Warner Bros via Everett Collection
Last week, we took a look at each of the awards circuits that have announced their winning picks for 2013, calculating just how good an indicator each one might be at predicting the Academy Awards top prize. Unsurprisingly, 12 Years a Slave and American Hustle were the most common titles to take awards from venues like the Golden Globes, New York Film Critics Circle, Critics Choice Awards, and others. With the organizations carrying a variety of insight, statistically speaking, into what will be the Oscars' big winner, we named 12 Years our Most Likely to Succeed at the 86th Annual Academy Awards... but that was before today's news. See, this morning gave us the winner of the Director's Guild of America Awards — historically, the best indicator of the Best Picture Oscar with a 90% consistency over the past 10 years and an 81% consistency overall — and it is third party candidate Gravity.
Alfonso Cuaron's blockbuster has snagged the DGA, putting it in the company of Argo, The Artist, The King's Speech, The Hurt Locker, and many other features that went on to win Best Picture. In fact, the last movie to take the DGA but lose out on the top Oscar would be Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain, a rarity as well for winning the Best Director Oscar but not Best Picture. Averaged with the precognitive capabilities of the Producers Guild of America (middling) and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association (dismal) — in which Gravity tied as winner with 12 Years and Her, respectively — the space-set thriller is about even with Steve McQueen's slavery epic in its chances to take home the Oscar.
Of course, math can only take you so far (despite what they tried to drill into your heads in grade school). The separating factor, come Academy season, will be that indefinable quality that makes something an "Oscar movie." Not necessarily the best movie, but the one most palatable to the Academy's appetite. Gravity and 12 Years a Slave are both terrific films, but the latter has a few points on its side. Although they might share the DGA with Gravity, movies like Argo, The King's Speech, The Hurt Locker, Slumdog Millionaire, Million Dollar Baby, et al have far more in common with 12 Years a Slave: they're tales of history, adversity, injustice, human ugliness and human perseverence. Stories very much grounded on this Earth... something that Gravity, quite literally, might not be considered (at least by some).
But we applaud the DGA for recognizing Cuaron's movie, and its other deserving winners (with special notice for the finales of Breaking Bad and 30 Rock). Peruse the winners list below!
The Directors Guild of America Awards
Feature FilmWinner: GravityNominees: 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, Captain Phillips, The Wolf of Wall Street
DocumentaryWinner: Cutie and the BoxerNominees: The Act of Killing, The Crash Wheel, The Square, Stories We Tell
Dramatic SeriesWinner: Breaking Bad: "Felina"Nominees: Breaking Bad: "Blood Money," Game of Thrones: "The Rains of Castamere," Homeland: "The Star," House of Cards: "Chapter 1"
Comedy SeriesWinner: 30 Rock: "Hogcock!/Last Lunch"Nominees: The Big Bang Theory: "The Hofstadter Insufficiency," The Big Bang Theory: "The Love Spell Potential," Modern Family: "My Hero," Modern Family: "The Old Man & the Tree"
TV Movie/MiniseriesWinner: Behind the CandelabraNominees: Killing Kennedy, Muhammad Ali's Greatest Fight, Phil Spector, The Sound of Music Live!
Variety/Talk/News/Sports ProgrammingWinner: Saturday Night Live: "Justin Timberlake"Nominees: The Colbert Report: "#10004," The Daily Show: "#19018," Jimmy Kimmel Live: "#13-1810," Late Night with Jimmy Fallon: "#799"
Variety/Talk/News/Sports SpecialWinner: The 67th Annual Tony AwardsNominees: 2013 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, The 55th Annual Grammy Awards, The 85th Annual Academy Awards, Louis C.K.: Oh My God
Reality ProgramsWinner: 72 Hours: "The Lost Coast"Nominees: The Amazing Race: "Beards in the Wind," The Biggest Loser: "1501," The Hero: "Teamwork," Top Chef: "Glacial Gourmand"
Children's ProgramsWinner: An Apology to ElephantsNominees: A.N.T. Farm, Jinxed, Swindle, Teen Beach Movie
CommercialsWinner: Martin de Thurah (The Man Who Couldn’t Slow Down, Hennessy VS/Human Race, Acura MDX 2014)Nominees: Fredrik Bond (Voyage, Heineken; From The Future, Johnny Walker), John X. Carey (Real Beauty Sketches, Dove), Matthijs van Heijningen (Perfect Day, Sony Playstation; #Forty Eight, Verizon), Noam Murro (Basketball, Guinness; Kids, DIRECTV; Mask, Volkswagen)
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In The Thing a prequel to the 1982 John Carpenter film of the same name a team of paleontologists Norwegian diggers and rugged helicopter pilots unearth an alien creature with the ability to disguise itself as the organic material surrounding it i.e. feeble humans. Ironically the movie itself also a deceptive shapeshifter impersonating its chilling horror predecessor with the same beats same characters and same scares—but completely void of soul.
A great remake brings something new to the table either in the form of plot twists design or fresh performances but The Thing begs to be compared to the original by cowering in the face of innovation. The movie forgoes character building wasting no time flying us to the familiar Antarctic setting: Girl-who-examines-unfrozen-animal-corpses Kate (played by the movie's saving grace Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is introduced by her friend Adam (Eric Christian Olsen) to sinister scientist Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen) who quickly convinces her to throw away her life for a trip to the icy continent. When she arrives Halvorson reveals his team has discovered an alien life form trapped inside a block of ice and he needs Kate to watch him thaw it out.
Anyone with knowledge of the 1982 Thing (or horror movies in general) knows that the beast is far from dead and what unfolds is a flaccid translation of the first film's monster mayhem. Yes the movie has plenty of jump scares insane flesh effects and an increasing sense of paranoia throughout the group—but only because the first movie dictates that it must. Thanks to the charm of Winstead and her Kurt Russell-esque co-star Joel Edgerton the copy/paste script occasionally entertains (who doesn't love a gal who can wield a flamethrower?) but without characters to invest in the alien's rampage of violence is mostly a bore. By the time the group points fingers attempting to sift the real persons from the fakes by checking their teeth (their foe can't recreate metallic material so everyone with fillings is safe!) the movie's floundered its chance to get you to care.
If the titular "thing" was slick enough in its bloodthirsty frenzy perhaps The Thing could redeem itself as a creepy popcorn flick but sloppy CG creature effects end up separating the beast from his prey and obliterating any sense of danger. If they could pull off a guy's head erupting with tentacles using puppetry and prosthetics back in 1982 why not in 2011? When the movie does employ practical effects the results are terrifying—but the moments are few and far between. That speaks to the bigger picture: director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. attempts to mix the original Thing's slow burn terror with modern filmmaking and intriguing sci-fi concepts but can't seamlessly weave them together. Every time Heijningen Jr's Thing defaults to mimicking the previous version the movie craps out.
The Thing's nondescript title once represented the fear of the unknown but for the contemporary rehash it's an indication of a generic lifeless 100 minutes. Buried underneath layers of icy homage is a decent flick but unlike the film's otherworldly opponent it's DOA.
John Carpenter's 1982 film The Thing is one of the more terrifying pictures you'll ever see. A psychological drama/monster movie set in the middle of Antartica -- few combinations tingle the spine quite like it.
Nearly 30 years later, a prequel to the horror classic is on the way, using the opening moments of the original as its point to barrel backward. Also titled The Thing, the movie is directed by Dutch commercial filmmaker Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. and stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim), Joel Edgerton (Animal Kingdom) and Eric Christian Olsen (Fired Up!) as American scientists joining a team of Norweigens on an Antarctica base to investigate an otherworldly entity in the ice. As you can guess, it doesn't go so well.
The movie was supposed to hit back in March, but was suddenly removed from the release calendar, seemingly without a home. Now, the first poster has hit and indicates that, yes, the movie is hitting theaters this October! Check out the first one sheet, which gives you an idea of what the "Thing" will be doing to his human victims come Halloween.
An important item of news for those of you who, like me, nurture a passionate and enduring love for John Carpenter's 1982 horror cult classic The Thing (or for those whose interest may be piqued by its skin-crawling tagline "Man is the Warmest Place to Hide"): Universal Pictures yesterday announced that Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.'s "prequel" (really more of a remake - it even has the same title) will be released April 29th, 2011.
(Some light spoilers ahead!)
Carpenter's film (itself a remake of Howard Hank's 1951 movie) opens on an American expedition of scientists in Antarctica, whose research is interrupted by a bunch of helicopter-borne Norwegians excitedly chasing and shooting at a dog. Strange, right? Their helicopter crashes, and the dog is allowed into the American base, where it promptly mutates and attacks the other dogs. Things begin to appear amiss after a visit to the Norwegian base reveals the aftermath of some kind of catastrophic event; a mangled human body is all that remains. By this point it's too late for our intrepid scientists - the alien creature they've let into their base can take on human form, infecting and hiding in its victims. With few clues as to who can be trusted, paranoia begins to take its toll, even as the body count rises.
Van Heijningen's The Thing appears at the outset to have a similar storyline (which is why I suggested earlier that it may be more of a remake in the guise of a prequel than anything else): an American graduate student, Kate Lloyd, joins a team of Norwegian researchers (those Norwegians? She's doomed!) in Antarctica, where they discover an alien life force, seemingly frozen in the ice. Although I haven't seen van Heijningen's script, I can tell you right now that's probably the point at which things begin to wrong.
Anyway. If any of that sounds interesting to you, and it should, go out and rent the original 1982 The Thing, because it's a goddamn masterpiece. Then find a comfortable balance between optimism and ambivalence towards Heijningen's prequel, starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Final Destination 3) and that guy who plays 'Vaugn' on Community, and a handful of other actors you probably haven't heard of. Don't worry about the casting. Kurt Russell (who starred in the original) wasn't a big movie-star before The Thing either. So let's settle for cautious optimism for now.
April 29th, 2011! I'm putting it on my calendar.