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“Magic Mike XXL” is the Body Positive Stripper Movie You’ve Been Waiting For

July 4, 2015
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Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

By Casey Cipriani

So-called “sexy” movies can be rather disappointing if you don’t see yourself in any of the characters or can’t even picture yourself on screen in a similar situation. For plus-sized women, women of color, or middle-aged women, watching someone like Margot Robbie lure Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Wolf of Wall Street” or Scarlett Johansson in just about anything can be pretty alienating. There’s no doubt those women are beautiful and good actresses to boot, but women who aren’t young, white, thin, and typically hot would like to see women who look like them enjoying themselves in the sack or getting a lap dance from Channing Tatum too.

The first “Magic Mike” suffered a bit from trying to balance its exposure of man abs by throwing a few hot women (and their bare breasts) into the mix. Thankfully, “Magic Mike XXL” not only abandons that charade (as well as the first’s dour sub-plot), it also features a greater variety of women in its club goers, and the film provides some serious body positivity along with its amazing man imagery.

Spoilers ahead for “Magic Mike XXL”

When the team of male entertainers heads out on their road trip to a stripper convention in Myrtle Beach (which, by the way, is the entirety of the plot), they make a comedic, drug-infused pit stop at a gas station convenience store where they spy a miserable female clerk. In order to help find new inspiration for their upcoming show, Mike (Tatum) encourages Big Dick Ritchie (Joe Manganiello) to perform for her. The female convenience store clerk isn’t typically “pretty,” but nor do the guys go into the situation thinking that she’s kind of woman who would never get her freak on either. Rather, the entire point of Manganiello’s hilarious and amazing Cheetos-filled performance to The Backstreet Boys’ “I Want it That Way” is to get her to smile. Manganiello’s success didn’t stem from giving the girl a peak at his perfectly chiseled body that she would otherwise never see, and her smile wasn’t one an embarrassed one of demure, good-girl shame, rather one that said, “That was freaking awesome.”

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Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

The convenience store clerk is far from the only “normal” looking woman that the “Magic Mike” men gyrate for. Plus-sized women, average-sized women, short women, and more women of all shapes, sizes and facial features become the focus of many a lap dance and strip routine. And the best part about is that the presence of these plus-sized women isn’t played as a joke.

When the guys arrive in Savannah, they visit a private club run by Mike’s former flame Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith), whose club caters almost exclusively to black women of all sizes whom she treats like queens and everyone calls beautiful. In one dance sequence inside the club (and there are a good few), a surprisingly nimble Michael Strahan gives a private performance to a woman whose size might immediately suggest that the scene was played for laughs, and it would have, had it been given a quick glance and done with. Instead, the scene lingers not only on Strahan’s utter devotion to giving her the best performance he can, but also on the pure pleasure she’s experiencing as a result. Her enjoyment isn’t a joke. No woman’s enjoyment is. That honest take on how women experience pleasure and that these men take their sexuality as seriously as they do is the heart of the film.

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In Charleston, the guys head to a gothic mansion in search of a girl that Tito (Adam Rodriguez) met on the road only to be greeted by the girl’s mother Nancy (Andie MacDowell) and her gaggle of middle-aged girlfriends who go through bottles of wine with such a quickness I can only aspire to achieve one day. In any other film, these women would be predatory cougars whom the boys would immediately abandon for their younger, more taught daughters. But instead Mike and his merry men plop themselves on the sofa, grab themselves a glass and listen to their stories. When one of the women reveals that her husband will only have sex with her with the lights off, Ken (Matt Bomer) declares that, “He’s not showing you how beautiful you are” in all sincerity and then serenades her with Bryan Adams’ “Heaven.” And MacDowell, as it turns out, is the only woman, as of late, who can handle Big Dick Ritchie’s…well let’s just say there was a bit of trouble finding the right Cinderella to fit the slipper.

And the women aren’t the only beneficiaries of a little more open mindedness in “Magic Mike XXL.” These guys aren’t so macho that they’re afraid to visit drag bars. They may laugh at Ken’s new age beliefs but also actually listen to his advice. They eat frozen yogurt and each have their own mini story line about what they want to do after the convention. There’s a tender moment hinting at a previous relationship between Rome and Elizabeth Banks’ Paris that isn’t, for once, played for the guys’ titillation. “Magic Mike XXL” is definitely a fan service film that caters to women and gay men by providing a great show of glistening man meat, but it went the extra step by making its show cattle have actual depth and by including women who actually exist in the real world on the receiving end of their expertise.

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Easy, Breezy, Brutal: CoverGirl Gets “The Hunger Games” Wrong

November 22, 2013

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By Casey Cipriani

“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” the film adaptation of the second novel in Suzanne Collins’ bestselling, dystopian young adult series, hits theaters tomorrow. In anticipation of the release, CoverGirl has created an elaborate makeup line called “The Capitol Collection” Inspired by The Capitol, the most affluent and fashion forward of the series’ 12 Districts, the line transforms each district “into a high-couture Capitol reinterpretation through intricate makeup and a highly stylized wardrobe.”

Cross-promoting products related to upcoming films is not a new concept in Hollywood. From soundtracks, to toys, to food items, studios have used this alternative marketing method for years. Earlier this year, “The Great Gatsby” teamed up with Tiffany and Brooks Brothers to bring back some of the fashion of the flapper 20s. McDonalds had toys from a number of films this year including “Smurfs 2” and “Epic.” But while the Gatsby fashions were marketed towards adults and toys are pretty much always aimed towards children, products might be on a slippery slope when the core audience of a book or film is teenage girls.

A CoverGirl representative declined to identify the line’s target market or comment on the collection, but with advertisements in Seventeen magazine and commercials airing on The CW during some of the network’s teen-oriented shows, it’s safe to say that the brand is taking advantage of “The Hunger Games’ ” established fan base of teenage girls.

But does an overly garish makeup line completely contradict the female empowerment and anti-classist messages that Collins’ novels champion? The problem with the CoverGirl line is two-fold. Firstly, it presents unrealistic looks that no woman would ever wear in public. Sure, fashion does this a lot, but most of fashion is marketed towards adult women. Teenage girls bombarded with images of women through the fashion and beauty industries might not yet recognize the unattainable nature of much of what they’re presented with. Products tied-in to a movie with a young adult audience could increase that confusion.

Secondly, the line appears to be applauding The Capitol, the district that is, in essence, the villain of the stories. The Capitol is supposed to represent shallowness, materialism, ignorance and elitism. Oh yeah, and they plan an annual sporting event wherein children are outright murdered by each other as a threatening device to keep Panem’s citizens in line. Should their style be something that fans of the film emulate?

“The Capitol embodies everything Katniss hates in the world,” wrote MockingJay.net, adding that the campaign “disturbingly glorifies” The Hunger Games as an event.

Collins’ novels have been applauded for presenting a strong female protagonist that teenage girls can look up to and for sending a message that society puts some of its values in the wrong place. CoverGirl’s focus on the lifestyle of shallow, materialistic citizens of The Capitol might very well contradict that message.

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District 4: Fishy Haute Couture

One of the criticisms of the first “Hunger Games” film was that we didn’t get to see enough of the Capitol and it’s opulent and futuristic design.

“With the first movie they wanted to be conservative,” Marla Backer, an analyst at Ascendiant Capital, told The Wrap. “They did not know if they had a ‘Star Wars’ on their hands and they were dealing with a relatively unknown property. The second time around this is a known quantity, so you’re seeing more branding opportunities.”

When costume designer Trish Summerville was hired for the second film, she and director Francis Lawrence decided to amp up the high-end fashion.

“We wanted to take the clothing up a notch,” Summerville told the Financial Times.

In The Capitol, wealthy citizens don high-end fashions that are futuristic, extravagant and experimental. The other 11 Districts are not as wealthy, some of them devastatingly poor. Each maintains a specialized industry like agriculture or mining. But the interpretation of the outlying districts is as if a Capitol citizen were plying dress up as, even mocking, the outlying districts.

Lee Orlando, an administrator of ‘The Hunger Games” fan site The Hob told me that CoverGirl’s focus on the Capitol may be missing the point.

“The materialism is the antithesis of what Katniss strives for and what she eventually sets out to expose and destroy,” she said.

She found the idea of citizens of The Capitol dressing in opulent costumes that represent the industries of the impoverished districts is particularly bothersome.

“In the agricultural and poor Districts, people are too busy to be able to make this type of look work for them,” she said. “Perhaps in their secret reveries some women might want to look this way, but the cost would be too high as they would have to compete to ever get close enough to The Capitol to get this dream.”

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District 10: Chicken Chic

But journalist and author Mark Harris, who has written extensively on the portrayal of women in entertainment thinks that CoverGirl’s makeup line doesn’t necessarily counter the message of the novels or film.

“‘The Hunger Games’ series, the books, perhaps, even more than the movie(s), is very skillfully having it both ways,” he wrote via e-mail. “For all the political underpinnings about class disparities and income inequity, and for all the degree to which The Capitol citizens are portrayed as materialistic and grotesque, and for all the blood and savagery in the novels, they are also books that pause for lengthy and enthusiastic descriptions of fashion. Katniss’ very survival may be at stake, but Collins pays plenty of attention to her stylist, to amazing descriptions of her costuming and makeup, and to the lux trappings of the reality show she’s a part of.”

In that case, the collection might in fact be incredibly meta. The concept of clueless, wealthy designers presenting their interpretation of the outlying Districts supports the idea presented by the novels that you can distract the general public from the atrocities of a competition wherein children are slaughtered if there is enough entertainment and luxury thrown in.

Will teenagers get that message? Can they differentiate between commentary that the line might be making on the Capitol’s ignorance and their desire to live the fantasy?

I asked my own 14-year-old cousin Sara, a fan of the books and the first film, what she thought of the line. Thankfully she saw through the dramatic marketing. She noted that while the looks were artistic and interesting, these products toting high-end fashion and elaborate makeup routines aren’t really conducive to the life of an actual teenager.

“I think it’s cool,” she said, “but it’s not like I would go out in it.”

She even caught on to the idea that the entire line is coming from the materialistic perspective of the Capitol.

“I don’t think it has to do with the actual story,’ She said. “It’s more about parading them around. The way they [CoverGirl] did it is the way the Capitol would do it. ”

Perhaps I’m not giving teens enough credit, they can see through marketing schemes just like any adult. With two more “Hunger Games” films to come, there will no doubt be more opportunities for branded merchandise to hit shelves. The second film might have been the most appropriate of them all to take advantage of the themes of fashion and fantasy. One hopes that with the third novel’s intense matters of revolution, death and the violent restructuring of entire countries, “Hunger Games” merchandize might go in a different direction than makeup.

“Gravity” Review

October 31, 2013

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Television screens are getting bigger. Home theater systems grow more sophisticated every day. But if there’s any film in recent memory that should inspire oneself to dislodge from the sofa and seek out the largest screen possible on which to view it, “Gravity” is that film.

“Gravity” is the latest stunning vision from Alfonso Cuarón, whose “Children of Men” included a well-choreographed, 10 minute single shot hailed for its visual endurance. He opens “Gravity” with an even more impressive, 13 minute single-shot introduction to the giant blue marble we call home and the comparably teensy shuttle crew in orbit around it.

Sandra Bullock plays Ryan Stone, a medical equipment engineer hired to use her expertise to repair the Hubble space telescope. Accompanying her on her first space mission is George Clooney as Matt Kowalski, a veteran astronaut on his last spacewalk whose personality pretty much matches that of Clooney himself. A few other characters are heard but never seen, the most recognizable being that of Ed Harris as “Mission Control,” no doubt a nod back to his role in “Apollo 13.” When Harris’ voice nervously explains that a Russian satellite has exploded, hurling debris in their direction, Stone and Kowalski must act fast in an environment that demands everyone take it slow.

What follows is an unadorned plot that is no less riveting despite its simplicity: Stone and Kowalski must survive in an environment that supports no life. The fact of the matter is that the cinematography and technical achievements of this film are none other than extraordinary. The visual grandeur of the universe is breathtaking, the muffled sound effects mimicking life in a vacuum slightly disturbing, and when Stone spins uncontrollably into the abyss of space, even the light from the sun reflected on her visor matches her place in the sky. It is a vision of outer space as real as most Earthlings are likely to experience, all presented in the best example of 3D cinema yet.

A common complaint of 3D glasses is their restrictive nature; they shrink an already limited view. Yet that same restriction is actually a plus in “Gravity” where this restraint pulls the viewer even further inside the action. We feel just as cramped as Stone, even more so when the perspective shifts as if we are looking out from her claustrophobic helmet. This simultaneity of feeling constrained while marveling at the vastness of space is one of the film’s visceral accomplishments.

It is no small triumph that “Gravity” features a middle aged woman as its center. Not since Jodie Foster in “Contact” has science-fiction (or in this case, science-reality) offered such an accurate portrayal of an intelligent woman who maintains her strength through physical and emotional turmoil. Bullock’s performance, which for the majority of the film is from the neck up, is raw and at times heartbreaking. She does with facial expression and breath what some actresses can’t do with their entire bodies available.

Stone is also given a backstory about a deceased daughter that some critics are dismissing as unnecessary emotional manipulation. But without this trauma, we couldn’t understand how Stone got up there in the first place. Her attempt at escape takes her as far as she can possibly get before the realities of planet Earth try and pull her back down. The theme of rebirth and the primal, reproductive imagery are substantiated by the fact that she was once a mother.

Regardless of the manipulative backstory, the simplistic plot, or even the few scientific inaccuracies, the real reason to see “Gravity” is for a spectacular vision of outer space, and a story that will keep you engaged until the very end. I’m wary of when this film comes out on On-Demand or DVD, suspecting that my inadequate TV won’t do it justice.

“Amor & Psycho” Review

October 2, 2013
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The ancient legend of Cupid and Psyche posits that women will put aside sisterhood for the promise of fulfilling sexual love from a man. Yet in Amor and Psycho, the latest collection of short stories from Carolyn Cooke, the promises of men fall flat, and the women are responsible for their own happiness, however elusive.

Cooke, whose novel Daughters of the Revolution addressed gender and second-wave feminism, tackles illness, loneliness, divorce, sexuality, and ritual in this new set of stories. The title piece retells the mythological tale of Cupid and Psyche, only this time Psyche is a teenage slam poet renamed Psycho, whose depressed boyfriend Harald commits suicide. Psycho’s teenage problems seem trite, however, perhaps because the adult women of the story have greater concerns. Babe, Harald’s mother, feels responsible for her son’s actions, while Babe’s friend Georgie is diagnosed with cancer. Like Psyche, the women have a weak grasp of the reasons for their remaining joy. “…the condition of her marginal happiness is total ignorance. And, really, how long can that last?”

Cooke’s mostly female characters share a goal of curating their lives according to certain aesthetic standards. In the opener, “Frances Bacon,” an adult magazine model, Laya, “looked studiously at the painting, as if it might teach her how to be.” An enormous, man-made, indoor tree is the centerpiece of “Aesthetic Discipline,” where a woman observes her lover’s family tradition of hanging their vestments in the center of the household for all to see. “You’d find the sleeves of one of his Brooks shirts tied neatly around the waist of Mrs. Brazir’s peignoit, gestures like that.” In “Among the Mezim-Wa,” Cooke shows how attempts at the over curation of one’s life can fail when a young couple’s meticulous wedding plans reflect a desire for control that is unsustainable.

The stories end rather abruptly; one could argue that they don’t end at all. Sudden endings were a reader complaint of Cooke’s previous story collection, The Bostons, yet Cooke has not changed her tactic. The stories’ endings leave the reader hanging, yearning for closure, seemingly the same way that Cooke’s characters each feel about someone who has left them. Her beginnings are just as jarring. Cooke throws you into an immediate and presumed familiarity with the featured character almost as if you’re supposed to recognize the name of this person you’ve just met but then feel awful that you don’t recall who they are.

Many of the stories also maintain an omniscient, observant narrator that gives the writing a God-like quality, as if some all-knowing being were letting you in on the secrets of others. She achieves this through rather sparse, almost Hemingway-esque sentences that sometimes leave out pertinent information the reader might crave. The tactic can be a detriment; there are a number of times when actual plot isn’t clear or the elements of magical realism are random to the point of misunderstanding. In “She Bites,” a woman slowly transforms into a dog. Or does she?

But in the stories that stick, Cooke provides fully formed characters, if not closure to their narratives. The best two, “The Boundary” and “Opal is Evidence” show two women’s attempts to aid the children in their lives, one a poor, reservation dwelling Native American, the other a little girl dying of a brain tumor. Cooke’s sentences are alluring, and she has a wonderful way of puncturing severe circumstances with funny one-liners to ease the tension.

Is Cooke returning to the comfort of short stories before writing another novel? Like Cooke, the young, unnamed writer recording Laya’s story in “Frances Bacon” chooses her own route to grow as an author. “What better training for a writer than inventing little stories, arousing a casual reader with ordinary language thrillingly unspooled?”

Some Fun Tweets From Last Night’s Episode of “Game of Thrones”

June 3, 2013

Book fans knew that last night’s episode would be a doozy. So I hopped on twitter and grabbed some tweets from shortly before, during and shortly after Season Three, Episode Nine. It’s a nice day for a red wedding…

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After

Trailer Watch: Catching Fire

April 15, 2013

Heeeyyyy now!!!!

 

What do you think guys??? Looks exciting. Interesting that they didn’t even mention the Quarter Quell, no?

Oscar Ballot 2013!!

February 24, 2013

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Here we have it kids! My 2013 Oscar Ballot! I’ve underlined who I think WILL win, and Italicized who I WANT to win. Sometimes, they match! Sometimes, I’ve underlined two in case I think it might go either way!

Best Picture-Despite the small chance of a Lincoln upset, I think Argo has it in the bag.
Amour
Argo
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Django Unchained
Les Miserables
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty

Best Actor-This is a no brainer.
Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables
Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
Denzel Washington, Flight

Best Actress-This could go either way, but I think Lawrence has the edge of being a real charmer and voters definitely want to see her acceptance speech.
Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Naomi Watts, The Impossible

Best Supporting Actor- This one is really up in the air. I loved Christoph Waltz, but he’s really more of a lead actor. Tommy Lee Jones is a grumpersons. So it might be between De Niro and Hoffman.
Alan Arkin, Argo
Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained

Best Supporting Actress- Duh.
Amy Adams, The Master
Sally Field, Lincoln
Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Helen Hunt, The Sessions
Jacki Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook

Best Director- If Affleck isn’t going to get this one, I hope it goes to Ang Lee for filming an “unfilmable” novel. 
Michael Haneke, Amour
Ang Lee, Life of Pi
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild

Best Original Screenplay- This one is a toughie too. The ZD30 backlash could affect Boal’s chances, but Tarantino basically wrote the same movie he always does. 
Amour, Michael Haneke
Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino
Flight, John Gatins
Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola
Zero Dark Thirty, Mark Boal

Best Adapted Screenplay-Kusner’s script was brillz.
Argo, Chris Terrio
Beasts of the Southern Wild, Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin,
Life of Pi, David Magee
Lincoln, Tony Kushner
Silver Linings Playbook, David O. Russell

Best Animated Feature- Oscar loves Pixar, and this was one of the most beautifully animated films ever. 
Brave
Frankenweenie
ParaNorman
The Pirates! Band of Misfits
Wreck-It Ralph

Best Cinematography- The rest have no chance.
Anna Karenina, Seamus McGarvey
Django Unchained, Robert Richardson
Life of Pi, Claudio Miranda
Lincoln, Janusz Kaminski
Skyfall, Roger Deakins

Best Costume Design-The costumes in Snow White and the Huntsman were amazing and the only good thing about the whole film.
Anna Karenina, Jacqueline Durran
Les Misérables, Paco Delgado
Lincoln, Joanna Johnston
Mirror Mirror, Eiko Ishioka
Snow White and the Huntsman, Colleen Atwood 

Best Documentary Feature- I’d like to think that Plague or Invisible War will get this, but I think Sugarman, AKA the only happy one in the bunch, will take it.
5 Broken Cameras
The Gatekeepers
How to Survive a Plague
The Invisible War
Searching for Sugar Man

Best Documentary Short-No idea, didn’t see any of them. 
Inocente
Kings Point
Mondays at Racine
Open Heart
Redemption

Best Film Editing- I feel like the raid sequence deserves the Oscar alone.
Argo, William Goldenberg
Life of Pi, Tim Squyres
Lincoln, Michael Kahn
Silver Linings Playbook, Jay Cassidy and Crispin Struthers
Zero Dark Thirty, Dylan Tichenor and William Goldenberg

Best Foreign Language Film- If it’s not gonna get Best Picture…
Amour, Austria
Kon-Tiki, Norway
No, Chile
A Royal Affair, Denmark
War Witch, Canada

Best Makeup and Hairstyling- Making pretty people look ugly is not a feat of makeup. Making people other species could be. 
Hitchcock, Howard Berger, Peter Montagna and Martin Samuel
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Peter Swords King, Rick Findlater and Tami Lane
Les Misérables, Lisa Westcott and Julie Dartnell

Best Original Score
Anna Karenina, Dario Marianelli
Argo, Alexandre Desplat
Life of Pi, Mychael Danna
Lincoln, John Williams
Skyfall, Thomas Newman

Best Original Song- The rest have no chance.
“Before My Time” from Chasing Ice, music and lyric by J. Ralph
“Everybody Needs A Best Friend” from Ted, music by Walter Murphy; lyric by Seth MacFarlane
“Pi’s Lullaby” from Life of Pi, music by Mychael Danna; lyric by Bombay Jayashri
“Skyfall” from Skyfall, music and lyric by Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth
“Suddenly” from Les Misérables, music by Claude-Michel Schönberg; lyric by Herbert Kretzmer and Alain Boublil

Best Production Design
Anna Karenina, Production Design: Sarah Greenwood; Set Decoration: Katie Spencer
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, production Design: Dan Hennah; Set Decoration: Ra Vincent and Simon Bright
Les Misérables, Production Design: Eve Stewart; Set Decoration: Anna Lynch-Robinson
Life of Pi, Production Design: David Gropman; Set Decoration: Anna Pinnock
Lincoln, Production Design: Rick Carter; Set Decoration: Jim Erickson

Best Animated Short
Adam and Dog
Fresh Guacamole
Head over Heels
Maggie Simpson in “The Longest Daycare”
Paperman

Best Live Action Short-No idea!
Asad
Buzkashi Boys
Curfew
Death of a Shadow
Henry

Best Sound Editing
Argo, Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn
Django Unchained, Wylie Stateman
Life of Pi, Eugene Gearty and Philip Stockton
Skyfall, Per Hallberg and Karen Baker Landers
Zero Dark Thirty, Paul N.J. Ottosson

Best Sound Mixing- If there’s one thing Les Mis did right, at least they managed to pull off what they were going for, even if it was a bad idea. 
Argo, John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff and Jose Antonio Garcia
Les Misérables, Andy Nelson, Mark Paterson and Simon Hayes
Life of Pi, Ron Bartlett, D.M. Hemphill and Drew Kunin
Lincoln, Andy Nelson, Gary Rydstrom and Ronald Judkins
Skyfall, Scott Millan, Greg P. Russell and Stuart Wilson

Best Visual Effects
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton and R. Christopher White
Life of Pi, Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik-Jan De Boer and Donald R. Elliott
The Avengers, Janek Sirrs, Jeff White, Guy Williams and Dan Sudick
Prometheus, Richard Stammers, Trevor Wood, Charley Henley and Martin Hill
Snow White and the Huntsman, Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, Philip Brennan, Neil Corbould and Michael Dawson