Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Problem With: Oscars Edition

I have exciting news to share: the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has nominated me to watch its Oscars telecast on Sunday night. I was asleep when I received a phone call just before 6 a.m. Eastern time on the morning of January 16 stating that I'd been given the nod.

I am so grateful. It's a testament to all of the hard work I've put in at the office so I could spend my hard-earned salary on dozens and dozens of movies at my local theater. A special thanks to the Academy, my friends and family, and the teenagers at the concession stand who know how to pump just the right amount of artificial butter onto my popcorn.

I've had a busy month and a half since I took that phone call. I wanted to be as prepared as I could possibly be for the Academy Awards. With that in mind, I binge-watched the nominated films; researched them on Wikipedia; read hundreds of articles on which actors deserve to win and which actors deserve to not win; shared my own predictions with my friends; and made mental notes of what I can potentially complain about on Facebook the day after the Oscar telecast.

Since the Oscars are 24 hours away, I thought I'd share with you some thoughts I have on the best picture nominees. There are nine: American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, Her, Nebraska, Philomena, 12 Years a Slave and The Wolf of Wall Street. I must confess, I've only seen seven of them; my apologies to the cast and crew of Dallas Buyers Club and Philomena.

This is a really strong best picture class. I could make a convincing case for at least five of the nominees. Having said that, I would like to call attention to some minor concerns I had with the films I watched. I present them to you below, in a special Oscars edition of my ongoing series, "The Problem With." The envelopes, please....

American Hustle
Four of the stars in American Hustle are contending in the acting categories: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. Not only did they deliver tremendous performances, but their characters have inspired my Halloween costumes for the next four years.

I have been a fan of Adams and Lawrence (that's J-Law, for those of you who subscribe to People and Us Weekly) for many years. So it was fun to watch them interact with one another on the big screen. However, I was left disappointed by one of their scenes. There's a minor spoiler ahead, so if you haven't seen the movie, you have my permission to skip the next three paragraphs.

If you were to ask me for my favorite moment in American Hustle, the answer would come to me very easily. It would be the glorious five seconds during which Lawrence grabs Adams and gives her a kiss. It was totally unexpected, but a very pleasant surprise. Yet, it was over as soon as it began. It was one big tease, like when the McRib sandwich was offered for a limited time only at my local McDonald's, then was pulled from the menu for no good reason.

When you have two very attractive female celebrities locking lips, you want to milk that for as long as possible. I know I'm speaking for most of my male friends when I say that. Missed opportunity, David O. Russell.

Be that as it may, if Adams and Lawrence do not win the Golden Popcorn trophy for best kiss at this year's MTV Movie Awards, it will be the upset of the century.

This is a movie that needs to be experienced in IMAX, as I was reminded over and over again when it was released in October. "Do not see Gravity in a regular theater. You gotta see it in IMAX." And, eventually, I did -- mostly so my friends would stop bothering me about it. I had become as annoyed as Jerry Seinfeld was when he was told he had to "see the baby." "Fasten your seat belts, we're gonna see Gravity in IMAX."

I have to admit, my buddies were right: Gravity was amazing in IMAX. I liked it so much that I started to become that obnoxious person who insisted to others that they see it in IMAX. "What? You're going to wait until it's released on DVD? ARE YOU CRAZY? THE MOVIE WON'T BE THE SAME ON YOUR LITTLE TV. GO SEE IT IN IMAX! I DON'T CARE HOW EXPENSIVE IMAX IS! YOU NEED TO SEE GRAVITY IN IMAX!"

In summary, my only problem with Gravity was that it was released in IMAX and turned me into a less likeable human being as a result.

12 Years a Slave
12 Years a Slave is a deeply moving film, obviously, given its subject matter, and it had a great cast. I'd have no objections if it were to win best picture.

I initially struggled to learn the pronunciation of the names of two of the film's nominated stars, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong'o. However, I can now drop their names in conversation with confidence, after watching this video and that video 25 times each. (The second video won't embed properly, for some reason.)

Every year, I have difficulty pronouncing the name of at least one Oscar-nominated actor. In 2013, I had a hard time with Quvenzhané Wallis. The year before that, Jean Dujardin. Rosetta Stone really ought to develop a Hollywood celebrity version of its software to make things easier on us Oscar viewers.

Her is a story of a heartbroken man in the not-so-distant future (Joaquin Phoenix) who falls in love with an operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). The premise isn't especially far-fetched, in my opinion. Do I think it's plausible? I'm not sure. But I'm also not sure it's implausible.

What I do find to be implausible is the ability to install an operating system in a matter of seconds, as Phoenix's character managed to do. He purchased the OS, brought it home, and before he knew it he was having a friendly conversation with it. I have never had a smooth experience upgrading the operating system on my computer or phone. Who has?

For this reason, I did not update the OS on my iPhone until a couple of days ago. I'd resisted iOS 7 for so long, but when I heard that Apple discovered a major security hole in its software that required a new patch, I had no choice.

Before the installation of iOS 7 could begin, I had to delete 3 gigabytes' worth of apps and photos on my phone in order to make room for it. I must have spent 45 minutes agonizing over which ones to remove. I had to make some of the hardest decisions of my life, I swear. I'm still smarting over the fact that I had to erase four different versions of Angry Birds.

Afterward, iOS 7 was downloaded onto my phone, at a snail's pace. An hour later (an eternity when there's email to be checked, sports articles to be read, and candy to be crushed), my phone had a new interface I had to learn and new features that I needed to discover. It felt very foreign to me.

And Siri completely ignored me, too.

The Wolf of Wall Street
After watching this film, I'm convinced that Kyle Chandler is not an actor, but rather an employee of the government who acts in his spare time. Let's review his recent credits: in The Wolf of Wall Street, he played an FBI agent; in Argo, he played the White House chief of staff; in Zero Dark Thirty, he played a CIA operative. He will play the president in a movie someday; it's not a matter of "if," but "when."

In the meantime, I wish Chandler had been given a meatier role in The Wolf of Wall Street, something that would have showed more range. Maybe he could've played Leonardo DiCaprio's high school football coach.

Captain Phillips
I'm still stunned that Tom Hanks was snubbed by the Academy. His performance was brilliant. At least his co-star Barkhad Abdi (paging Rosetta Stone...) is a nominee for best supporting actor.

Hanks starred as Captain Phillips, a man waiting to be rescued at sea. Reminds me of another Tom Hanks film, Cast Away, which, incidentally, he was nominated for. What I'm trying to say is, there's no reason why Wilson couldn't have been written into the Captain Phillips script, if only for a brief cameo. What a fun reunion that would have been.

Though he hasn't been a cast member of Saturday Night Live for a couple of years now, I still find it hard to separate Will Forte from the show.

An example from Nebraska, which includes a spoiler: Forte's character, David, and David's brother steal an air compressor from a home, believing it to be one that was stolen from their father. They subsequently learn that they are mistaken, and so they make another trip to the home to drop it off. As they carry the compressor from their car into the home, the owners of the residence return. At this point, I fully expected the house to explode, and for a voiceover artist to yell, "MACGRUBER!" It never happened, probably for the best. It wouldn't have made any sense.


For more of my thoughts on this year's nominees, feel free to read the transcript of my unaired Golden Globes monologue. Enjoy this Sunday's Academy Awards ceremony -- if you were nominated to watch it.

In case you missed it:

The Problem With: "Back To The Future"
The Problem With: "The Wonder Years"

The Problem With: "Family Matters"