILLED that Spotlight won best picture, and was PRETTY DARNED HAPPY that Sylvester Stallone didn’t win an Oscar for playing Rocky exactly the same way he’s played it for 40 years in basically every movie he’s ever been in. But because I picked those two categories based on my head and not my heart, and because I was TERRIBLE on the minor categories, I only got 15 or 24 right and lost the family Oscar pool (finished fifth). Ah well.

As an aside, I thought Chris Rock was really good as host (though the girls scout cookie thing dragged a bit), and I thought Louis CK’s presentation for Documentary Short was the highlight of the night. But I will say that the way diversity so overwhelmed the Oscars broadcast was a bit disconcerting. It’s obvious that the Academy utterly embarrassed itself by not nominating even a single person of color, and yes it was something that the Oscars would have to face head on. But we are also in the midst of an incredible (defined as: impossible to believe) election, and to think that there was barely a joke or word all night about Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz tells you that maybe we’re not paying attention.

* * *

Well, here we are again, Oscar Night, and here I am again facing the same question that I face time I pick the Oscars:

Do I pick the movies I think WILL win or the movies I think SHOULD win?

Last year, I won our family pool again, picking 18 of 24 correctly, which certainly ain’t bad but not quite as good as two years ago when I picked 22 of 24 correctly. The big problem last year was simple: I loved “Boyhood.” I know lots of people didn’t love it, but I did, and I refused to give up on it for best picture and refused to give up on Richard Linklater for best director. I wrote in my comment that I felt pretty sure Boyhood wouldn’t win, but I was picking it anyway.

This year, I’m not playing that game. My favorite nominated movie of the year was “Spotlight” and my second favorite was “The Big Short” (my favorite overall movie was “Inside Out”). I did not see “The Revenant,” and I don’t want to see “The Revenant.” I’m just not into watching bears maul people.

But, spoiler alert, I’m picking “The Revenant” anyway. No sentiment this year.

Here are my picks for 2016. For the second year, I will include what I call a “Certainty Score,” where I estimate how certain I am about the pick (1 being a pure guess, 10 being absolutely confident):

(Bonus: I’m going to list them in the order they should appear on the show tonight):

Original Screenplay: Spotlight

Certainty Score: 8.

Spotlight has the best representation of a newsroom I’ve ever seen in film or television. Every little detail is perfect, including the way everyone talks. I don’t think it can be beaten, but “Straight Out of Compton” would probably be the best longshot pick.

Adapted Screenplay: The Big Short

Certainty Score: 9

I’m a huge Michael Lewis fan, and I loved this book. I say this because I have no idea how they made tat book into a great movie, and I say this after JUST SEEING the great movie. It’s brilliant and fun.

Actress in a Supporting Role: Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl

Certainty Score: 8

You can’t ever be TOO sure with Supporting Actress, but Vikander seems to be a clear choice, in part because of her other celebrated performance in Ex Machina. Kate Winslet could steal.

I want to throw in a quick word for Rachel McAdams who I thought was stunningly good in Spotlight. It was my favorite performance of the year bar none because it was understated and smart, and she reminded me of about 25 different reporters I’ve worked with through the years. There were many terrific performances in Spotlight, but I thought McAdams was the best of the bunch.

Costume Design: Cinderella

Certainty score: 4

It looks like a toss-up between Cinderella and Mad Max. I have Mad Max winning a BUNCH of Oscars and, frankly, I’m nervous about it. I have this feeling Hollywood is a bit too old fashioned and will not give Mad Max every award.  Cinderella is an old-fashioned Hollywood choice.

Production Design: Mad Max

Certainty score: 7

If The Revenant wins here, it could be a very BAD night for Mad Max. Those two movies go at it again and again in the technical categories.

Makeup and Hairstyling: Mad Max

Certainty score: 5

Here we are again with the story of the night: Mad Max or The Revenant?

Cinematography: The Revenant

Certainty score: 7

In the battle between Revenant and Mad Max, this seems like one of the more predictable outcomes. But, as I will say again and again: Who really knows?

Film Editing: Mad Max

Certainty score: 5

The Big Short could steal this one, and that’s an interesting battle. The Big Short had very showy editing. Lots of quick cuts, cutaways in the middle of sentences, dozens and dozens of images getting thrown at the viewer in a rush. Mad Max, meanwhile, was edited in a much more epic way. It will be interesting to see which the voters preferred.

Sound Editing: Mad Max

Certainty score: 2

No idea — Mad Max or Revenant.

Sound Mixing: The Revenant

Certainty score: 2

No idea — Revenant or Mad Max.

Visual Effects: Mad Max

Certainty score: 5

Well, for a change, this one seems to be between Mad Max and Star Wars, though even here The Revenant could sneak in. I don’t think Star Wars will take it.

Animated Short Film: World of Tomorrow

Certainty score: 1

I never, ever get these right, so please bet against me. The favorite seems to be Sanjay’s Super Team, but I’ve seen it (it showed before “The Good Dinosaur”) and didn’t like it at all. I guess Bear Story has a good shot, but World of Tomorrow is pretty spectacular.

Animated Feature Film: Inside Out

Certainty score: 10

My favorite movie of the year.

Actor in a Supporting Role: Sylvester Stallone, Creed

Certainty score: 7

OK, here I am picking without sentiment: I don’t think Stallone should have even been nominated. I mean, seriously, he played Rocky. He played him as Rocky. He was exactly as good as he was in Rocky I and Rocky II and Rocky III and Rocky IV and Rocky V — and basically every other movie where he played some variation of Rocky.

But Hollywood seems to have made up its mind. They would like to honor an old Hollywood warhorse, sort of the way they did when they gave John Wayne an Oscar for playing John Wayne. I’m OK with it; I like Rocky. But comparing his performance with Mark Ruffalo in Spotlight or Christian Bale in The Big Short is silly.

Of course, it’s ALL silly, right?

Documentary Short: Body Team 12

Certainty score: 2

I aways get these wrong too. This one is about the Ebola virus, so that’s as likely as anything else.

Documentary Feature: Amy

Certainty score: 6

Doc about Amy Winehouse seems to have separated from the pack if you believe the experts.

Live Actor Short Film: Ave Maria

Certainty score: 3

Who knows? Shok and Stutterer both have their supporters too.

Foreign Language Film: Son of Saul

Certainty score: 7

One of the enduring Hollywood Oscar jokes is that, when in doubt, you always vote for the Holocaust movie. If anything, I think this could hurt Son of Saul; Hollywood could become self-conscious just like umpires who have stopped calling strikes on outside pitches that catchers frame. But I suspect Son of Saul still wins.

Original Song: “Til it Happens to You.”

Certainty score: 8

It seems about time that Lady Gaga won an Oscar.

Original score: Hateful Eight

Certainty score: 8

There’s a whole story involving Hateful Eight composer Ennio Morricone — he’s 87, he’s been nominated for six Oscars but has not yet won (he won a lifetime award) and, yeah, that’s a Hollywood story.

Directing: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, The Revenant

Certainty score: 8

Back-to-back Oscars? Looks that way. There are a lot of George Miller fans out there for Mad Max, but I think this will be The Revenant’s night overall.

Actress in a leading role: Brie Larson, Room

Certainty score: 9

Pretty close to a sure thing.

Actor in a leading role: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

Certainty score: 12

Lock of the night.

Best picture: The Revenant

Certainty score: 8

Lots of people are jumping off the bandwagon in the last couple of days, which is interesting. The voting for Best Picture is based on a scoring system, with pictures getting points for second, third, fourth place and so on. The new theory is that while The Revenant will get a lot of first-place votes, it will also get a lot of low ballot picks and, as a result, the movie will get overtaken by Spotlight or The Big Short. While I would personally prefer either of those movies to win, I don’t think it happens. I think The Revenant walks away with the night.

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By In Joe Vault, Movies

Pixar Family Ratings

With the release of “Inside Out,” everyone seems to be ranking the 15 feature length Pixar movies. So, we decided — eh, why not? The only quirk is that we decided to rate the movies as a family, which is to say that all four of us got a vote. The four include:

1. Me
2. My wife Margo
3. Thirteen-year-old daughter Elizabeth
4. Ten-year-old daughter Katie

All four votes also counted exactly the same. It was 15 points for No. 1 movie, 14 points for a No. 2 movie, 13 points for No. 3 and so on all the way down the line. Nobody had to explain their choices or defend them, the whole idea was just to rank them in order and let the chips fall.

So, with that in mind, here are our Pixar movies ranked 15th to 1st.

No. 15: A Bug’s Life
— I do realize that there are many people who love A Bug’s Life. It was the second Pixar movie made, after Toy Story, and it moves up pretty high on many of the lists I’ve seen. It simply didn’t do anything for anyone in the family, I was the only one who did not put it last on the list. I think part of it is that we haven’t seen it in a very long time. It’s the one Pixar Movie which seems to suffer from what I call “Hotel Rwanda Syndrome.” My wife and I still have not seen Hotel Rwanda. We know it’s good. We know it features one of our favorite actors, Don Cheadle. We know that it’s an important movie. We bought the DVD a long time ago, we’ve downloaded the digital version so it’s waiting on our Apple TV to be watched. We keep saying that we will see it when “the mood’s right.” But, so far anyway, the mood is NEVER RIGHT to see Hotel Rwanda. Admittedly, this is mostly because of the seriousness of the topics — genocide, violence, the plight of refugees. We are never in the mood to watch Schindler’s List again either.

Still, there’s something else, something more subtle about moods and why you watch movies at home. We’re always in the mood to see “The Princess Bride” but never in the mood to see “Jurassic Park.” We’re always in the mood for “Lego Movie” but never in the mood for “A Bug’s Life.” Weird. I suspect we won’t ever see it again, which means it will — wrongly, in my view — stay on the bottom.

No. 14: Cars 2
— I don’t think there’s any question this is the worst-ever Pixar movie, but the girls have a soft spot for it, probably because one of their favorite actors and people, Joe Mantegna, played in it. Joe Mantegna once gave them cookies at his wife Arlene’s Chicago food stand called “Taste Chicago.” Free cookies moves this minor disaster ahead of A Bug’s Life for them.

No. 13: Cars
— I don’t know if this is a boy-girl thing, but the girls never liked the first Cars either. Cars does feature the racing legend Humpy Wheeler, one of the great promoters in the history of NASCAR. I have to tell you a Humpy Wheeler story (there are countless classics). Humpy used to hand out million-dollar bills with his picture on them. He gave one to the girls at a Christmas party one year and asked them what they would buy with all that money (one said a candy store, I think). Cute, right? Well, a couple of years later they saw Humpy Wheeler again, and again he gave them the bill. “Oh, it’s OK, you already gave us one,” Katie said politely. “I don’t think so,” Humpy said smiling. “Look again.” She looked down — now it was a BILLION dollar bill. “Inflation,” Humpy said.

No. 12. Monsters University
— This is our first big line in the Pixar chart — everybody REALLY liked Monsters University, so the choices are much closer from here. The bottom three movies, well, nobody really cared much. But the choices, starting from Monsters University, got harder and harder. And this is where we started seeing (in some cases) a pretty big gap between adults and kids. Mom, for instance, loved Monsters University, perhaps because it reminded her of college days. The girls liked it fine but it wasn’t good enough to crack either Top 10.

No. 11. Toy Story 3
— The girls will watch Toy Story 1 or 2 now and again, but they simply have no desire to see the third one again. I think it’s because the ending is so beautifully sad. This is the thing that Pixar does better than anyone in movies — the bittersweet. In a way, I think “Inside Out” was the movie that Pixar has been building to ever since the beginning because their movies are largely an exploration of that relationship between joy and sadness, and Inside Out is — in a blatantly obvious way — about the relationship between Joy and Sadness.

No. 10. Up
— Here’s the biggest divide between the kids and the parents. Margo has Up as her No. 1 movie, and it’s top six for me. Both the girls had it among their least favorite Pixar movies. I think that’s because Up is an unabashedly adult movie. The opening sequence is one of the most beautifully haunting you will see in any movie.

My buddy, Pop Warner, took his family to see Up at a time when his son was violently frightened of thunderstorms and, you probably know, right after the opening scene where we see the couple growing old together, there’s a big thunderstorm. Pop’s son was so scared that they literally had to leave the movie theater — this after the OPENING SEQUENCE. Pop calls me up the next day and says, “Well, I didn’t see the rest of the movie but the part I saw definitely was NOT up.”

No. 9: Toy Story 2
— Has what I still consider the funniest sequence in all the Pixar movies, the bloopers segment at the end. There’s one thing in particular: When Wheezy is about to sing his song, and he says, “In fact, I think I feel a song coming on,” and then Mr. Mike throws the microphone to him, and it hits him and knocks him out. Then Wheezy shouts, “I’m so sorry, did I hurt your equipment? You gotta aim it right at my flipper, I’m not a very good catch.”

No. 8: Brave
— I’m the one who brought Brave down, and I make no apologies. For one thing, as Elvis once said, it just didn’t move me. Loved the idea, love the powerful woman protagonist, loved the music, thought it was very well made. But, all in all, it left me flat. And, frankly, for another thing, I still feel quite sure it wasn’t as good as “Wreck-It Ralph,” but beat it out for best animated picture, which cost me the family Oscar pool that year. The girls did love it, so I think this is a good place for it overall.

No. 7: Monsters Inc
— As you will see in the final ratings, they are heavily influenced by how recently we’ve seen the movie. Katie, for instance, will change her favorite all-time movie more or less every single time she sees a new movie. So right now, “Inside Out” is her favorite all-time movie, and this replaces “Pitch Perfect 2,” which she saw previously, and that replaced “Home,” Which she saw before that. Every time we see Monsters Inc., we’re reminded of its awesomeness. It might be the funniest Pixar movie when everything is taken into account. But we have not seen it in a couple of years so it lounges in the middle of the pack.

No 6. Toy Story
— Once again, a divide between the parents — we both had it Top 5 — and the girls. Toy Story was so revolutionary when we first saw it. None of us had ever seen a movie quite like it. But that wonder is gone now, the girls have seen ALL the Pixar movies, so Toy Story has to stand up on its story and visual splendor. And so it’s just not that special to them.

No. 5: Finding Nemo
— We just saw this pretty recently so that, I think, is why it shos up pretty high on this list. I mean, it’s wonderful, but I don’t know that the girls would have put it ahead of Brave and the Toy Stories if we hadn’t just seen it. The same is true for Ratatouille, which we actually saw in the last week.

No. 4: Ratatouille
— Ever since we saw it (we watched it, honestly, in preparation for seeing Inside Out), Elizabeth has been dying to do some cooking. I don’t know that you can give a better compliment to a movie than that. There are other things that make Ratatouille show up so high on this list. (1) The girls are going through a ‘We love Paris” stage; (2) The voice of the rat is Patton Oswalt, who is also the narrator on the girls’ favorite current show “The Goldbergs.” (3) Their Mom doesn’t like Ratatouille very much and so there’s a little parental rebellion going on here too. This is too high for Ratatouille I suspect — and Margo groaned incessantly upon hearing its place — but, hey, the ratings are the ratings. We can always do this again when the next Pixar movie comes out.

No. 3: The Incredibles
— I sometimes wonder how good a Marvel or DC movie Pixar could make. We, like most American families, have become obsessed with the Avengers (both individually and as a group), with the X-Men, with Batman and so on. And the superhero movies being made now are amazing — they are dark, they are chilling, they are exciting, they have some very funny moments (the lifting-the-hammer scene in the new Avengers and the Quicksilver scene in the last X-Men are both great). But Pixar is just so good at delving deeper, into uproarious comedy, into pretty intense sadness, into wonder. The Incredibles is a wonderful superhero movie, but it’s mostly played for laughs. I wonder where they would go if they took on the Dark Knight.

No. 2: Inside Out
— OK, this impossibly high rating is in almost entirely because we just saw the movie and it made a powerful impact (Katie had it No. 1, of course, and was quite furious that no one else did). But it really is Pixar at its best. For Pixar, a company that has achieved some very high levels of artistry based on their almost magical understanding of human emotion, to make a movie all about human emotion — yeah, it’s very meta and very self-conscious but it’s also wonderful. The movie’s main character is Joy even as it makes powerful points about the importance of feeling all emotions. It is very funny even about frightening or sad things. It is heart-achingly well cast; I don’t know what that means, but I mean it anyway. I mean Amy Poehler as joy … Phyllis Smith as Sadness … Bill Hader as Fear … Mindy Kaling as Disgust … Richard Kind as Bing Bong … this is pure genius. And Louis Black was born to play Anger. I almost wonder if the whole movie was inspired by someone saying, “Man, Louis Black would make a great Anger.”

No. 1: WALL-E
— Just a perfect movie in every way. Funny. Sweet. Heartbreaking. Inspiring. Lovely. Slumdog Millionaire won best picture that year. There’s no universe I know where Slumdog Millionaire is even in the same stratosphere as WALL-E.

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Ten Oscar Thoughts

1. The Oscars were, once again, utterly predictable. I predicted 18 out of 24 awards, which is good, but I missed two on principle, picking Boyhood for Best Picture and Director even though I knew it had almost no shot. These things are getting too easy to pick. The only things that even resembled a surprise was when Boyhood lost Best Editing — I don’t know what Richard Linklater did to the Academy but many did they turn on Boyhood — and maybe when Big Hero 6 beat out How to Train Your Dragon 2 for Best Animated Feature. Big Hero 6 was the better movie and right choice, in my opinion, but neither was nearly as good as Lego Movie, which did not get nominated.

2. I remain baffled by the Oscar for Best Song going to the writers of “Glory,” John Stephens and Lonnie Lynn. Those are the real names of John Legend and Common … did they ask to the Academy to use their real names? If not, that’s one of the weirdest things I’ve seen. I mean they didn’t introduce Stefani Germanotta to sing songs from The Sound of Music. There were no Oscars given to Marion Morrison, Issur Danielovitch, Betty Joan Perske, Allan Konigsberg, Melvin Kaminsky, Anna Italiano or Lucille LeSueur. I assume Common and Legend wanted to be listed by the real names .

3. Lady Gaga showed off an amazing voice when doing that weird and out-of-the-blue tribute to “The Sound of Music” — but 28 seems awfully early for her to begin her Vegas diva career.

4. The super-fun “Everything is Awesome” performance was a good reminder that leaving “Lego Movie” out of the nominations was an all-time blunder.

5. I cannot think of the last Oscar-winning movie I would watch again and again and again. Certainly Birdman doesn’t qualify. I’m going to have to do a post on “most watchable movies.” I wonder how many of them have won Oscars.

6. Seeing David Oyelowo break down during John Legend and Common’s fantastic performance of “Glory” was a good reminder that leaving him off the best actor nominations list was an all-time blunder.

7. I saw that Ross Douthat made this point too … the telecast didn’t do a very good job of paying tribute to people who died in the last year. That’s supposed to be an emotional time. Instead they had Meryl Streep read an antiseptic and general, “We’re going to miss these people, you know, all of them, whoever they are” speech, and then later they had Jennifer Hudson sing something or other. No sense at all. How could they not show some clips? I mean, this year Hollywood lost Robin Williams, Mickey Rooney, Mike Nichols and other giants … show these people’s work. That seems pretty obvious.

8. Neil Patrick Harris was pretty blah as a host, though it didn’t seem his fault … it was just a blah telecast. The lame lockbox magic trick gag — there just wasn’t any way he or anyone else could save that stink bomb. And why do they keep sending Oscar hosts into the audience like it’s a daytime talk show?

9. Long live John Travolta.

10. Doesn’t it seem like that this point that they just let Sean Penn out of the crypt every now and again just to give out major awards and offend people?

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Oscar Predictions 2015


When our family began our annual Oscars predictions party — I’m pretty sure it was 1977 — it was pretty unique. Oh, I’m sure that there were Oscars predictions parties all over the country, and some of them go back to Wings and all that … but in our little Cleveland world we didn’t know anybody else who did it. In those days it was hard to find ballots that went beyond the five biggest categories — Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress. In those days, even Best Director wasn’t really a big deal — forget about Best Live Action Short. At least that’s how I remember it.

Over the years, Oscar predictions — like the NFL Draft, college basketball recruiting and cooking shows — have become this massive, overblown, towering industry complete with odds and systems and predictors and a million other things.

In some ways, it has made picking the Oscars better — certainly more accurate. Last year, I picked 22 out of 24 categories correct and the two I missed (live action short and animated short) are obviously minor categories that somehow avoid getting stuck in the Scientific and Technical Achievement Oscars party that is usually hosted by the actor who for some reason accepts the task (this year it was Australian actress Margot Robbie) and tends to get approximately 48 seconds of airtime during the real Oscars.

So, yeah, last year I essentially got every category right. And — eh. I mean it was nice to win the family contest; it had been too long since I had done that. But I just picked movies that I knew were going to win certain like Gravity for sound editing and mixing and Gatsby for Production and Costume Design. I still haven’t actually SEEN Gravity and don’t see any real chance that I will and I despised Gatsby with the contempt of a 1,000 suns. But I suspected they would win, they did win, and that’s what it has become.

But that’s now how it used to be: We used to pick movies we thought SHOULD win. That was kind of fun because we would have these great arguments about whether Unforgiven was a great movie (it was) or whether The Last Emperor was really better than Broadcast News (it wasn’t). Now, those arguments aren’t as fun. Two years ago, I picked Wreck It Ralph to beat out Brave for best animated feature even thought I figured Brave would probably win — Wreck It Ralph was simply better. But when Brave won, all it meant was that I lost the Oscar pool by one.

This year, I have a very strong opinion about what movie should win Best Picture. I loved Boyhood. I realize that this puts me in direct opposition to my friend Bill James who wrote extensively about why he despised Boyhood and thought it was one of the worst movies he had seen in recent years. I would give a point-by-point counter to Bill’s critique but it’s probably just quicker to say that every single thing he wrote, I believe the opposite.

But I don’t think Boyhood will win. From everything I’ve seen and heard, the wind is blowing at the back of Birdman, a movie I have not yet seen but based on reviews would seemingly qualify for my 10-year-old daughter’s “artsy-fartsy” tag.

So now what? Do I vote for the move I think will win or the movie I would like to win?

Well let’s just go to the predictions. This year I add what I call a “certainty score,” which on a score of 1-10 (1 being a dart throw, 10 being super confident) I rank how certain I am about my prediction:

Documentaries and Animated things

Best Live Action Short: The Phone Call.

Certainty score 4

— No idea as always. I guess its about a suicidal phone call and Jim Broadbent is supposed to be amazing. I never get these right.

Best Animated Short: Feast.

Certainty score: 5

— This is the little Disney short that played before Big Hero 6 about a dog and food and love. Fantastic. Of course, I thought the little Disney short Get a Horse should have won last year and it was one of the two I missed.

Best Documentary Short: Crisis Hotline: Veteran’s Press 1.

Certainty score: 4

— About the trauma of veterans, I have seen this. Haunting.

Best Documentary: Citizenfour.

Certainty score: 6

— About Snowden. Everyone seems to think this one’s close to a lock. I’m actually rooting for Finding Vivian Maier, a fascinating story about a mysterious street photographer … produced by my friend Jeff Garlin.

Best Animated Feature: The Lego Movie.

Certainty score: 10,000,000,000

— It is not nominated but I still think it should win. It was significantly better, more original, funnier and better made than any of the five movies listed. It probably should have been one of the nominated movies. I am very upset about this. But …

Real Best Animated Feature: How To Train Your Dragon 2.

Certainty score: 8

Big Hero 6 was better as was the not-nominated The Book of Life as was How To Train Your Dragon … but this seems to be the one that will win.


Best Sound Editing: American Sniper.

Certainty score: 8

Best Sound Mixing: Whiplash.

Certainty score: 7

— Though these are different categories, they usually go to one movie. But this year, Whiplash was not nominated for Sound Editing for some reason and yet people seem gaga over the Sound Mixing. I say this like I have an idea about the difference, which I don’t.

Best Score: The Theory of Everything.

Certainty score: 8

—  This was an enjoyable movie, though as an average movie-goer I don’t really remember the score being all that interesting. I actually thought the music in The Imitation Game was more memorable. I also think that The Imitation Game, which was really excellent, could get shut out.

Best Song: Glory from Selma.

Certainty score: 9

— Selma didn’t nearly as many nominations as I expected. It’s superb and the acting in it was tight and excellent. Anyway, Selma will get the song which is fine though Lost Stars from Begin Again is really a good song and that was really a fun movie.

Sets, costumes, special effects and all that stuff

Visual Effects: Interstellar

Certainty score: 8

Guardians of the Galaxy was really cool and I guess the real visual effects gurus can’t get enough of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. But they have to give Interstellar something.

Production design: The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Certainty score: 10

— Seems to be one of the locks of the night.

Best Costume Design: The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Certainty score: 10

— Seems to another one of the locks of the night.

Best Makeup and Hairstyle: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Certainty score: 8

— Another shot for Guardians of the Galaxy but I have a feeling Grand Budapest Hotel will sweep all these awards so that the academy can feel good about snubbing it for anything too major.

Best cinematography: Birdman.

Certainty score: 10

— I suspect the Academy will give this award to Chivo Lubezki every year from now on. He won last year for Gravity, will win this year for Birdman, will probably win next year for Last Days in the Desert and so on.

Best Film Editing: Boyhood.

Certainty score: 8.

— Here’s where things start getting shaky. I honestly don’t see how Boyhood could lose editing — they edited a movie filmed over TWELVE YEARS into something wonderful. It seems to an outsider one of the great editing achievements ever. But a lot of people think Whiplash could win this.


Best original screenplay: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Certainty score: 8

— I think this is where the Academy gives Wes Anderson a pat on the back and a hearty handshake.

Best adapted screenplay: The Imitation Game

Certainly score: 5

— I just have this feeling that the Academy will not give anything to The Imitation Game; I don’t know exactly why I think that. Movies just seem to fall out of favor much in the same way that quarterbacks sometimes do at the NFL Draft. I loved The Imitation Game and believe it should win. Would not be at all surprised to see Whiplash or American Sniper here though.


Best Supporting Actor: J.K. Simmons, Whiplash.

Certainty score: 10

— Lock. Ed Norton has been getting a little buzz lately but I think that’s just to try and create even a little bit of drama here. I think Simmons is a guaranteed winner. And he should win something for the Farmers Insurance commercials too. Ba-ba-bum-bum Bum-bum-bum.

Best Supporting Actress: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood.

Certainty score: 10

— Also a lock. Side note — I would like to plead to the Academy once again as one of Meryl Streep’s biggest fans: Stop nominating her for mediocre or lousy performances. She wasn’t good at all in Into the Woods and nominating her for Oscars based on blah performances seems to me to cheapen just how wonderful an actress she is. It’s like giving Gold Gloves to once-great defensive players who are clearly not good anymore.

Best Actress: Julianne Moore, Still Alice.

Certainly score: 10+

— Lock of the night.

Best Actor: Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything.

Certainty score: 6

— Many people think Redmayne is a sure thing. I don’t. I think the crazy momentum lately for Birdman makes Michael Keaton a very real threat and I almost think this is a tossup.

Movies and Director

Best Foreign Movie: Ida.

Certainty score: 8

Wild Tales from Argentina, I guess, is considered a potential spoiler as well as Russia’s Leviathan which takes on Putin (and won the Golden Globe) but Ida is supposed to be a beautiful and haunting Holocaust story and that spells “Academy Award.”

Best Director: Richard Linklater, Boyhood

Certainty score: 2

— I don’t think Linklater will win. I think Alejandro Gonzalez will win for Birdman. If you were asking me who to pick for your pool, and you’re not emotionally attached, I would recommend you pick Gonzalez. But I’m picking Linklater even if it means losing the family pool; that’s how much I love that movie.

Best movie: Boyhood

Certainty score: 2

— Same thing. I think Birdman will win. I’m picking Boyhood. I saw it for the third time last night … it was every bit as wonderful and life-affirming and touching as the first time. I’m picking Boyhood though I suspect in the end Birdman will fly.

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By In Joe Vault, Movies

He chose … poorly


This would qualify as: Overthinking it.

We spent the last couple of days as a family watching the Indiana Jones movies. Well, the girls saw “Raiders of the Lost Ark” a year or two ago, and they kept asking to see “Temple of Doom” and “The Last Crusade,” and I kept putting them off. A friend had told me that she let his young daughter watch Temple of Doom when she was 8 or 9 and she kept having nightmares afterward.

In retrospect I can see why: Temple of Doom wasn’t nearly as fun as I remembered it being when I was a kid. It’s dark (literally dark; so much of it is in the Temple) and there are a lot of disturbing images in there and it’s not nearly as funny as the other two*.

*I am of the belief that there have been three Star Wars movies made, two Godfathers and three Indiana Jones movies.

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By In Movies

Earth To Stomach

I don’t often write here about my World Famous Movie Plus-Minus System because I’m no movie critic, and because the system is personal, and because my first inclination always tends to involve writing something obscure about baseball, say, something about Wade Davis’ current streak of holding batters without an extra base hit (41-plus innings and counting — the 11th longest streak of the last 100 years).

However, as a public service, I feel it necessary to write about the movie “Earth to Echo.”

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