Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Gotham Winners and Spirit Noms: The Oscar Race Heats Up

As the song goes, its the most wonderful time of the year. Its a time I await with anxious enthusiasm, checking out all of the goods to see what offers the best. And the presents I'll wake up to that glorious morning will bring me untold joy. I'm talking, of course, about the awards season. The various top 10s will start pouring in in the next few days, and the Oscar race will begin to find its true shape (also, the Grammy nominations are tomorrow. I'll have them here.).
Yesterday the winners of the Gotham Independent Film Awards were announced (see the nominees here). Winter's Bone was the big winner, which seems to indicate that the momentum is only continuing to build for this film, while The Kids Are All Right and festival favorite Tiny Furniture went home empty handed. Here's the full list of winners:
Best Film: Winter's Bone
Best Documentary: The Oath
Best Ensemble: Winter's Bone
Best Breakthrough Performance: Ronald Bronstein, Daddy Longlegs (Interestingly, Winter's Bone's Jennifer Lawrence lost this one.)
Best Breakthrough Director: Kevin Asch, Holy Rollers
Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You: Little Rock
Festival Genius Audience Award: Waiting for Superman
Then, this morning, the nominees for this year's Independent Spirit Awards were announced. Usually, this isn't a major Oscar predictor, per se, but it does usually shed light on some of the potential nominees, particularly the ones from smaller films. But this year does have some major surprises, and could actually prove to be a major factor in a lot of these films' Oscar chances.
The nominees are:
Black Swan
127 Hours
The Kids Are All Right
Winter's Bone
Its possible that as many as four of these films could end up Best Picture nominees (Greenburg is pretty much out of the picture, despite being a fine film). Its a tight race here: any of them could reign supreme, but if momentum and total nominations are any indication, Winter's Bone and The Kids Are All Right are looking really good. I'm still surprised that Winter's Bone has managed such an impressive comeback; I wasn't head-over-heels for it but I can see why people would react to it this way. And I don't buy for a second all of this "TKAAR is overrated" crap. It was a bold original story, exploring an alternative family by treating it as it should be: like its no different from a heterosexual couple. And I'm excited about 127 Hours and Black Swan, both of which will be around here soon (I hope).
Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
Danny Boyle, 127 Hours
Lisa Cholodenko, The Kids Are All Right
Debra Granik, Winter's Bone
John Cameron Mitchell, Rabbit Hole
A very interesting and exciting group of directors, all of which have made important impacts on independent film in the past. Its hard to imagine them passing up the opportunity to reward a visionary director like Aronofsky, but Cholodenko is one of their favorites, so she's possible too. And I'm so glad that Mitchell was recognized: he's got a terrific filmography that hopefully more people will dive into after they see Rabbit Hole.
Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg, The Kids Are All Right
Debra Granik & Anne Rosselini, Winter's Bone
Nicole Holofcener, Please Give
David Lindsay-Abaire, Rabbit Hole
Todd Solondz, Life During Wartime
I expect a few of these will probably be Oscar nominees as well. And how great is it that there are so many women writers in here?
Everything Strange and New; director, Frazer Bradshaw
Get Low; director, Aaron Schneider
Night Catches Us; director, Tanya Hamilton
The Last Exorcism; director, Daniel Stamm
Tiny Furniture; director, Lena Dunham
I'm sure Tiny Furniture, with so much love from critics, will win this. I'm shocked to see The Last Exorcism here: I didn't realize people liked it this much.
Obselidia, Diane Bell
Tiny Furniture, Lena Dunham
Lovely, Still, Nik Flacker
Jack Goes Boating, Bob Glaudini
Monogamy, Dana Adam Shapiro & Evan M. Wiener
I genuinely hope to see these writers (and the above directors) find more work in the future.
Daddy Longlegs
Lovers of Hate
The Exploding Girl
This is the award for films made for less than $500,000.
Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
Greta Gerwig, Greenberg
Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence, Winter's Bone
Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine
This is the only category Blue Valentine is nominated in, which makes me think that if the hipster Spirit crowd aren't comfortable with it, I doubt the Academy will be. Still, with the exception of the lovely Gerwig, all of these are in serious Oscar contention, and this could be one of the big showdowns for the Academy's prize between current frontrunners Bening and Portman. We'll see how this turns out.
Ronald Bronstein, Daddy Longlegs
Aaron Eckhart, Rabbit Hole
James Franco, 127 Hours
John C. Reilly, Cyrus
Ben Stiller, Greenberg
Bronstein, as you read above, won at the Gothams, so its notable that he's been nominated here. Also, this is probably Franco's to lose. But notice who's not nominated: Robert Duvall for Get Low. Does this mean that his film has lost two years' worth of momentum, and that his Oscar chances are in jeopardy?
Ashley Bell, The Last Exorcism
Dale Dickey, Winter's Bone
Allison Janney, Life During Wartime
Daphne Rubin-Vega, Jack Goes Boating
Naomi Watts, Mother and Child
Again with The Last Exorcism! This is a very indie category, and I'm not entirely sure who's really got the best shot at a win here. I do have to say that I hope its Dickey, since she's so good in the film.
John Hawkes, Winter's Bone
Samuel L. Jackson, Mother and Child
Bill Murray, Get Low
John Ortiz, Jack Goes Boating
Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right
I find it odd that Murray got a nomination but Duvall didn't. Still, I'm rooting for Hawkes and Ruffalo, since both are terrific, but namely Ruffalo, since he needs this to remind people that he deserves an Oscar nomination for his brilliant work in the film.
Adam Kimmel, Never Let Me Go
Matthew Libatique, Black Swan
Jody Lee Lipes, Tiny Furniture
Michael McDonough, Winter's Bone
Harris Savides, Greenberg
If Black Swan does prove to be too outre for Academy tastes, it at least will most likely have a lock for Libatique. I can't see him losing here.
Exit Through the Gift Shop
Thunder Soil
I actually saw Restrepo on National Geographic last night, and boy, is it a doozy of a doc. I think it stands a serious threat as an award-grabbing film, though I've heard good things about the others too. But only Restrepo and Gift Shop made the Academy shortlist, so we'll see how it goes.
The King's Speech
Of Gods and Men
Mademoiselle Chambon
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
I still don't understand why British films are included here, since most are American co-productions. And for some reason, this is the only category The King's Speech was eligible for. Of Gods and Men and Uncle Boonmee were Oscar submissions from France and Thailand, respectively, and it'll be interesting to see if either one picks up steam after this.
Please Give
This is given to the director, casting director, and cast of a film. I've just added this to my Netflix queue for future viewing.
The Spirit Awards will be held on the Santa Monica beach the day before the Oscars. What do you think of these? How many of the nominees have you seen?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Glee: "Furt"

Welcome back, everyone! I never got a chance to watch last week's big wedding episode of Glee, so I apologize for the delay, but here we go.
There was no real indication, within the narrative, that there was going to be a wedding on Glee. And indeed, while most shows would have spent an entire season building up to the big day, Burt Hummel (Mike O'Malley) and Carole Hudson (Romy Rosemont) have gone from proposal to reception in the course of about 35 minutes. Elsewhere in this episode, Kurt's bullying issues with Karofsky finally come to a head, providing a pretty heavy subplot in which the entire glee club tries to protect Kurt. And Sue decides she's going to marry herself, and things get tough when her Nazi-hunting mother (Carol Burnett) drops by.
There was a lot going on in this episode, and I feel that it suffered from trying to accomplish so much. There were some interesting moments in the main wedding plot, including not one but two Bruno Mars songs (let me get this straight: last year's "Theatricality" episode is considered a Lady Gaga tribute when only two songs are used, but this one isn't billed as a Bruno Mars tribute. Is it because they said "Lady Gaga" fifty million times in the former?). I'm actually glad they chose to use "Marry You," obvious as it is, but its better than throwing in some other song that's only ostensibly about marriage, as they've done in the past. But for the most part, as I said before, it felt rushed, as if Murphy didn't want to spend any time with buildup and just jump straight into the ceremony.
Let's also be honest: Sue's marriage to herself is one of, if not the, dumbest thing this show has done yet. It never made sense to begin with, and didn't even deserve to be considered for a one-liner. What we get is a stupid subplot that only gets stupider as the episode crawls on, wasting the superior talents of Jane Lynch and guest-star Carol Burnett, who at least gets a lovely (but pointless) song. Of course, Murphy also gave us "Britney/Brittany" this year, which has me nervous that he may be the one who kills this show's creativity.
Kurt's subplot was well-done, however, and may have been the episode's saving grace for me. There was real tension in the interactions between Kurt and Karofsky, and it was refreshing to see everyone come to his defense, particularly Sam in the locker room in what was actually a pretty intense fight (by Glee's standards). It was great to see everyone show Kurt that they accept him as he is, especially Finn, who obviously still has some work to do with his own homophobia but is making progress by finally accepting Kurt as a brother. And all of this leads up to those killer final two minutes: Kurt announces that he's transferring to Dalton Academy, where he'll be competing against the New Directions at Sectionals. It was a moment that some may have seen coming, but it still had plenty of shock value, and it was perfectly executed.
Overall, it was a weaker episode, but I can definitely say that I'm excited for this week's Sectionals episode. Here's hoping that the show takes what it's started here and runs with it (guarded optimism, mind you).
- Also stupid: Sam's promise ring proposal to Quinn when they're not even dating. That was a beyond creepy move.
- Coincidently, I found out just yesterday that some friends of mine are going to be getting married. So mazel tov, Ian and Emily!
- Has anyone else noticed how the show has been slowly shying away from Rachel? She isn't featured nearly as much as she was last year, and probably for good reason too. Which is a shame, because Lea Michele is seriously talented, though I'm sure she'll get a big musical number next week.
- I've written before about how well-drawn a character Kurt is, but not enough people talk about Burt. Despite being a minor character who only appears in a few episodes, he's surprisingly deep and nuanced, balancing his own rubberneck manliness with a touching, honest love and acceptance of his more-effeminate son. In fact, I'd say that the Kurt-Burt relationship is easily the show's best, and give credit to the excellent Mike O'Malley for that.
- Wit 'n' Wisdom of Sue Sylvester: "By the power invested in me by a website, I now pronounce you Sue and Sue. You may kiss yourself."

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

I'll be off for the next few days. Enjoy your tryptophan and other delicious foodstuffs, and try to avoid the fate of poor Violet Beauregarde.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Gimme Five: Five Less-Than Great Directors Who Are Technically Auteurs

I thought about this one a while back, but now seems like a good time to put it up. These directors are not exactly cinematic masters, but they have become legends in their own subgenres and have a distinctive style that pretty much makes them auteurs, if you buy into auteur theory. But don't be fooled: they're no Hitchcock.
1. Roland Emmerich
Emmerich specializes in the end-of-the-world film, creating works that are usually high on destruction and low on plot. Even more so, he has a particular fondness for the destruction of New York City (see: Independence Day, Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow), though what crime the Big Apple committed against him is anyone's guess. But you can tell you're watching a Roland Emmerich film: there will be highly-stylized scenes of destruction, a thin plot that usually doesn't make a lick of sense, and, as always, the dog will live to the end. Emmerich may have tried branching out with efforts like The Patriot and 10,000 BC, but take a look and even those films follow Emmerich's blueprint. And 2012 is his magnum opus, more or less ditching narrative all together to make a movie where the destruction knows no end and people drive Bentleys out of the backs of airplanes. It's excessive Emmerich at his best.
2. Uwe Boll
No one's ever accused Boll of making a great film; hell, no one's even claimed that he's made a mediocre film. Boll's films are always met with near-universal jeers, and if you've ever had the (dis)pleasure to see one of his films, you'll know why: stale stories, wooden dialogue, terrible picture quality and uninteresting characters dominate his films, which are usually video-game adaptations. It's become his trademark, at this point, and he's even appeared to embrace his status as this generation's Ed Wood: why else would he make one of his next films Blubberella, which he describes as "the world's first fat superhero?" There's no doubt it will be terrible, but it wouldn't be a Uwe Boll film otherwise.
3. Tyler Perry
Not all of these directors are on here because their contributions to cinema are detrimental; indeed, I do enjoy an Emmerich film every once in a while. And Perry has carved himself an interesting place in pop culture. He's not a very talented director, as evidenced by the uninspiring staging and mise-en-scene he incorporates into all of his films, but that's probably because most of his films are based on plays and still feel like plays in the way he shoots them (even though he's adapting those plays himself, which may be part of the problem). Perry hasn't exactly been well-received by everyone, either, with several critics claiming that his films are "minstrel shows" that advance black stereotypes. But Perry does have his faithful audience, and amidst all of the corn-pone humor and Christian uplift is cinematic comfort food. His films stand out, and he's a very wealthy man for it.
4. Aaron Seltzer and Jason Friedberg
I've already written about these two before, but they bear repeating. These two have taken over the spoof genre after the Wayans Brothers decided that they have better things to do, and as a result we get one terrible spoof after another, most of which do nothing but make pop culture references in the hopes that something is funny because it exists. There's nothing good about their abilities as directors, and audiences have been waning from this tired genre. Yet their style in unmistakable, and for some reason, studios keep giving them money to make their films. I genuinely feel sorry for them, but perhaps they enjoy their jobs, and it doesn't really matter how the films do? One can only hope.
5. Michael Bay
Bay is infamous for his heavy action, laughable plot style of filming, and he also could care less if you don't like it. Bay is perhaps the truest auteur on this list, as there's no way you could mistake a Michael Bay production for one of his many knock-offs. From buddy-cop films (Bad Boys and Bad Boys 2) to historical "prestige" films (Pearl Harbor) to glossy sci-fi (The Island), there's no film genre that Bay can't jam a million explosions and car wrecks into. There's a reason his films usually do well: he appeals to the 13-year-old boy inside of most Americans, perhaps because he himself is very in-touch with his inner 13-year-old. Which is why the Transformers movies are his Citizen Kane: nothing better exemplifies Bay's explosive tendencies like these "ROBOTS GO SMASH!!!!!!!!!!!!" epics. Do his films follow any logical storytelling? That would be assuming that Bay actually has a story to tell. But when you need a film where pretty much everything goes "BOOM!," Bay's your man.
Honorable Mention: Brett Ratner
I don't actually have anything to say about him. I just wanted an excuse to use this picture again.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Harry Potter Addendum

A friend of mine with whom I attended Deathly Hallows described Helena Bonham Carter as the following: "She's the Michael Cera of crazy ladies."
Yep, it is kind of fitting.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 1 (2010)

I could've turned this review into a piece lamenting the end of Harry Potter. There's a lot of articles like that out there, especially in reference to those of us who grew up with Harry Potter, experiencing his story as it unfolded in the books and the movies (I like to call us the Hogwarts Generation). I'm not going to do that however, for one simple reason: this isn't the end of Harry Potter. This is part 1 of the last film, with part 2 premiering on July 16, 2011. I'll discuss the end then.
For those of you who haven't been keeping up, the world is in dark days at the beginning of Deathly Hallows: Voldemort's followers have infiltrated every level of the wizarding world, from the British government to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The world lives in fear of attack, as the Death Eaters are looking to purge the world of everyone who is not of pure wizarding blood. Voldemort, however, has another goal: achieve ultimate victory by eliminating Harry Potter, the only one who can kill him. Harry, Ron, and Hermione, meanwhile, are out on a quest to destroy the six Horcruxs, objects in which Voldemort has hidden a piece of his soul magically. They'll have to destroy them all in order to defeat Voldemort once and for all, and they'll need to do so before Voldemort gets a hold of the Deathly Hallows, three objects that, when united, make the holder invincible to death.
There's two really important things to remember going into this movie, and they are essential to one's viewing pleasure. The first is a core principle that applies to all of the Harry Potter films: if you compare the movies to the books, you're bound to be disappointed. The films cannot incorporate everything from the books, especially after Goblet of Fire when the books reached mammoth sizes. One has to think of the film as its own entity, and treat it as such. That being said, compared to the other films, this one is probably the most faithful to the source material, a benefit of having the book split into two films (a decision that, inspired by money-grabbing greed or not, I believe is exceptionally beneficial from a creative standpoint).
The second thing that you have to keep in mind is that this is only part 1 of the story. Just like the first half of the book from which it is based, Part 1 is mostly set-up for the epic finale, which will arrive in Part 2. What that means is that Part 1 may be short on wall-to-wall action, but it is without a doubt the most nuanced, subtle, and mature Harry Potter film yet.
I want to emphasize that "mature" part. The films, like the books, have changed as Harry has grown up. The first two films were simple kid flicks, fascinated by magic with little in the way of complicated (or even interesting) storytelling. However, starting around Prisoner of Azkaban, things started getting darker, both thematically (moral ambiguity and flawed heroes begin to work their way into the story) and aesthetically (check out director Alfonso Cuaron's muted color palette in Azkaban, which would be recreated to various degrees in each subsequent movie). This film is the culmination of that maturity in many ways. The actors have played these characters for so long, that they could just repeat themselves. Instead, they continue to take them into surprisingly human (and terrific) territory.
There are two excellent moments that exemplify this. The first comes at the beginning of the film, barely a minute in. The trio are about to go on the run rather than return to school (where they'd be in grave danger), and Harry and Hermione are about to leave their respective homes for the final time. While Harry's departure from the Dursleys is cut short, it's Hermione's scene that's really amazing: she stands behind her parents, who are watching TV, and magically erases their memory of her. She disappears from their family pictures, her parents are completely oblivious, and the devastated look on her face is one of the series' most heartbreaking moments. It's something that couldn't have been done in any previous film.
The second moment is a beautiful little moment that comes later in the film, after (SPOILER ALERT) Ron has left the group in a jealous rage. Hermione is depressed and Harry, pulling her out of her chair to lead her in an impromptu dance. It's a moment that's not in the book, and it fits perfectly with the characters' development up to that point. It's sweet, heartwarming, and beautiful, a reminder of how powerful their friendship is.
The filmmaking has matured as well. Director David Yates, who's been with the series since Order of the Phoenix, has proven to be a great match for the series' darker years, bringing a great sense of levity to the films. With no Hogwarts in sight this time, the film gets an opportunity to explore the British countryside and the city of London, and the result are some excellent sequences, such as the ambush on the way to the Weasley's house, a tense infiltration of the Ministry of Magic, and a disorienting chase through the forest. First-time Potter cinematographer Eduardo Serra has created some absolutely gorgeous images, and the camera work he uses is refreshing for the nine-year-old series.
Of course, Potter fans know about author J.K. Rowling's ruthlessness in this book: every character is suspect to being killed. And the big deaths here will hit home hard for fans, myself included. So be warned, fans: it's brutal.
Overall, I found this to be the best Potter film so far, and a terrific film in general. Yes, maybe it's slow, and maybe there's not much payoff in THIS entry, but remember that it's all setup for Part 2.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Oscar Predictions: November 2010

Now things are really heating up: more and more of the contending films are being released, and that means we're starting to figure out who's really got what it takes. The precursors that are coming aren't too predicitive, but they are starting to create a more clear picture. As a result, there's been some pretty interesting changes in my predictions. Check them out below, and comment with your opinions.
127 Hours
The Kids are All Right
Toy Story 3
The King's Speech
The Social Network
The Fighter
True Grit
Winter's Bone
Blue Valentine
I think the first seven of these films are pretty solid bets at this point: most of them have been seen and have earned the requisite reviews to make the cut, and The Fighter has earned some good early reviews. I'm still not completely sure about True Grit, but the trailers have me thinking that its at least a very real possibility. I'm dropping Another Year, since most of that film's buzz seems to be resting only on Lesley Manville, as well as Rabbit Hole, since I just don't think it'll make it anymore. Winter's Bone has plenty of momentum, and its only increasing; if it can continue this impressive display of staying power, then its in. I'm really skeptical of Blue Valentine, but its gaining a lot of attention for its NC-17 rating and the Weinstein's pledge to repeal it, so I'm thinking that this buzz will encourage voters to see it, and if they see it, it'll get in. But that spot could easily go to Black Swan (I'm waiting for reviews before I include it) or possibly The Way Back, though I doubt the latter has much of a chance. And I'm glad I never had faith in Secretariat: there's no way that one will make it here now.
Tom Hooper, The King's Speech
Christopher Nolan, Inception
David Fincher, The Social Network
Danny Boyle, 127 Hours
David O. Russell, The Fighter
I don't really feel comfortable picking Russell: his film doesn't seem like a sure thing, and he has a bad reputation for being an abrasive director. But unless Black Swan is nominated, giving Darren Aronofsky a stronger chance, I don't really see any of the directors of the other Best Picture nominees getting in (and with a 10-wide field, I highly doubt anyone can score a directing nod without having their film land in the top category again). I'm keeping the rest of my field though; there's nothing to indicate they won't be nominated.
James Franco, 127 Hours
Colin Firth, The King's Speech
Robert Duvall, Get Low
Mark Wahlberg, The Fighter
Jeff Bridges, True Grit
I know, I know, it seems like I flip-flop on Ryan Gosling in every installment. I've dropped him this time because I'm finally getting on the Bridges train, though I'm not necessarily convinced. Still, he's got a lot of buzz, and the industry still loves him. For Gosling, I feel that even if enough people see his film to put it into Best Picture, his performance will probably be perceived as too natural or subtle to be nominated. I'm not too sure about Wahlberg, either, since most of his film's reviews have singled out Christian Bale instead of him. But Paul Giamatti (Barney's Version) and Javier Bardem (Biutiful) are strong possibilities too, so anything could happen.
Annette Bening, The Kids are All Right
Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
Lesley Manville, Another Year
Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Jennifer Lawrence, Winter's Bone
I'm finally relenting and including Lawrence; her film is getting strong buzz and she's the most poised contender in this category to be the Next Big Thing. Unfortunately, this comes at the expense of Anne Hathaway, but at this point her film just seems less and less like a legitimate Oscar contender. She's not out of the running, but she doesn't seem as strong a bet as she once did. Of course, the deck is pretty stack this year (though I wouldn't say its too crowded), so there are several other women who could find themselves earning a nomination.
Christian Bale, The Fighter
Mark Ruffalo, The Kids are All Right
Geoffrey Rush, The King's Speech
Sam Rockwell, Conviction
Andrew Garfield, The Social Network
I've decided to swap out Justin Timberlake for his Social Network co-star Garfield, since the latter has picked up considerable momentum and has the same Next Big Thing status as Lawrence does. The one who's really in trouble is Rockwell: despite having an on-fire career at the moment, his film has floundered, which will hurt his chances. However, he's been singled out as the best thing about the film, so I'm sticking with him for now. Waiting to take his place, though, are Timberlake, Ed Harris (The Way Back), Dustin Hoffman (Barney's Version), and even Armie Hammer (The Social Network).
Helena Bonham Carter, The King's Speech
Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom
Amy Adams, The Fighter
Rosamund Pike, Made in Dagenham
Okay, okay, Pike is probably just wishful thinking. And I am kind of playing her here as a wild card. But this category is still wide-open, and Barbara Hershey, Miranda Richardson, Hailee Steinfeld, Juliette Lewis, Dianne Weist, Kristen Scott Thomas, Marion Cotillard, Sissy Spacek, and even Rebecca Hall are all waiting in the wings, and a case could be made for any one of them. In the early reviews for The Fighter, Adams has been picking up some unusually strong notices, so it looks as if the Academy will reward her unconventional casting with her third nomination.