The Days of the Family of the BellOn May 4, in an event co-sponsored by the Jewish Federation of the Quad Cities, the Figge Art Museum will host the screenings of a feature-length documentary and seven shorter works, all of them by award-winning Israeli filmmakers. Yet if the you enter the Video Art from Israel: A One-Day Sensory Experience presentation with preconceived notions about the films' collective subject matter - anticipating explorations of Israel's foreign policy, say, or the country's ongoing struggle with Palestine - you're likely to be in for a surprise or two. Or eight.

producer/director Steve McQueen and team members from Best Picture 12 Years a SlaveLast night, at the tail end of her opening monologue, Academy Awards emcee Ellen DeGeneres took a moment to acknowledge the year's tight race for Best Picture, and stated that "anything can happen" regarding the evening's biggest prize. "Possibility number one: 12 Years a Slave wins Best Picture," she said. "Possibility number two: You're all racists."

Which, it turned out, was a possibility voters were not willing to face.

Michael Fassbender and Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a SlaveWhen it comes to the films and individuals that win Academy Awards, it's easy to get defensive, and even a little pissy, about voters' collective choices. "How could those people ever vote for ______," you find yourself asking, "when ______ is so obviously better? Don't they have any integrity at all?!"

Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, and Amy Adams in American HustleThe big shock of this morning's announcement of nominees for the 86th Annual Academy Awards? The almost complete lack of shocks, especially given such an insanely competitive year.

Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a SlaveHeading toward January 16's announcement of this year's Academy Award nominees, I think it's safe to say that we know a few things.

We know, for instance, that it'll be a big day for 12 Years a Slave and Gravity, and most likely for American Hustle. We know the Best Supporting Actor category (which, last year, was populated entirely with previous Oscar winners) will be top-heavy with relatively new talent, and the Best Actress category (which, last year, was top-heavy with relatively new talent) will be mostly, perhaps entirely, populated with previous Oscar winners. We know members of the Academy's music branch will throw some loopy, out-of-left-field choice into the Best Original Song lineup, because they always do.

And we know, come January 16, that some incredibly worthy titles are going to get royally screwed.

I can't remember which Web site I read it on, but in prefacing his 10-best list, one movie-reviewing pundit expressed his wish that rankings of this sort be published 10 years after the fact, so he could have a full decade to digest, re-re-view, and potentially re-evaluate what he initially decreed were his favorite films for a particular calendar year. I love that idea, but would also be grateful for a just few extra weeks.

Roger EbertIn 2010, at the age of 67, Roger Ebert reviewed The Human Centipede (First Sequence) ? a horror flick that seems to exist primarily to make viewers vomit. As a professional movie critic for more than four decades, Ebert could have been forgiven for skipping it altogether. Curt dismissal was another perfectly reasonable option.

A charitable senior-citizen writer might have picked the movie apart on moral, narrative, or aesthetic grounds, or used it as a launching point for a screed against the depravity of contemporary culture or the torture-porn genre.

But Ebert turned in a no-star-rating review that begins with an earnest rumination on the path to mortality: "It's not death itself that's so bad. It's what you might have to go through to get there." And he says that within the writer/director, Tom Six, "there stirs the soul of a dark artist."

Best Actor Daniel Day-LewisSeth MacFarlane, I thought, did a fine job hosting the 85th Academy Awards ceremony. He turned out to be a fine choice for the frequently thankless Oscar-emcee position, tossing in some fine jokes in between the generally fine production numbers and mostly fine acceptance speeches ... .

I'm sorry, but I am alone in thinking that last night's telecast, in the end, was just a little too "fine"?

Ben Affleck in ArgoAs I only predicted 15 out of 24 categories correctly for the previous Academy Awards, obviously I have some making up to do for my prognostic abilities to again be taken seriously.

Of all freakin' times to attempt a comeback ... !

Don't tell anyone. But usually, when it comes to predicting the winners of the Academy Awards' major races, it doesn't take much to look like you know what you're talking about.

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