Monday, March 29, 2010

Things On My Mind

Well, the first thing on my mind is that I need to start coming up with better titles. I'm not really a title guy though. It's a work in progress, I suppose. I need to start being more timely, since, in blog time, most of the content of this post is going to be ancient history. So I'll start with the fresh stuff.
- Ricky Martin came out of the closet this afternoon. I don't really care much about people's sexualities, since I'm more interested in a person rather than his label. But I'm glad that it's acceptable for homosexuals to be able to be open now.
- Remember my review of Alice in Wonderland, and my statement that it's been turned into a tale of rah-rah grrl power? I happened upon the Almost Alice compilation "soundtrack," and one listen to Avril Lavigne's (the Princess of Neo-Riot Grrl) "Alice" fully encompasses that attitude. I'm surprised they didn't go ahead and use it in the movie.
- As far as Mission: Impossible IV directors, I want to ask the question it seems no one is asking: why is it even being made? The M:I series was never terribly entertaining to me, and though M:I III was okay, it hardly merited a sequel. It's time for Tom Cruise to hang up his spy gear. But if you insist, don't go with Brad Bird: this doesn't fit with the themes of his previous films, and let's be honest, Bird doesn't really seem like the big-loud-explosions type (or, rather, a Bay-ian director). Though Reuben Fleischer (Zombieland) or Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, the upcoming Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) would hopefully inject some humor into it, if one of them gets it.
- Speaking of Pilgrim, does that not look like an intensely awesome film? I'm particularly fond of the comic-book style WHAMS! and BLAMS! that are integrated into the fight scenes. Please let the final product will be this awesome:
- I'm looking forward to the following: Greenberg, the return of Glee (April 13!!!!), finally seeing Fantastic Mr. Fox, finishing season 4 of Rescue Me.
- V is coming back tomorrow, which is kind of exciting. I really want this show to find its footing and take us in a bold direction, and hopefully ditch the wooden, subtle-as-an-air-horn dialouge.
-Speaking of sci-fi shows I love, I'm almost certain FlashForward is not going to get a season 2 pick-up unless something amazing happens. It could stand to learn a lesson from Lost: give us character pieces, but keep the story flowing (semi-) coherently. Don't let either element distract from the other.
- 24 was officially cancelled, which I guess is unfortunate. I never really watched the show, but from what I understand its one of those greatest-shows-of-all-time. There's going to be a movie, though, so its not like Jack Bauer is really going away.
What's on your mind? Comments welcome.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Secrets of the Island Revealed!

I won't go into this too much, so as not to spoil it for anyone, but last night's episode of Lost is a prime example of everything I love about this show. The end is nigh, and we've been begging for answers, and last night we discovered the origins of the never-aging Richard Alpert (a fantastic, Emmy-worthy performance by Nestor Carbonell). We also discovered what the Island really is (hint: its a four-letter word), and more about the long-running feud between Jacob and the Man in Black.
Richard, in his past life
Which I must comment on: I've read a lot of fan comments on message boards about how the show is devolving into being just about those two characters, neither of whom we'd ever seen really before this year. I completely disagree. They are driving narrative forces, yes, but their conflict is merely an arena for the main characters that we have grown to know and love over the past six years. The show is still focused on the castaways, and now its how they fall in this power-struggle between "good" and "evil." I'm glad to see that the moral ambiguity of the show remains, and that the point is still (hopefully) about these characters discovering their true selves.
If you missed "Ab Aeterno," or just want to see what I'm raving about, watch the episode here:

Monday, March 22, 2010

What's Coming Next

I read an article online today from Virgin Media ( that details the next projects for this year's big Oscar winners. I find a lot of what Virgin says disagreeable, starting with the fact that the cast of The Hurt Locker and James Cameron (both went home empty-handed, so how are they winners?) and Pixar being the winner of Best Animated Feature (though the 1906 earthquake picture does sound interesting) when I would rather know what actual winners Pete Docter and Bob Peterson are doing. The acting winners, though, were the most intriguing. Since I don't have much else to write about right now, I'll share my thoughts on these.
JEFF BRIDGES: Now that he's won an Oscar for Crazy Heart, Bridges has two projects lined up. The first is Tron: Legacy, the long-awaited sequel to the 1982 original. This I'm not terribly excited about, though I will probably end up seeing it anyway. What does excite me is that he's following the footsteps of John Wayne and playing Rooster Cogburn in the Coen Brothers' remake of True Grit. That should be fantastic, and the role is perfect for him. It could end up being his best role since The Dude in The Big Lebowski (which, interestingly enough, was also directed by the Coen Brothers).
SANDRA BULLOCK: This is really killing me, the media love for "Sandy." She's at a place where she can do no wrong, and yes, it is terrible that her husband cheated on her, but that plus her decent-at-best performance in The Blind Side does not make all of her previous work and subsequent work instantly better. To me, I just see the continued media fawning as evidence that that attention is what won her an Oscar, not the merit of her performance (if it were the latter, Gabourey Sidibe would have won hands-down). Still, more rom-coms are on the way, so if that's you're taste, then her winning streak will continue.
P.S. I have nothing against Bullock the woman: I think she is very sweet and charming, and I wish her only the best. I just don't think she's that great of an actress.
CHRISTOPH WALTZ: I want to start by saying that I hate how Virgin describes his previous work as "toiling in European cinema," as if being in a European movie is some sort of hell. American cinema is the only quality one, apparently. Anyway, I hate that a man of his talent is going to be typecast as the villain from now on, as evidenced by his roles in The Green Hornet (hopefully he'll be sublimely silly) and Water for Elephants (he's a schizophrenic). Personally, I'd like to see some of the films he did back in Europe, and I hope that he'll be offered diverse roles in the future. As an aside, can we please stop calling Robert Pattinson "R-Patz?" It's perfectly acceptable if you're a 13-year-old girl, but otherwise, stop it.
MO'NIQUE: Apparently, she's the next Oprah. More power to her. She doesn't have any film projects in the works, just her books/talk show. Which is fine, because I hope she finds success.
KATHRYN BIGELOW: She's departing from her usual action-thrillers to work on a TV series The Miraculous Year, about a family seen from the point of view of a composer. I'd watch it. But maybe turn out another movie soon?
GEOFFREY FLETCHER: Hot off the success of Precious, he's working on a film about the Attica prison riots. I'm personally looking forward to it, since I certainly think Fletcher has the makings of a legendary writer.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Twilight Tries to be Prestigious and Other Stories

I don't really have any new films to write about, which is fine really, I've had work to do and what not. I've actually been trying to catch up on some things, but its been a rough road in that regard. So instead I've got a few random little things that I can write about.
The good folks at Summit Entertainment now have a Best Picture winner in The Hurt Locker, and certainly must be very proud: they now have prestige and box-office winners (the latter would be the Twilight Saga). However, they have a lot to learn. It was announced today that Summit is approaching Oscar nominees to direct Breaking Dawn, most notably Sofia Coppola, Gus Van Sant, and Bill Condon (who's never been nominated for directing, just writing). Van Sant and Condon are terrible choices, since the Twilight films are not really compatible to their styles (the series' other directors- Catherine Hardwicke, Chris Weitz, and David Slade- all have experience with certain elements of the story). Interestingly, Coppola would be a rather nice fit to the series in that she is a master of atmosphere, which has been an integral element to the series thus far. It would be interesting to see what she does in that respect, but other wise this material (vampire babies eating the womb) is far, far below her. Hopefully none of them will agree to this crap.
I've discovered a new obsession on Netflix. It's Showtime's This American Life, which is based on Ira Glass' Chicago Public Radio show. This documentary series focuses completely on ordinary Americans, and I've been surprised at how touching, funny, and honest the episodes have been. As Glass himself says, each week shows stories based on a particular theme, whether it be growing up (which featured senior citizens who were making a movie) or escape (a 27-year-old man with a crippling nervous disease). It's all fascinating, and host Glass is never judgmental of his subjects. It's all made me realize though that between this, Dexter, Weeds, and United States of Tara, Showtime has become one of my favorite networks. Go figure.
Do you have any thoughts about these things? Comments are always welcome.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Not Quite Alice: Alice in Wonderland (2010)

The new Alice in Wonderland, based partly on Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Through the Looking-Glass, and poem "The Jabberwocky," follows Alice 19 years after her original trip to Wonderland. She is no less curious and amused that she was then, but she now believes that her previous adventures were all a dream. In her reality, she is faced with the forced marriage to the pigish Hamish, as per Victorian tradition. Fleeing the wedding to chase a white rabbit (the same she had followed before), she stumbles down the rabbit hole again, only this time Wonderland (now called Underland) is a dark, mysterious place thanks to the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) and her dragon, the Jabberwocky. Alice is told that she must defeat the Jabberwocky and restore Underland's crown to the White Queen (Anne Hathaway, finally graduating in royalty from princess), and along the way meets the Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), the March Hare, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, and the rest of Wonderland's bizarre denizens.
This is Disney's new take on the story, which director Tim Burton has called in numerous interviews the "definitive" version of the story. However, this version is perhaps the least definitive of the various Alices over the years, namely because the whole production is a sloppy mess of a film. Rather than serving as a new retelling of the classic story, this Alice is a Disneyfied Frankenstein's monster of fantasy clich├ęs, all rooted in the rah-rah girlpower attitude of many Disney Renaissance films (not surprising, given that writer Linda Woolverton also wrote Beauty and the Beast and Mulan).
But what’s really disappointing here is the fact that this is a Tim Burton movie. Burton is an auteur of the bizarre, drawn to weirdos who reside in gothic fantasy worlds. It’s a well that he’s drawn from many times (Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Sleepy Hollow, Beetlejuice, Batman, Sweeney Todd), often to excellent effect. His style may not be constantly evolving, but he has proven himself to be very good at what he does, so its been forgivable. This is what makes his Alice in Wonderland so maddeningly disappointing. On paper, it was the perfect pairing of source and director, like David Fincher taking on the Zodiac killer or Steven Spielberg adapting H.G. Wells, and many, myself included, were anxiously awaiting what kind of strangely beautiful images and characters he would bring. Instead, what we get is perhaps the least Burtonesque film since his Planet of the Apes; Burton is obviously working in blockbuster mode, and rather than trying to create a personal film, he tries to emulate Peter Jackson and James Cameron to disastrous results. He seems almost bored with his direction, and instead of new, inventive visuals we get images that do little to fascinate us.
Johnny Depp, too, is oddly disappointing as the Mad Hatter. It’s another idea that seemed great on paper, and Depp has said that he and Burton were aiming to add depth to the character, but the result is the exact opposite of depth. I wouldn’t call his Hatter shallow, either, just irascibly confusing. Depp alternates between a heavy Scottish brogue and a feminine lisp, sometimes utilizing both in the same sentence. He prances around like Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Musical, and performs a mind-numbingly cheesy jig that not even the smallest children would find amusing. And he looks like a mad-cap Kabuki Carrot Top. There’s no character here, just an image that both Burton and Depp obviously found interesting and did nothing to develop it further. This goes for most of the characters put on screen here: they’re designs, but nothing else.
There are two notable exceptions here, and the irony is that they are supposed to be the strongest characters in the story: the hero, Alice, and the villain, the Red Queen. Mia Wasikowska makes for a wonderful Alice, transcending the role by lending the character a natural curiosity and becomes a channel for the audience’s disbelief in what she witnesses in Underland. Helena Bonham Carter, head distorted into a monumental orb, is gleefully campy in her role as the Red Queen, shouting “Off with their heads!” chirpily. Her scenes with Wasikowska are among the best in the film. Behind the camera, Colleen Atwood’s costumes dazzle, even if they are a little Victorian-age-meets-riot-grrl.
Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen
Overall, Alice in Wonderland should have been a perfect match for Burton’s unique style. Instead, it lacks originality, spirit, and most importantly, wonder.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Live-Blogging the Oscars

***Make sure you refresh every few minutes for updates*******
8:00 Here we go! So far its just the red carpet, which if you think the show itself is just one big pagent, check out the red carpet. Bleh, we could do without this.
8:02 What the heck is Vera Farmiga wearing? And that hair. Ugh.
8:05 "She'll cut you with a stiletto." This is why George Clooney does comedy so well. Sandra Bullock is being graceful too. And she essentially wants Cook-Out after the show. Classy.
8:06 Five years later, Zac Efron still looks like a d-bag.
8:10 Helen Mirren looks very uncomfortable in her interview. And Morgan Freeman is a player to the max. Two dates? Well, one's his producer and the other's his daughter, but still, the man is still amazing.
8:13 So out of the 10 nominated films in 1943, only Casablanca lasted. Is history going to repeat itself this year? Come back in 2060 and ask me.
8:15 Sarah Jessica Parker is way too orange. Maybe its just my HD, but wow. Cameron Diaz's dress is phenomenal.
8:20 Tina Fey and Steve Carrell may be the funniest people on the planet. I can't wait until Date Night.
8:22 Did I detect a hint of sarcasm in some of Jeff Bridges' answers? I think I did. I just realized too that I have no pictures in this thing. I thought about trying to throw a bunch in here, but none would be from the show, so I'm not going to bother. Sorry everyone.
8:25 Taylor Lautner: "OMG its so surreal!" I hate that the producers of this year's show used Tiger Beat as a reference for guests. Oh well.
8:26 No more red carpet? Thank god! "Sandra Bullock! She looked like an Oscar!" Um, no. Try again.
8:30 Showtime! The lead nominees are all on stage. But for what reason? I suppose we'll find out. Oh its pageantry. Here's the hosts, Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin...or maybe Neil Patrick Harris? His song is full of win. And I love the stage setup. Please let him host next year.
8:34 Martin and Baldwin are here now. Don't ruin this guys.
8:36 Self-deprecating humor? Yes. Meryl-deprecating humor? Yes. So far, they're doing great. Just wondering though: where's Jack Nicholson? Meryl's going to beat his record of being the Oscar go-to closeup, since she's been on camera more than any other audience member so far.
8:40 And there's the first reference to James Cameron's and Kathryn Bigelow's former marriage. And they sat them together too. Awkward.
8:42 So this monologue is starting to drag out a little. The oh-look-its-so-and-so schtick is starting to grow old. Funny, but can we move on please?
8:43 George Clooney is looking pissed. Interesting.
8:46 Its time for the first award! Supporting actor goes to....Christoph Waltz! What an excellent choice, considering how wonderful he was in Inglourious Basterds.
8:50 The Blind Side gets to be the first Best Picture nominee to get a showcase. Ryan Reynolds describes it as best as possible without using the phrase "white guilt," which looks like it was on his lips the whole time.
8:55 The next award, presented by Cameron Diaz and Steve Carrell, is Best Animated Feature. Steve is hilarious, and I wonder if the Jude Law thing was improvised or not. Anyway, the introductions of the films by the characters is cute. And the winner is...Up. Of course. Pete Docter is an awkward looking man. But he's a director, he can be. And I like his bottle cap on his jacket.
9:01 Again, Tiger Beat. Though Amanda Seyfried > Miley Cyrus, and they're introducing Best Original Song. And the winner is..."The Weary Kind (Theme from Crazy Heart)," from, of course, Crazy Heart.
9:05 Chris Pine, aka Captain Kirk, introduces District 9. The sci-fi connection, eh? I'm surprised they showed some of the gorier bits on TV. And this Kenny G version of "The Weary Kind" is kind of annoying. Just saying.
9:12 Robert Downey Jr. and Tina Fey are presenting now. Please let these two star in something together. Anyway, they are presenting Best Original Screenplay. And the winner is...Mark Boal for The Hurt Locker. And we have our first upset. And our first win for The Hurt Locker. We should see more of those soon.
9:17 So appearantly its 1989, because Molly Ringwald and Matthew Broderick are presenting. Of course, its about John Hughes, so its the In Memoriam segment. Or maybe just a John Hughes tribute.
9:23 Samuel L. Jackson is introducing Up. How strange is that? Not very: remember, Jackson was the voice of Frozone in The Incredibles. But still, its an odd coupling.
9:27 So Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin have been good so far, but perhaps not the legendary work of hosts past. Anyway, Carey Mulligan and Zoe Saldana are here to introduce the shorts. The winner of Best Animated Short is...Logorama! They didn't pick Wallace & Gromit!?!?! The second shocker of the night. It was a great short, though.
9:33 The winner of Best Documentary Short is...Music by Prudence. I'm not sure what to think about the red-headed woman here. She's obviously the dominant force in the production. And the winner of Best Live-Action Short is.... The New Tenants.
9:38 Ben Stiller comes out as a Na'vi, probably part of a protest against his sketch with Sacha Baron Cohen being cut. And of course he is fantastic, especially when he talks directly to James Cameron. He's presenting Best Makeup (which, as he points out, Avatar is not even nominated here). And the winner is...Star Trek.
9:43 Jeff Bridges is introducing A Serious Man, which is an interesting choice of presenter. but whatever.
9:47 Jake Gyllenhaal and Rachel McAdams are introducing Best Adapted Screenplay. And the winner here is...Geoffery Fletcher for Precious? This was really the only category Up in the Air had a chance at winning, so this is truly surprising.
9:52 Queen Latifah is here to honor the Governors Awards recipients. Lauren Bacall and Roger Corman are actually at the ceremony, and are receiving a standing ovation. Though I'll be honest: in the close-ups, a lot of people didn't seem to know who they were.
9:55 Robin Williams is giving out Best Supporting Actress. His dirty jokes always make me laugh. Anyway, the winner is....Mo'Nique, of course. Would it be anyone else? And she got a standing ovation. Awesome. And she's such a fantastic speech maker. I'm glad she won just for that even.
10:02 Colin Firth introduces An Education. "Hey, he's British, it's a British, it all makes sense!"
10:05 Sigourney Weaver is here to introduce Best Art Direction. And the winner is....Avatar. Which of course is not a major surprise. But it is the film's first award of the night, though probably not the last.
10:09 Tom Ford and Sarah Jessica Parker are introducing the Oscar for Best Costume Design. I like Steve Martin's introduction, "He directed A Single Man, she weighs a single pound." And the winner is....The Young Victoria.
10:12 Precious is being introduced now as a Best Picture nominee.
10:17 I'm really enjoying this Paranormal Activity spoof with Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin. That was fantastic.
10:18 Taylor Lautner and Kristin Stewart are introducing a tribute to horror films, which are usually absent from the Oscars. The reason: most of them are terrible and unoriginal. But does being in Twilight make you worthy of discussing horror? Because that most definitely is not horror.
10:23 Zac Efron and Anna Kendrick are presenting the awards for Sound Editing and Sound Mixing. And in a wonderful turn of events, the clip is narrated by Morgan Freeman. Sound Editing goes to....The Hurt Locker. For those of you keeping score at home, that's two for The Hurt Locker, one for Avatar. And Sound Mixing goes to....The Hurt Locker. The sweep continues, and that score is now 3-1.
10:28 Elizabeth Banks is introducing the Sci-Tech ceremony. For those who don't know, she also hosted that ceremony.
10:29 John Travolta is introducing Inglourious Basterds. Its a Tarantino fest!
10:34 Sandra Bullock is yet another presenter-nominee of the evening. She's here to introduce Best Cinematography, and she's trying out that down-home charm. Meh. But the Oscar goes to....Avatar. 3-2.
10:37 Demi Moore is introducing the In Memoriam montage. Her speech seems really forced, and James Taylor's performing live for it. Its a nice touch.
10:44 There's nothing on but commercials right now, but so far it looks like if this year's ceremony really is going to be shorter, it'll be by maybe five minutes. Nice try guys.
10:45 Jennifer Lopez and Sam Worthington (?) are presenting Best Original Score, along with an interpretive dance crew. What? The? Heck? The dancing is impressive, but not at all fitting to the music. They could've done without this routine. But someone (Adam Shankman) thought it was a good idea. Anyway, the Oscar goes to....Michael Giacchino for Up! How wonderfully perfect!
10:54 Gerard Butler and Bradley Cooper are introducing the Visual Effects category, which will undoubtedly go to Avatar. And the Oscar goes to....Avatar. For those still keeping score, 3-3.
10:56 Jason Bateman introduces Up in the Air. I'm still amazed that George Clooney still looks very pissed this late into the ceremony. What's going on there?
11:01 Matt Damon (one of tonight's Supporting Actor losers) is introducing Best Documentary Feature. And the winner is....The Cove.
11:05 Tyler Perry is presenting Best Film Editing. Its nice to see that he recognizes his chances of returning to the Oscars one day (which is slim to none). Martin and Baldwin in a Snuggie = yay. And the winner is...The Hurt Locker. 4-3 The Hurt Locker.
11:08 Keanu Reeves introduces The Hurt Locker. I don't know why, but I find that very funny. Maybe its the irony of the acting styles: naturalistic in the movie, wooden from Reeves in everything.
11:14 Pedro Almodovar and Quentin Tarantino are introducing Foreign Language Films. Tarantino is dominating the conversation, and is certainly very enthusiastic about the opportunity. Almodovar, on the other hand, looks awkward. And the winner is...El Secreto de Sus Ojos won?!? Stunning!
11:19 I don't know how Kathy Bates fits into Avatar, but she's introducing it. Go figure.
11:24 Tim Robbins, Colin Farrell, Michelle Pfiffer, Vera Farmiga, and Julianne Moore are here en masse to introduce the Best Actor nominees. It seems a little much to me, but its probably an effort to extend the show they said they'd shorten. Oh well. And the Oscar goes to...
11:31 After all that, they don't say, and Kate Winslet's going to make the announcement instead. Excess much? Anyway, for real this time, the Oscar goes to....Jeff Bridges. It is his time, after all.
11:39 I'm predicting more excess for the Actresses too. And I'm right, because Oprah Winfrey , Forest Whitaker, Stanley Tucci, Michael Sheen, and Peter Sarsgaard are all here to talk about their experiences with the nominated actresses. And I'm willing to be none of them have the envelope. Personal note, the broadcast blackouts are not helping my nerves. Ugh satellite come on! And yeah, Sean Penn has the envelope. And the Oscar goes to....Sandra Bullock. This is what I had feared. "Did I really earn this or did I just wear y'all down?" The latter, I think, Sandra. But she is recognizing the other nominees, which is nice.
11:50 Its almost the end of the broadcast, leaving only Director and Picture left. This is where The Hurt Locker vs. Avatar competition is going to peak. Who will take which? We're about to find out....
11:52 Barbara Streisand is introducing Best Director, and of course she makes a point to mention the woman and black director (Kathryn Bigelow and Lee Daniels, respectively). And the Oscar goes to....Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker! That's 5-3 for The Hurt Locker, who will probably be the night's big winner as well.
11:58 Tom Hanks gets to announce Best Picture. And why not? The Oscar goes to...The Hurt Locker of course! It's the little film that could, and now it finally has. Too bad for James Cameron and Avatar. Better luck next time, eh?
To all of you who followed this live-blog, thank you for doing so. I had a blast doing this, and I can't wait until next year! I'll try to keep the posts coming daily, but I know that Oscar withdrawal is about to kick in, so be on the lookout for more random posts on film-related topics. Good night all!

The Best of the Rest

I had originally wanted to do several posts for the remaining technical categories, but circumstances have left me pushed for time (only 4 more hours!!!) and I'm going to combine them all into one big post. I have not, unfortunately, seen all of the nominees, so some of my ballots will be incomplete, but I'll give you the best I can, and update those ballots in the future as I see the nominees. I kinda cheated on Art Direction and Costume Design and Makeup, looking at pictures from the films rather than seeing some of them in theaters, but I can judge from that and will see the films eventually. So, without further ado, the remaining Oscar categories.
I only saw two of the five nominees this year (Up and Coraline), but from what I can tell this year was a fantastic one for animation. And the variety here is excellent: you have CGI animation (Up), stop-motion (Coraline and Fantastic Mr. Fox), and traditional cell animation (The Secret of Kells and The Princess and the Frog). Up should fly away with the win, but don't be surprised if Coraline or Fantastic Mr. Fox pulls the upset.
  1. Up
  2. Coraline
Honestly, this is Avatar's to lose. The Young Victoria has gorgeous Victorian designs, Sherlock Holmes' London was fantastically grim, Nine featured phenomenal Italian sets combined with the fantasy world inside Citicinema, while The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus presented a world that only Terry Gilliam could dream up. But one look at the Hallelujah Mountains is enough to make me believe that Avatar is the winner here.
  1. Avatar
  2. Nine
  3. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
  4. The Young Victoria
  5. Sherlock Holmes
I really wanted to finish this one, but unfortunately I never got a chance to see The White Ribbon, so I'm left with four of five. Those four that I have seen are great, from Avatar's sweeping 3D world to Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince's dark color palate to The Hurt Locker's intuitively tight focus to Inglourious Basterd's glorious shots. Based on what I've seen, Inglourious Basterds is the favorite here, but I have a have soft spot for HBP's Bruno Delbonnel (Amelie, A Very Long Engagement).
  1. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
  2. Avatar
  3. Inglourious Basterds
  4. The Hurt Locker
Ah, the costumes. I'm no expert in this, but I do love the innovation that goes into this category. Bright Star featured some truly gorgeous gowns and petticoats, as did the royal The Young Victoria. Coco Before Chanel showcased brilliant outfits that were true to Chanel's boyish style. Nine featured the kind of Chicago-esque costumes that one expects from a Rob Marshall musical. And The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus featured a potent mix of bizarre carnival suits with bizarre fantasy. This is really The Young Victoria vs. Nine, and since royalty excels in this category, expect the former to take home the Oscar.
  1. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
  2. Coco Before Chanel
  3. Nine
  4. Bright Star
  5. The Young Victoria
This one is embarrassing for me, since I've only seen one of the five nominees. But Food, Inc. was a fascinating doc, and I can understand why it was nominated. However, The Cove is heavily favored over the rest, which includes Burma VJ, The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers, and Which Way Home.
  1. Food, Inc.
Again, I've only seen one of these. China's Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Shichuan Province was yellow journalism at its best, providing a very biased, anti-Communist American look at the results of the 2007 earthquake that struck the region. Hopefully the remaining nominees (The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner, The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant, Music by Prudence, Rabbit a la Berlin) are better than this one. Expect The Last Truck to win tonight.
  1. China's Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Shichuan Province
This is always a great category, since it often recognizes the films that many felt should have been Best Picture nominees. This year, however, features nothing but Best Picture nominees, and it has some interesting choices. Tarantino's films have always been feats of editing, and Inglourious Basterds is no different. The Hurt Locker's tight edits were a major source of the film's tension. District 9 deftly integrated the CGI aliens into the real world, and Avatar did the opposite by integrating real actors into a CGI world. The Precious' cuts between Precious' reality and her fantasy was excellently done. Expect Avatar to take this one home, with The Hurt Locker as the most likely upset candidate.
  1. Inglourious Basterds
  2. The Hurt Locker
  3. District 9
  4. Avatar
  5. Precious
This one was disappointing too in regards to my personal viewing: I only saw The Milk of Sorrow, Peru's nominee. I really wanted to see The White Ribbon (Germany) and Un Prophete (France) before the broadcast, since they are the top contenders. However, Israel's Ajami has the we're-all-connected story that the Oscars love (plus Israel is currently 0-of-9 at the Oscars, making them the most nominated country without a win), and I've heard talk of Argentina's El Secreto de Sus Ojos being the potential spoiler this year. Still, I expect The White Ribbon will walk away with the trophy, and France's Oscar drought will continue (France's last win: 1992, for Indochine).
  1. The Milk of Sorrow, Peru
The makeup category is always interesting as well, since innovation here usually comes in the form of aging or monsters. And what do you know, that's exactly how this year's category turned out. There's the aging makeup used in Il Divo, about an Italian politician. There's regal makeup in The Young Victoria. And then there's the fantastic look of the characters in Star Trek: Zachary Quinto's spot-on recreation of Spock's look, the green woman Kirk is caught with, Eric Bana's Romulan tattoos. The Young Victoria will probably win this one, but Star Trek could upset. And in case you're wondering, legendary makeup artist Rick Baker took the year off, which is why this is the rare year in which he's not nominated.
  1. Star Trek
  2. The Young Victoria
  3. Il Divo
This is another of my favorite categories, being a former band kid and music aficionado and whatnot. The composers honored here are among the best in the business, and the scores are equally great. Michael Giacchino's score in Up was emotionally resonant, particularly in the "Married Life" montage (which you can see in my Best Scenes of 2009 blog), a theme which is repeated throughout the film. James Horner's score for Avatar is the kind of chest-thumping, expansive music that befits such an epic saga. Marco Beltrami's and Bucky Sanders' subdued score for The Hurt Locker underlies the dramatic tension of the film. Hans Zimmer's Sherlock Holmes score is a playful and contemplative as the film's protagonist. And Alexandre Desplat's Fantastic Mr. Fox score is as playful as the film seems to be. Expect Giacchino to be named the big winner.
  1. Michael Giacchino, Up
  2. Alexandre Desplat, Fantastic Mr. Fox
  3. James Horner, Avatar
  4. Hans Zimmer, Sherlock Holmes
  5. Marco Beltrami & Bucky Sanders, The Hurt Locker
This is such a troubled category. Sometimes there are five nominees, sometimes there are three. Some argue that the category needs a major overhaul, while some argue that its past its prime and should be scrapped altogether. It's hard to argue: most of the time only one or two of the nominees are actually decent. This year is slightly better than most, though a step down from last year (I liked all three nominees last year). "Almost There" is a hopeful number from The Princess and the Frog, which is suitable for this new Obama age. That film's other nominated number, "Down in New Orleans," is the kind of song that Disney Renaissance musicals excelled at, but this one is oddly flat. "Loin de Paname" from Paris 36 is a lovely French ballad that continues the non-English nominee trend (not a bad one, if you ask me). Nine's new tune "Take It All," memorably performed by Marion Cotillard, is a showstopper with heart, and is perhaps one of the film's finest moments. And Crazy Heart's mellow ballad "The Weary Kind (Theme from Crazy Heart)" is a fantastic reflection on the movie, as well as the clear frontrunner for this category.
  1. "Take It All," Nine
  2. "The Weary Kind (Theme from Crazy Heart)," Crazy Heart
  3. "Almost There," The Princess and the Frog
  4. "Loin de Paname," Paris 36
  5. "Down in New Orleans," The Princess and the Frog
By some divine miracle, I actually saw all of these nominees (thanks Youtube). French Roast is a cute film about a man who can't pay for his coffee. Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty puts the ranting senior spin on the classic fairy tale. The Lady and the Reaper is a wonderfully funny rumination on accepting death. Logorama uses famous logos to construct a gonzo and profane world thats a send-up of both crime films and disaster flicks. And A Matter of Loaf and Death is the newest outing from Wallace & Gromit, who star as bakers with a murderous problem. It's the clear favorite here.
  1. A Matter of Loaf and Death
  2. Logorama
  3. The Lady and the Reaper
  4. Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty
  5. French Roast
I did not, however, see all of these. Of what I did see, Kavi tells the story of an Indian man trying to escape his place in life, and Miracle Fish is a dark film in which atmosphere triumphs over story. I understand that The New Tenants is the favorite here, though I know next to nothing about The Door and Instead of Abracadabra.
  1. Miracle Fish
  2. Kavi
I recently learned last year the difference between sound editing and sound mixing. Sound editing is the use of sound effects within a film. In that regard, this years films are excellent choices: Avatar, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Star Trek, and Up. Expect Avatar to take this one.
  1. The Hurt Locker
  2. Avatar
  3. Up
  4. Inglourious Basterds
  5. Star Trek
Sound mixing, on the other hand, is the overall soundtrack of the film, with the integration of the effects, music, and other sounds. I'm not entirely sure I'm behind the nomination for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, but the other four- Avatar, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, and Star Trek- are excellent. Avatar should win this one too.
  1. Inglourious Basterds
  2. Avatar
  3. The Hurt Locker
  4. Star Trek
  5. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
Let's face it: this one belongs to Avatar. However, its noticeable that these are all CGI effects mostly, rather than traditional ones. But such is the way of the world today. District 9's Prawns fit seemlessly with the rest of the world, and Star Trek's big effects were phenomenal. But Avatar's glorious sights are impossible to ignore.
  1. Avatar
  2. District 9
  3. Star Trek
What do you think? Comment. And tune in tonight for the winners!

Oscars 2009: Adapted Screenplay

The Adapted Screenplay category is another one of my favorites, me being an aspiring writer and all. This one is usually full of Best Picture nominees, since Oscar loves an adaptation, and this year is no exception. This year's category is interesting, though, since its not all prestige films; in fact, unlike last year, none of these are truly traditional Oscar contenders.
There's Nick Hornby's lovely adaptation of Lynn Barbar's memoir in An Education, which provides a glimpse at life during Swinging London. There's Geoffery Fletcher's fearless adaptation of Sapphire's grim novel Push into Precious, which may have featured one of the most brutally emotional stories in cinema this year. There's Sheldon Turner's and Jason Reitman's adaptation of Walter Kim's novel Up in the Air, which became a timely examination of the current economy and a timeless story of disconnect in a globalized society. There's In The Loop, written by Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, Ian Martin and Tony Roche and adapted from the British TV series The Thick of It, which provides a sharply funny political commentary on both the American War on Terror and international relations between Britain and the United States. And then there's District 9, written by Neill Blomkamp and Terri Thatchell and adapted from Blomkamp's short film Alive in Joberg, which creatively presents the South African apartheid through the sci-fi lens, with humans as the oppressors and aliens as the oppressed.
My ballot for Best Adapted Screenplay is as follows:
  1. District 9, written by Neill Blomkamp and Terri Thatchell
  2. Up in the Air, written by Sheldon Turner and Jason Reitman
  3. In the Loop, written by Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, Ian Martin and Tony Roche
  4. Precious, written by Geoffery Fletcher
  5. An Education, written by Nick Hornby

Oscars 2009: Best Supporting Actress

The category of Best Supporting Actress can be hit-or-miss for me. Some years, the nominees are fantastic in their roles and deserve to be recognized, while some years its just a collection of the same roles that Oscar tends to love to see women in (the stripper with the heart of gold, the long-suffering wife/girlfriend, etc.). Last year was one of the latter, while this year's category features some fierce performances from phenomenal actresses. This year's breakdown:
  • Let's face it: nothing was more shocking or awe-inspiring than Mo'Nique's about-face performance as Mary Jones in Precious. The amazing feat that she pulled off was that you couldn't believe a woman like this actually exists, and yet at the same time you could easily recognize her in your own life, as if you already knew her. And Mo'Nique never relents: no matter what her character does, she does it with conviction, allowing the monster that is Mary to come to exhilarating life.
  • Now come the sexpots. The first is Penelope Cruz, who smolders as Guido Contini's mistress Carla in Nine. Cruz proves that she can be fiery and sexy in her number "A Call to the Vatican," she has a wicked deadpan ("I will wait for you here. With my legs open."), and provides an emotional ground in her unrequited love for Guido. Its a high-wire act that Cruz pulls off fantastically, and she makes the most of her limited screen time.
  • The second sexpot is Vera Farmiga, who plays the sultry Alex Goran in Up in the Air. In a role that could have simply been a female version of George Clooney's character, but instead she gives the role a sensuality that lures us in with Clooney. Alex is all fun and flying, a perfect companion for Clooney's Ryan, but in the third act she cements her nomination in what I can only describe as revelatory. She ignites the screen in her performance, and never once lets that fire flicker out.
  • I like Maggie Gyllenhaal, I really do, but her role as Jean Craddock in Crazy Heart is not her best, nor is it one of the year's best. Sure, she plays the role well, heartbroken by the fact that she's fallen for Jeff Bridges' bad boy Bad Blake, but there's nothing really new happening here. Its an unfortunately rote role that Gyllenhaal is better than. I'd have included Nine's Marion Cotillard here instead.
  • Twilight made it to the Oscars! Thankfully, not this year, but alum Anna Kendrick is nominated for her role as Natalie Keener in Up in the Air, which is infinitely better than what she does in that glittery-vampire flick. Kendrick proves herself to be a phenomenal actress, not only making the could-have-been-dull role as a new hire with a plan to change how people are fired into a fascinatingly complex character, but also surprises by holding her own against her much more experienced co-stars Clooney and Farmiga. Hopefully she'll be able to get out of Forks soon and show us more of her glorious talent.
The ballot:
  1. Mo'Nique, Precious
  2. Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
  3. Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air
  4. Penelope Cruz, Nine
  5. Maggie Gyllenhaal, Crazy Heart

Oscars 2009: Best Supporting Actor

The Best Supporting Actor category is usually my favorite every year. Whereas the lead categories tend to gravitate toward the same kinds of roles year after year, the supporting category tends to have a variety of roles, from dark serial killers (No Country for Old Men's Javier Bardem in 2007) to hilarious comedic parts (Little Miss Sunshine's Alan Arkin in 2006). This year's contenders offer no shortage of variety, featuring a Nazi, an Army Notification Officer, a serial killer, a rugby player, and Leo Tolstoy. Its a strong category this year. The breakdown is as follows:
  • Christoph Waltz's Col. Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds is hands-down the most fascinating Nazi ever put to film. What's amazing about his performance is not just the role itself, but how Waltz manages to put so much character into every line-reading, every stare, every motion. Its a commanding performance thats more than just the best supporting one, its the best of the year period. Which is unfortunate for the other four guys in this category.
  • Its hard to believe this is Christopher Plummer's first Oscar nomination (not even for The Sound of Music). But its a well-deserved one, since his performance in The Last Station is excellent. He plays Leo Tolstoy with a twinkle in his eye, a man who tries to please both his friend and his wife while trying to be his own man, even if he's not quite sure what that means. Its a complex performance, and Plummer plays it wonderfully.
  • Woody Harrelson has made the most of his roles over the years, often providing comic relief but also depth to films that desperately needed it. 2009 was no exception, and his incredible performance in The Messenger as Capt. Tony Stone is the best of both Woodys. Stone is an Army Notification Officer, informing family members that their loved one has died in service, and Harrelson plays him with enough machismo to lighten up a situation, but also with enough gravitas to let us see the (very deep) flaws within this man. Its never anything less than riveting.
  • Poor Matt Damon. He really drew the short stick in Invictus, since his Francois Pienaar is the least interesting character in the group. On the plus side, Green Zone, which pairs him with his Bourne Ultimatum director Paul Greengrass and is in theaters March 12, looks fantastic.
  • Stanley Tucci has always been a reliable player, and he had a phenomenal year this year. I know that I liked The Lovely Bones more than most, but I don't think enough has been said about how astonishing Tucci is as serial killer/"friendly" neighbor George Harvey. From his schlubby frame to his mush-mouthed accent to his calm demeanor, everything about Harvey is spine-chillingly creepy, and I'm glad that Tucci has finally earned a nomination for this role.
And the ballot goes like this:
  1. Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
  2. Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones
  3. Woody Harrelson, The Messenger
  4. Christopher Plummer, The Last Station
  5. Matt Damon, Invictus

Oscars 2009: Best Actor

If there were themes for the acting categories this year, then Best Actor's would be experience. Three of the five nominees (Jeff Bridges, George Clooney, Morgan Freeman) have been nominated in this category before, and first time nominee Colin Firth has had a long, steady film career. Only Jeremy Renner is the new hotshot on the scene, though he performs as if he has been doing this for decades. This year's field is very good, though it is perhaps the weakest of the acting fields. So, without further ado, my breakdown:
  • Of course Jeff Bridges is going to win. He was great in the role of Bad Blake in Crazy Heart, but it's not the best performance in this category, nor is it the best of his career (that would be The Dude in The Big Lebowski). His win will be based on the he's-long-overdue angle.
  • Colin Firth was astounding in A Single Man, turning George Falconer, a role that could have been very one-note, into a complex portrait of a grieving man. His sexuality is played for poignancy rather than exploitation, and Firth lends George a gravity that grips you tightly. Its the performance of a lifetime.
  • It is the least showy performance of the group, but Jeremy Renner is phenomenal in The Hurt Locker. What really drives it home though is the supermarket scene at the end: Renner plays SSG William James as a man who is perfectly at home on the battlefield, but completely lost in the real world. Its devestating to see this adrenaline junkie at home, craving his next fix, and Renner makes him a real person in the process.
  • I loved George Clooney in Up in the Air. I really did. But it also felt like a variation on his performance as Michael Clayton in that eponymous film two years ago, which is kind of disappointing. It's not that I didn't love Clayton too, I just don't find his performance revelatory.
  • Morgan Freeman, though I love him in almost everything, didn't really deserve this one. He was given very little to do as Mandela in Invictus, and he wasn't given a chance to really show his immense talent. I know I'm probably in a very small minority here, but I think Daniel Day-Lewis should have been nominated for his performance in Nine.
And here is my ballot:
  1. Colin Firth, A Single Man
  2. Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker
  3. Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
  4. George Clooney, Up in the Air
  5. Morgan Freeman, Invictus
What do you think, dear reader? Comments are welcome.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Invictus (2009)

Racially-charged sports dramas are a stable genre in Hollywood. From Brian's Song to Remember the Titans, its the source of great weepies. This year, however we were treated to two such films that took alternate routes to the same message; but where The Blind Side served as a white-guilt fairy tale, Invictus, which tells the story of how then-South African president Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) used the 1995 Rugby World Cup to unite his apartheid-torn country, is a stately by-the-numbers tale that respects its subject too much.
The film mainly focuses on Mandela and his relationship with the captain of the Springboks, Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon), with a major subplot showing the changing relationships within Mandela's bodyguard crew, which consists of both black Africans and the white officers who had oppressed them just years before. The film has some excellent rugby action scenes. Considering that many Americans (myself included) know very little about the sport, its to director Clint Eastwood's credit that he makes these scenes so engaging.
Yet Invictus is oddly disappointing being an Eastwood film. The film has action, but it lacks any sense of urgency or energy. In fact, the film is bizarrely almost completely devoid of emotion at all. Eastwood's direction is often pedestrian, as if he had no emotional connection to the project at all. There are moments in the film, such as when the Springboks visit the prison Mandela had spent the previous 30 years in, that should be moving, but instead are presented as just the next set of images. This is a strange turn for Eastwood; maybe the mediocre script by Anthony Peckham just wasn't inspiring enough.
Also not inspiring are the two Oscar nominated performances by Freeman and Damon, which is also strange given their considerable talents. Freeman is a near-perfect physical doppelganger of Mandela, and plays the part well. What hinders his performance is that Mandela is such a bore here. We don't really get to see what makes him tick, nor any other interesting aspects of his life. The film portrays him as a regal statesman who only speaks in inspirational quotes, and respects him to the point of sanitizing him. In a better movie, Freeman could have been a fantastic Mandela as man, rather than Mandela as icon. Damon has it even worse though: his Pienaar is a one-dimensional character, agreeing promptly to help Mandela by encouraging the Springboks to start winning so that they can win the World Cup. But once again, there's no energy or explanation for why Pienaar does this or how the team suddenly improves. Worse, Pienaar's backstory is dreadfully glanced over, suggesting that maybe its because of his racist parents that he hopes Mandela is successful but never follows it up. Though Damon is serviceable in this role, he's hardly nomination worthy, as his talent is squandered here. It should be noted, though, that unlike The Blind Side, the film never resorts to stereotype for whites or blacks.
The story behind Invictus is a powerful one, and in reality is inspiring, since the Springboks did manage to bring South Africa together. But the film itself seems to be uninterested in being inspiring itself, and comes off as simply mediocre instead.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Coming Soon!

I have now officially seen all 20 nominated performances before the Oscar ceremony, as today I watched Invictus (which appropriately means "victorious" in Latin). Which of course delights me so. Therefore, expect the following entries (hopefully) tomorrow:
  • Invictus review (meh)
  • Best Actor ballot
  • Best Supporting Actor ballot
  • Best Supporting Actress ballot
All with pictures! And detailed thoughts! Hooray!
I still need to sit down with In The Loop, which I hope to see soon. I'll also be posting my ballots for the technical categories, and hopefully I can watch all of the Animated Short nominees soon (Documentary Feature, Documentary Short, Live Action Short and Animated Feature are probably not going to be completed before the ceremony, so educated guesses will be made and updates will appear as I see the nominees).
Until then, my latest non-Oscar-related obsession:

Monday, March 1, 2010

"Be Italian": Nine (2009)

Maybe I just have a new thing for flops.
I already said in a recent post that I enjoyed The Lovely Bones. This weekend I went to see Nine, which was pretty much dumped on by all the critics and left for dead by the awards bodies after a strong initial run. And you know what? I liked it a lot.
Great movie, but what a terrible poster/tagline.
Nine is based on the Broadway musical of the same name, which was an adaptation of Federico Fellini's 1963 masterpiece 8 1/2. The film is about famous Italian director Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis), who is beginning work on his newest film. His production is delayed, however, thanks to the numerous problems in his life: he cannot write a screenplay, he has no inspiration, and his life is a mess thanks to his deteriorating balance between his wife Louisa (Marion Cotillard) and his mistress Carla (Penelope Cruz). In fact, the film revolves around his relationships with seven distinct women in his life: Louisa; Carla; his muse, Claudia (Nicole Kidman); a reporter, Stephanie (Kate Hudson); his costume designer/confidant Lilli (Dame Judi Dench); his deceased mother (Sophia Loren, ironically the only principle cast member who's actually Italian); and a prostitute from his childhood, Saraghina (Stacy "Fergie" Ferguson).
The women of Nine
The interesting thing about Nine is that even though many of the aforementioned parts are small, every actor makes the most of the part. Day-Lewis, Cotillard and Cruz get the most screen time, certainly, but the others do well in their performances. Two in particular stand out: Dench plays Lilli as both a playful friend and a knowing mother-figure to Guido, and Ferguson steals the movie in her number, "Be Italian," oozing passion and sexuality as the woman who Guido goes to as a young boy to learn how to be a lover. In the "leads" (though really only DDL is a lead in this film, with everyone else supporting him, but I digress), Cruz- the Oscar nominee- is sexy and engaging, and also proves that she has a wicked deadpan. However, I was more impressed with Cotillard's longsuffering Louisa, who watches her marriage, or rather fantasy of a marriage, fall apart in Guido's hands. And her new number, "Take It All," is the kind of fierce performance that makes Louisa the most emotionally resonant character in the film. DDL is reliably fantastic as Guido, which has really become one of the most underrated performances of the year (which is strange considering he's DDL). He nails the complications of Guido, from the jokey public persona to the damaged private one, complete with womanizing and creative impotency.
Of course, director Rob Marshall has much to do with the film's quality as well. Marshall proved he could direct an incredible musical with Chicago in 2002, and here his unique style works even better. Chicago was a mix of Roxie Hart's reality with cabaret fantasy; 8 1/2 already mixed fantasy with reality, and therefore making Nine the perfect film for Marshall's talents. And here he intersects the reality of Guido's struggles with fantasy performances on the unfinished set of his film. In technical aspects though, the art direction and costume design are fantastic, and the choreography is jaw-dropping (especially in "Be Italian," "Cinema Italiano," and "Take It All"), but the true star is cinematographer Dion Beebe. Beebe wisely switches styles throughout the film, cutting back and forth between a modern Marshall style and callbacks to Fellini's style in 8 1/2. It's a wonderful juxtaposition, and an excellent reminder of how deeply Fellini has influenced cinema today whether we realize it or not.
And to think Beebe wasn't nominated this year....
Nine's few weak points come from the screenplay. Written by Michael Tolkin and the late Anthony Minghella, the film has dropped a lot of musical numbers and tries to condense a lot of the source material. But this isn't a major quibble. Some of the musical performances are also a little weak; Sophia Loren has proven that she can sing, so it's weird that she mostly speaks her number, and Nicole Kidman's number is in an oddly lower octave. But again, these are only minor complaints.
Nine is the kind of musical that's fun to watch, but also stays with you story-wise and performance-wise rather than just musically.