Sunday, January 30, 2011

Early Oscar Predictions

I will make my official and final predictions quite close to the ceremony, but here I'll list out my instincts at the moment. Later I will take time to reflect, read what other prognosticators have to say, see how the campaigning plays out, etc.

Picture: Before the nominations I would have said The Social Network. Now it's a tough call as The King's Speech led the way with 12 nods. True Grit is in second with 10 which also makes it a contender, but it's almost unheard of for a film to win Best Picture without a Film Editing nomination. It hasn't happened since Ordinary People 30 years ago. Also a Coen brothers film won only 3 years ago. The King's Speech surprised with the PGA win, so I'm going with that one. Especially since the Academy traditionally goes for the costume dramas.

Oscar Trivia

There is not a single black person nominated in the acting categories this year. It's been ten years since that happened. Is this a sign that decent roles for black actors dropped off recently? Probably not. It's more likely one more in a series of signs that it's always been a struggle for black actors to get decent roles. Or I should say, for decent black characters to be written into Hollywood screenplays.

I wondered after this year's nominations were announced and I saw that the Coen brothers were triple nominated for their work on True Grit, if any other individual had ever been nominated for 3 Oscars in a single year 3 times (as Joel Coen has now done, including his editing nomination for Fargo under the name Roderick Jaynes).

Blue Valentine Movie Review: Scenes from a Marriage

Derek Cianfrance’s indie film Blue Valentine is a portrait of a disintegrating relationship. It has scenes of great emotional devastation anchored by two outstanding performances by Michelle Williams (recently Oscar nominated for her role) and Ryan Gosling as Cindy and Dean, a young married couple who have lost a bit of passion, to put it mildly.

The film alternates between two time periods. There is the present day period in which Cindy and Dean have a 5-year-old daughter, Frankie, and Cindy seems to barely tolerate Dean, who appears to be walking a very thin line between antagonizing his wife and simply trying to figure out how to live with a crumbling marriage. The other period is the beginning of their relationship, from their meeting to their wedding (which is hastily arranged and takes place within weeks of their meeting).

Friday, January 28, 2011

Hereafter Movie Review: Eastwood the Director Plods Through the Afterlife

Matt Damon and Bryce Dallas Howard have a touching moment.

I think maybe I’m growing weary of Clint Eastwood the director. Critics, like me, have been singing his praises since Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby, but his recent output may cause me to reevaluate what I once thought were excellent movies (Unforgiven and A Perfect World remain untouchable, however). Like Woody Allen, he churns out movie after movie each year (sometimes two!) with gradually diminishing returns. Sure, there may be the occasional spark of something genuine or original, but mostly it feels like he’s on autopilot. His films are more often than not dripping with forced sentimentality, supported by musical scores (composed by Eastwood) that have become repetitive and seldom have any forward motion.

All of these criticisms are true of his latest film, Hereafter, which stars Matt Damon as George Lonegan, a psychic reader with the honest ability to make connections with the dead. He has given up his lucrative business in favor of a simpler life as a factory worker.

Love and Other Drugs Movie Review

Edward Zwick, who has specialized in Hollywood action movies with a message (The Siege, Glory, Blood Diamond) has returned to the genre that got him started in feature films – the romantic comedy. It’s been 24 years since About Last Night… starring Rob Lowe and Demi Moore, both young and sexy, and depicted in the flesh in several perfectly lit scenes. But Zwick has not lost his touch for the ups and downs (including those in the bed) of a relationship. The actors have been updated to two sexy stars of the moment – Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway. The movie is Love and Other Drugs, adapted from Jamie Reidy’s book Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman by Zwick, Charles Randolph and Marshall Herskovitz.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

How Did I Do?

Full list of nominees is available in many places, including the Official Oscar website and the Internet Movie Database.

So this is how I fared on my Oscar nomination predictions:

Picture 10/10

How do you like that? Okay, there were really only two spots up for grabs. Well, one to be honest. But still, when there were only five nominees in this category I usually only got 4/5.

Director 4/5

I missed the Coen brothers in favor of Christopher Nolan (snubbed yet again for this award). The Coens, however, can hardly be denied status as legendary film makers at this point. Joel Coen has now been triple nominated 3 times (counting his pseudonymous Film Editing nomination for Fargo). Technically speaking Ethan can't be counted as a triple triple nominee because he was not a credited director on Fargo, although it's widely recognized and accepted that they shared equal responsibility from their first film.

Anyway, I'm not sure if anyone else has ever been thrice nominated three separate years. When I have more time I'll look into it because I'm a fan of all things Oscar statistic-related.

Oscar Nominations Immediate Reactions

No really big surprises in the top categories announced on television. I still haven't seen the full list and don't really have time as I have to prepare for my classes in the next 90 minutes.

Joel and Ethan Coen nominated as Best Director is a slight surprise.

Not at all disappointed that The Town was not annointed with either Best Picture or Best Screenplay nominations because it was a better than average crime film, nothing more. People seem to have lowered their standards for Ben Affleck because he's such a subpar actor that if he can write and direct a pretty good movie it must be great.

No love at all for Blue Valentine. No Ryan Gosling and no Michelle Williams. Oh well.
Right, so this post was written so immediately and without thinking that I didn't even realize Michelle Williams was nominated.

Glad to see Jacki Weaver get a nomination and glad Andrew Garfield did not get a supporting actor nod for The Social Network.

However, Jesse Eisenberg did make the cut which is a slight sham. No Robert Duvall is unfortunate.

The Spanish film También la lluvia did not get a nomination thankfully. Although I would have preferred it over the dreadfully pretentious bullshit of Dogtooth.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

2011 Academy Award Nomination Predictions

I've had the great fortune to see most of the movies tipped for Oscar nominations (to be announced Tuesday morning at 5:30 in California). Following are my predictions in all categories excluding the documentary and short film categories for which I've not seen anything in contention.

Best Picture
The Social Network, Toy Story 3, The King's Speech, The Fighter, Inception, 127 Hours, True Grit and Black Swan are basically locks for 8 of the 10 spots on the list. The last two will go to The Kids Are All Right, The Way Back, The Town or Winter's Bone. Taking a kind of stab in the dark I would say The Kids Are All Right and Winter's Bone. But neither is going to win, so it hardly matters.

The real best five, and the probable nominees if the Academy hadn't expanded to a field of ten last year, would be The Social Network, Black Swan, The King's Speech, The Fighter and either Inception or 127 Hours.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Secretariat Movie Review: The Disney Version of Horse Racing

We should expect treacly and trite when it comes to Disney’s live action films. It’s what they’ve always produced and I suppose there’s some value in good wholesome family entertainment. Certainly that’s what the Disney brand sells and it’s what many people want, but does this also have to mean that they make their films in a paint-by-numbers fashion, following the rules of Screenwriting 101 to the letter? As a company, Disney goes so far out of its way to avoid offending or upsetting anyone that the result is typically bland mediocre entertainment.

Sweet stories about animals have been their bread and butter for a long time. Secretariat is the latest about the legendary eponymous racehorse that won the Triple Crown in 1973 (the first horse to do so in 25 years). That it’s directed by Randall Wallace (who wrote Braveheart and directed Pearl Harbor) and written by Mike Rich (Radio) should tell you something about the lack of subtlety in this desperately earnest sports tale.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Stunning Omission from the Academy's Shortlist for Foreign Film

I am shocked, shocked I say, to discover that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has failed recognize one of the best movies I've seen in a long time while moving one of the worst and most pretentious one step closer to a nomination.

The AMPAS committee tasked with narrowing down a list of 66 foreign language films to a list of 9 has rejected France's Of Gods and Men which I suppose was too slow and contemplative. On the other hand from Greece, Dogtooth may actually be headed for a nomination. Spain's También la lluvia has been shortlisted and is likely to make the final five despite the serious reservations I had about it. This is because it's so damn self-important that Academy members can feel really good about themselves nominating a film that they think has a powerful message about the downtrodden.

Mexico's Alejandro González Iñárritu also made the cut with Biutiful, but I haven't seen it yet. I hope it's so damn good it will prevent Greece or Spain from undeservedly winning the Oscar this year.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

También la lluvia (Even the Rain) Movie Review: Self Importance Masquerading as Greatness

Juan Carlos Aduviri as Daniel playing Hatuey. The specter of Christianity is approaching from behind.
*As a matter of full disclosure I should point out that I saw this film in the original Spanish without subtitles. While my Spanish is good enough to get the majority of the dialogue, there were certainly subtleties of character that were lost on me, as well as at least one key scene of dialogue between the two principals, Sebastián and Costa. I have some suspicions about certain character elements, but as I can’t be certain I will avoid making reference to anything unless I feel confident I understood it all.

También la lluvia (Even the Rain), Spain's entry this year to the AMPAS for the Foreign Language Film Oscar, starts out so well, coming close to brilliance in the way it toys with the concept of life imitating art imitating life, but then degrades itself in the third act by falling in love with its own self-importance and tossing in a melodramatic plot turn designed solely to bring about a contrived denouement. It made me so angry because the combination of Paul Laverty’s screenplay and Icíar Bollaín’s direction worked so well together until a particular moment (more on that later) when they completely lost my respect.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Animal Kingdom Movie Review: All in the Family

Josh, or J as he is known to family and friends, is a kid trying to survive the harsh circumstances of his life. When we first see him he’s passively watching the television with a passed out woman by his side. The paramedics burst in and ask what she took. “Heroin,” he utters as he continues to pay more attention to the banalities on the idiot box than to his dying mother on the sofa.

If that scene doesn’t jolt you with its impassivity, then the next one almost assuredly will. We see J on the phone saying, “Hi Grandma. Mom’s gone and ODed and she’s died.” When she responds, “Oh, are you all right?” we know everything we need to know about her. We imagine J has lived a grueling existence with a drug addict mother who, it should be noted, kept her son sheltered from his grandmother and uncles. James Frecheville plays him as a kid detached from life trying to find his place in a world that seems to have nothing but cold indifference toward him, a point somewhat clumsily made by the film’s title, Animal Kingdom, and the detective who tries to help him.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Conviction Movie Review: The Innocent Goes to Prison and the Righteous Gets a Law Degrees

It is the unfortunate consequence of an imperfect Justice system that the guilty will sometimes go free and occasionally the innocent will be punished. The philosophy behind proving guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt” is that the latter will occur much less frequently. Sadly, it occurs more often than a free society should be comfortable with as the ever-increasing number of exonerations through DNA testing makes clear.

In 1982, Kenneth Waters of Ayer, Massachusetts, was tried and convicted for the brutal murder of a neighbor. He was sentenced to life imprisonment. His sister, Betty-Anne, always believed in his innocence and so she got her GED, a BA and then finally a law degree so she could personally take on the cause of getting her older brother out of prison. In the end, DNA evidence overturned his conviction and set him free.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

True Grit Movie Review: Jeff Bridges Dons the Eye Patch for an Iconic Role

Proverbs 28:1 tells us “The wicked flee where none pursueth.” So it is with the coward Tom Chaney, the wanted outlaw in Joel and Ethan Coen’s adaptation of Charles Portis’s True Grit. Their title card at the beginning of the film leaves out the second part of that proverb: “But the righteous are bold as a lion.” So it is with Mattie Ross, the 14 year old girl who hires Marshal Rooster Cogburn to take her on an expedition into Indian country to capture the man who shot and killed her father. Although Mattie seeks out Cogburn because she heard he’s a man with “true grit,” the story reveals that in fact she is the one with that attribute.

Friday, January 7, 2011

127 Hours Movie Review: The First 126 Must Have Been a Cake Walk Compared to the Last

In watching a film about an adventurer who spent five days trapped in a canyon alone, you may ask yourself at the moment he becomes trapped how a dramatic narrative can be stretched for an additional hour and a quarter. Well, screenwriters Danny Boyle (who also directed) and Simon Beaufoy and actor James Franco have an answer for you in 127 Hours. They put together such a compelling force of drama you won’t easily divorce yourself from the tension played out on screen.

It shouldn’t be revealing too much to say that Aron Ralston (Franco), the main character – virtually the only character – survives. After all, the opening titles clearly tell us it is based on the book Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Ralston, who ventured into Blue John Canyon in Utah one day in April 2003 without telling a single person where he was going. What happened in that canyon would forever change him.

Rabbit Hole Movie Review: The Reverberations of Unbearable Loss

When a neighbor greets Becca (Nicole Kidman) in her garden and invites her to dinner, there’s something noticeably strained in the conversation. Likewise when her husband, Howie (Aaron Eckhart), arrives home from work, there is something not altogether right in their interactions. When Becca learns, after bailing her out of jail for a barfight, that her little sister is pregnant, she is uncomfortably happy. When she asks Izzy (Tammy Blanchard) why she told their mother first, she responds, “Why do you think?” Something seems dreadfully wrong in the opening moments of Rabbit Hole, so wrong that the crisp and clean suburban Long Island surfaces can’t cover it up, no matter how hard everyone seems to be trying. Becca and Howie are grieving over the death of their four year old son, killed eight months earlier chasing their dog into the road.

Dinner for Schmucks Movie Review: Never Go Full Retard

Paul Rudd meets Steve Carell with his mouse Last Supper

Dinner for Schmucks is what happens when middlebrow Hollywood talent take a perfectly respectable French comedy of errors and simmer it down to a lumpy reduction. Screenwriters David Guion and Michael Handelman, along with director Jay Roach (the Austin Powers trilogy), have altered Francis Veber’s The Dinner Game, a sophisticated and light farce, to a lowbrow ramshackle disaster comedy.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Fighter Movie Review: One Fights and the Other Boxes

That David O. Russell’s The Fighter is “based on a true story” is not what makes it so good. After all, everybody’s life is a true story, but the vast majority of them wouldn’t make even watchable movies. Anyway, “based on a true story” is always a misleading entry into a movie. No matter how much truth is in the screenplay (in this case the product of Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson), the writers always end up playing fast and loose with some story elements.

I can’t say how much of the story of brothers Micky Ward and Dicky Eklund, professional boxers from Lowell, Massachusetts, is true or not. But looking at Micky’s list of professional fights on Wikipedia, it’s clear that his late-stage successful career has been truncated for dramatic effect. Not that this matters much, but it serves to highlight how even a film as steeped in realism as this one can play with facts to enhance not only the dramatic power of the narrative, but to keep the plot within manageable constraints.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Black Swan Movie Review

Aronofsky uses mirrors to visually illustrate Nina's fractured mind.

Darren Aronofsky is not a director who does anything by halves. His films have an air of the lunatic about them and focus on the ways people mistreat and brutalize themselves both physically and emotionally (although one tends to follow the other). In Pi it was a mathematician descending into madness searching for a universal theorem. In Requiem for a Dream he chronicled the toll drugs (both illicit and prescribed) take on the human body. The Wrestler, his most straightforward narrative film to date, contained elements touching on the physical torment “professional” wrestlers put themselves through.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Important Cinema Anniversaries to be Celebrated in 2011

My "25 Years Ago This Month - January" post may come a little bit later. Instead I wanted to start off 2011 with a rundown of some of the big milestones and anniversaries that will happen this year.

To begin with, can you believe that Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy started a decade ago this year. That's right, The Fellowship of the Ring was released at the end of 2001. Likewise, the Harry Potter film series will also celebrate its tin anniversary in November this year, ten years after The Sorcerer's Stone opened. Also ten years ago, Christopher Nolan (now the world-famous director of little films such as The Dark Knight and Inception) had his film debut Memento. And does it really seem like it's been 10 years since Steven Soderbergh's remake of Ocean's 11 was released?

The Tourist Movie Review: Old Hollywood Style Glamour and Mystery

There are European directors who toil away for years before attaining any Hollywood recognition and many of them go on to successful State-side careers. Very rarely a director strikes it big with his debut. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film for his first feature film, the brilliant The Lives of Others. Now you can see his follow-up, The Tourist, a star vehicle for Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie. It is decidedly mainstream, albeit with what many would call a European sensibility.

With Christopher McQuarrie, who penned The Usual Suspects, as one of the credited screenwriters (along with von Donnersmarck and Gosford Park scribe Julian Fellowes) it may come as no surprise that the plot harbors a few secrets and maybe a twist, which you’ll see coming a mile away if you’re even remotely well-versed in the tropes of the spy genre, as Frank Tupelo (Depp’s character) is.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Get Low Movie Review

Imagine you reach the end of your life as an old man in a small town. Everyone knows your name. You’re a legend. Stories are told about you across four counties. When your funeral is announced, thousands turn up to share in the celebration of your life. Now imagine it’s for all the wrong reasons – because you are reviled for being the king crazy old codger – and there you have the premise of Get Low, the feature debut of director Aaron Schneider.

Felix Bush is what can charitably be described as an ornery old recluse living in a cabin in 1930s Tennessee. Occasionally the kids from town come to get a glimpse of him or to throw a stone through one of his windows. He scares them off with a shotgun and posts a sign that reads, “No damn trespassing. Beware of mule!” It’s not clear if he’s referring to any domesticated animals he may or may not own.

The A-Team Movie Review

The writers, producers and directors responsible for continuing to bring the depths of 80s action TV to the big screen have flubbed the job so badly I would almost look forward with great relief to a feature adaptation of “Charles in Charge.” G.I. Joe and Transformers (the sequel in particular) are so famously awful I almost feel shame at even admitting they exist and that I’ve seen them. The latest victim of getting the big screen treatment is The A-Team, with a clunker of a screenplay by Joe Carnahan, Brian Bloom and Skip Woods, who was responsible for the cinematic treasures Swordfish and Wolverine.