Archive for the ‘Academy Awards’ Category

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For the second year in a row, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has nominated only white actors and actresses for its annual Oscar awards.

It’s difficult for me to write about diversity. As a Caucasian male, anything I would say inevitably comes across as the unholy union of white-splaining and man-splaining, or White Man-splaining, the Fox News of film criticism.

But this morning’s announcement of the 2016 Oscar nominations, as well as the ensuing and justified criticism that the awards, once again, are whitewashed, made me think thoughts. And despite my better judgement I’m inclined to share those thoughts, as succinctly as possible, in both defense and condemnation of The Academy.

Obviously, this entire post can be summarily dismissed by asking me to “Check my privilege;” I acknowledge that. But I’m also just a human being who 1) loves movies 2) thinks the industry should and must do better to be more inclusive of race and gender and 3) likes to see talent, in all its forms, recognized.

Here we go:

  1. The membership of the Academy is glaringly, inexcusably white and male. Steps have been made in recent years to address this, but considerably more needs to be done, and soon.
  2. BUT – and this is the main stick in my craw this morning – the Academy doesn’t *make* movies. Individual members of the Academy may write scripts, cast actors and hire directors, but the Academy, as a body, merely evaluates the films that have been made.
  3. For that reason, the *primary* blame for the lack of diversity in film lies with the studios, which produce the films that are then considered for awards by The Academy and other bodies.
  4. And I think most of us can agree that intentionally setting slots aside for diversity nominations, an Affirmative Action of sorts, or nominating films and actors solely to appease a hashtag, without regard to quality, would not be an appropriate solution to systemic under-representation in film.
  5. [Pause to Check My Privilege: I’m told I have a “shitlord” level of privilege with a score of 170]
  6. AS SUCH, the question we need to ask is what actors of color, who turned in awards-worthy performances this year,  were overlooked in favor of their white counterparts. But that is a highly subjective conversation, with many different opinions, and Academy nominations are based on a balloting system with the same weaknesses for majority rule as democratic politics. (#AmericaLovesCrap).
  7. Arguments have been made in favor or Idris Elba, for “Beasts of No Nation”, and Michael B. Jordan, for “Creed”. In my humble opinion, I would have liked to see Will Smith nominated for his turn in “Concussion” instead of Bryan Cranston for “Trumbo”.
  8. That said, it’s easy to see why an Academy of mostly 63-year-old men from the film industry would recognize “Trumbo”, a biopic about the Hollywood Blacklist of the late 1940s. Many Academy veterans entered their professions in the shadow of the Blacklist, and likely had personal relationships with the individuals targeted by the House Un-American Activities Committee.
  9. Alternatively, I thought “Carol” was mind-numbingly boring, and would have no issue removing Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara from the actress categories. But that too is problematic, because my first choices to replace them would be Emily Blunt and Charlize Theron.
  10. [Checking privilege once more: still a shitlord]
  11. Point being, even if the demographics of the Academy membership were reversed tomorrow, that would not necessarily change the actors cast, directors hired, and films produced by the studios.
  12. NOW you might say, as my girlfriend did this morning, that I’m presenting a circular argument. Studios want to make award-winning films, and if the institutions administering those awards were more diverse, the studios would tailor their slate to that reality.
  13. Agreed, absolutely, which is why considerably more needs to be done, and soon, to increase diversity among the membership of the Academy.
  14. BUT that line of thinking ignores the role that audiences play in shaping the films produced in Hollywood. All those shiny statuettes won’t keep the lights on if no one buys a ticket.
  15. Last year, when #OscarsSoWhite was launched, Selma was overlooked in the acting and directing categories. That snub was the linchpin in most arguments about the whitewashed voting by academy members.
  16. But let us consider: Selma made $51 million at the domestic box office, putting it at 61st place for the year, behind the indie-Christian “God’s Not Dead,” the laughably race-inapropriate “Exodus: Gods and Kings” and “The Fault In Our Stars,” about two white kids with health insurance who get cancer, fall in love, and die (more or less).
  17.  “Selma” made one-fifth the box office of “Maleficient,” which was a terrible movie.  A “Maleficient” sequel is already in the works.
  18. The point? Hollywood makes more of what makes money.
  19. None of this absolves studio executives, who seem hell-bent against acknowledging that films with a diverse cast can make obscene amounts of money. It doesn’t absolve the Academy, either, for its glacial attempts at modernization.
  20. That’s why its good to keep the pressure on, drawing attention to the excellent films and actors that deserve recognition for their work.
  21. But in criticizing (deservedly) the biases of the Academy voters, we also need to remember the limitations placed on them by the output of the studio system, and the role that filmgoers play by continuing to vote with their dollars for loud, useless, dreck.
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According to ‘Concussion,’ when real-life Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith) first decided to publish his discovery of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, he expected the National Football League to be relieved and take action against the degenerative disease driving so many of their retired players to depression, dementia and early deaths.

And when the NFL does what anyone would expect a billion-dollar corporation built on the backs of human crash test dummies to do — reject and ridicule Omalu’s findings — the good doctor is lovingly chided for his naivete.

“You’re going to war with a corporation that owns a day of the week,” he’s told by his mentor, played by Albert Brooks.

The exchange holds an interesting parallel to the movie itself, which is to be released on Christmas in what is, no doubt, a play at awards-season attention, but which coincidentally occurs at the zenith of the college football season, with the NFL’s super bowl just around the corner. Not only is Smith’s latest film competing with Star Wars for the eyeballs of film-goers, it also needs to convince football fans (of whom there are many) to pay the admission price and watch a movie about how their favorite sport is recklessly killing people.

It’s not easy task, but ‘Concussion’ handles the challenge with surprising grace. Smith is charming and heartbreaking as Omalu, an extensively educated Nigerian medical examiner whose own personal American Dream is slowly shattered by the ambivalence of our country’s institutions. His journey begins in a Pittsburgh coroner’s office, where the death of a former Steeler’s center collides with Omalu’s natural curiosity, creating the spark that ignites the doctor’s drive to discover the unseen malice that lie in the thousands of blows to the head that players experience during their careers.

Surrounding Smith are Brooks, Omalu’s guide and cheerleader, Alec Baldwin, a former NFL team doctor racked with guilt and Gugu Mbatha-Raw as the love interest that helps humanize the lead character.

While directed and performed well, the segments of the film concerned with Omalu’s personal life are its weakest. ‘Concussion’ is at its best when it’s at its most outraged, describing the science behind CTE and tangentially showing the former players who are spiraling out of control. Each one of those deaths is a tragedy of its own, and in making extra room for an immigrant love story ‘Concussion’ does a slight disservice to the real lives lost that spurred Omalu’s work.

But the occasional flaws in the film are little in the face of its strengths, particularly the clarity of Omalu’s case against the league and the ugly but unsurprising steps the NFL took to avoid the blame when now-expendable players lose themselves in a fog of the mind. Far from giving the NFL a pass, ‘Concussion’ relentless points a finger at the league, but a more focused script may elevated the power of the story to a knockout blow.

Grade: B+

*Concussion opens nationwide on Friday, December 25.

 

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I don’t normally make Oscar predictions because I’m terrible at it. I’ve learned that my flaw is an inability to vote with my brain over my heart. So every year I watch my more level-headed friends do the victory dance after being crowned champion of our annual Oscar ballot contest.

But the Oscars are tomorrow, and I’ve been neglecting this blog since Sundance, so I thought I’d cobble together some thoughts on the big six races (because let’s be honest, that all we really care about).

Best Supporting Actor

Ever since I saw Whiplash at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival last January, I’ve been waiting for the well-deserved furor to build around J.K. Simmons. His turn as a megalomaniacal music instructor is explosive, fascinating and terrifying and despite excellent competition from Edward Norton and Ethan Hawke, the statue is his to lose.

Will win: J.K. Simmons

Should win: J.K. Simmons

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Best Supporting Actress

I’ve written in the past about my love for Boyhood, and I’ll certainly continue to do so in the future. But while that story centers on a child, it is really the adult characters that ground and sustain the 12-year journey and particularly Patricia Arquette.

As a single mother raising her raising her children and fighting through a string of lousy boyfriends, Arquette is raw, natural and heartbreaking. The story ends with the titular boy headed off to college with the whole world and his future at his feet, but the real emotional punch is Arquette, alone in a drab apartment with the better years of her life behind her.

Laura Dern and Emma Stone are both terrific in Wild and Birdman, respectively. And any time Academy-favorite Meryl Streep is in the running it complicates things, but Arquette has swept every award show so far and I can’t imagine her streak ending at the big show.

Will win: Patricia Arquette

Should win: Patricia Arquette

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Best Actor

To me, 2014 was the year of Boyhood and Birdman, and since the lead actor in Boyhood was an untested child actor who was far from consistent over the 12-year shoot, that means 2014 was the year of Michael Keaton. He was already a good actor, but in Birdman we saw just how great he can be when handed the right material and director.

But, this is the Academy, and they can do some strange things sometimes. The Oscars love real people, like the characters played by every actor in the category BUT Keaton. They love physical transformations, like the nose Steve Carell hides behind in Foxcatcher or the ALS cocoon that slowly envelops Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything. It also never hurts when a movie is both critically acclaimed and commercially successful, like the gangbusters business that American Sniper is doing.

I still think Keaton has the edge, if nothing else than because he’s a veteran actor who’s never been recognized before. But if Redmayne ends up on the stage tomorrow night I’ll be disappointed but not surprised.

Will win: Michael Keaton

Could win: Eddie Redmayne

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Best Actress

A lot has been said about how there’s not enough good roles for women in Hollywood, and this year’s Best Actress crop would certainly suggest that. Try as I might, I just can’t get excited about this year’s race. Still Alice? Two Days, One Night? I would imagine most people have neither seen those films nor even heard about them.

The smart money is on Julianne Moore, but if it were me I would give the statuette to Rosamund Pike for her work in Gone Girl. It’s not easy to steal the spotlight on a David Fincher film, but Pike (who has swam just beneath the surface of fame for a decade) delivers an Amy Dunne who is aggressive and vulnerable, sexy and repulsive. She also delivers the most memorable sex scene of Hollywood’s modern era.

Will win: Julianne Moore

Should win: Rosamund Pike

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Best Director

Again, Birdman and Boyhood. Boyhood and Birdman. Either one could win either this category and/or Best Picture. But Best Director goes beyond making a great movie and what Richard Linklater accomplished with his 12-year passion project simply must be recognized. This is the category to do it in.

Will win: Richard Linklater

Should win: Richard Linklater

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Best Picture

I already picked Birdman as my choice for best film of 2014. It’s unique, inventive, daring and filled with star-caliber performances. It’s the kind of film that captures the magic of the movies and reminds you why you want to spend your time in a dark room in front of a glowing screen.

Boyhood is incredible, don’t get me wrong, but its power comes from its ability to capture the quiet simplicity of everyday life and its slow evolution over time. It’s normalcy, on the big screen, in a way that few other narrative features have displayed. But Birdman is fantasy, it’s jazz, and as I’ve said before, it’s darned fun to watch.

But that’s my heart talking. My head knows that Boyhood has so far earned more awards from the other guilds and that its somewhat rare for Director and Picture to split. I give the edge to Birdman, but that might mean another year of someone else’s victory dance.

Will win: Birdman

Should win: Birdman

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You might not have noticed, but a few interesting things happened with the announcement of the 2013 Academy Award Nominations this morning.

First, the academy all-but-confirmed that ‘Lincoln‘ will be named best picture.

Second, the awards race that remains in the sliver of doubt that Lincoln not take the big prize went from being a head-to-head horse race between the aforementioned Spielberg-directed biopic and Zero Dark Thirty to a David and Goliath match-up between ‘Lincoln’ and ‘Silver Linings Playbook.’

Why?

In failing to nominate Kathryn Bigelow for Best Director, the Academy showed that enough voters are uncomfortable with the Zero’s controversial portrayal of torture to impede its chances at winning the big prize. Likewise the snub of ‘Argo’-director Ben Affleck made the critically-lauded thriller deflate so fast you could practically feel the wind on your face.

But then, from the decimated ashes of its snubbed peers came Silver Linings, emerging majestically like a phoenix. Too much? Hardly!

SLP, my #2 movie of 2012 and little-film-that-could managed to dance its way into all four acting categories, best picture, best director and best adapted screenplay. For a movie without fantasy elements – and therefore not requiring heavy effects editing – that’s pretty much a straight sweep.

So yes, Lincoln, Spielberg and Day-Lewis are now essentially foregone conclusions but SLP is the underdog to root for in those categories and it also stands a fair shot in its remaining nods, particularly (the gorgeous) Jennifer Lawrence for best actress.

Other notables form this morning:

• Thanks to Amour and Beasts of the Southern Wild, we now have the Oldest and Youngest women ever nominated for best actress in the same year (Emmanuelle Riva is 85 and Quvenzhané Wallis is 9. NINE!). Also, the Best Actress race is now the one to watch because Silver Lining’s surge, coupled with Zero Dark’s fall and sprinkled with the absence of Meryl Streep makes this, truly, any woman’s game.

• Interestingly, Joaquin Phoenix was nominated for Best Actor despite insulting the awards process mere weeks ago. Voters tend to not appreciate that. Also, his co-star Philip Seymore Hoffmon was nominated for best SUPPORTING actor, when an argument could be made that he is the lead character (the movie is named after him for one thing…or is it?).

• Not surprising, but Hugh Jackman scored a nomination for Les Miz with no such love for Russel Crowe. Same story with Naomi Watts (nominated) and Impossible co-star Ewen McGregor (not nominated).

And my only true complaint of the 2013 nominations:

• Wes Anderson’s magical and amazing Moonrise Kingdom deserves the 9th spot on the Best Picture list instead of Life of Pi. I’m also surprised Django Unchained made the cut.

Here’s the full list of nominees, including the boring stuff no one cares about.

Best Picture
Amour
Argo
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Django Unchained
Les Miserables
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty

Best Actor
Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables
Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
Denzel Washington, Flight

Best Actress
Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Naomi Watts, The Impossible

Best Supporting Actor
Alan Arkin, Argo
Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained

Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams, The Master
Sally Field, Lincoln
Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Helen Hunt, The Sessions
Jacki Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook

Best Director
Michael Haneke, Amour
Ang Lee, Life of Pi
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild

Best Original Screenplay
Amour, Michael Haneke
Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino
Flight, John Gatins
Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola
Zero Dark Thirty, Mark Boal

Best Adapted Screenplay
Argo, Chris Terrio
Beasts of the Southern Wild, Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin,
Life of Pi, David Magee
Lincoln, Tony Kushner
Silver Linings Playbook, David O. Russell

Best Animated Feature:
Brave
Frankenweenie
ParaNorman
The Pirates! Band of Misfits
Wreck-It Ralph

Best Cinematography
Anna Karenina, Seamus McGarvey
Django Unchained, Robert Richardson
Life of Pi, Claudio Miranda
Lincoln, Janusz Kaminski
Skyfall, Roger Deakins

Best Costume Design
Anna Karenina, Jacqueline Durran
Les Misérables, Paco Delgado
Lincoln, Joanna Johnston
Mirror Mirror, Eiko Ishioka
Snow White and the Huntsman, Colleen Atwood

Best Documentary Feature
5 Broken Cameras
The Gatekeepers
How to Survive a Plague
The Invisible War
Searching for Sugar Man

Best Documentary Short
Inocente
Kings Point
Mondays at Racine
Open Heart
Redemption

Best Film Editing
Argo, William Goldenberg
Life of Pi, Tim Squyres
Lincoln, Michael Kahn
Silver Linings Playbook, Jay Cassidy and Crispin Struthers
Zero Dark Thirty, Dylan Tichenor and William Goldenberg

Best Foreign Language Film
Amour, Austria
Kon-Tiki, Norway
No, Chile
A Royal Affair, Denmark
War Witch, Canada

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Hitchcock, Howard Berger, Peter Montagna and Martin Samuel
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Peter Swords King, Rick Findlater and Tami Lane
Les Misérables, Lisa Westcott and Julie Dartnell

Best Original Score
Anna Karenina, Dario Marianelli
Argo, Alexandre Desplat
Life of Pi, Mychael Danna
Lincoln, John Williams
Skyfall, Thomas Newman

Best Original Song
“Before My Time” from Chasing Ice, music and lyric by J. Ralph
“Everybody Needs A Best Friend” from Ted, music by Walter Murphy; lyric by Seth MacFarlane
“Pi’s Lullaby” from Life of Pi, music by Mychael Danna; lyric by Bombay Jayashri
“Skyfall” from Skyfall, music and lyric by Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth
“Suddenly” from Les Misérables, music by Claude-Michel Schönberg; lyric by Herbert Kretzmer and Alain Boublil

Best Production Design
Anna Karenina, Production Design: Sarah Greenwood; Set Decoration: Katie Spencer
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, production Design: Dan Hennah; Set Decoration: Ra Vincent and Simon Bright
Les Misérables, Production Design: Eve Stewart; Set Decoration: Anna Lynch-Robinson
Life of Pi, Production Design: David Gropman; Set Decoration: Anna Pinnock
Lincoln, Production Design: Rick Carter; Set Decoration: Jim Erickson

Best Animated Short
Adam and Dog
Fresh Guacamole
Head over Heels
Maggie Simpson in “The Longest Daycare”
Paperman

Best Live Action Short
Asad
Buzkashi Boys
Curfew
Death of a Shadow
Henry

Best Sound Editing
Argo, Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn
Django Unchained, Wylie Stateman
Life of Pi, Eugene Gearty and Philip Stockton
Skyfall, Per Hallberg and Karen Baker Landers
Zero Dark Thirty, Paul N.J. Ottosson

Best Sound Mixing
Argo, John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff and Jose Antonio Garcia
Les Misérables, Andy Nelson, Mark Paterson and Simon Hayes
Life of Pi, Ron Bartlett, D.M. Hemphill and Drew Kunin
Lincoln, Andy Nelson, Gary Rydstrom and Ronald Judkins
Skyfall, Scott Millan, Greg P. Russell and Stuart Wilson

Best Visual Effects
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton and R. Christopher White
Life of Pi, Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik-Jan De Boer and Donald R. Elliott
The Avengers, Janek Sirrs, Jeff White, Guy Williams and Dan Sudick
Prometheus, Richard Stammers, Trevor Wood, Charley Henley and Martin Hill
Snow White and the Huntsman, Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, Philip Brennan, Neil Corbould and Michael Dawson

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Don’t you just love when the Academy gets it right? I sure do.

Once again my Oscar Ballot got completely murdered. My friends have a tendency to just go online and copy down the predictions of some “expert” whereas I consider each category personally. I also tend to vote with my heart and not with my head, which means I’m wrong a lot.

But not on what matters. The Artist and its director Michael Hazavanicious (spelling likely wrong) took home their well-deserved trophies, as did “Man or Muppet,” my boy Jim Rash (who also launched the internet meme of “jolie-ing”) and A Separation for foreign film.

I was wrong, but not surprised, about Christopher Plummer and Octavia Spencer’s supporting wins and I was wrong AND surprised by Jean Dujardin and Meryl Streep’s acting wins. I thought George and Viola had it in the bag and I can’t help but feel bad for Glenn Close, how many times does she have to sit in the audience and watch Streep make a colorfully endearing acceptance speech? Poor thing.

Also, how awesome is Billy Crystal? Sure, it didn’t blow me away but THE host’s 9th outing was a solid, respectable, pleasing success and after so many dismal failures that’s just what I wanted. For next year I just wish Hugh Jackman would get off his high horse and host again.

Best Moments.

  • LOVED Emma Stone, hated the bow on her dress. Why can’t we just let her do everything.
  • Jim Rash, pure genius.
  • Dujardin’s sudden outburst of French joy (or whatever the french have in place of joy)
  • Billy Crystal and George’s kiss
  • Christopher Plummer’s acceptance speech. “You’re 2 years older than me, darling, where have you been all my life?”
  • Jason Segel emotionally effected by McKenzie’s acceptance
  • Cirque du Soleil, I had my doubts but they pulled it off.

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First off, I wanted to make a note of something interesting about this year’s Oscar race. Since I live in a Red State, I am constantly hearing the moans and gripes from social conservatives about the steady moral decline shown in modern cinema. “Hollywood is nothing but Filth!” they scream, clutching their children to them and running from darkened theaters as the 20th Century Fox fanfare begins to play.

In their minds, every year movies are getting worse and worse, unlike the good wholesome entertainment that they were used to when they were younger. The explanation for this is obvious, when they were younger they didn’t watch every movie that was made. Have you seen Bonnie and Clyde lately? or Scarface? You’re right, compared to Bambi, The Hangover Part II seems a little crude but even the old Rock Hudson/Doris Day rom-coms are pretty much 118 minutes of sexual innuendo. I mean, Pillow Talk? Come on.

Why am I talking about this? Because amazingly, 8 out of the 9 Best Picture nominees are rated PG-13 and the lone R-rated offering, The Descendants, is far from a prurient romp. It’s actually a touching story about a family dealing with the loss of their mother and gets the big “R” because, understandably, the characters use a few F-bombs as they try to vocalize their emotions.

It’s unprecedented. Besides the fact that 8 “13s” is a statistical first — due to only 3 years of 5+ nominees — you would probably have to go back to the days of the Hays Production Code to find a crop of candidates that would please the Parents Television Council this much. I can actually talk about the nominees, all of the them, with my mom. This has never happened before in my lifetime.

So, to all the easily offended, take advantage of the one year when you can actually go and watch all of the Oscar nominees during AMC’s marathon (this weekend). And just remember that next year, when you talk about how bad movies are getting, I will shove 2011 in your face. The proof is in the pudding.

OH, you want to know who’s going to win? That’s easy.

Best Picture: The Artist
Best Director: Michael Hazavanicious (I probably spelled that wrong)
Best Actor: George Clooney
Best Actress: Viola Davis (Meryl has enough, don’t you think?)
Best Supporting Actor: Jonah Hill (conventional wisdom would suggest Christopher Plummer but something in me thinks Hill will be the surprise of the night)
Best Supporting Actress: Jessica Chastain (most people are betting Spencer, but 2011 was the year of Chastain and I think it will be a message award for her entire body of work, then again, this is the Oscars not The Globes so I’m only 60% confident on this one)
Best Animated Feature: Rango (you can hear Gore Verbinski saying “Thank you Cars 2 for sucking so bad”)
Best Foreign: A Separation (this was on soooo many top 10 lists this year, EW’s Owen Gleiberman would have put it in the top category)
Best Original Screenplay: Midnight in Paris, FTW!
Best Adapted Screenplay: My man Jim Rash (I interviewed him, he’s a complete stud)
Best Song: “Man or Muppet” (I mean seriously, Rio? Please)

And…no one cares about the rest.

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