Tag Archives: films

10 great political films for a stranger-than-fiction race

There are some wonderful idealistic films about American politics, warm with optimism and belief in Washington’s system. None of them resemble this election season.

Yet for a presidential campaign that has felt more like “Mad Max: Fury Road” than “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” there are still plenty of films that suit the moment and may just offer a desperately needed break from television news in the final days before Tuesday.

There are a lot of ways one could program a pre-election movie night, some of them drawn along party lines. Supporters of Hillary Clinton, for instance, might enjoy screening Mike Judge’s prescient “Idiocracy” or, to see a less-than-presidential cameo from Donald Trump, Ben Stiller’s “Zoolander.” Voters for Trump, on the other hand, might want to, with tongues in cheek, turn on “You’ve Got Mail.”

But before the real ballots are in, let’s cast votes for 10 of the best political films, many of which shine all the brighter with relevance these days:

  1. “Weiner.” In many ways the movie of the year is Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg’s documentary about Anthony Weiner, the woebegone former New York congressman who has proven an unexpectedly central figure ahead of the election. “Weiner” chronicles his initially promising but ultimately doomed 2013 mayoral campaign, with his wife and top Clinton aide, Huma Abedin, by his side. Beware: This is politics as horror film. Watch with your eyes half-covered.
  2. “A Face in the Crowd.” Elia Kazan’s 1957 classic about a populist fraud has proven salient in more elections than one. In arguably his greatest performance, Andy Griffith stars as an Arkansas drifter, Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes, who rises from a small radio station to great heights of national television and power, only to be brought down by his womanizing and disgust for common people. “I’m not just an entertainer,” he declares. “I’m an influence, a wielder of opinion, a force!”
  3. “Election.” An ambitious, uber-prepared blonde woman running for president is nearly thwarted by those who innately detest her. No, Reese Witherspoon’s high school president-to-be Tracy Flick isn’t Clinton. But in Alexander Payne’s darkly comic satire, there are some  similarities between the two, and the extreme reactions they provoke.
  4. “All the President’s Men.” The keystrokes are sounded with the oomph of cannon blasts in Alan Pakula’s Fourth Estate classic, with Redford and Dustin Hoffman as Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. The excellent “Spotlight” drew deserved comparisons to this 1976 film, but “All the President’s Men” reigns supreme as a procedural portrait of journalism and American democracy.
  5. “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” Who should have their finger on the button? In Stanley Kubrick’s classic farce, not only were the fears of nuclear command and control satirically undressed, so was a war-crazy, sex-obsessed all-male government.
  6. “Bulworth.” Warren Beatty is now returning with his first film as writer-director since this 1998 comedy. Still fresh today, it’s about a disillusioned California senator (Beatty) who, with plans to commit suicide, decides to tell the truth. The political system, as if coming in contact with a toxic foreign substance for the first time, recoils in disgust.
  7. “Advise and Consent.” The title, pulled from the clause in the Constitution, refers to the nomination process of Supreme Court judges and other president-appointed positions. Otto Preminger’s dense and dark 1962 film set on Capitol Hill is about a Secretary of State nominee (Henry Fonda) with a hidden past. Of course, Congress’s advising and consenting of such positions, like Supreme Court judges, has ever since gone absolutely smoothly and has had little bearing on the election. OK, maybe not.
  8. “In the Loop.” Before there was “Veep,” there was “In the Loop” (and the equally sharp BBC series “The Thick of It”). No one has pulled back the curtain on politics quite like Armando Iannucci, whose foul-mouthed, aide-surrounded officials sway — comically, desperately — with the winds of daily news cycles.
  9. “Lincoln.” The biopic-like title, in a way, distracts from the point of Steven Spielberg’s 2012 drama. No other film has more fully captured the dirty, horse-trading business of the legislative process, in all its colorful and compromising sweep. To get anything done, a politician must say one thing to one set of people, and another to another set. “Two-faced,” that common slur of elected officials, is the nature of the business.
  10. “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.” There’s perhaps no greater political truth in all of movies than that famous line from John Ford’s 1962 film: “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” Ford’s film was a Western, the genre in which we work out what America is, plus horses. In “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” a more complicated truth lies behind the rise of James Stewart’s respected senator. The newspaper of the film might not print it, but Ford does.

Honorable mentions: “Wag the Dog,” “The Manchurian Candidate,” “Milk,” “Charlie Wilson’s War,” “The Great McGinty,” “No.”


Wee, weird heroes star in ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home’

After a steady stream this year of Batman, Superman, Captain America, X-Men and even Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, it’s time now for a group of kids who float, are invisible, who spark fire, manipulate plants, control bees and give life to inanimate objects. Not really, X-Men exactly. Call them X-Tweens.

They’re the unlikely young heroes and heroines of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, the Tim Burton-directed 3-D film loosely based on the novel of the same name by Ransom Riggs.

Sweet, with some mind-blowing visual effects, it’s the perfect film for your young disaffected mutant friends.

Asa Butterfield (Martin Scorsese’s Hugo) plays a young adult who stumbles upon a secret refuge for supernaturally gifted youngsters hiding in a time loop in 1943.

Our hero befriends the mysterious schoolmarm Miss Peregrine (a delicious Eva Green, channeling a sexy Mary Poppins by way of Helena Bonham Carter) and learns that the children are in danger from ever-growing malevolent forces.

Burton is a natural choice to direct: The material already has that gloomy, Victorian vibe, a stylized dreamlike quality and a sort of Goth-punk look, which is catnip to the director of Edward Scissorhands.

He also famously adores misfits; here, the screen is filled with them.

No surprise the job of turning the book into a film was handed to Jane Goldman, who is familiar both with mutants and the 1940s, having been the screenwriter for X-Men: First Class. A somewhat ponderous first half leads to a hard-charging second, filled with ingenious fight-scenes, glorious ocean liners and sublime underwater moments.

The film should come with a Harry Potter-like warning for those allergic to new whimsical vocabulary terms like “ymbrines,” “Hollows” and “hollowgasts.”

But go with it.

Your head will be in pain soon enough trying to make sense of the increasingly elaborate rules of time-travel and body shifting.

The peculiar children of the film’s title are certainly unique but you can find plenty of other films in the DNA of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, particularly skeleton soldiers from Jason and the Argonauts, the X-Men franchise for making freaks lovable, Groundhog Day and even the underappreciated Hayden Christensen film Jumper, which also has time shifting at its core and the same sort of evil force in Samuel L. Jackson.

Hyper-stylized films like Burton’s usually create stiff performances, but Terence Stamp is grounded as a knowing grandfather and Chris O’Dowd is perfectly oafish as a clueless dad.

Other cameos are by Judi Dench, Allison Janney and Rupert Everett (blink and you miss them). Ella Purnell is lovely and understated as a love interest; she’s buoyant, in more ways than one.

So stretch your definition of heroes to include, say, a cute little girl with razor-sharp teeth on the back of her head. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children has all the making of a super franchise — the call of destiny, the making of heroes and the embrace of kinship. Plus, of course, coming to terms with your inner freak.

For a few Oscar doc nominees, films incite change

When it came to gaining the trust of the subjects featured in her latest Oscar-nominated documentary, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy had an advantage.

“It helps to be an Academy Award winner,” joked Obaid-Chinoy, who won the best documentary Oscar for her 2012 short film “Saving Face” about the suffering of women disfigured by acid attacks in the Middle East.

The Pakistani filmmaker was among the nominated documentarians on hand for a Wednesday event at the motion picture academy honoring this year’s documentary Oscar nominees ahead of Sunday’s ceremony.

Obaid-Chinoy is up for another Academy Award this year for her short documentary “A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness.” The film, which is about a girl who was shot and thrown into a river by her father after she married a man he did not approve of, is among this year’s documentary nominees affecting change in the world.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif vowed Monday to act against the “despicable” practice known as honor killing after viewing Obaid-Chinoy’s film.

“If you’re cynical about the Oscars, think about that for a second,” she told the crowd at the motion picture academy’s headquarters.

“A Girl in the River” is up against the Ebola clean-up chronicle “Body Team 12,” the Vietnamese artist profile “Chau, Beyond the Lines,” the behind-the-scenes-of-“Shoah” saga “Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah” and the animated post-traumatic stress disorder narrative “Last Day of Freedom.”

“The Look of Silence” filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer similarly raved that his work about Indonesian genocide prompted the government to recognize the mass killings of communists and ethnic Chinese following the release of his previous film, 2012’s “The Act of Killing.”

“It was this wonderful moment not lost on ordinary Indonesians because it was the first time that the government had even implicitly said what happened was wrong,” said Oppenheimer.

“The Look of Silence,” which serves as a follow-up to “The Act of Killing,” is nominated for the feature documentary prize alongside the Amy Winehouse profile “Amy,” the Mexican drug war expose “Cartel Land,” the Nina Simone biography “What Happened, Miss Simone?” and the revolt chronicle “Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom.”

On the Web


Fashion and film find romance in ‘The Looks of Love’

Fashion and style have forever been in bed with film, television and music, especially in the moments that scream love.

We all have our top pop memories of romance, lust, marriage and heartbreak from those worlds and more, including the beauty industry and the world of advertising. In a new book, The Looks of Love: 50 Moments in Fashion That Inspired Romance, insider and designer Hal Rubenstein has rounded up some of his. 

We asked him to illuminate his favorites from the book, recently released by Harper Design in plenty of time for Valentine’s Day:


Rubenstein calls 1970s Love Story a “cheaply produced, poorly shot and badly edited” film of Erich Segal’s runaway best-selling book. Both had fans weeping by the millions. Among the reasons the film did well were the genetically blessed stars, Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal, but coming as it did in the ascendancy of Woodstock, with its bell-bottoms and beaded necklaces, Love Story ironically led the way for preppy style. Forever.

In his Harris Tweed blazers over Shetland sweaters and blue Oxford cloth shirts with collars out, O’Neal’s Ollie might well have been raised by the sales staff of Brooks Brothers, Rubenstein said. MacGraw’s Jenny, meanwhile, walked a protest-free campus in a peacoat, black turtleneck and plaid skirt with matching scarf once the book (thanks to a plug of gold from fan Barbara Walters) hit the big screen the year after the seismic Woodstock.


Her Bob Mackie gowns and long, straight raven hair are legendary, as are his furry vests and Prince Valiant ’dos. But there’s something else, Rubenstein said, besides their break-out duets that hit the Top 40 in 1965. They followed up with The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour that premiered on CBS in 1971, ending in 1974.

The two fell out of love and divorced in 1975. Both had short-lived solo TV shows before CBS persuaded them in 1976 to reunite as a divorced couple in the same time slot on Sunday nights.

“They were the first high-profile couple ever to appear public divorced and getting along,” Rubenstein, 65, said. “When I was a kid you said the word divorce the same way everybody said the word cancer. And they basically said, ‘Here we are and we’re having a good time,’ and it changed people’s attitudes toward divorce.”


With Taylor Swiftian efficiency, James Dean’s rise to teen idol started with his debut as the troubled Cal Trask in East of Eden. The film served as a 1953 counterpart to the more macho stars of the previous generation — Humphrey Bogart, Gary Cooper, Gregory Peck and even Marlon Brando, just seven years Dean’s senior, Rubenstein writes.

Trask was followed in 1955 by Dean’s portrayal of the vulnerable, unsure Jim Stark, who wears his teen heart on the sleeve of a red nylon windbreaker in Rebel Without a Cause. It’s not easy looking that cool in a red zip windbreaker, but Dean pulls it off.

Offscreen, he was more closely associated with Schott NYC Perfecto black leather motorcycle jackets. He never wore one in a movie but Brando did and the Perfecto line of leather jackets lives on. 

“There is not a leather jacket out there that is not stolen from that Schott jacket,” Rubenstein said.

Here’s the list of Oscar nominees

The Academy Awards nominees were announced today. The Oscar telecast will be Feb. 28 on ABC.

The nominees are …


The Big Short

Bridge of Spies


Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant




The Big Short

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Revenant




Bryan Cranston, Trumbo

Matt Damon, The Martian

Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs

Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl


Cate Blanchett, Carol

Brie Larson, Room

Jennifer Lawrence, Joy

Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years

Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn


Christian Bale, The Big Short

Tom Hardy, The Revenant

Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight

Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies

Sylvester Stallone, Creed


Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight

Rooney Mara, Carol

Rachel McAdams, Spotlight

Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl

Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs



Boy and the World

Inside Out

Shaun the Sheep Movie When Marnie Was There



The Hateful Eight

Mad Max: Fury Road The Revenant





The Danish Girl

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Revenant



Cartel Land

The Look of Silence

What Happened, Miss Simone?

Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom


Body Team 12

Chau, beyond the Lines

Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah

The Girl on the River: The Price of Forgiveness Last Day of Freedom


The Big Short

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Revenant


Star Wars: The Force Awakens


Ave Maria

Day One

Everything Will Be Okay (Alles Wird Gut) Shok



Embrace of the Serpent Mustang

Son of Saul


A War


Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant


Star Wars: The Force Awakens


Mad Max: Fury Road

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared

The Revenant


Bridge of Spies

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Star Wars: The Force Awakens


Bridge of Spies


The Hateful Eight


Star Wars: The Force Awakens


Ex Machina

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Star Wars: The Force Awakens


“Earned It,” Fifty Shades of Grey

“Manta Ray,” Racing Extinction

“Simple Song #3,” Youth

“Til It Happens To You,” The Hunting Ground

“Writing’s On The Wall,” Spectre


The Big Short



The Martian



Bridge of Spies

The Danish Girl

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant


Bridge of Spies

Ex Machina

Inside Out


Straight Outta Compton


Bear Story


Sanjay’s Super Team

We Can’t Live without Cosmos World of Tomorrow


Madeline Kahn biography goes beyond the laughs

She was delightful in “Paper Moon” and “Blazing Saddles,” then uproarious as the monster’s tuneful bride in “Young Frankenstein.” Yet Madeline Kahn often didn’t seem to appreciate her comedic talent, even though it kept her close to the hearts of audiences for three decades.

That’s just one of the many sad notes that arise from “Madeline Kahn: Being the Music, A Life,” William V. Madison’s well-researched and insightful biography of Kahn, once hailed by New York Times critic Vincent Canby as possibly the funniest woman in films. Imagine getting such an accolade if being funny isn’t really your goal.

Performing wasn’t Kahn’s idea of a career anyway, at least not in the beginning. Boston-born and raised in New York City, she discovered theater at the boarding school where her self-centered mother had all but dumped her to pursue her own theatrical ambitions. The stage became little Madeline’s means of self-expression, but her mother pushed voice and music lessons.

Paula Kahn was a manipulative force throughout Madeline’s life. She drove away her daughter’s birth father and later her adoptive father, then relied on Madeline for money. Her daughter the star seldom said no, even when Paula included bills with a birthday card or expected Madeline to finance a one-woman show to display Paula’s talents, such as they were.

Madison connects Kahn’s insecure childhood to her grown-up insecurities onstage and off. “As an adult, Madeline was often wary of people, and not just in the expected way of a star concerned that others will try to exploit her celebrity,” he writes. “Even with close friends, she could remain guarded, and her romantic relationships were marked by varying degrees of mistrust. She balked at the idea of marriage, almost to the end of her days.”

Kahn planned to go into teaching. Encouraged by her high school drama teacher, she performed a dramatic monologue as part of an audition for a drama scholarship at Hofstra College. But it was her second monologue, a comic one, that drew a response – laughter – from the professors sitting in the darkened theater.

Her voice had the range for opera, Madison writes, but even with more training it lacked the muscle needed to project in an opera house. Working in stage musicals and at the New York cabaret Upstairs at the Downstairs, Kahn drew positive reviews for sketch work and humorous songs.

She had the good fortune in the early 1970s to work with two filmmakers at their best. She appeared in Peter Bogdanovich’s “What’s Up, Doc?” (1972) and “Paper Moon” (1973) and in Mel Brooks’ breakout hits, “Blazing Saddles” and “Young Frankenstein,” both in 1974. Nominated for supporting actress Oscars for “Paper Moon” and “Blazing Saddles,” she was pegged as a gifted laugh-getter.

Still, vulgar flourishes before the cameras didn’t come easily to Kahn. Naturally reserved, she was bothered that people assumed she was a bawdy, slightly ditzy woman. Brooks tells Madison, “Intellectually and mentally, she was probably superior to anyone and everyone she worked with, and actually probably had to hide her brilliance a little.”

She had more than her share of bad luck professionally. Appearing in the Richard Rodgers’ production “Two by Two” in 1970, she watched its insecure star, Danny Kaye, pare down her role. The 1978 musical “On the Twentieth Century” was a legendary Broadway disaster for her – she left the show two months into its yearlong run at the request of the producers. Mediocre to bad movies and TV shows threatened to overwhelm her credits even as they provided money for her and her mother.

In Madison’s telling, Kahn was full of anxieties when it came to performing and often lacked confidence in her own abilities. A hard worker who could rise above bland material, she performed steadily through the 1980s and 1990s. Her Tony-winning turn in “The Sisters Rosensweig” in 1993 and the little-seen indie movie “Judy Berlin” in 1999 hinted at what else she could do.

Kahn died of ovarian cancer at 57 in 1999. She never had children and married her longtime boyfriend just two months before her death, thus shielding her actors’ pensions from the tax man. People who like to laugh lost a welcome presence in their lives. They will never know how much more Kahn could have given them if she’d had the chance.

Douglass K. Daniel is the author of “Tough as Nails: The Life and Films of Richard Brooks” (University of Wisconsin Press).

Wisconsin Film Festival unreels a week of flicks

Movie buff Jim Healy’s life is governed by a single credo: There are no new films or old films, only films that he hasn’t yet seen.

The sentiment aptly describes the Wisconsin Film Festival, Madison’s annual cinematic blowout that this year will unspool some 160 films of varying lengths for a growing body of rabid film fans. 

Healy has been the festival’s head of programming for about four years, and started as the first programming director of the UW-Madison Cinematheque, the longstanding on-campus film program. He’s deeply steeped in the cinematic arts — before coming to Madison, he worked at Chicago’s International Film Festival and spent time as an assistant curator at the George Easton House film archive, and he says he watches 650 films a year, only about 150 of those repeat viewings. At the Wisconsin Film Festival, in its 17th year, he and his fellow programmers will be featuring what he says is one of the best film lineups in several years. 

“We try and show the best possible films from around the world that otherwise might not be available to Madison audiences,” says Healy. “We’re looking for film artistry and craftsmanship that provide greater insight into the human experience.”

Multiple themes emerge throughout the 2015 festival’s short films and full-length features. There are internationally known documentaries and a “Wisconsin’s Own” section, which honors the work of local filmmakers and those with Badger State roots. There are titles from the new German cinema, as well as a handful of films from emerging French women directors.

This year’s lineup also features an homage to Orson Welles, one of filmmaking’s first great auteurs. Welles was born 100 years ago this May in Kenosha, and spent part of his childhood in Madison. 

The biggest Welles picture in the bunch is 1966’s “Chimes at Midnight,” which depicts Shakespeare’s character Falstaff in a mashup of the Bard’s three Henriad plays, “The Merry Wives of Windsor” and “Richard II,” and is rarely screened due to ongoing legal battles. The festival will also show the documentary “Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles,” romantic drama “Crack in the Mirror” and even “Too Much Johnson,” Welles’ first film, which was made in 1938 and has been lost and unseen for more than 70 years. (A silver nitrate print was discovered in Italy in 2013 and preserved by the George Eastman House.)

Healy urges fans to look for new films from countries or done in styles the viewers may not have seen before, and there are certainly a great many of those. Some films are presented in partnership with each other for added effect. “Gunman’s Walk,” a 1958 western that makes innovative use of CinemaScope and features ‘50s teen heartthrob Tab Hunter, is paired with “Tab Hunter Confidential,” a 2015 documentary that examines the decline of Hunter’s career after the public discovered he was gay. Hunter himself provides some of the candid narration.

Healy admires many films on the program but, when pressed, identified three must-see features:

La Sapienza (2014) is a joint French/Italian production, which celebrates art, architecture and human relationships in a very unusual way, Healy says. In the film, a childless French couple encounter teen siblings while visiting Italy. The younger girl is subject to fainting spells, so the elder woman stays to watch over her while her husband takes the brother, an aspiring architect, to see the great buildings of Rome.

“It’s a little bit off the traditional narrative path,” Healy explains. “It’s almost rigorously straightforward in the way it tells the story of artistic and spiritual renewal by an architect who has reached a rut in his life.”

The Great Man (La Grand Homme) (2014), a French film that’s part of the French women director’s series, is deeply moving and very compelling, Healy says. Its main characters are a pair of French legionnaires, one of whom saves the other’s life, and the savior’s son, whose status in the country is jeopardized when his father chooses not to leave him again and return to war.

“This strikes me as one of the most urgent contemporary films about undocumented immigrants and friendship and parents raising children and international issues,” Healy says. “The film’s great strength is that you’re not quite sure where the story is taking you, and that’s best left unsaid because of all the surprises in the film.”

White God (2014) is a Hungarian film that reimagines Lassie Come Home as a canine revenge movie, says Healy.

“This is another unpredictable film that begins like a coming-of-age story and ends as a violent revenge fantasy told from the viewpoint of a dog,” Healy says. “With its great use of sound, imagery and filmmaking technique, it’s a film of surprises that successfully changes its tone halfway through.

“It’s one of the best and most entertaining movies I’ve seen in the last year,” he adds.

And for someone who sees as many films as Healy does, that’s saying a lot.

Wisconsin Film Festival: by the Numbers

Now in its 17th year, the Wisconsin Film Festival attracts a very strong following locally, as well as from around the state and the Midwest. We’ve crunched some of the festival’s more important numbers so you can appreciate its magnitude. For a full schedule, visit wifilmfest.org.

Dates: April 9-16, 2015

Number of films: 160 films of varying lengths shown in 107 programs, many of which repeat twice.

Number of venues: Eight screens in six different venues, including three screens at Sundance Cinema. The venues are:

• UW Cinematheque, Rm. 4070, Vilas Hall, 621 University Ave.

• UW Chazen Museum of Art, Auditorium, 750 University Ave.

• UW Union South, The Marquee, 1308 Dayton St.

• Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Overture Center, 201 State St.

• Capitol Theater, Overture Center, 201 State St.

• Sundance Cinema, Hilldale Shopping Center, 730 N. Midvale Blvd.

Ticket prices: A festival pass is $300; individual showings are $10 each, $8 for students, seniors, UW affiliates and military. All venues are general admission, but festival pass holders get priority seating.

Total attendees: Arrive early for each showing to be guaranteed a seat. Past festivals have attracted upwards of 30,000 people annually.

Host Neil Patrick Harris welcomes a Kanye moment at the Oscars

Neil Patrick Harris might use his job as Oscar host as a way to meet his favorite stars.

“I have, essentially, an all-access pass to the theater,” Harris said during a recent interview. “So I love being able to stand there and say hello to people I’ve never met before. I’m very easily star struck, so it’ll be very exciting to shake hands with celebrities.”

Harris has hosted the Emmys twice and the Tony Awards four times — and has won both awards. On Sunday, he takes on his first Oscar show. The multitalented entertainer took a few minutes between rehearsals to talk with The Associated Press about his plans for the big night.

AP: How is preparing to host the Oscars different from the Tonys or Emmys?

Harris: I want to make sure my content is inclusive of everyone watching, and more people watch the Oscars than any other awards show probably combined. I have more filters probably, in terms of content…  The Oscars — it’s ritual for many people. They see it every single year, and all around the world. So I want to be a little classier and try to be a bit more mainstream while trying to maintain a wink and a nod to those in the know.

AP: You watched all the past Oscar hosts as part of your research. Who stood out for you, and who would you most like to emulate?

Harris: My initial answer would probably be Billy Crystal. I was just the right age to be so taken by movies as an idea, and he had such joy and exuberance about the world of film… But as I’ve done more research, I’m more even impressed now by the older-school generation of Johnny Carson, Bob Hope, and their ability to stand in one place and make (people) feel comfortable just in their demeanor. Because it’s a very classy night — everyone’s in their tuxedoes and fancy dresses — so I’m hoping to make it feel like an A-list dinner party that you get to come and attend.

AP: How nervous are you?

Harris: Well, my job as host is to not be nervous when the show is happening. But I think, in life, being nervous about something that’s forthcoming is very helpful, whether it’s an awards show or a family gathering or a job interview. If you’re too calm and confident, then I think you aren’t executing to the best of your ability. So I try not to let nerves get the best of me, but I welcome them because it tends to fuel me to try harder.

AP: What are you most excited about for the evening?

Harris: I’m hoping that we come in just under five hours. If we can beat that mark, then I feel like it’s a success.

AP: Have you prepared for the possibility of Kanye West coming onstage?

Harris: I think the security at “Saturday Night Live” is still holding him in his seat there from last (week’s) show. So, fingers crossed, he’s detained in New York City. No, nothing would make me happier than something as random as that, as Kanye West deciding to participate in the show in some way. That’s why you want to watch the Oscars. We hope for things to happen that you’ll only experience by watching it… The crazier the better, as far as I’m concerned.

What makes an Oscarcast click? Will it click this year?

What are TV viewers seeking from their annual Oscar fix? The same thing they want from movies: drama, comedy, sex, slapstick, glamour and romance.

Of course, no single movie can do all that. No wonder the perfect Oscarcast is an impossible dream. No wonder so many previous Oscarcasts failed to measure up.

A perfect broadcast would include:

• Roberto Benigni scrambling over auditorium seats to claim his trophy (1998).

• An onstage streaker (1974).

• Cher in a collection of outrageous get-ups.

• A rematch between 2008 rivals James Cameron and ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow.

• That deliciously awful 1988 musical number with Rob Lowe and “Snow White.”

• More of Jack Palance’s one-armed pushups from beyond the grave.

• Plus the stirring acceptance speech by Halle Berry in 2002.

Not gonna happen.

We’ll just have to make do when the 87th annual Academy Awards show airs Sunday, Feb. 22, at 8 p.m. EST on ABC. Besides counter-programming on other networks, here’s what the Oscarcast is up against this year:


Everyone loves a blockbuster or two landing best-picture nods. It gets people talking and tuning it. But this year, big hits like “Interstellar” and “The Lego Movie” were snubbed, with the nominees almost uniformly “small” pictures — with the exception, of course, of “American Sniper,” whose box-office firepower in recent weeks has caught everyone off guard and triggered hero-or-killer disputes about its protagonist.

Even so, the favorites appear to be “Birdman” and “Boyhood,” both terrific films that may not be such conversation starters. To handicap their Oscar chances with your friends, you first have to find someone else who has seen them.


Procol Harum should be named this year’s Oscar house band.  As you may have noticed, there’s not much diversity among the nominees. Will the contenders’ pallor cast a pall on viewership, or will the uproar over the Academy’s single-mindedness prod movie fans to tune in and witness what they see as Oscar’s sins of omission?


Neil Patrick Harris is so talented and versatile other entertainers would probably endorse slapping a restraining order on him. Meanwhile, viewers clearly love him, and why wouldn’t they? On the other hand, he’s hosted the Tonys four times and the Emmys twice. Isn’t there someone else out there, maybe with new tricks up his or her sleeve, who could shake things up beyond Harris’ dependable excellence?


Nothing against the nominated directors, honest! But overall, these guys — no matter how admired and acclaimed —aren’t household names. Not yet, anyway. Here’s hoping that John Travolta (who already mangled Idina Menzel’s name on last year’s Oscarcast) isn’t the presenter.


Maybe a new way of watching the Oscars calls for a new kind of Oscarcast. Tom O’Neil, editor of the awards prediction website GoldDerby.com, thinks so.

“It used to be that viewership was tied to the popularity of the films in contention,” he says. “But there’s been a dramatic shift in the last few years since social media has started to matter.”

Now the Oscarcast, like lots of TV fare, is being fortified with a second screen enabling the viewer to participate, not just sit back and watch. This could signal a change in what draws viewers to the show and keeps them there.

“Everybody wants to watch,” says O’Neil, “then tweet to their friends what they’re thinking. That changes everything.”

Last year’s broadcast had a landmark moment when host Ellen DeGeneres arranged a all-star selfie. Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence, Kevin Spacey, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt were among the A-listers crowding into the frame. DeGeneres then asked viewers (of which there were 43 million, the most for the Oscarcast in a decade) to help her set a retweet record. Legions quickly complied, sharing the photo throughout cyberspace and even briefly crashing Twitter.

Count on similar give-and-take Sunday night, says O’Neil, who offers his recipe for what a digital-age Oscarcast should be striving for.

“It doesn’t have to be oh-my-God-amazing,” he proposes. “It has to be an engaging, interactive experience.” And without the customary big-movie lures, “this is the year we may find out for sure if that’s true or not.”

Academy Awards nominees, the list

The Academy Awards will be held Feb. 22 at the Dolby Theatre at the Hollywood and Highland Center, and broadcast live on ABC at 7 p.m. ET.

The nominees, announced on Jan. 15, include:

Best Actor

  • Steve Carell, “Foxcatcher”
  • Bradley Cooper, “American Sniper”
  • Benedict Cumberbatch, “The Imitation Game”
  • Michael Keaton, “Birdman”
  • Eddie Redmayne, “The Theory of Everything”

Best Actress

  • Marion Cotillard, “Two Days, One Night”
  • Felicity Jones, “The Theory of Everything”
  • Julianne Moore, “Still Alice”
  • Rosamund Pike, “Gone Girl”
  • Reese Witherspoon, “Wild”

Best Supporting Actor

  • Robert Duvall, “The Judge”
  • Ethan Hawke, “Boyhood”
  • Edward Norton, “Birdman”
  • Mark Ruffalo, “Foxcatcher”
  • J.K. Simmons, “Whiplash”

Best Supporting Actress

  • Patricia Arquette, “Boyhood”
  • Laura Dern, “Wild”
  • Keira Knightley, “The Imitation Game”
  • Emma Stone, “Birdman”
  • Meryl Streep, “Into the Woods”


  • “Birdman”
  • “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
  • “Ida”
  • “Mr. Turner”
  • “Unbroken”

Costume Design

  • “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
  • “Inherent Vice”
  • “Into the Woods”
  • “Maleficent”
  • “Mr. Turner”


  • Alejandro González Iñárritu, “Birdman”
  • Richard Linklater, “Boyhood”
  • Bennett Miller, “Foxcatcher”
  • Wes Anderson, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
  • Morten Tyldum, “The Imitation Game”

Foreign Language Film

  • “Ida,” Poland
  • “Leviathan,” Russia
  • “Tangerines,” Estonia
  • “Timbuktu,” Mauritania
  • “Wild Tales,” Argentina

Makeup and Hairstyling

  • “Foxcatcher”
  • “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
  • “Guardians of the Galaxy”

Original Score

  • “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
  • “The Imitation Game”
  • “Interstellar”
  • “Mr. Turner”
  • “The Theory of Everything”

Adapted Screenplay

  • “American Sniper”
  • “The Imitation Game”
  • “Inherent Vice”
  • “The Theory of Everything”
  • “Whiplash”

Original Screenplay

  • “Birdman”
  • “Boyhood”
  • “Foxcatcher”
  • “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
  • “Nightcrawler”

Best Picture

  • “American Sniper”
  • “Birdman”
  • “Boyhood”
  • “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
  • “The Imitation Game”
  • “Selma”
  • “The Theory of Everything”
  • “Whiplash”

Animated Feature Film

  • “Big Hero 6”
  • “The Boxtrolls”
  • “How to Train Your Dragon 2”
  • “Song of the Sea”
  • “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya”

Documentary Feature

  • “Citizenfour”
  • “Finding Vivian Maier”
  • “Last Days in Vietnam”
  • “The Salt of the Earth”
  • “Virunga”

Documentary Short Subject

  • “Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1”
  • “Joanna”
  • “Our Curse”
  • “The Reaper (La Parka)”
  • “White Earth”

Film Editing

  • “American Sniper”
  • “Boyhood”
  • “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
  • “The Imitation Game”
  • “Whiplash”

Original Song

  • “Everything Is Awesome,” “The Lego Movie”
  • “Glory,” “Selma”
  • “Grateful, “Beyond the Lights”
  • “I”m Not Gonna Miss You,” “Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me”
  • “Lost Stars,” “Begin Again”

Production Design

  • “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
  • “The Imitation Game”
  • “Interstellar”
  • “Into the Woods”
  • “Mr. Turner”

Animated Short Film

  • “The Bigger Picture”
  • “The Dam Keeper”
  • “Feast”
  • “Me and My Moulton”
  • “A Single Life”

Live Action Short Film

  • “Aya”
  • “Boogaloo and Graham”
  • “Butter Lamp”
  • “Parvaneh”
  • “The Phone Call”

Sound Editing

  • “American Sniper”
  • “Birdman”
  • “The Hobbitt: The Battle of the Five Armies”
  • “Interstellar”

Sound Mixing

  • “American Sniper”
  • “Birdman”
  • “Interstellar”
  • “Unbroken”
  • “Whiplash”

Visual Effects

  • “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”
  • “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”
  • “Guardians of the Galaxy”
  • “Interstellar”
  • “X-Men: Days of Future Past”