Last night I had one of those “Wow, this is only happening because I live in NY and am friends with the right people” moments.

 

When a good friend of mine asked if I wanted to go with her to an advanced screening of August: Osage County, my immediate response was YES. Though I hadn’t seen the play, I knew enough about it to know that the film adaptation was going to be one of the most anticipated movies of this fall and winter’s sprint to the Oscars.

 

Tracey Letts’s words are often frightening, especially when they are lashed out at others from Meryl Streep who turns in yet another tour de force performance. (The woman can do no wrong.) While I was bothered at times by the audience laughing at some of the harsh truths and foul language flying out from her lipstick-stained mouth, one could argue that the laughter was a coping mechanism. It was bizarre hearing that kind of bitterness coming from Meryl Streep, but at the same time, there was no one else you’d rather hear it from.

 

The premise of the story seems simple – set in Osage County, Oklahoma, three grownup sisters (and their significant others) are reunited when their alcoholic father skips out on their prescription drug-addicted mother (who is suffering from mouth cancer).

 

This is where the simplicity ends.

 

Everyone in this film (except maybe the Native American cook/maid) has some serious problem(s) that they are mostly unwilling to share until it just boils up and explodes out of them like the alien in Alien. Every now and again, there is an outburst (or several) between family members that was the result of prolonged festering and avoidance.  People who seem close are actually strangers and those who wish themselves different from their bat-shit family members find themselves following in their footsteps.

 

The white house with the wraparound porch  in the middle of the Great Plains no longer screams “American Dream.” Instead, it’s a cautionary tale of what happens when isolation and suffocation take hold and there is no way out. Because in August: Osage County, even the path that seems to be an escape route is lined with obstacles nearly impossible to overcome.

 

I’m betting a lot of people will walk away from this film marveling at Julia Roberts’s performance. This is one of the least vain roles she’s ever taken on and she is deserving of whatever praise she will likely receive. (Those who know me best know I’m not a Julia fan… so if I’m saying she’s good, she’s good.) She manages to go head-to-head with Meryl Streep and come out on top in several key scenes. Curse words fly off of Roberts’s tongue,  much like Streep’s, and it’s almost jarring until you realize that these words are a necessity because there is no other way to get through to these incredibly stubborn characters.

 

This film is full of incredibly strong, yet at the same time incredibly weak, female characters. Each woman has her own strength, but it’s her faults that stand out and are targeted by everyone else in the film. These characters aim to tear each other down, and they all manage to succeed. It’s terrifying to watch, but you cannot look away.

 

Though this film focuses mostly on the women in the family, the male characters each have a purpose. Of the four male supporting roles (played by Chris Cooper, Ewan McGregor, Benedict Cumberbatch and Dermot Mulroney), I was BLOWN AWAY by Cooper. The father-son scenes between him and Cumberbatch (or him just talking about Cumberbatch’s character) were extremely poignant and made the truth about their relationship even more heartbreaking. Cooper was the least flawed of all the characters and his inherent likability was a life preserver I clung to throughout the film.

 

While this film boasted one of the best ensemble casts assembled, I am sad to admit that Ewan McGregor was the weak link of the film. Though he is one of my favorite actors of all time, his performance was not on the same level as everyone else. I don’t know if it was because he was working so hard to hide the accent, or that he looked like a bearded schoolboy up against the masterful Streep, but something felt off. He had a few decent scenes with Roberts, but on a whole, I was not impressed with his work in this film. (Sorry, Ewan!)

 

I won’t spoil any of the plot twists in this film, but there were several jaw-dropping reveals that kept the plot going and your interest levels up. The worst was finding out something horrific about the “good” characters… as if things weren’t already hard enough for them, they got an epic wrench thrown into the mix.

 

However, even though there were quite a few forks in the road, almost everything was wrapped up by the end of the film and there was some sense of closure among other aspects of ambiguity.

 

It’s a powerful film with a boat load of dialogue. This movie is heavy on the dialogue and doesn’t rely on a bunch of locations or any sort of special effects. It’s a story and you are more than interested to hear it out because you have to know how that family’s mess is going to end up.

 

Before we even went into the movie theater,  my friend and I were chosen to take part in a focus group after the film. There were made 30 of us and we were asked to expand upon a bunch of questions that we answered in a theater-wide survey after the film. We were the first people to see the film and there were filmmakers present to listen in on the focus group. (One of said filmmakers was Harvey Weinstein… we saw him outside of the theater in the lobby when we were finally released from the focus group and I almost had a heart attack. That man and his production companies are responsible for some of my favorite films of the past two decades. I was too nervous to approach him, but I did take a blurry picture of him from across the lobby.)

 

When August: Osage County is released in November, I highly recommend seeing this film. It’s a shoe-in for several acting nominations (Streep, Roberts, Margo Martindale, and *maybe* Cooper), as well as screenplay and Best Picture. (In addition to Weinstein being EP, George Clooney and Grant Heslov were two of the producers… those men are among the best producers working in film today.)

 

See this film. And then be eternally grateful that these people are not your family members.

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Oh, the Oscars. They are my Super Bowl. I make predictions with my sister, I am glued to the television from the red carpet through the announcement of Best Picture. Every year I hope they’ll be awesome, but most of the time they are just Meh. Last night had some definite highs and lows… and most of the highs were music-related.

There was a lot of hype about the 50-years of James Bond tribute. The video montage was pretty lame… a lot of clips cut together with colorful graphics photoshopped over them. However, when Shirley Bassey walked out and belted the theme to “Goldfinger,” I got chills. “Goldfinger” is one of the greatest Bond themes of all time and Shirley Bassey is no spring chicken. She NAILED that song and it was a privilege to listen to her sing it 🙂

Another Bond-related musical highlight was Adele singing “Skyfall” from Skyfall. That song is haunting in the best way possible. I heard the song before I saw the film and loved it, but I love it so much more now having seen the movie and knowing what Skyfall is. The lyrics are clever and are just so simple yet beautiful. Plus, Adele is friggin’ flawless. Girl can SING. Yes, the sound levels were wonky, but she pushed through and owned that song. I was so glad it won Best Song because it was my favorite song out of all the songs that were nominated. Adele can do no wrong. Plus, she’s gorgeous as all get out and her accent is so friggin’ charming. She says “Fank You.” ADORABLE.

Barbra Streisand singing “The Way We Were” at the end of the In Memoriam section to honor the late, great Marvin Hamlisch. I have seen so many articles incorrectly reporting that the title of this song is “Memories.” IT IS NOT “MEMORIES,” IT’S “THE WAY WE WERE”, AS IN THE THEME SONG FROM THE MOVIE OF THE SAME F–KING NAME. I cannot properly put into words how angry it makes me that there are entertainment reporters and whatnot who have gotten the title of the song wrong. It’s a super famous song, it’s an Academy Award winning song, and it’s the same name as the super famous movie it’s from… really, what is so hard about that? Regardless.. Barbra was wonderful and her performance brought a tear to my eye because I love that song, I love her, and I love Marvin Hamlisch. 

As amazing as these three women were, Jennifer Hudson stole the night with her performance of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.” JHud took us to church and back – girl can SING and sing she did. That song is the #1 reason why she won the Oscar (much like “I Dreamed a Dream” was the only reason Anne Hathaway won her Oscar last night) and it’s amazing to see her and listen to her perform it. JHud pours everything into that song and there is no way you’re not going to love her for it.

There were several other notable musical moments of the night. Host Seth MacFarlane sang a song about seeing women’s boobs during his opening monologue. Catherine Zeta Jones looked amazing as she lip synched her way through a sexy rendition of “All That Jazz.” Also, the cast of Les Mis came out and sang “Suddenly” and “One Day More.” 

Oh, Russell Crowe – I bet you are waiting until you never have to associate yourself with that movie (or musicals) ever again. Major props to him for singing with everyone… turns out his uncomfortable live singing on film translates to the same uncomfortable live singing on television. I felt awkward while watching at home, but luckily Aaron Tveit quickly appeared on my tv with a smolder that announced his presence with authority and I quickly forgot about Crowe. To be honest, I was mostly trying to listen/watch the younger crowd from Les Mis as they sang. I love Jackman, but SBC and HBC both looked super annoyed that they were there (Were they in character? Or were they just like “I’m so over this too…”?) Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne were good, as was Samantha Barks (Though what was up with her tiny waist?! Was that a corset, or is she naturally disproportionate?). I avoided watching Hathaway at all costs. She has a lovely voice and was good in the movie, but I’m just so over her in general that I tend to tune her out nowadays.

It was not a surprise that Hathaway won Best Supporting Actress even though she tried to make it seem as such. You already got the Oscar, kid, no need to try to win an Oscar for winning an Oscar. Her speech – especially that forced quote/soundbite at the end – was grating. She won almost everything under the sun this season… frankly, I was tired of her.

I was not tired of Jennifer Lawrence, though. Man, I could listen to her speeches all the time… not only did she bite it on her way up to the stage, but she called everyone out for giving her a pity-induced Standing O. (Four for you, JLaw!) 

My other two favorite speeches of the night were from the Argo crowd. Screenwriter Chris Terrio gave a really heartfelt speech and managed to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time. He was eloquent and sincere and I really respected his shout out to Affleck and recognizing that he was in a similar spot years ago and how he has allowed Terrio the same opportunity. Great speech, bro.

And then there was the Argo/Best Picture speech. Producer George Clooney stood there silently while Grant Heslov took the mic. (Every time I see Heslov, I immediately think of him in True Lies saying, “They call him the Sand Spider… Probably because it sounds scary.”) Heslov’s joke about the three sexy producers was funny and then he had some nice things to say about the people he worked with. He eventually passed the speech to Affleck and he mumbled his way through thanking people and making a bit of an ass out of himself when talking about “working” with his wife. But then Affleck got serious and I might have gotten a little choked up. He talked about the opportunities that so many people in the room gave him even when he couldn’t offer them much more than hard work (my words, not his). He spoke about how you can’t hold grudges and that even though you get knocked down, you gotta get back up. It was a bit cliche, but it was also really really true. Affleck has been kicked around by the entertainment industry for over a decade. He was celebrated at a young age for his screenwriting/Good Will Hunting-ness with Matt Damon, but quickly got sucked into tabloid land with his relationship with JLo and some of his less awesome movies (Forces of Nature, Gigli, etc…). However, over the years, he completely picked himself back up and has made a name for himself as a talented filmmaker. He seems to have a wonderful family life with Jennifer Garner and their kids. He has directed three critically acclaimed feature films. He became the poster boy for snubbed artists when he didn’t get nominated for Best Director. At this point, Affleck doesn’t need a Best Director Oscar to tell him he’s doing okay. He’ll get one eventually. But, for now, he’s the guy who made an amazing film that took home every major guild award, as well as the Oscar for Best Picture. Ben Affleck is a serious filmmaker and I’m excited for anything and everything that he’ll direct in years to come.

Seth MacFarlane did a decent job as host. I thought most of his opening was amusing. I liked his Flying Nun bit he did with Sally Field and how he sang and danced with Channing Tatum, Charlize Theron, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Daniel Radcliffe. My favorite bit he did the whole night was the Sound of Music gag when introducing Christopher Plummer. I laughed out loud – that was brilliant. 

I won the Oscar ballot battle between myself and my sister. I got 18/24 categories right and she got 16/24. The win felt good after she shellacked me during the Golden Globes.

Did you watch the Oscars? What were your favorite or least favorite moments?

Oscar day is my own personal holiday. For the past 10 years or so, I have written down my sister and my predictions for what we think the Academy will honor. (In addition to our predictions for Golden Globes ceremonies, etc…) So far I have never lost between the two of us… though this year I was cutting it close. I only out-predicted her by one category (Thank you, Best Editing). My gray notebook only has 3 pages left in it, so this time next year, I will have to start up a new notebook. But my old gray notebook that I have dragged around from state to state (I’ve moved 6 times in the past 10 years…) will forever be close at hand, as it truly holds the beginnings of my epic love for all things Oscars.

I will probably just do a quick-ish post tonight and expand on my thoughts of tonight’s ceremony a bit more in depth a little later this week.

However, I will say that while I was not overly impressed with this year’s telecast, it wasn’t the worst one I’ve ever seen either. I was really looking forward to James Franco and Anne Hathaway hosting. Hathaway seemed to really embrace her job and kept a super happy/really into it attitude the whole night. She seemed excited to be introducing the people throughout the night, and I thought it was super cute of her to high-5 those PS22 kids at the end 🙂

Franco turned in a very Franco performance. He cracked some jokes, seemed a bit aloof at points, and gave some awkward line readings. But I dig his humor, and for the amount of stuff this guy is involved in, I think he did a pretty all right job with what little time he probably had to prepare. I think James Franco is a hoot, but I also totally respect him as an actor. For ever General Hospital or Pineapple Express performance (which j’adore…), he gives a serious turn in Milk, Howl and 127 Hours (which I still need to see, but it’s in my Netflix queue). He’s really talented, and probably a lot smarter than people give him credit for.

Things I disliked about the show:

– Kirk Douglas’s introduction of Best Supporting Actress. I totally respect Kirk Douglas and am well aware of his cinematic legacy and the roles he played back in the day. But it is super hard to understand him, and even though he was cracking some decent jokes, they came at an epically slow pace (not the best way to spend time in the early hours of the show).

– Melissa Leo – Granted, her performance in The Fighter was amazing. But I really lost a lot of respect for her with those ads she put out for her nomination. And then she totally dropped the F word. And I’m sure it’s really shocking to win an Oscar, but pull yourself together woman. It’s your time to shine, but standing up there and gawking and rambling is less than classy. Especially when you probably knew you were going to win anyway… geez.

– Misuse of the set – I loved how they were using the back of the set to display scenes and moments from old films. But, after the first half hour or so, they didn’t do that anymore. I don’t even really like Gone with the Wind, but I was in awe of how they were using the set to show the fire scene… that was just gorgeous. But then after the Shrek bit, they didn’t use that backdrop to its full potential. Sadness 😦

– People with lists. Yes, I’m talkin’ about you, Colleen Atwood. I love your costume designs for Alice in Wonderland, but your speech was so robotic and boring because of your list. Boo.

What I did like:

– The opening bit. I’m a sucker for when people comedically insert themselves into films. And I was a big fan of James and Anne getting into the Delorean… punch that shit into 88 mph!!! (Back to the Future is one of my all time favorite movies… totally in my Top 20 favorite movies I could watch over and over again, for sure. Plus that score/theme is AMAZING.)

– The Best Score/Best Song presentations – I am also a sucker for ridiculously moving scores. So, before they introduced this year’s nominees for Best Score, I was all over that little medley of past Best Score winners. The theme from Star Wars will always have a special place in my heart (I love Star Wars like you don’t even know… and was totally obsessed with it in middle school. And even now I still love it… I wear a Yoda Hat.) And then the theme from Lawrence of Arabia… be still my heart! That is one of the most gorgeous pieces of film music EVER. If ever there were a score that could make your ears pregnant, it’s definitely the theme music from Lawrence of Arabia. I dare you to not fall in love with it. I need to rewatch that movie… for the music (and Peter O’Toole) are to die for. And even though I HATE E.T., the music is pretty pimp. And how about those Best Songs? I wasn’t really familiar with any of them, but I dug them all. Randy Newman is always great. And I love Mandy Moore, but I had NO IDEA that Zachary Levi could sing like that! I don’t watch Chuck, and yet now I am a little bit in love with Zachary Levi just because he can sing… And I like that lady from Florence and the Machine, so that song was pretty cool. And, even though I’m not a huge country music fan, I like Gwenyth Paltrow and appreciate that she actually sings pretty well live. Yay music.

The “movie musicals” bit. I laughed so hard I was almost in tears at this auto-tuned mess of songs from HP7, Toy Story 3, The Social Network and Eclipse.

– 4 wins for Inception AND The King’s Speech – They were my two favorite movies of the year, so I was thrilled that they both walked away with some serious hardware. This probably sounds snobby, but I like that movies that I thought were good were recognized as the “best” in their respective categories by the Academy. It kinda reinforces, for me, that my taste in movies doesn’t suck 🙂 I mean, I see and love crappy movies too, but when I am really into a movie that also happens to be critically acclaimed, it makes me feel like I kinda know what I’m doing when it comes to understanding why a film is good. I mean, I can read a critic’s review and know of other people’s opinions and whatnot of a film, but when I go see a film and formulate my own thoughts before reading anything from critics and it turns out what I thought of the film is similar/the same as what the critics said, then I feel good about my abilities to understand the grammar of film. While I may not be the best when it comes to the grammar of the English language, I take pride in my quest to further understand the grammar of film. My Film Theory and Criticism class in grad school helped immensely when it comes to this, but since high school I have been reading up on and doing some independent study in this area. I know I’m a dork, but I do think of film as a language and am very much interested in continuing to learn how the various components of filmmaking are used as audio and visual forms of communication.

– There were some pretty solid acceptance speeches. Randy Newman never disappoints. I was moved by Christian Bale and Natalie Portman’s speeches, as well as the writer of The King’s Speech and Tom Hooper.

Well, I’m tuckered, so I’m going to head to bed… I’ll write more about the Oscars tomorrow or Tuesday.

Have a good one