Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Going into The Dark Knight Rises, I had a number of concerns. For starters, its the follow-up to 2008's The Dark Knight, which is one of the greatest superhero films ever made (if you're interested, depending on the day, I would cite Spider-Man 2 as being better, but The Incredibles will always be tops in my heart). How do you follow up a villain as magnetically unhinged as the Joker, particularly a performance of a lifetime from the late Heath Ledger? TDKR is also follows director Christopher Nolan's Inception, in my opinion his best film to date. How will Nolan deliver on those heightened expectations? Most of all, TDKR is the conclusion of Nolan's Batman trilogy: can he succeed where so many others have failed and bring his story to satisfying conclusion despite impossible expectations?

The answer to those questions, respectively, are: you don't try to, he doesn't, and he almost sticks the landing.



TDKR picks up several years after the events of The Dark Knight. Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) is still racked with guilt about concealing the truth about the deceased Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart, appearing only in photographs), the "hero Gotham needed, but not the one it deserved." The Batman has completely disappeared, and crime has reached all-time lows in the city. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has become a damaged recluse, in physical pain from a leg injury and emotional pain from the death of his beloved Rachel. However, he may soon need to come out of hiding: a conspiracy is afoot, seemingly led by the masked brute Bane (Tom Hardy) and involving both enigmatic thief Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) and a nuclear generator courtesy of an investment in Wayne Industries by Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard). As Gotham is threatened, Wayne re-emerges, as does the Batman, with some help from ambitious young detective John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt).

Like all of Nolan's films, the film opens with a remarkable set piece: a mid-air, plane-to-plane hijacking that is truly extraordinary to behold. Despite having a near-sterling reputation as one of the biggest blockbuster directors today, Nolan is somewhat underrated when it comes to his skill as an action director. The film's action sequences are air-tight and intricately executed. Unfortunately, the plot is not as solid. Bane's scheme and the revelations around it are ambitious on a macro level; however, the minor details don't always coalesce. Even though the film runs at over two-and-a-half hours, it still feels incomplete.



This isn't to say that the film isn't hugely entertaining. The entire cast puts forth great performances. Bale mopes about but still manages to come across as charming. Gordon-Levitt shines with idealism as someone who has long looked up to Batman, but must come to learn that fighting crime isn't always so black-and-white. Oldman and Michael Caine, as Commissioner Gordon and Alfred Pennyworth, respectively, have long been the franchise's MVPs, and in this film they do some of their finest work, especially Caine. Hardy makes a foreboding villain as Bane, and, to touch on the point I made earlier, distinguishes himself as a totally different kind of villain: where the Joker was an agent of chaos, Bane is an agent of control, a man who has a very clear plan and intends to see it through come hell or high water. However, it's Hathaway who steals the movie with ease, cleverness, and sexuality that her Selina Kyle employs in her heists. Like Michelle Pfiffer before her in Batman Returns, she absolutely owns the role, playing everything close to the chest while remaining, as she describes herself, completely "adaptable."



Before I conclude this review, I want to briefly comment on the politics that many have been reading into the film. There's no doubt that Nolan does have a political message in this film, but, like his previous Batman films, I see it as neither left nor right-wing, but nonpartisan. The message here seems to be that we should be wary of who's bankrolling popular movements; for example, is the Tea Party movement an expression of how conservative America really feels about the Obama Administration, or is it a movement bankrolled and dictated by the Koch Brothers based on their interests. Similarly, who's running the Occupy movement: the American people or liberal interest groups? It is interesting food for thought, even if the film presents it a bit heavy-handedly.

The Dark Knight Rises, despite some misgivings, is still an terrifically enjoyable film. It may not hold up as well as The Dark Knight, nor will it be regarded as one of Christopher Nolan's finest films, but it is definitely an excellent entry in the superhero genre and a fine ending to the best superhero trilogy thus far. A-

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Sherlock Jr. (1924)


And so begins Buster Keaton's 1924 film, Sherlock Jr. Keaton himself plays the hapless projector/would-be detective, and without fail hilarity ensues. There has been much debate among cinephiles in Keaton vs. Charlie Chaplin, but what makes Keaton so great, I think, is his hangdog demeanor and lovable daffiness: its a miracle his characters make it to the end of any of his films. In this film, the local sheik (Ward Crane) has stolen a watch from the father (Joe Keaton) of the girl (Kathryn McGuire) whom the projectionist is trying to woo. The projectionist decides to take on the case himself, but once he's framed, he's kicked out of the house and left to his other job, where he escapes into the world of film to become Sherlock Jr., the world's greatest detective.


The film plays with a lot of ideas on the escapism of the movies, allowing the projectionist to become a suave and brilliant (but still prone to mayhem) detective who can solve the case and win the girl. Throughout the film, we get to experience the wish-fulfillment that the movies provide for many of us, and Keaton's staging of the scenes in which he's explicitly commenting on this is spectacular. Take, for example, my choice for favorite shot (I'm actually going to cheat a bit here, with a series of shots instead of just one) (also: spoiler alert):


The projectionist, alone in his booth, awakens from his fantasy, only to see that life isn't always like the movies. However, the girl has already found the real culprit in the crime, and seeks out the projectionist in his booth, and as she apologizes to him, he looks to the screen for guidance...






Keaton frames both couples, allowing us to see how the projectionist's reality and fantasy have come together. In a sense, we get art imitating life, or, rather, life imitating art, as the projectionist takes his cues from the screen. Keaton seems to be asking: how do movies, or art in general, influence our daily lives? Do we, as an audience, take our cues from what we are watching, whether explicitly or subliminally? Its an argument that still continues to this day.



As the projectionist gives the girl a peck, rather than a passionate kiss, Keaton seems to comically suggest, "well, maybe..."



...even if we're not entirely certain whether that influence is necessarily positive or negative.

Other great shots:


Hee.


I just love the composition of this shot, with Sherlock Jr. riding a driverless motorcycle while staring ahead at an oncoming train. Its a thing of beauty.


A nice little piece of cinematic illusion: that's the magic of the movies!

This has been a contribution to The Film Experience's Hit Me with Your Best Shot.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

"I love you, but you don't know what you're talking about."


Its the 1960s, the setting a vaguely New England island consisting of a summer camp, a police station, and few odd houses inhabited by even odder people. Sam (Jared Gilman), a misfit Khaki Scout, has run away with Suzy (Kara Hayward), the blue-eye-shadow-wearing, book-reading object of Sam's affections. The adults of the island - the chief of police (Bruce Willis), the Khaki Scoutmaster (Edward Norton), Suzy's parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) - are searching desperately for them as a terrible storm approaches. Making camp on a beach on the other side of the island, Suzy tells Sam that she's always wished she could be an orphan like Sam, to which Sam responds with the above line of dialogue. This is the moment where Moonrise Kingdom, the latest film from Wes Anderson, delves into its main theme: even (or perhaps especially) first love is melancholic.

Anderson's detractors will often take the director to task for creating films that are precociously mannered, designed to look like living dioramas and best enjoyed with '60s French pop music. By these arguments, his films are nothing more than shallow exercises in whimsey, with very little substance to recommend. However, this is an unfair accusation, since all of Anderson's films have a dark undercurrent that cuts through his more precious tendencies. Moonrise Kingdom is perhaps his most poignant - and best - film since The Royal Tenenbaums.


Anderson, working from a terrific script co-written by Roman Coppola, includes many of his favorite motifs here, including an impartial narrator (Bob Balaban) who nonetheless participates in the story and offbeat humor courtesy of clueless adults, not to mention a mandatory appearance from longtime Anderson player Jason Schwartzman (Owen Wilson was busy, apparently). However, he scores some magnificently heartbreaking images as well, adding to the melancholy of the film. And though the finale sometimes gets a little out of control, Anderson still ties it all together with the hands of a master storyteller, bring it all back down to earth.

None of this would work as well as it does, though, without the performances. Murray has specialized in hangdog men stifled with regret and longing, and he continues to deliver here. McDormand and Willis get an opportunity to show their depth as well, and Norton is a delight as the hapless scoutmaster leading young boys on a search party. Tilda Swinton briefly shows up as "Social Services," wearing a sweeping coat that adds to her character's menace. And Schwartzman's brief appearance as "Cousin Ben" is endlessly amusing.


However, the best performances come courtesy of young leads Gilman and Hayward, both of whom had very little acting experience before this film (it's the first film for both of them). Gilman is remarkable as Sam, a kid wise beyond his years - especially in survival, in every sense. Direct, honest, and fond of his corncob pipe, Sam is a terrific creation, and Gilman handles it like a pro. Hayward is perhaps the film's MVP. With a steely resolve that softens the more she gets to know Sam, Hayward shines, consistently stealing the show from the adult actors. She'll be one to watch for in the future.

With Moonrise Kingdom, Anderson proves why he was such a phenomenon in the indie circuit at the turn of the century. When it comes to love, Anderson knows what he's talking about. A

Friday, July 20, 2012

"Some men just want to watch the world burn."

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the victims of the theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado today. This was a senseless crime, with no excuses.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Magic Mike (2012)

Magic Mike, the advertising campaign, promised the equivalent of a girls-and-gays-night-out to a male strip club, 100 minutes of gorgeous men showing their moves and their abs for a wad of crumpled-up ones and the excited screams of an audience in lust. It was a smart move: like Channing Tatum's title character (and, in another way, the actor's career up to this point), the film was presented as sexy, flashy, and shallow. And like Tatum and his "Mike," the film was showed surprising depth for a film about stripping.



Mike (Tatum) works a number of jobs, including co-managing a construction site. One day on the site, he comes across Adam (Alex Pettyfer), who's been crashing on his sister's couch and looking for work. Mike takes "the Kid" under his wing, and brings him into the stripper fold, at a club run by Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), a Svengali in assless chaps. Over the course of the summer, the Kid rises, and Mike flirts with the Kid's sister, Brooke (Cody Horn), while also examining his own life.

Director Steven Soderbergh and screenwriter Reid Carolin, working with stories from Tatum's brief stint as a stripper before he became an actor, present this supposedly-seedy underworld in a remarkably matter-of-fact way. Not only does Mike perform, but he also does the books for the club, as well as saving up his funds to launch his own custom furniture business. The club scenes (not the performances, obviously) are marked with inane small talk between the men. Even the location is remarkably mundane: Tampa, not Miami, Florida. Soderbergh shoots the city in a yellow filter, and presents it as a city of the recession: still carrying on, but the economy is taking its toll on the place. It's also to the film's benefit that Soderbergh doesn't celebrate or condemn Mike's lifestyle, but instead simply presents it as it is.



Tatum shows surprising range; he's no master actor, surely, but he proves there's a lot more to him than what we've seen so far. Pettyfer, too, brings a lot more to the table here than he did in his previous "stand here and look pretty" roles, namely because it gives him something to do while looking pretty. Horn doesn't add much, but namely because her character has nothing to do other than nag Adam or make googley eyes at Mike. Similarly, Matt Bomer and Adam Rodriguez just add background, filling out the roster of hot men on display. Olivia Munn steals her few scenes as a former hookup of Mike's. But the real scene-stealer is McConaughey, who exudes oily sex appeal and rocks those chaps. It may be his finest performance to date.

Magic Mike does have its own special brand of magic. Like it's titular stripper, there's a lot more going on underneath the surface: a heart of gold, sure, but a slick mind too. B+

*It won't happen, but Magic Mike deserves an Oscar nomination for visual effects based on those abs, and particularly McConaughey's ass. Goddamn.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Red Tails (2012)

Let's play a little game of revisionist history, for a second, and flashback to 1988. George Lucas, fresh off the success of the Star Wars trilogy and currently developing a third Indiana Jones picture with Steven Spielberg, begins work on a film about the Tuskegee Airmen, a unit of all-black pilots in WWII who were one of America's most successful units. However, Hollywood sees a war epic with an all-black cast as box office poison, and refuses to foot the bill for the production. So Lucas gets into the director's chair himself, and using his own money, creates his first film as a director since Return of the Jedi, and the experience erases all notions in his mind that exploring the origins of Darth Vader is a good idea.



If only, right? Instead, Red Tails languished in development hell for over 20 years, finally finding the light of day this year (dumped, unceremoniously, in the middle of January), and Lucas went ahead and made a whole new trilogy that, depending on your point of view, either ruined the franchise for all of eternity or is preferably ignored. Lucas is still on as a producer, but noted TV helmer Anthony Hemingway (The Wire, classic Battlestar Galactica episode "Six of One") is making his feature debut, working from a script by John Ridley and The Boondocks creator Aaron McGruder. The story is still the same: in 1944 Italy, the 332nd Fighter Group of the United States Army Air Force is segregated from the rest of the Army, and sent on patrol missions that are, essentially, wastes of time. Stateside, Col. A.J. Bullard (Terrence Howard) is going head-to-head with military commanders to get more important missions and, ultimately, save the Tuskegee program, which is being considered a "failure." Eventually, he gets the orders to serve as escorts on bombing missions, testing the mettle of all the pilots and giving them a chance to prove themselves.

The cast is an impressive roster of performers. Howard is commanding, even though his character isn't called on to do much beyond make a few motivational speeches. The same goes for Cuba Gooding, Jr. as Major Emmanuel Stance, who mostly chews on a cigar and delivers a few lines in Howard's absence. In supporting roles, Elijah Kelley, Tristan Wilds, Ne-Yo, Kevin Phillips, Marcus T. Paulk, Michael B. Jordan, and Leslie Odom, Jr. get chances to shine, but their characters are mostly sketches, adding flavor to the in-flight banter but never getting a real chance to evolve beyond single-phrase descriptions. Wilds comes closest of these men, with a brief subplot about demanding the respect of the older men, but it never has time to develop beyond a few scenes.

This is a problem that's endemic of the whole film: there's never much of a sense of who these men are as people and where they come from. Ridley and McGruder's script leaves most of the characters without more than one or two dimensions, and the dialogue sometimes feels inorganic, especially whenever the bomber pilots deliver their expository lines. The film seems so eager to move from one set piece to the next that it doesn't give all of its subplots time to develop; in fact, the film feels as if another half-hour or so would be beneficial, even though it already runs a little over two hours. A little more narrative focus would go a long way.



The film truly shines, though, when that focus falls on the captain of the unit, Marty "Easy" Julian (Nate Parker) and Joe "Lightning" Little (David Oyelowo). Easy is a man of displine, while Lightning is a man of showmanship, eager to get the glory no matter how risky. The two have the film's most multi-dimensional and sympathetic characters, and as a result, the most complicated and interesting relationship. Parker, who looks strikingly like a young Denzel Washington (with the talent to match), delivers an impressive performance, turning Easy's struggles with guilt and alcoholism into a deeply-felt conflict. Oyelowo is remarkable as Lightning, bursting with hotshot charisma and energy while also tapping into a tender side in his scenes with Sofia (Daniela Ruhla), the object of his affections. Hopefully, both men will find themselves with more starring roles soon.

Of course, this is to say nothing of the aerial dogfights. Hemingway has a keen eye for action, and the combat scenes are bravura works of special effects, each one more thrilling than the last. In particular, Hemingway and his editors thankfully understand that these sequences don't need to be loaded with jump-cuts and close-ups; instead, they let the action breathe, and the result is battles that get the adrenaline pumping.

It's a shame that Red Tails was left for dead in its January release, with little promotion or attention. The film is actually a good, often-thrilling piece of WWII cinema, with a dynamic central relationship by two should-be stars at the top of their game. If only the rest of the film could have been more focused.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Too Soon? Our Reboot Culture

I haven't seen The Amazing Spider-Man, which just enjoyed a big opening weekend that started last Tuesday, yet. Honestly, I'm not in a major hurry too, either. I'll likely wait until it lands on DVD, picking it up out of interest that's not strong enough to merit $10 air conditioning. This is sort of a big deal, because I really do like Spider-Man as one of my favorite superheroes. But like most people, I feel its too soon for another Spider-Man movie. The taste of Spider-Man 3 is still sour in my mouth, and I'm not sure yet if I'm ready for more web-slinging, superpowers-as-metaphor-for-adolescence action.




But the success of The Amazing Spider-Man means that reboot culture is here to stay. The waters have been tested before; there were only eight years between 1997's Joel Schumacher-directed, Clooney-nippled Batman & Robin and 2005's Christopher Nolan-directed reboot, Batman Begins. With the successes of these two franchises, it would appear that moviegoers have given their approval of quick-turnover reboots, "reimaginings," or whatever else you want to call them. But is that necessarily a bad thing?

On a financial level, reboots are easy money: these characters have proven to be box-office draws in the past, and bringing them back shinier and flashier is a recipe for success. All you have to do, theoretically, is throw current in-demand actors into the roles, grab an attention-getting director, and go through the necessary story beats. However, reboots also offer a chance to take the characters and story to new places, creatively speaking. In the comic books, character histories are often written and rewritten over time (just look at DC Comics' recent massive reboot of 52 titles). So why couldn't the same apply to movies? Marvel's already transplanted the comic format to film franchises with its massively-successful team-up The Avengers, so why wouldn't rebooting work as well? Not to mention the creative and financial windfall that could result from another Chris Nolan-like revision.

 


The Batman example isn't the rule, though. In fact, there is no rule yet. Though the Batman franchise experienced creative and financial rejuvenation, it was something of a minor miracle, the result of all the pieces falling into place exactly right. A counterexample is the Hulk franchise. 2003's The Hulk brought in an auteur in Ang Lee, who at the time was just coming off the remarkable international success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The film was a notorious failure, with Lee's cerebral approach to the story left audiences wondering where all the action went (and that little bit of action, well, wasn't exactly Lee's strong suit). So, five years later, The Incredible Hulk emerged as a second chance at getting the Hulk right, with action director Louis Leterrier taking over behind the camera and Edward Norton replacing Eric Bana as Bruce Banner, and the results were...more or less the same. Critics greeted the film with shrugs, though audiences responded slightly better, though not in record-breaking droves. The Amazing Spider-Man seems to have fallen somewhere in the middle. The film has been greeted with mixed reviews, but audiences have responded in droves.

In the end, reboots are going to end up being a matter of personal taste. There's no real limit on how soon is "too soon" for a franchise to be rebooted (though five years may be the accepted norm), but there'll be numerous think pieces on the subject over the next few years. There's likely going to be many more cases like the Hulk or Spider-Man than Batman, but as a friend of mine once said, "you can make money or make art, rarely both."

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

RIP Andy Griffith


1926-2012

It's a strange feeling to say goodbye to Andy Griffith, the actor best known for his starring roles in both The Andy Griffith Show and Matlock. I never met him personally, but I still felt as if I've known him all my life. He was a lifelong North Carolinian, a state that I've called home for the majority of my life. He earned a degree in music from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which is also my alma mater. He had a small-town appeal, the friendly, fatherly neighbor who was always willing to listen and help however he could.

Perhaps more than that, though, Griffith seems familiar to me because of my father. My dad was a huge fan of The Andy Griffith Show, and I can remember growing up watching pretty much every episode more than once with him. My dad never has been one for really communicating with...well, anyone on a much deeper level, but watching Sheriff Andy Taylor (Griffith), Deputy Barney Fife (Don Knotts), and Opie Taylor (Ron Howard) was a language we shared. In many ways, Griffith became a second father to everyone who watched, myself included. He was a television visionary, though he never received much credit for it. He will be missed.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012)

The world is ending. In most end-times disaster movies, we watch as experts in their field - think Dennis Quaid's climatologist in The Day After Tomorrow or Robert Duvall's astronaut in Deep Impact - do their best to warn the world's leaders of our imminent demise, then join the effort to avert disaster. In the end, millions of faceless individuals perish in the floods/comet strikes/alien takeovers/flat-out cataclysm, but the human race ultimately survives thanks to the heroics (and, usually, sacrifices) of our protagonist, and the Earth gets the chance to rebuild society, a blank slate on which we can make our civilization better.


Dodge (Steve Carell), Penny (Kiera Knightley), and the denizens of Earth in Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, are afforded no such comforts. The film begins with the announcement that the last-ditch effort to save the Earth from a massive asteroid strike has failed; total annihilation is inevitable, and it's coming in just three weeks. Dodge's wife (played, in a brief cameo, by Carell's real-life wife Nancy Carell) bails on him in favor of...well, spending her life without being attached to her sad-sack husband, basically. While his friends (a delightful assortment that includes Connie Britton, Rob Corddry, and Patton Oswalt) want to spend their final days in a sex, booze, and drug-fueled bacchanalia, Dodge has no direction. He continues to wander into his job as an insurance salesman, until he decides to pursue his high school sweetheart. Penny, his downstairs neighbor, has just broken up with her loutish boyfriend (Adam Brody), and decides to join Dodge on his quest, namely so that she can go back to England and spend her final days with her family.

For its first half, the film is remarkably thoughtful in its presentation of end-of-the-world hysteria. There are no glimpses of the asteroid, no national landmarks being destroyed, just average people dealing with the fact that their lives are ending in three weeks, and there's nothing they can do about it. The various paths people take - attempting to maintain a routine, throwing massive orgies, rioting - feel organic, and you get the sense that everybody here is, deep down, scared shitless. Dodge and Penny make a great mismatched pair of friends, a chemistry that doesn't feel romantic but rather like the kind of friendship that develops when people are forced to rely on each other.


And therein lies the problem. You can tell exactly where this story is going, and that chemistry never evolves into anything more, which, for a romantic comedy (of sorts), is never a good thing. The third act of the film, written and directed by Lorene Scafaria (writer of the underrated gem Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist), gets bogged down by the would-be romance. Penny, though played fully by Knightley, is ultimately a Doomsday version of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, and that prevents her from ever coming into her own as a character. Though Carell excels in roles that trade-in on his natural put-upon demeanor, he never gets a chance to make Dodge anymore than a romantic mope, an Eeyore in puppy love. A little more development (and different casting) would have gone a long way.

There are still several funny moments though, and occasionally the conversations between Dodge and Penny find the poignancy that Scafaria was going for. As a first-time director, Scafaria shows promise, not exactly presenting anything too technically dazzling (a riot is about as close as she gets to a major setpiece), but she excels at finding the tiny moments that sell both the comedy and the drama. Those moments go a long away, and prevents the film from completely falling apart.

Seeking a Friend takes a bold step in our obsession with the end of the world, presenting it at a street-level without all the glitz and glare of special effects and destructive setpieces. However, with the mismatched pairing of Carell and Knightley, perhaps it wouldn't have been the end of the world for them to just stay friends. B

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Radio Daze Vol. 11: May/June 2012

The following is based on the Billboard Hot 100 chart dated June 30, 2012.

1. "Call Me Maybe," Carly Rae Jepsen



I'm not even sure if I have to say anything about this song. You most likely know it; even if you don't know the 26-year-old Canadian who recorded it, you've likely seen any number of viral videos starring a wide swath of stars (everyone from Justin Bieber to Katy Perry to the Harvard baseball team to former Secretary of State Colin Powell has one). "Call Me Maybe" is more or less the perfect pop song: a brisk three-minutes-and-change, with easy-to-digest lyrics and, most importantly, its insanely catchy. Even if Jepsen never has another hit, and long after we've forgotten her name, we'll all likely remember that we just met her, and her song was crazy. A-


2. "Somebody That I Used to Know," Gotye feat. Kimbra



Somehow, this managed to make it to number one. For seven weeks. Seven. Damn. Weeks. I'm not saying that's a bad thing; I really like the song a lot. But this is a true left-field choice for number one. Stranger things, I guess, but man, what a time we're living in. A-


3. "Payphone," Maroon 5 feat. Wiz Khalifa



Maroon 5 come roaring back after the number-one hit "Moves Like Jagger" with another pop confection. Adam Levine and company deliver a bitter ode to love lost via a hilariously analog form of communication, but despite the bouncy uptempo beat, the lyrics sting, particularly when Levine wails "all those fairy tales are full of shit." Khalifa's guest verse doesn't really add much to the song besides a quick cameo and an even more literal interpretation of the song's theme. All the same, "Payphone" is remarkably delightful for a band I used to not be able to stand. B+


4. "Wide Awake," Katy Perry



Ever since Perry divorced Russell Brand, her new songs, on her deluxe edition of Teenage Dream, have been downers. Former number-one "Part of Me" was a defiant kiss-off to an ex who took everything but her sense of self, and in "Wide Awake," she finds herself hurt by a man whom she loved and lost. Ballads, though, have never been Perry's strong suit, and it shows here, with flimsy lyrics that could have been written by a high school kid and a repetitive "I'm wide awake" motif that grates as the song goes on. Hopefully the future will find her cheering up again. C+

5. "We Are Young," fun. feat. Janelle Monae



The ultimate anthem for the melancholy of a night on the town, when you feel the possibilities opening up but ready to fall into the arms of someone close. I'm still obsessed with this song and the album that spawned it, Some Nights. A


6. "What Makes You Beautiful," One Direction



If this is the dawn of a new boy band era, we're going to have to do better than One Direction as the leaders of the charge. "What Makes You Beautiful" is the kind of song that was clearly calculated to be a pop hit, like "Call Me Maybe," but not nearly as hooky. It doesn't help that, musically at least, the members of One Direction have no personality. They lack the complex harmonies that defined the Backstreet Boys, and they don't seem to have a charismatic star like N*Sync did in Justin Timberlake. Its innocent-enough teen pop, but this is a weak beginning for a new era. C


7. "Starships," Nicki Minaj



As I've said before, I really wish Minaj would stick to the bugfuck-crazy and leave the shameless pop grabs behind. But as far as shameless pop grabs go, you could do much worse than this. B+


8. "Where Have You Been," Rihanna



Another day, another Rihanna rave-up. I've mentioned before that the new dance-influenced sound of pop music fits Rihanna perfectly, allowing her to become an even bigger pop star than ever. Her voice perfectly wails on this song of finally finding the proverbial "one," whether that be the One or the One-Night Stand, most likely amid the strobe lights and glowsticks of a pulsating dancehall. It's a great song, one that sticks in the mind while not requiring any thought to enjoy. Instead, it goes straight for the pleasure center, in the way that only Rihanna is doing. B+


9. "Wild Ones," Flo Rida feat. Sia



I think I've mentioned this before, but Flo Rida has pop smashes in spite of himself. I guarantee you there is no one out there going, "wow, Flo Rida has fantastic rapping skills and really has a lot of interesting things to say." In all honesty, for the purposes of this column I had to really concentrate on Flo's verses to hear them, rather than tune them out in anticipation for the chorus. That's Flo's strength: a monster beat pared with a terrific hook, usually a sample or sung by an up-and-comer (see "Right Round," which featured a yet-to-be-famous Ke$ha on the hook). Here, Australian singer Sia (best known for "Breathe Me," aka the song from the Six Feet Under finale) takes on that role, and the result is an instant earworm. I'd give this an A for being an indelible slice of pop, but since Flo Rida has to make an appearance on his own song (like some sort of jerk), it'll have to settle for a B+.

10. "Boyfriend," Justin Bieber



If Justin Timberlake isn't going to make new music, why not have Justin Bieber fill that role? It seems odd at first glance, but surprisingly, the Biebz makes it work better than anyone could have expected. I've long advocated that Bieber would be more than a one-hit wonder, and that as long as he matured musically as well as vocally, he would have decent career longevity. He's still fairly innocent lyrically, singing about being a good boyfriend without explicitly mentioning anything too risque, but there's a shocking degree of sexuality in his voice now that gives it a little more of an edge. Way to go, kid. You might just be something more than a teenybopper heartthrob. B+

Brave (2012)

When Brave was first announced, there was plenty of hype around the gender aspects of the film: Pixar is making its first film with a female lead! Written and directed by women! Unfortunately, this would not be the final case: original director Brenda Chapman left the project halfway through, and Mark Andrews and Steve Purcell stepped in to complete it, as well as adding to the screenplay. This troubled history had many, myself included, worried about how the film would turn out.

Let's take a brief moment to get this out of the way: it's better than Cars 2.


Brave tells the story of Princess Merida (voiced by Kelly MacDonald), a young girl in medeival Scotland who would rather shoot arrows and run amok than do princess-y things. Her father (Billy Connoly) is a lovable oaf who's happy to indulge her, while her mother (Emma Thompson) would rather have her daughter be more lady-like. When it comes time for Merida to be betrothed in order to maintain peace in the kingdom, she refuses, and discovers a witch (Julie Walters) who offers her a spell that can change her fate. That spell is more of a curse, Merida discovers, and she has to find a way to make things right.

Right off the bat there's a number of problems. The film's creators seem to be unable to find away around the "princess problem;" that is, presenting a female lead character in a role other than a princess. It couldn't have been so difficult for them to present Merida as an average girl with similar problems, could it? The film presents a surprisingly sophisticated story, but ends up moving along with life lessons learned and platitudes telegraphed from the beginning. The film also feels as if it was sewn together from the parts of two other films, likely the result of two (or rather, three) different directors bringing different visions to the table. The result is a film that doesn't live up to the high bar that Pixar has set for itself, but instead feels like a missed opportunity for something great.


This isn't to say there's nothing worthwhile about it. Brave's biggest strength is its complex presentation of mother-daughter relationships, and how though mothers have more experience, they don't always know what's best for their daughters. This is a, well, brave move for the company, considering Disney has a long history of killing lead characters' mothers. It also has all the trademark beauty we expect from Pixar, with gorgeous sweeping shots of the Scottish landscape and a particularly impressive fiery mane of hair on Merida. Even background characters have distinct personalities, making crowd scenes rich and enjoyable. Despite the rather obvious ending, I'll be damned if I still didn't tear up. And of course Merida herself is a great character, and MacDonald lends her a sense of mischief that should have been explored more.

When people list the best movies Pixar has made, Brave likely won't be among them. But it is better than most of the current crop of animated movies so far this year, and worth checking out. I'd just like to see the film that Chapman originally had in mind. B+

Back in Business

Good lord, has it actually been more than three months since I've last posted? I apologize for the long hiatus, everyone. I don't usually go into personal details on here, but it was a particularly busy semester, one that's postponed my graduation from university from May to August, and then August to December, thanks to a number of problems, many stemming from a serious bout with depression. Now that summer's here and things are heating up (too much so), I'm back to blogging!

So what have I been seeing? Well, I've caught up on Breaking Bad, which holy shit, what a great show, right? And I've made the time to go out and see a handful of movies as well. Instead of doing full reviews for things I saw months ago, I'll give you this rundown of short blurbs, with a full review of Brave going up later this evening. Also be on the lookout for a new Radio Daze, featuring Gotye, J. Beibs, and that song that you know that you can never get away from. You know which one I'm talking about (hint: it rhymes with "Hall We Maeby"). Hopefully, I'll be back in the swing of blogging regularly, so those of you who have stayed, thank you for your patience, and to all the newcomers, welcome and enjoy.


The Lorax (dir. Chris Renauld & Kyle Baulda)



Sugary musical numbers, manic humor and Minions "Brown Bar-ba-loots" are employed to pad a barely-there story about environmental conservatism. Though the Lorax speaks for the trees, the film is too scattershot to say anything. C-

The Hunger Games (dir. Gary Ross)


I have never read the books, so I can't tell you how faithful this adaptation is. But the film was beautifully acted, particularly Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, and Ross clearly understood the material and handled it well. Though surely a few minutes could have been shaved off that running time? A

The Cabin in the Woods (dir. Drew Goddard)


Goddard and Joss Whedon gleefully riff on horror tropes with a tight script and terrific setpieces. The third act gets a bit out-of-hand, but it's great to see everyone have a grand, gory time. And "the board" (WARNING: THERE BE SPOILERS IN THAT LINK) is probably the single greatest image in cinema so far this year (if you've seen the movie, you know what I'm talking about). A-

The Avengers (dir. Joss Whedon)


If Marvel has its way, soon enough movies will only be about their stock of superheroes, teaming up in various configurations to fight evil. Luckily for this film, Whedon specializes in impromptu families, and gives this blockbuster team-up a healthy dose of conflict and fun. Plus, we've finally found a Hulk worth watching in Mark Ruffalo, an example of perfect against-type casting. B+

Haywire (dir. Steven Soderbergh)


Soderbergh's latest films have featured an impressive roster of actors, and this spy thriller is no different: Channing Tatum, Michael Douglas, Antonio Bandaras, Ewan McGregor, and Michael Fassbender all feature in this story of a betrayed agent (Gina Carano, a former MMA fighter). Though Soderbergh's films are always interesting, this one lacks a certain thrill, making it oddly bloodless. B-

Gone (dir. Heitor Dhalia)


Somewhere along the line, Lifetime rejected this film, and it somehow ended up with a theatrical release. Amanda Seyfried pouts and yells she's not crazy, yet even though you know how the story's going to end, I fail to believe the "not crazy" nonsense. Bury it in the bargain bin where it belongs. D

Prometheus (dir. Ridley Scott)


Sure, the story suffers a little from "otherwise very smart people doing incredibly stupid things because that's what the plot needs" syndrome, but this sort-of prequel to Alien delivers by asking big questions...and offering no answers. It's not all philosophical ponderings, though: a surgical operation scene looks like something David Cronenberg would come up with. A-

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Radio Daze Vol. 10: March/April 2012

I missed the January/February frame this year, but the series returns for its first installment in 2012. And what have we learned over the past few months? Well, Adele basically rules the world now, and some new players are now rubbing shoulders with established pop stars. Oh, and it still pays to have your music featured during the Super Bowl, as our #1 can attest.

The following is based on the Billboard Hot 100 chart dated March 17, 2012.

1. "We are Young," fun. feat. Janelle Monae



A posh spot in a Super Bowl ad for the Chevy Sonic (not to mention a Glee cover back in December) has lifted this pop-rock trio to the top of the charts, and though I'm some have lost their patience with it's omnipresence, I'm still thoroughly enjoying. Though the song talks of making the most of a situation because "tonight, we are young," it almost sounds like a desperate plea from a guy who can barely take one more night alone. All of this is set to perfect mood music, with trippy R&B chanteuse Janelle Monae providing the bridge and backing vocals. This is set to be the anthem for everyone, but really it's for the last-call hanger-ons hoping for a break from the loneliness. A


Also, the band's newest album, Some Nights, is a killer. Go get it (legally, of course).


2. "What Doesn't Kill You (Stronger)," Kelly Clarkson



Wow, how long has it been since we've had a Kelly Clarkson song dominating the radio? Answer: not since 2009, when the ridiculously-titled-but-perfectly-done "My Life Would Suck Without You" was inescapable. Clarkson has actually pretty much made a career out of taking overwrought, eighth-grade-poetry lyrics and singing them with such conviction that you can't help but believe every word she's saying, as if by pure spunk and attitude she's turned them into universal truths. "What Doesn't Kill You" is a kiss-off to an ex, and once again Clarkson makes lyrics like "what doesn't kill you makes a fighter, makes you even lighter" sound proudly defiant. There's nothing new here, but there's enough attitude in her voice and exuberance in the undulating beat that it works as a delicious piece of bubblegum. And I dare you not to sing along. A-


3. "Set Fire to the Rain," Adele



Earlier this year, "Set Fire to the Rain" - the third single from 21 - reached number one, becoming Adele's third consecutive charttopper. Of the 10 Billboard 200 charts for this year, 21 has topped nine of them, selling over 2 million copies in 2012 (the highest tally for an album this earlier in the year since 50 Cent's Get Rich or Die Tryin' in 2003), and entered its 23rd non-consecutive week at the top since its release last year, the most of any album since Prince's Purple Rain in 1984. Clearly, Adele is not finished dominating the musical landscape. "Set Fire to the Rain" is another great torch number that shows off her fantastic voice, but unlike "Rolling in the Deep" and "Someone Like You," this one lacks the, well, fire behind those songs. It also feels overproduced; the strings come in, the piano crashes, the drum kicks in, and it all seems to be extraneous, drowning out the vocals and robbing them of their power. It's still a great song, but its not the instant-classic that her other two singles were. B+


4. "Glad You Came," The Wanted



All things considered, I suppose its not all that surprising that the boy band could be making a comeback. It arose from the synth-pop of the late '80s the first time around, building on pop's newfound love affair with electronica, peaking, of course, at the turn of the millennium. And now that pop has come back around to be heavily dance-influenced, well, it just makes sense that a group of five soulful guys with looks tailor-made to be put on locker posters would have a pop hit. Here they are, The Wanted, and "Glad You Came" is an infectious little ditty that sounds as if it were imported straight from Ibiza. Granted, its that beat that makes up half the reason this song works as well as it does, and its likely to be much more appealing under the strobe lights of the club. As it is, its fun if repetitive; what better way to make the perfect earworm? B


5. "Part of Me," Katy Perry



In 10 installments of Radio Daze, only one of these columns (Vol. 8) did not feature a Katy Perry song. She's back this time around with "Part of Me," the first single off her deluxe reissue of Teenage Dream. A breakup anthem perfectly timed for her split with Russell Brand (which, honestly, we all saw coming, right?), it features lyrics that seemed to be ripped straight from the Facebook statuses of high schoolers across the nation. Perry, however, doesn't quite have the voice and attitude to sell it a la Clarkson, but she does a fine job anyway, with a pulsating beat that gives it all life, even if she doesn't seem particularly heartbroken. She actually sounds like she's ready to start the party. We wouldn't have you any other way, Katy. B


6. "Starships," Nicki Minaj



Nicki Minaj is a lot of things, depending on your point-of-view: a fierce rapper, rap's Lady Gaga, an obnoxious pestilence, a Dadaist poet with rapid-fire delivery, a man. The one thing that we should all be able to agree on is that she knows what sells records and what gets her on the top of the charts. "Starships" falls in the vein of last summer's megahit "Super Bass," trading in the lyrical acrobatics and skittering beats in favor of production from RedOne (responsible for Lady Gaga's "Poker Face") and singing. This is music to rave to, and its much more accessible than the other singles from Roman Reloaded that have debuted so far (the free-form "Roman in Moscow," for example, or Lil' Kim diss "Stupid Hoe"). She has only a limited vocal range, but that hardly matters here. You can debate whether or not she's original, but there's certainly no one else like her right now. B+


On a side note, I personally prefer batshit-gonzo Nicki to please-the-masses Nicki. Though I understand why the latter is necessary, in terms of sales.

7. "Young, Wild, and Free," Snoop Dogg & Wiz Khalifa feat. Bruno Mars



In most cases, a movie's soundtrack album is meant to be a companion piece, something of an afterthought as a way to make a little more revenue. In the case of Snoop Dogg & Wiz Khalifa's Mac and Devin Go to High School, it seems to be the opposite: the soundtrack debuted in December, and there's no official release date for the movie yet (and perhaps it should stay that way). "Young, Wild, and Free" is the soundtrack's first single, and it is exactly what you would expect: a paean to smoking weed and not caring who sees, with a hook by Bruno Mars and a gently rolling piano melody over the beat. I think its all time we admit that Snoop will never be as good as he was in the '90s, but he and Wiz have a nice chemistry trading amiable verses. Maybe we don't need the movie, but I wouldn't mind seeing what this partnership produces musically. B+


8. "Turn Me On," David Guetta feat. Nicki Minaj



As he did with Usher in "Without You," French DJ/club guru David Guetta supplies the beat while Minaj sings over it. The lyrics are really unnecessary, though; I feel as if Minaj - who, as I stated before, has a fine but limited singing voice - was chosen just so more focus could be placed on Guetta's production. And that production features the standard Guetta hallmarks that he employs to great use; once the bass comes back in, its hard to resist tapping your toes. But where "Without You" had a certain soulfulness to it, this just feels like another clubbanger meant to light the dancefloor on fire. It all just feels...done, though. B-


9. "Somebody That I Used to Know," Gotye feat. Kimbra



Sometimes, an artist just kind of manages to sneak into the mainstream just by word of mouth; never mind that they sound like something completely different and are probably destined to become one-hit wonders (Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" and Owl City's "Fireflies" immediately come to mind). Belgian-Australian alternative artist Gotye looks to join the ranks with "Somebody That I Used to Know," in which he details the injustice he feels from a breakup, only to be retorted by the ex in a verse sung by New Zealand artist Kimbra. Its an interesting concept for a song, and its all sung over a track that sounds a bit like a low-key White Stripes outtake. I genuinely wish nothing but the best for both of these artists, but I wouldn't be surprised if this charming little ditty was their only US hit. A-


10. "We Found Love," Rihanna feat. Calvin Harris



You know what, I think I underestimated the attraction of this song in my first review of it. This is definitely Ri-Ri's finest hour, coming off of Talk That Talk, which is her best album to date. It's good to see that Rihanna has finally found a sound she fits in. Rihanna, club queen, is by far her most engaging iteration. Stay the course, Ri, and never let the party stop. A

Monday, March 5, 2012

Oscarpalooza 2011: Best Picture

And so we come to the much-delayed finale of Oscarpalooza 2011. By now, most of you have moved on from the Oscars, but not me. Obsession is a blessing and a curse, after all. But, here on The Entertainment Junkie at least, we'll put this year's show to rest here with thoughts on the Best Picture category. Yes, The Artist won, but was it the right choice (according to my humble opinion)?

BEST PICTURE
The Artist

So for only the second time in the show's 84 years, a silent film won Best Picture. And the outrage afterwards was explosive - its too slight, its too gimmicky, it doesn't represent the film industry and the world in 2011, no one will remember it in five years, its overrated. It is slight. And the only thing it says about 2011 is that we're so creatively bankrupt that we returned to the silent era for inspiration. But you know what? The Artist has one goal - entertainment. And it entertains in droves, easily charming the pants off audiences with its simplicity. Sure, the movie drags in some areas (100 minutes is too long for this story), but watching Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo's terrific onscreen chemistry is worth it. Director Michel Hazanavicius also plays around with format and genre in a way that makes the film even more interesting. It's not my top pick for the prize, but it's certainly a worthy choice.

The Descendants

Alexander Payne's made a career out of documenting the crises of American adulthood, and there's plenty to go around in The Descendants. Matt King (George Clooney) has found out that his wife - who's in a coma after a boating accident - has been having an affair, he has to take care of two daughters he's never related to, and he has to make a decision on the sale of his family's Hawaiian real estate. This is a lot of plot for the film, and though Payne handles it with typical deftness, the film still gets bogged down in its melodrama. Clooney has received most of the praise for his excellent performance, but its Shailene Woodley and Judy Greer who steal the film with their terrific work as his oldest daughter and the wife of King's potential buyer, respectively. Its not perfect, but its a fine ensemble film.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

The surprising ninth nominee in this year's field, this film drew a lot of flack from critics for being cloying, manipulative, and overly-saccharine. But I liked it. I mean that with true sincerity. Where, say, Spike Lee's 25th Hour captured a New York City that was still angry, still damaged, and still lost after the 9/11 attacks, EL & IC captures the city in healing, no less lost or hurt but coming to terms with the tragedy and coming together to rise up. I'll admit, I'm a sucker for these kinds of stories, and director Stephen Daldry does a fantastic job at integrating the elements for powerful emotional reactions. Thomas Horn as young Oskar can be incredibly grating, but to a degree that's how the character is supposed to be, and, to me at least, this was the best performance of Sandra Bullock's career. And to the critics: what movie isn't manipulative? I wouldn't name it Best Picture, nor would I have necessarily nominated it (in fairness, I wouldn't have nominated most of these films), but its far from the aberration many made it out to be.

The Help

The Help, too, is a problematic film in many ways. It streamlines and simplifies a very complicated issue. It goes on for far too long. And it's ostensible protagonist, Emma Stone's Skeeter, is a complete bore, no matter how many scenes with her even-more-boring romantic interest she gets. But at the same time, The Help does a great many things right. It makes the maids - Viola Davis' Aibileen and Octavia Spencer's Minnie - the real protagonists, and makes them real, layered, complicated characters. It ties together its disparate storylines neatly (perhaps too neatly), but especially thematically in a way that brings up interesting questions. And it is a veritable boon of great performances from great actresses - this and Bridesmaids should be used to make the case that there's nothing wrong with great films featuring a cast of great actresses. It's the ensemble - especially Davis - who lifts this film to the greatness it reaches. And that's certainly something worth celebrating.

Hugo

There was so much potential here: Martin Scorsese, making a children's film about a young boy who lives in a Parisian train station who's trying to solve the secret his father left behind for him that doubles as a history lesson on the birth of cinema, all based on the graphic novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. That sounds difficult, but if anyone could do it, its Scorsese, right? Look, the film is gorgeous to look at (it earned those five technical Oscars it won), and its intentions - teach kids about early cinema and serve as a PSA for film preservation - are noble. But its such a shame to see Scorsese - one of cinema's greatest storytellers - too often abandon the film's intriguing story to riff and recreate Melies' short films. It also doesn't help that, outside of Ben Kingsley and Helen McCrory as the Melies, the performances are not very interesting.  The rest of the film community went nuts for this film. I just couldn't share the enthusiasm.

Midnight in Paris

Perhaps Marty could have taken a lesson from Woody. Midnight in Paris took flack as well for being "too slight," and like The Artist, it relies a lot on the charms of the Roaring '20s. Yet this is perhaps one of the most insightful films Woody Allen has made in years, as he relays the message through time-hopping writer Gil (Owen Wilson) that every generation fantasizes the previous as being the "golden age," and that nostalgia may keep us warm at night but it won't help us move forward. The film is a fantasy, certainly, but its also Woody's best since [insert your last favorite Woody film here; for me personally its Everyone Says I Love You], and brings out great performances from Wilson, Marion Cotillard, Allison Pill, Corey Stoll, Kathy Bates, and a particularly memorable cameo from Adrien Brody. Its great to see a master working in fine form again.

Moneyball

Its rare for a sports film to show so much soul without being about the players, or even really the coaches. Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) is the manager of the Oakland A's, a team that's just lost its trifecta of stars to other teams and doesn't have enough money to bring in more. Beane, a former next-big-thing who's playing career crashed early, proposes using a controversial system known as sabermetrics to build a championship team out of affordable players. Pitt shines as Beane, a perinneal underdog who's always fighting a system that's rigged against him, and the film takes on the melancholy that his life entails. Jonah Hill, in a rare non-comedic role, shows a completely different side of his talent as the math whiz who sells Beane on sabermetrics. The film absolutely glows with humanism and optimism, even as history wouldn't be kind to Beane (the 2003 A's - which the film follows - wouldn't win the World Series, but the Boston Red Sox would the next year using Beane's system). As the film's closing song intones, it's best to just enjoy the show.

The Tree of Life

I'm going to look like a total snob for loving this film, but this is a truly magnificent piece of art. Director Terrence Malick's near-masterpiece takes the story of one West Texas family in the 1950s and places it in the context of the history of the entire universe, as Malick - cinema's finest working philosopher/filmmaker - expounds on the concepts of Nature and Grace and the duality in which they exist in our physical world. Yes, the film is non-linear, featuring long segments of shots of the universe (genius cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki was robbed of the Oscar) set to classical music, but come at it with an open mind and...well, its possible you still won't get it. It took me three times to really process it. But there's no denying that there was no other cinematic experience like it this year, and that's what this is: its a film, its a philosophical treatise, and most importantly, its an experience.

War Horse

On paper, War Horse looks like it was built to win Oscars: an adaptation of Michael Morpergo's 1982 novel, its a Steven Spielberg war epic modeled on the epics of John Ford. Perhaps, then, it stings that the film didn't win any. Its a fine film, with plenty of memorable human characters (particularly Tom Hiddleston's commander and Niels Arstrup's French grandfather) and several great scenes that highlight both the atrocity and humanity that can be found during war. However, the film hits its sentimental notes hard, and unfortunately horses aren't terribly expressive or compelling protagonists. Its a fine film, but it wins the award for "we're trying way too hard to win some hardware."

My personal ballot:
1. The Tree of Life
2. Moneyball
3. The Artist
4. Midnight in Paris
5. The Help
6. The Descendants
7. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
8. War Horse
9. Hugo

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Oscars 2011: That's an (almost) Wrap

Gah! I am so behind now on all of this. As you've probably already figured out, I didn't live-blog this year's ceremony, and I only barely made it home in time after work to watch it. And I didn't even get my Best Picture post up before the ceremony (it's still in the works - it'll be up sometime this week). One day I'll be able to do this regularly again. I promise.

As for the ceremony itself, it was snappy, as promised, but still over two-and-a-half hours. Billy Crystal never fails to make me laugh, so I rather enjoyed his hosting. The direction was odd all night long, especially in the Cirque du Soleil number: it was impressive but confusing. Why not just do a wide shot so we could see everything? Oh, and I'm officially starting a campaign for Emma Stone to host next year's show. Who's in?

Here's a complete list of winners. Hugo and The Artist owned the night, with five Oscars each. 'Twas the year to celebrate the history of cinema, after all.

BEST PICTURE
The Artist


So for the first time since the first Academy Awards way back in 1928, a silent film has prevailed in Best Picture. Going into the night, it's win seemed sort of inevitable, though for a while it looked like Hugo might pull off the upset. If I'm correct, this is also the first time that a French film has ever won Best Picture. And of course, The Weinstein Company gets to add yet another trophy to its growing cabinet.

BEST ACTRESS
Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady


After nearly three decades, Streep has finally won a third Oscar, tying her with Ingrid Bergman, Walter Brennan, and Jack Nicholson for the second-most acting Oscars of all time. Though I didn't think this was her best performance, it has fulfilled a desire of mine to see Streep win an Oscar in my lifetime (her last win was in 1982 for Sophie's Choice; I was born in 1989). And her acceptance speech was, as always, magnificent. The question now is: can she tie (or, gasp, beat) Katharine Hepburn's record four Oscars?

BEST ACTOR
Jean Dujardin, The Artist


Dujardin is the first Frenchman to win this award as well (overall, it was a good night for France). He's also the first performer to win an Oscar for a (mostly) silent performance since 1928 (I think...), which makes it all the more interesting. He didn't go full Benigni accepting his award, but he was clearly overjoyed, and hopefully we'll see more of him in the future on American screens (by which I mean, more French - and foreign in general - imports, please!).

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Octavia Spencer, The Help


There's no real surprise here: Spencer had this one pretty much locked up before the night began. But damn if she didn't just about move me to tears with her speech, clearly overwhelmed by the fact that she won. And good for her: she earned it.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Christopher Plummer, Beginners


"You're only two years older than me; where have you been all my life?" I think that pretty much sums up how outrageous it is that Plummer is only now receiving his first Oscar. At 82 years old, he is officially the oldest acting Oscar winner ever. And if you haven't seen Beginners, go out and see it now.

BEST DIRECTOR
Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist


If I'm right, Hazanavicius is the first French director to win this prize, and even though he won the DGA award, it still comes as a bit of a surprise, seeing as how many assumed that Martin Scorsese (everyone take a shot!) would win this prize. But just as we foolishly assumed David Fincher would prevail over Tom Hooper last year, it was Hazanavicius who charmingly accepted the prize.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
The Descendants; screenplay by Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash


I'm going to be honest with you: I enjoyed their mocking of Angelina Jolie's ridiculous stance while presenting the award, but I was really hoping Rash would drop a "Save Community!" in there somewhere. This was, of course, the front-runner to win, and ended up being The Descendants' only prize of the night.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Midnight in Paris; written by Woody Allen


Woody Allen is the only person they'll give an Oscar to knowing full well that he won't be showing up to accept it in person. Although here's a fun fact: every time one of his films has been nominated for Best Picture, it's won a screenplay prize. And this is the first time since 2004 that the Best Picture winner did not win an Oscar for writing (Million Dollar Baby lost the Adapted Screenplay prize to Sideways, which was written by Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor).

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Rango

I was personally rooting for an upset by Chico & Rita, but Rango was a lot of fun, and probably truly deserved it.

BEST ART DIRECTION
Hugo; production design by Dante Ferretti, set decoration by Francesca Lo Schiavo

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Robert Richardson, Hugo

Richardson won his third Oscar for this film, but I still think Emmanuel Lubezki (The Tree of Life) was robbed. When will the Academy finally recognize his genius?

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Mark Bridges, The Artist

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Undefeated

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT
Saving Face

BEST FILM EDITING
Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

With their wins, Baxter and Wall are the first editors since Ralph Dawson (1935/1936) to win consecutive Oscars in this category. Given this category's reputation as Best Picture Minor, the win here further convinces me that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo would have been the 10th nominee in Best Picture this year.

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
A Separation, Iran

I'm actually very surprised that this won, given 1) that frontrunners rarely actually prevail in this category and 2) the political drama going on with Iran right now. Unfortunately, though he accepted the prize, the Oscar won't actually be going to writer/director Asghar Fahardi, but to Iran, a government that imprisons and censors its filmmakers. I'm sure it's a great movie, but I'm against this win in principle.

BEST MAKEUP
Mark Coulier and J. Roy Helland, The Iron Lady

I just want to call attention to the fact that The Iron Lady went two-for-two Sunday night.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Ludovic Bource, The Artist

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
"Man or Muppet," music and lyric by Bret McKenzie; The Muppets

When a professor mentioned this one in a class Monday morning, McKenzie's affiliation with Flight of the Concords drew a surprising amount of cheers. The beloved cult show lives on.

BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILM
The Shore

BEST SOUND EDITING
Philip Stockton and Eugene Gearty, Hugo

BEST SOUND MIXING
Tom Fleischman and John Midgley, Hugo

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Rob Legato, Joss Williams, Ben Grossman and Alex Henning, Hugo

I'm sorry, but this one belonged to Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Those apes were so perfect looking! And as a final note, the Harry Potter series came to a close with a total of 12 nominations and 0 wins across six of the eight films (Order of the Phoenix and Chamber of Secrets got zilch).