Chris and I took last week off, due to work and travel concerns — there is no truth to the rumor that a media cabal led by Frank Darabont and Bob Greenblatt had us canceled. It turns out we needed the downtime to fully prepare ourselves for the gross orgy of smarm, song, and dance that was the Oscars last night. Although we disagreed strongly on the relative merits of Django Unchained and Moonrise Kingdom, Chris and I were in total agreement on the not-good-enoughness of Argo and especially the ceremony's dreadful host, Seth MacFarlane. We talked through the backstabbing politicking in the weeks leading up to last night (here's the Los Angeles Times piece we mention on the downfall of Zero Dark Thirty), the awards in each major category as well as some potential future fixes, only one of which involves Jessica Chastain and a return visit to Gdansk.
There's always an element of fatalism with making Oscar predictions. You actually hope you're wrong. You want to be right because people conflate educated awards-guessing with expertise. But when you have to sit and watch more than 190 minutes of the Academy Awards, you really don't want a predicted outcome. You want to be wrong about who the majority of 6,000 or so people will say was the best supporting actor of 2013. You want to go in with a little conventional wisdom and know that Tommy Lee Jones will win so that when Octavia Spencer opens her envelope and says Christoph Waltz's name, you can stare at the television and just say, "Wow."
Waltz was a surprise in a season of surprises. This was the year voters decided to pee into millions of Oscar pools. It was the year that everything started to seem refreshingly upside down: no Tarantino or Paul Thomas Anderson or Kathryn Bigelow or Wes Anderson up for Best Director, but Benh Zeitlin?
There will be plenty of time later to break down all of the rich, glitzy, succor-providing Hollywood action — from the talking bear, to the hugely throated Jennifer Hudson, to the fact that now, more than ever, America is feeling some feelings about Miss Anne Hathaway — that was last night's 85th Academy Awards, and Grantland will indeed be back with you later with a full gasp/GIF-filled rundown. For now, though, let's focus on two things. First, the full list of winners, provided below (Affleck, bro — you're crushing it!). And second: the fact that Seth MacFarlane hosted the Oscars last night, and yet the world did not end.
In the midst of the revolution in Iran in 1980, six employees of the American Embassy in Tehran slip away from the building when it comes under siege and hole up at the home of the Canadian ambassador. Back in Langley, CIA agent Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck, who also directed) comes up with a crazy idea to get them out: He'll create a fake movie production and have the diplomats pose as members of its crew who are in Iran to scout locations. If that sounds just crazy enough to work, that's because spoiler, it does. Or, I guess, it's not really a spoiler, since Argo is based on true events that happened in 1980 and were only recently declassified.
If you're anything like me, you hear the word "guild" and you start thinking about ancient, secret societies of blacksmiths, and then you start thinking about a sweaty dude in an apron slamming a giant hammer into an anvil amid a hail of sparks, and then you start thinking about hammers in general, and then you start thinking about how surprising it was that the movie Thor slayed as hard as it did. And so if you are anything like me, you are an idiot, and you should wipe all that from your brain, because right now we're talking about the Writers Guild Awards, a.k.a. the WGAs, which in actuality have really very little to do with sweaty dudes in aprons.
On Jodie Foster's Not-Quite-Coming-Out Party
Cecil B. DeMille was an absurdly prolific showman-producer. He oversaw flamboyant biblical and pseudo-biblical pageants like The Ten Commandments, Samson and Delilah, and The Greatest Show on Earth. They were epics of delirium and decadence that lavished the upside of sin, then sent you home relieved that the sinner isn't you. He manufactured dual celebrations of vice and virtue, vulgarity and purity.
There isn't much about DeMille that has to do with Jodie Foster. But the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the people responsible for the Golden Globes, named their lifetime achievement award in DeMille's name, and as the recipient at last night's ceremony Foster was less her famously reserved public self and more someone DeMille might have enjoyed: a contradiction.
We here at Hollywood Prospectus will be weighing in on the wondrously gallant pageantry that was Sunday night's Golden Globes — The dresses! The speeches! The prop teeth! The fake drunkenness! The real drunkenness! — a bit more in depth later in the day. But for now, we're just gonna kick it American style, and only focus on the winners.
And so everyone bow down before Argo, whose depiction of Hollywood as a powerful tool for world-changing, life-saving good was somehow, some way, embraced by a bunch of people in Hollywood; Homeland, which went back-to-back on a sweep of the major TV drama categories despite, ah, you know maybe not being as good this season; Girls, whose wins thoroughly justified Lena Dunham's decision to stop at that Kinko's before the show; Les Misérables, whose big night continued to make a nation of people feel very strongly about Anne Hathaway, one way or the other; and Chad Lowe, who made the wise decision not to use his sudden Twitter fame as an excuse for perpetrating child negligence.
With this year's Oscar nominees snubs, an atypically cohesive consensus has already formed, at least within the Best Director category: no Quentin Tarantino? No Ben Affleck?! No Kathryn Bigelow?!!
Yesterday, attempting to make sense of the peculiarity of the field, our own Wesley Morris wrote, "[the nominated directors'] movies contain no unresolved moral messes for an audience to wrestle with, unlike, say, Zero Dark Thirty, which has been dogged by the torture question ... There are even greater terrors in Django Unchained, but I think the older white men of the directors branch didn't find Tarantino's slaughter of slave owners palatable enough to commend him for it ... Plus, if Django would have waited six or seven years, he could have just been freed by Lincoln. As for Ben Affleck, I think he's made directing look too easy for himself."
But knowing a nation of critics is scratching its heads is small solace for not getting a shot at cuddling up in bed with a shiny new Oscar. So how are our snubbed directors taking it?
You can be honest. When Seth MacFarlane and Emma Stone announced the Oscar nominations this morning, you were nervous they were going to go all Baseball Writers' Association of America and say, "This year there are no nominees." Of course, if you're Ben Affleck or Kathryn Bigelow or even Tom Hooper and Quentin Tarantino, isn't that kind of what happened? 2012 was a strong movie year, and that's pretty much demonstrated by the dozen or so legitimate candidates for the five directing slots, two of which, at least, seemed preordained for Affleck, who made Argo, and Bigelow, who made Zero Dark Thirty. But when the names of Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild) and Michael Haneke (Amour) and David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook) were called alongside Steven Spielberg (Lincoln) and Ang Lee (Life of Pi), somebody in my one-person living room turned into the Retta Twitter feed and said, "Oh, no they didn't!" But they did. And what did they do?
Stateside, the top dogs at the box office were kids' movie Wreck-It Ralph, Denzel Washington's drunk-Sully drama Flight, and Ben Affleck's deathless prestige hit Argo, in that order. As EW reports, Ralph's $49.1 million haul makes it "the strongest debut ever for a Walt Disney Animation production (i.e., not including Pixar titles)." Flight managed $25 million at 1,884 theaters, meaning, at $13,275 per, it had the strongest per-theater average in the top 20. Most important: Argo, which pulled in another $10.2 million for $75.9 million overall, is on pace to break $100 million, and therefore is on pace to become the biggest Affleck movie since yep, Daredevil (that one crashed out at $102 million). This dude Affleck is just exorcising any and all demons right now, huh?
Meanwhile, across the oceans, James Bond crushed. After opening internationally 10 days ago, Skyfall has already pulled in $287 million, off the back of $156 million — spread over 81 countries, including Germany, Italy, Spain, Holland, Austria, India, Taiwan, and Mexico — this weekend. And that's just the beginning: It's now tracking at an $80 million opening for America. And so wait a minute — what is going on? Why can't we defeat 81 other countries — including Germany, Italy, Spain, Holland, Austria, India, Taiwan, and Mexico — in showing our financial appreciation for a British secret agent? What ever happened to American exceptionalism?!
On this week's pod, Andy and I blow the dust off Led Zeppelin IV and exfiltrate our feelings about Ben Affleck's latest, Argo (1:10). While we both agree that this is one of the better movies of the year, we split beautiful, feathered '70s hairs over how good.
If you want conflict, you'll love our chat about the recently released Seven Psychopaths (16:00). Despite the movie starring Colin Farrell, patron saint of the Hollywood Prospectus podcast, Andy had issues with its violence (among other things). I had issues with Andy's issues. Hilarity ensues.
The second half of the pod is a whirlwind trip through assorted cultural artifacts, including the return of The Walking Dead (23:20), the quickest way from D.C. to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (Homeland) (32:10), some music talk (37:40) (Bruno Mars! I don't even know anymore), and the introduction of the first Real Time Double Down Book Club experiment (40:15), with The Twelve, the sequel to Justin Cronin's postapocalyptic epic, The Passage. Clea DuVall wouldn't have it any other way.
Silver: A star-studded cast featuring a mix between established Hollywood stars and fresh up-and-coming faces, some badass gangster dialogue, visceral imagery, and violence, violence, violence. But enough about The Untouchables. Sub out Chicago for Los Angeles, Penn for DeNiro, Brolin for Costner, Gosling for Garcia, and Nolte for Connery. The only difference here is that The Untouchables was directed by Brian DePalma when he was at the top of his game and Gangster Squad is helmed by Ruben Fleischer, who’s coming off the unwatchable 30 Minutes or Less. And something tells me that Gangster Squad writer Will Beall’s credits (ABC’s Castle) aren’t quite what David Mamet’s were when he wrote The Untouchables. Gangster Squad appears to be lifting so much from The Untouchables that I’d be disappointed if it didn’t contain a scene where a baby carriage rolls down the steps of a train station during a bloody gun fight. (Which, for you film fans, was lifted from Eisenstein’sBattleship Potemkin.)
It’s not yet clear why, but George Clooney is dropping out of Steven Soderbergh’s adaptation of sixties spy drama The Man From U.N.C.L.E. This is going to be one of the last films Soderbergh does before transitioning to painting (really), so the least Clooney could to make it up to Soderbergh would be to, later on, pose in the nude. Grade: D [Deadline]
ABC has bought Hangtown, a western/procedural created by Battlestar Galactica’s Ron Moore and Caprica’s Matt Roberts. Set in the early 1900s, it features three primary characters: a marshal who always goes by his gut, a doctor pushing the new field of forensics, and a young female writer trying to sell dime novels about the West. Together, every week, these three solve crimes. What? Yes. Grade: D [Deadline]