Friday, February 28, 2014

Oscar Surprise - 2014 Edition

2013 was an incredible year at the movies and for the film industry in general. Sequels were the box office winners, with The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Iron Man 3 and Despicable Me 2 leading the way. New advancements in filmmaking technology delivered big screen wows, thanks to Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity, best seen in IMAX 3D. It was also a good year for movies based on real people and actual events. Only three of the nine nominated films are pure fictional creations.

In celebration of this year’s Academy Award nominees, I’ve altered my annual musings to better reflect my love of film. Gone are the “who should win” and “who got snubbed” sections. With so much negative energy in the world today, I elected to focus on the positive. I’ll share my favorite performances, suggest a few films to seek out for your viewing pleasure, and finish with my predictions on who will end up at the podium on Oscar night.

Actor – Leading

Favorites: What an incredible year for the men. Every single nominee delivered a performance worthy of Oscar gold. I adored Christian Bale’s lovable con man in American Hustle, but felt his role was more a part of a great ensemble than a true leading man. There’s a reason the SAG voters gave their top award to this movie.

Of the rest, I keep coming back to two performances. Chiwetel Ejiofor and Matthew McConaughey. Bruce Dern was excellent in Nebraska, and Leonardo DiCaprio mesmerized as the hyper-kinetic, quaalude-addled Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street. In fact, I could make a fairly strong case for DiCaprio to win. But it’s hard to surmount the grand character arcs of a kidnapped free man sold into slavery and a homophobe dying of AIDS. Ejiofor, as Solomon Northup, brings the audience with him on his horrific journey and allows you see the story through his eyes. McConaughey continues his career reinvention with a searing portrayal of a man desperate to find a way to stay alive.

For your consideration: I wish there was room at the table for Oscar Isaac and Joaquin Phoenix. Isaac owns the screen in the Coen brothers’ musical fable Inside Llewyn Davis. Phoenix had the unenviable task of making the audience believe he was falling in love with his computer’s operating system in Her. That he was able to convincingly do so is worthy of recognition.

Prediction: Early odds favored Ejiofor, but the momentum for McConaughey has been steadily building. McConaughey delivered outstanding performances in three movies this year - Dallas Buyers Club, Mud, and The Wolf of Wall Street - and the Academy loves a success story. I’m hoping for a tie, but I believe the late groundswell of support for Dallas Buyers Club will give the edge to McConaughey.

Actor – Supporting

Favorites: I loved them all. Like the nominees for actor in a leading role, each and every performance is strong. Topping the list for me is Michael Fassbender, for his harrowing turn as a vicious, alcoholic slave owner. 12 Years A Slave is Fassbender’s third film with Steve McQueen, and it shows. He’s riveting; I couldn’t take my eyes off him when he was on screen.

I’ll come back to Bradley Cooper in American Hustle time and again; David O. Russell really knows how to get the most from his actors. Fun Fact: American Hustle is the 15th film to score nominations in all acting categories, and David O. Russell is the first director to do it consecutively. In 2012, he achieved the same feat with Silver Linings Playbook.

For your consideration: Need more McConaughey? Check out Mud, a lovely little indie also featuring an excellent Reese Witherspoon. Another fine movie to put on your to-watch list: The Place Beyond the Pines. Starring Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper and Rosario Dawson, it’s a story of fathers and sons, and the sacrifices they make. Gosling is brilliant - and beautiful - in this underrated gem.

Prediction: Jared Leto has won many early awards, and he’s virtually unrecognizable in the film. He showed up on set in character as Rayon, so many of his costars didn’t actually meet Jared Leto until filming wrapped. Barkhad Abdi could pull off an upset victory if the Academy wants to honor Captain Phillips, but I think Leto will get the call.

Actress – Leading

Favorites: When I saw Blue Jasmine last summer, I left the theater certain Cate Blanchett would win the Oscar for her devastating portrayal of a deeply disturbed New York socialite seeking refuge at her sister’s home in San Francisco. I’m a huge Amy Adams fan, and she is every bit as good as her cast mates in American Hustle. But Blanchett had the meatier role, and she was perfectly cast in Woody Allen’s film.

For your consideration: A couple of independent films worth checking out are Before Midnight (Julie Delpy) and Frances Ha (Greta Gerwig). At least Julie Delpy can take solace in the fact she’s part of the writing team nominated for best Adapted Screenplay along with Richard Linklater and Ethan Hawke.

Prediction: The easiest call of the evening. Cate Blanchett will win her second Oscar.

Actress – Supporting

Favorites: Newcomer Lupita Nyong’o is a breath of fresh air; she’s heartbreaking in 12 Years A Slave. And as much as I loved Jennifer Lawrence’s brash and bawdy housewife in American Hustle, June Squibb stole every scene from her accomplished co-stars in Nebraska. Fun fact: Squibb was a guest star on my favorite soap opera, The Young & the Restless, playing a friendly diner waitress opposite the late, great Jeanne Cooper.

For your consideration: Julia Roberts may have had the juiciest role as eldest sister Barbara in August: Osage County, but her costars were equally good with less showy material. Julieanne Nicholson delivered a quietly beautiful performance as middle sister Ivy, and Juliette Lewis returned to fine form as Karen, the youngest of the Weston girls.

Prediction: If tradition holds, this will be the wild card of the evening. Lawrence and Nyong’o have split the awards so far, and it’s likely one of them will win. I’m betting Academy voters will honor Nyong’o for her amazing performance.


Favorites: David O. Russell has three directing nominations for his last three movies - American Hustle, Silver Linings Playbook, and The Fighter. I love his movies. They make me happy.

I didn’t expect to like The Wolf of Wall Street as much as I did, and that’s largely due to Martin Scorsese’s talent. I think this film is much better than The Departed, which won Scorsese his first and only Academy Award.

For your consideration: With nine best picture nominees and only five best director slots, someone is sure to be left out. Even though I knew all the details of Captain Phillips before seeing the film, Paul Greengrass expertly paced the action and kept me on the edge of my seat. Spike Jonze created a magnificent rendering of a not-too-distant future world in Her, and managed to sell a romance with only one physical actor.

Prediction: Another close race, if early awards are any indication. Will the Academy reward technological innovation or heartfelt, emotional storytelling? My thinking is they’ll go with the former, and give Alfonso Cuarón a little gold statue. His opening 17-minute tracking shot was pure genius.

Best Picture

Favorites: This one is tough. I enjoyed all nine films. Some more than others. So here’s my “forced” ranking, although there’s not much separation between 4-6.

1. American Hustle
2. 12 Years A Slave
3. The Wolf of Wall Street
4. Dallas Buyers Club
5. Nebraska
6. Her
7. Philomena
8. Captain Phillips
9. Gravity

For your consideration: The Academy could have awarded ten films with nominations. For me, two bona fide contenders are Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine and the Coen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis. Neither movie is mainstream, but Blue Jasmine is one of Allen’s finest films, and the best he’s done lately. (And I really enjoyed Midnight in Paris.) The film captures New York and San Francisco as only Allen can, and he elicits bravura performances from his entire cast - even Andrew Dice Clay.

Inside Llewyn Davis was on many critics’ top ten lists, but I left the theater scratching my head over what it was all about. Maybe that’s the point. Forget the plot. Just sit back, relax, and enjoy Joel and Ethan Coen’s twisted take on the American folk scene, right before Bob Dylan crashed the party.

Prediction: In what may be the tightest race in recent history, the top three nominated films - Gravity, American Hustle, and 12 Years A Slave - all have a winning chance. Gravity for its technological prowess, American Hustle for its sheer wealth of talent and propulsive storytelling, and 12 Years A Slave for its powerful emotional impact. American Hustle may be the lightweight here, and the Academy rarely rewards a comedy over a drama, Shakespeare in Love notwithstanding.

12 Years A Slave may be the most important film of 2013, and it should be required viewing for every American wanting to better understand what it meant to be a person of color in the antebellum South. 12 Years A Slave for the win.

More fun facts

1. There are over 500 uses of the F-word in The Wolf of Wall Street, the most for any Oscar-nominated movie. The previous record was also held by Scorsese. Goodfellas had around 300.

2. If he wins for best original song, Frozen composer Bobby Lopez achieves the EGOT. (That’s an acronym for "Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony" in reference to persons who have won all four awards.)

3. At 23, Jennifer Lawrence is the youngest actress to earn three Oscar nominations.

4. At 84 and 77 respectively, June Squibb and Bruce Dern would be the oldest Oscar winners should their names be called on Oscar night.

5. Meryl Streep breaks her own record, scoring an 18th Oscar nomination for her role as Violet Weston in August: Osage County.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Oscar Surprise - 2012 Edition

My picks for who should win, who will win, who got snubbed, and a few thoughts on the 2011 movie season

What is there to say about last year’s movies? For me, there were two definite themes – escapism and nostalgia. The biggest winners at the box office in 2011 were Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, and The Twilight Saga – Breaking Dawn Part 1. In fact, sequels were the big winner last year. The top nine highest-grossing movies of 2011 were sequels targeted to children, teenagers, or comic book geeks, and they provided classic movie escapism with little need for introspection.

Nostalgia is present in all the Academy’s top films. It is the raison d'être of Midnight in Paris. Hugo and The Artist are lovingly detailed tributes to the allure of Hollywood’s past. The Tree of Life is a meditation on the entire universe, as seen through the eyes of a middle-aged man recalling key moments of his youth. The protagonist of Moneyball struggles to break free of the comfortable, yet outdated traditions of major league baseball. The Help, War Horse, and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close paint much prettier pictures of the difficult times they depict. Only The Descendants manages to be fully in the present, but even that film’s characters yearn for a simpler, easier past when confronted with the disturbing reality of the present and their uncertain futures.

With the current state of the world, it’s no wonder moviegoers turned out in droves for the likes of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Bridesmaids, and The Hangover Part II. It’s less surprising that so few opted to sit through all nine nominated Best Picture films. So I’m back to let you know who will likely be recognized on Sunday evening when the 84th Academy Awards are televised live on ABC.

Actor – Leading

Should Win: For first time nominees Demián Bichir and Gary Oldman, the nomination is most likely their only reward. Brad Pitt, one of my favorite character actors, finally delivered a worthy lead performance as Billy Beane, General Manager of the Oakland Athletics. I adored Jean Dujardin’s mostly silent performance in The Artist – such an expressive face! But George Clooney’s understated rendering of a grief-stricken husband and father trying to keep his family together is the winner in my book.

Will Win: It comes down to George Clooney versus Jean Dujardin. Since The Artist will probably be the big winner of the evening, I believe the Academy will reward The Descendants by honoring Clooney’s performance.

Snubbed: Michael Fassbender was excellent in so many movies last year: Jane Eyre; X-Men: First Class; A Dangerous Method, and Shame. He’s a great actor, and I was hoping to see him on the Academy’s list. Perhaps he spread himself too thin, or perhaps the Academy didn’t want to reward the sexually explicit Shame.

Actor – Supporting

Should Win: Of the five nominees, Christopher Plummer’s performance in Beginners was my favorite. It’s a great little film, and the interplay between Christopher Plummer and Ewan McGregor is a joy to watch. Jonah Hill proved in Moneyball he’s more than a comic actor, and Nick Nolte reminded those fortunate enough to see Warrior that he’s still got it.

Will Win: Second easiest call of the evening – Christopher Plummer.

Snubbed: While I realize the Harry Potter movies aren’t for everyone, Alan Rickman consistently delivered the devilish goods as Professor Severus Snape. He brought Snape to life, fully embodying the complicated hero. Rickman’s final performance as Snape in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 moved me to tears. He should have earned a slot in this category.

Actress – Leading

Should Win: Glenn Close, Viola Davis, and Rooney Mara all delivered heartfelt, understated performances of fictional women, while Meryl Streep and Michelle Williams were tasked with inhabiting the roles of two very famous, iconic women in history. Mara was the best thing in David Fincher’s reboot of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but she’s the youngest in this category. I think Viola Davis should take home the Oscar for her critical role in The Help. Without Davis, this sprawling drama might have struggled to find its center. With her, it stayed grounded. She gets my vote.

Will Win: Based on previous award ceremonies, the Oscar will go to either Viola Davis or Meryl Streep. Fun fact #1: the last two times Glenn Close and Meryl Streep competed against each other for an Academy award they both lost, first to Cher (Moonstruck) in 1988 and then to Jodie Foster (The Accused) in 1989. Will history repeat itself? I think it will. Viola Davis for the win!

Snubbed: Charlize Theron in Young Adult. The beautiful and talented Theron was at her fearless best in this Diablo Cody penned movie, directed by Jason Reitman. A darkly comedic role, Theron went for broke and delivered a searing performance that stayed with me long after the movie ended.

Actress – Supporting

Should Win: In another year, or an alternate universe, Melissa McCarthy would be standing on the stage accepting this award for her outrageously hilarious, yet completely genuine turn in Bridesmaids. Bérénice Bejo captivated audiences in The Artist, and Jessica Chastain delivered an outstanding supporting performance in The Help. (She was also brilliant in The Tree of Life.) Alas, these amazing actors are competing for naught, because the Oscar belongs to Octavia Spencer for her commanding performance in The Help. She vividly brought Minny Jackson to life, in a role she was clearly born to play.

Will Win: Easiest call of the night. Octavia Spencer for her career-making turn in The Help.

Snubbed: I was disappointed Shailene Woodley didn’t make the final cut. She was terrific in The Descendants, going toe-to-toe with George Clooney and making it look easy.


Should Win: Fun fact #2: Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Alexander Payne, and Terrence Malick have a combined 34 previous Oscar nominations and five wins. That other guy, Michel Hazanavicius, earned his first three nominations this year. I think Midnight in Paris is one of Woody Allen’s best films in years, and I loved what Alexander Payne did with The Descendants. But Terrence Malick really blew me away with the breadth and depth of The Tree of Life. Love it or hate it, Malick is doing exciting work in film and he deserves the recognition.

Will Win: First time’s the charm. Michel Hazanavicius will take home Oscar gold for his uplifting ode to Hollywood’s silent film era.

Snubbed: Bennett Miller took an “un-adaptable” book about baseball statistics and made it into an entertaining, heartfelt, root-for-the-underdog movie. Nicely done, Mr. Miller. Too bad there are only five directing nominations for the nine nominated films.

Best Picture

Should Win: This time ten years from now, which of the nine films will people still be watching? The Artist? Hugo? The Help? Those are the three front-runners, according to various Oscar polls. I could watch Midnight in Paris again and again, and I wouldn’t mind seeing The Tree of Life at least one more time. Still, The Artist is the kind of movie that has cross-generational appeal, and it’s a fun, enjoyable ride.

Will Win: My bet is on The Artist to win the top award of the night. Hollywood loves itself, and this frothy concoction is essentially a love letter to Tinseltown.

Snubbed: Some of my favorite movies of 2011 never had a chance of making this list. So here they are, in no particular order. Beginners, Warrior, Young Adult, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Bridesmaids, Super 8, Rango, X-Men: First Class, Hanna.

As for the other races, look for Woody Allen to win for his magical Midnight in Paris original screenplay, although he will not show up to claim his prize.

Hugo’s best shots at Oscar gold will come in cinematography, art direction, sound mixing and sound editing, but the Academy might also choose to reward John Logan for adapted screenplay. If that happens, Hugo could have a mini-sweep without winning any major awards. However, I’d prefer to see The Descendants or Moneyball claim the adapted screenplay prize. I also like Emmanuel Lubezki’s stunning camera work in The Tree of Life for cinematography.

In addition to its big awards, The Artist could easily take editing, original score and costume design. (It’s a challenge to make colors pop in black and white, and the costumes in The Artist are visually stunning.)

Rango will win animated feature film, hands down. I quite enjoyed Rango, Gore Verbinski’s head-trippy homage to Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns. A Separation, Iran’s foreign language entry, should also win its category.

There’s still time to take in some of these movies, whether on the big screen or via your DVD player. Even the animated and live action shorts are on screen in various theaters across the country. Escapism or nostalgia, or both – it’s your choice. Enjoy.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Empire State South

Something interesting is happening over at Empire State South. It just keeps getting better. Of course, now that summer is officially here, the bounty of fresh produce surely helps. (And there's a new pasty chef in residence.)

While ESS has a great seasonal cocktail menu, I found pairing the homemade lemonade with vodka totally hit the spot on a hot Atlanta evening. The "In Jars" starter from the Snackies portion of the menu still rules. I adore the pimento cheese with bacon marmalade and boiled peanut hummus, but I also really like the smoked trout mousse. (The taste reminds me of a Japanese tuna salad, and I mean that in a totally awesome way.)

The "Kind of Local" cheeses are a good starter option as well. Be sure to taste each cheese alone, and then again with the accompanying contrast. The kitchen is obviously having fun, and the resulting flavors mesh wonderfully. Favorites were the spiced pecans/goat cheese combo, and the cheddar with peach compote.

Since I wanted to have dessert, I had the soft poached farm egg from the Beginners section for my entree. Served over crispy rice, summer sausage and sweet corn, it was a delicious taste sensation. I used the fresh bread to mop up every last bit from my plate. (Wine pairing: a glass of white Bordeaux. IMO - perfection!)

My dining companions both opted for the Prime NY strip, served over ramp farotto with maitake mushrooms and red onion jam. I had a taste, and it was quite good.

For dessert, I had the special of the evening, blueberry pie. Served as an individual tart, I savored every bite. A wonderful end to a fantastic meal.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Oscar Fever - My picks

My picks for who should win, who will win, who got snubbed, and a few thoughts on the 2010 movie season

2010 was a tough year for many of us, and perhaps for the major movie studios as well, but there were plenty of great movies to be seen. The first movie of the year to have a real impact on me was Debra Granik’s Sundance winner, Winter’s Bone. At the risk of over-hyping the film, it tops my list of the best movies of last year. Then there were the summer blockbusters: Inception; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part One; and Toy Story 3. I loved Harry Potter! The animated sequence in the middle of the film was beautifully done, and the young stars we’ve watched grow up on screen have become fine actors, due in part to the stellar cast of adult wizards and witches that have surrounded them from the beginning. Toy Story 3 definitely deserves its place in the top ten, but even though I thoroughly enjoyed sitting through Inception, I was ultimately disappointed. For me, it was a whole lot of style, but not enough substance.

The more traditional “Oscar-bait” films, released throughout the fall and winter, were quite good. The Social Network took me on a thrill ride of rat-a-tat dialogue and Internet intrigue. The King’s Speech and The Fighter wowed with their excellent storylines and amazing casts, and the Coen brothers vividly brought Charles Portis’ world – and words – to life in their adaptation of True Grit.

As for this year’s crop of nominations, I think the Academy mostly got it right.

Actor – Leading

Should Win: 2010 was another great year for prime male roles in Oscar-worthy movies. I loved Jesse Eisenberg’s fast-talking, hyper-aware version of Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network and Jeff Bridges’ laconic take on Rooster Cogburn in True Grit. I didn’t love 127 Hours, but James Franco’s go-for-broke performance was riveting. Javier Bardem is the only reason to see Biutiful, and he delivers an understated, haunting performance as the doomed Uxbal. His is the only performance in the same league with Colin Firth’s portrayal of the reluctant King George VI. Since Bardem already has a little gold man, my vote is for Colin Firth to win the statue.

Will Win: All five nominees delivered award-worthy performances, but this is Colin Firth’s year. His turn as the stammering King George VI in the heart-warming and genuinely moving The King’s Speech will secure his future as “Oscar-winning actor, Colin Firth.”

Snubbed: I’m not a fan of boxing movies, but The Fighter is in my 2010 top five. Mark Wahlberg’s portrayal of Micky Ward was subtle, but he was the straight man in the film. So often the quiet performances are the ones ignored come Oscar time. Ryan Gosling was heartbreaking in Blue Valentine, even better than Michelle Williams, who scored a nod. Alas, there were too many great performances, not enough nominations.

Actor – Supporting

Should Win: Wow. Another category filled with deserving actors. I was thrilled to see John Hawkes rewarded for his dark, menacing role in Winter’s Bone. He’ll have trouble staying unnoticed as a character actor now. Jeremy Renner delivered the creepy thug goods in Ben Affleck’s The Town, and Geoffrey Rush was his usual impeccable self in The King’s Speech. Mark Ruffalo livened up The Kids Are All Right and more than held his own against the hugely talented Julianne Moore and Annette Bening. But it’s Christian Bale’s tremendous performance in The Fighter that deserves Oscar gold.

Will Win: When Christian Bale first appears on screen as Dicky Eklund in The Fighter, he is all but unrecognizable. He completely embodied the hotheaded, drug-abusing ex-boxer. The other four nominees don’t stand a chance.

Snubbed: Where’s the love for Matt Damon in True Grit? I thought he was just as good as nominees Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld, playing the comically gallant Texas Ranger, LaBoeuf.

Actress – Leading

Should Win: Once again, Hollywood lets the ladies down with a dearth of great leading roles. While all the actresses in this category delivered praise-worthy work, it seems the men continue to get the juiciest lead roles in the best movies. My pick for best actress in a leading role is the young Jennifer Lawrence, so vulnerable yet determined in Winter’s Bone. But she won’t win; her reward is the nomination. Ditto for Michelle Williams and Nicole Kidman, in the movies Blue Valentine and Rabbit Hole, respectively.

Will Win: This contest is thought to be a tight race between Natalie Portman, who takes the viewer on quite the psychological thrill ride in Black Swan, and Annette Bening, the harried, controlling wife and mother in The Kids Are All Right. While I thought Ms. Bening delivered a nicely nuanced performance opposite her talented costars, I fear she will miss out yet again on the prize. My money is on Natalie Portman, who deftly embodied the emotionally fractured Nina Sayers, and danced like a bona fide ballerina in toe shoes.

Snubbed: How do Annette Bening and Mark Ruffalo score nods, but Julianne Moore does not? As the free-spirited, slightly flaky other wife and mother in The Kids Are All Right, she is every bit as deserving. But I think the most egregious omission is Noomi Rapace, who took on the tough role of literary heroine Lisbeth Salander in all three Swedish film adaptations of Steig Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, and made it her own. Rapace was absolutely brilliant in each of the films, but my favorite was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Actress – Supporting

Should Win: Where to start? Hailee Steinfeld should have a long career ahead of her. She certainly held her own against veterans Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and Josh Brolin in True Grit. Jacki Weaver, an Australian treasure, was an unsettling force of nature as the matriarch of a crime family in the gritty, underappreciated Animal Kingdom. And Helena Bonham Carter traded her witch’s robes for royal garments in order to play the devoted, loving, and compassionate Queen Elizabeth in The King’s Speech. I’d love to see a tie between Amy Adams and Melissa Leo, who both rose to new acting heights in The Fighter. It’s more family drama than sports flick, and you’ll see Amy Adams in a whole new light. But if I have to pick one, Melissa Leo takes the prize for her tough-as-nails boxing manager mom.

Will Win: When the nominations were announced, this category seemed a fairly sure bet. Melissa Leo has won in most previous award ceremonies. However, that was before she took out a series of “For Your Consideration” advertisements in the press. It seems the one thing Hollywood frowns on is self-promotion. Go figure. If Melissa Leo’s name is not called, look for young Hailee Steinfeld to eke out a victory over BAFTA-winning Helena Bonham Carter.

Snubbed: There were many great supporting performances from women last year, but since there are only five nominations, somebody has to be left out in the cold. This year it’s Mila Kunis, who as Lily in Black Swan presented a sexy, confident counterpoint to Natalie Portman’s fragile Nina.


Should Win: This category is a hard one for me to call. I enjoyed all five films nominated for the directing award. The weakest in this category is probably Darren Aronofsky, but whether you liked Black Swan or not, it was visually and emotionally compelling. Most of you know I’m a huge fan of the Coen brothers, but although I really enjoyed True Grit, I don’t think it is their best work. That leaves David O. Russell, Tom Hooper, and David Fincher to duke it out for The Fighter, The King’s Speech, and The Social Network. Of the three, my favorite is The Social Network. I loved how Fincher directed the movie, cutting expertly back and forth to tell this incredible story of friendship and betrayal from various viewpoints and at break-neck speed. He’s my pick to win. (And I can’t wait to see what he does with the American version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, due in December.)

Will Win: Can modern-day class warfare and shady business deals top a British drama set on the verge of World War II? I firmly believe either David Fincher or Tom Hooper will take home the Oscar trophy. The DGA picked Tom Hooper, who elicited masterful performances from his cast of stars, and the Academy has a history of rewarding period pieces. In a close race, I’m predicting Hooper will be the Academy’s pick.

Snubbed: I suppose I should be thankful that Winter’s Bone received four nominations, given its low-budget independent status. But if it were up to me, I’d switch Darren Aronofsky with Debra Granik, for her starkly beautiful portrait of the Ozark mountain people and one family’s struggle to survive. (And no, I don’t think Christopher Nolan was unfairly excluded. There was a brilliant movie somewhere in the overall mess that was Inception, and if he’d done his job correctly he’d be here.)

Best Picture

Should Win: Surprise, surprise -- my favorite movie of 2010 was Winter’s Bone. It won’t win, but I think it should. My second favorite movie was The Social Network, and it’s a film I believe will stand the test of time. Ditto my third favorite, True Grit – and I don’t generally like Westerns. Truth is I’d be happy with any of the nominated movies winning, except for Inception, 127 Hours, or The Kids Are All Right. Yes, that’s correct. I wouldn’t mind Toy Story 3 winning. It was a great film, and the fact it’s animated takes nothing away from its brilliance.

Will Win: Another year, another ten films vie for the top prize. I’m warming to this new idea of rewarding more films, but it’s easy to weed out the five that weren’t nominated for directing. The awards for directing and picture matched last year, but they might not this year. I don’t think the Academy has enough of the youth vote to push The Social Network to the top. Therefore, The King’s Speech will march to victory and Oscar gold.

Snubbed: I actually think the Academy got it right, except for one surprising omission. Widely critically acclaimed, The Ghost Writer is the best movie from 2010 that no one seems to have seen. It’s basically an old-fashioned film noir set in the recent past, and it definitely owes a debt of gratitude to Alfred Hitchcock. Adapted from the Richard Harris novel, The Ghost, the film is expertly cast and superbly directed by Roman Polanski.

I don’t have strong feelings about the other awards, but I think it would be cool to see Trent Reznor on stage accepting the best original score award for The Social Network. Pixar Animation Studios could snag two awards: animated feature, Toy Story 3; and animated short film, Night and Day. The Writers Guild of America singled out Christopher Nolan for Inception, and Aaron Sorkin for The Social Network. It’s likely the Academy will do the same, though I’d prefer to see The Fighter or The King’s Speech take original screenplay. The documentary win should go to Inside Job, since Waiting for Superman failed to make the cut.

I’m looking forward to whatever James Franco and Anne Hathaway have in store for us on Oscar night. If you want to keep me company, be sure to bring a bottle of bubbly. I’ll make the popcorn!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Eleven in the Loew's Atlanta

How was dinner? I refused the free dessert.

Eleven, the restaurant in the new Loew's Atlanta in midtown, is a bit like the pretty girl you finally get up the nerve to approach, but then turns out to be nothing special; in fact, she turns out to be, well, all kinds of weird. Walking into the swank hotel lobby, everything seemed to be in order - doors were opened, greetings exchanged, and we were led quickly to a comfortable booth by the window. On a Thursday evening the dining room was mostly empty, but the bar was lively and filled with young hipster-types sipping pretty colored cocktails.

The first sign of trouble came when ordering drinks; our server was not of age, and had obviously never poured a glass of wine in her young life. Though apologetic, it took almost thirty full minutes to get our order. (And I counted no less than eight people manning the bar; couldn't one of them have stepped in and helped?) Even our appetizer of duck confit pizzetta made it to our table in less time. More weirdness--the pizzetta was unevenly cooked, and served at room temperature.

There were few highlights. The bread basket had decent cheese straws, a nod to their supposed Southern theme, and the sourdough bread was appropriately crispy and chewy. The meat entrees seem to work. An order of beef tenderloin was nicely cooked and flavorful. But a side order of wood-grilled asparagus was instead served steamed, and was covered with a heap of Parmesan cheese that looked - and tasted - as if it were poured straight from the green Kraft can. My husband enjoyed his beef short rib sandwich, and devoured the crispy ztf fries. ZTF? Zulu tango foxtrot? No, zero trans fat. Or as our server said, "Healthy fries!" But my local vegetable escabeche was a sorry mess, the only discernible flavor that of vinegar, which resulted in the baby carrots tasting exactly like the okra. The only way to tell these very different veggies apart was the texture. (The okra was a little mushier.) And the sourdough bread with house-made tapenade was over-salted and one-note.

I'm all for giving the kitchen a chance to work out its problems, but the first thing that needs improvement is the service. There are certain expectations of high-end luxury hotel chains, and Loew's needs to learn from the likes of the W and the Four Seasons. Perhaps if they do, I'll set foot in Eleven again.