Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Best of the Decade, Volume 5: Wrapping it up

So, it occurred to me that 40 is a ridiculous number for a best of' list. Admittedly, my list was 40 movies long due to a clerical error and a bit of laziness (ie, by the time I realized that I didn't have 50 movies listed, I had already posted ten of them, and didn't feel like going back and redoing it all). So, as a little bonus, I figured I'd toss in ten honorable mentions that y'all can use to fill out my list to a respectable 50. They are, in alphabetical order:

Across the Universe (2007)
-directed by Julie Taymor
Antichrist (2009)
-directed by Lars Von Trier
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)
-directed by Andrew Dominik
Away From Her (2007)
-directed by Sarah Polley
Capote (2005)
-directed by Bennett Miller
In Bruges (2008)
-directed by Martin McDonagh
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
-directed by Quentin Tarantino
Junebug (2005)
-directed by Phil Morrison
Monster (2003)
-directed by Patty Jenkins
There Will Be Blood (2007)
-directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

Fun stats: counting those honorable mentions, the year with the most entries on the list is 2005 with seven entries (Brokeback Mountain, Capote, Grizzly Man, A History of Violence, Junebug, Munich, Sin City), and the year with the fewest entries is a tie between 2009 (Antichrist, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds) and 2006 (Children of Men, The Departed, Pan's Labyrinth).

Now, on to part 2: my unofficial Oscar ballot for the decade. The best in every subject. Also in alphabetical order, though the winner will be in bold. Also included, just for funsies, is an honorable mention. Because you can never have enough.
(note: The Lord of the Rings could dominate the tech categories, in that all three films probably deserve a place on the list. So as to promote spreading the wealth among films, if I feel a Rings movie deserves to be in the top 5, I've simply selected the installment of the trilogy that I feel best exemplifies the category at hand.)

Almost Famous
Billy Elliot
Black Hawk Down
Brokeback Mountain
Children of Men
City of God
Kill Bill
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Lost in Translation
Y Tu Mama, Tambien

Honorable Mention: Gosford Park

Joel and Ethan Coen, No Country For Old Men
Alfonso Cuaron, Children of Men
Peter Jackson, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Ang Lee-Brokeback Mountain
Quentin Tarantino-Kill Bill
Honorable Mention: Ferndando Meirelles, City of God

Jamie Bell, Billy Elliot
Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood
Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Capote
Heath Ledger, Brokeback Mountain
Sean Penn, Mystic River
Honorable Mention: Bill Murray, Lost in Translation

Ellen Burstyn, Requiem For a Dream
Ellen Page, Hard Candy
Gabourey Sidibe, Precious
Charlize Theron, Monster
Uma Thurman, Kill Bill
Honorable Mention: Julie Christie, Away From Her

Supporting Actor
David Carradine, Kill Bill
William Hurt, A History of Violence
Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
Tim Robbins, Mystic River
Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Honorable Mention: Javier Bardem, No Country For Old Men

Supporting Actress
Amy Adams, Junebug
Kate Hudson, Almost Famous
Holly Hunter, Thirteen
Mo’Nique, Precious
Michelle Williams, Brokeback Mountain
Honorable Mention: Meryl Streep, Adaptation

Original Screenplay
Almost Famous
Gosford Park
Kill Bill
Synecdoche, New York
Y Tu Mama, Tambien

Honorable Mention: Lost in Translation

Adapted Screenplay
Before Sunset
Brokeback Mountain
No Country For Old Men
The Virgin Suicides

Honorable Mention: The Departed

Art Direction
Children of Men
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Fall
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Honorable Mention: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Costume Design
The Cell
The Fall
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Marie Antoinette
Moulin Rouge!

Honorable Mention: Memoirs of a Geisha

Visual Effects
King Kong
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Honorable Mention: Transformers

The Cell
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Pan’s Labyrinth
Honorable Mention: La Vie En Rose

Film Editing
Black Hawk Down
City of God
The Hurt Locker
No Country For Old Men
Slumdog Millionaire

Honorable Mention: The Departed

Roger Deakins-
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Rodrigo Prieto-Brokeback Mountain
Emmanuel Lubezki-Children of Men
Christopher Doyle-Hero
Eduard Grau-A Single Man
Honorable Mention: Slawomir Idziak, Black Hawk Down

Original Score (Four-way tie. Because I can't decide, and it's my blog.)
Alexandre Desplat-The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Phillip Glass-The Hours
Howard Shore-The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Abel Korneziowski-A Single Man
James Newton-Howard-The Village
Honorable Mention: Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Sound Mixing
Black Hawk Down
King Kong
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Honorable Mention: Children of Men

Sound Effects Editing
Black Hawk Down
King Kong
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Honorable Mention: Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

Animated Film
Finding Nemo
The Incredibles
Monsters, Inc.
Waltz With Bashir

Honorable Mention: Persepolis

Foreign Language Film
City of God-Brazil
Let The Right One In-Sweden
Pan’s Labyrinth-Mexico
Waltz With Bashir-Israel
Y Tu Mama, Tambien-Mexico
Honorable Mention: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon-Taiwan

Well, there we have it. Questions? Comments? Observations? Care to break that four-way music tie for me?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Review: Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland


I had to think for quite some time about the rating that Alice and Wonderland would receive. Was it really bad enough to warrant less than two stars? I thought for a while, attempting to come up with reasons that would endear this film to me slightly, and, quite frankly, I drew a blank. It's an entertaining enough film on its own terms, but it's certainly not a good film. And, honestly, if removed from 'its own terms,' which is to say with friends in a crowded theater, I don't think I would have enjoyed myself here. Hence the one-and-a-half stars. The half is for the enjoyment that it offers while in the company of others.
I think it's quite safe to say that Tim Burton has hit a creative rut. With the exception of the muted, lovely Corpse Bride, Burton hasn't made an original (aka not a sequel, franchise, or previous work) film since Ed Wood in 1994. Nor has his style changed in any discernible fashion. No, let me rephrase that: his macabre, Gothic affectations, which once felt fresh and innovative, have since congealed into something stilted, dull, and altogether devoid of life. Alice in Wonderland is, without a doubt, one of his most generic, lifeless films yet.
Mind you, I've never found myself squarely in the Tim Burton camp. I'll admit that he can make wonderful films when he wants to (though he hasn't wanted to since the early 90s), but, generally speaking, he's not a very interesting film-maker. I've always thought that Burton would be an endlessly fascinating painter or sculptor: the images and designs he conjures are extraordinary. But is film really the correct medium for him to manifest his images? Yes, he creates bizarre, surreal tableaus, but he rarely marries them to any form of film-making style. Tim Burton, technically speaking, fits the traditional definition of an auteur by virtue of his distinct visual style, endlessly repeating themes, and slave-like dedication to perfecting his 'type' of movie. Yet, for all that, I've always found him to be lacking the cinematic bravura and visual panache that most other anointed auteurs possessed. In laymans' terms? Tim Burton makes pretty pictures, but he doesn't make interesting movies. His compositions are tedious, his bag of film techniques woefully limited, and his structure repetitive. Every now and again, Burton uses his few tricks to makes something wonderfully compelling. Alice is not one of those circumstances.
I suppose what surprised me more than the lack of directorial flair was how uninspired I felt Wonderland's design to be. On the surface, it's all dazzling, but if one looks for a bit, it's all too easy to see the same basic machine that labor behind every Tim Burton world, and I, for one, am getting a little bit tired of them. The decision to shoot this film almost entirely on green-screen doesn't help either. I don't have a problem with CGI when necessary, but it's all too easily used to make up for laziness.
Speaking of laziness, I confess that I find myself less than thrilled by the acting involved. The notable exception is Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen, who is by turns petulant and intimidating. She alone captures the right amount of crazy that the film needs. I suppose I can't be too hard on Mia Wasikowska: the role of Alice has always been one of a passive viewer, so I guess I shouldn't fault her for being nothing more than politely confused throughout the film. Anne Hathaway is likable as always, but skin deep. And Johnny Depp. God, Johnny Depp. I regard Depp as one of the better working actors, whose chameleon-like abilities allow him to completely and believable immerse himself in any role. Readers, I've been shown what happens when Johnny Depp takes it too far. Never mind that every now and again he adopts a Scottish brogue only to drop it in favor of a silly lisp. He just doesn't feel...authentic. I know, I know, he's the Mad Hatter, he's not authentic, he's mad. But I never believed for a second that I was watching anything other than Johnny Depp flop around with metric tons of makeup. There was no character: only a celebrity seeing how goofy he could get before his producers committed suicide.
And...that dance. That goddamn dance. The moment in which the movie becomes a parody of itself. The moment in which the movie gives the finger to the audience and gleefully jumps off the rails. Like the whole third act, really. Was a large battle scene, complete with a Lord-of-the-Rings-inspired catapult, really necessary? Complete with punny one-liners? Anyone who argues for the dazzling originality of Alice's vision must tell me how this battle scene, looking for all the world like a low-rent Narnia movie, possibly serves to further Burton's singular achievement. Because it feels like desperation to me. No, not desperation. Apathy. This whole damn movie reeks of apathy. Apathy in Mediocreland. New title. Go nuts.

Review: Shutter Island

Shutter Island


Shutter Island. Hmmm. It's hard to describe my feelings for this one. Let's try this for an opening bit: never have I seen so many incredibly talented artists doing such admirable work in service of such a worthless effort. Shutter Island follows Federal Marshall Teddy Daniels (Leonardo Dicaprio) and partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) as they travel to Shutter Island, a penitentiary for the criminally insane. One of the island's prisoners have gone missing, and the hospital staff has requested assistance. What begins as a routine missing-person case quickly twists into a labyrinth of lies, charades, and emotional baggage.
Let me start off by saying that almost everyone involved with this film is immensely talented, and is clearly giving it their all. Leonardo Dicaprio, who has been described as 'a character actor stuck in a leading man's body' produces yet another intriguing character study; doubtlessly, he's one of Hollywood's best young actors. Mark Ruffalo provides a believable and charismatic foil for Dicaprio's sullen brooding. The 'evil psychiatrist' roles are fleshed out beautifully by Ben Kingsley and Max Von Sydow, and extended cameos from the likes of Michelle Williams, Emily Mortimer, and Jackie Earle Haley are intensely acted and fiercely memorably. The below-the-line work is stunning: cinematographer Robert Richardson, a frequent Scorcese collaborator, creates images of astounding beauty, with almost tactile stylizations. Production design by Dante Ferretti is inspired by Grand Guignol horror films, but takes on its own noirish sensibilities. Thelma Schoonmaker, editing demigod, effortlessly draws tense rhythms from the scenes and creates a pushing, grating suspense that will leave more than a few viewers shaken. And of course, one must mention the maestro behind it all, Martin Scorsese: a vibrant, kinetic film-maker who appeals to all five senses, Scorsese is at the top of his game here. The flash-back sequences in particular are stunning: one scene, set in Auschwitz, in which American soldiers gun down unarmed prisoners, is an astounding piece of film-making: its unrelenting horror combined with its ability to immerse the viewer, did more to dramatize the horrors of The Holocaust for me than the entirety of the more stiffly and formally made Schindler's List (...with the exception of the Warsaw ghetto liquidation sequence. That still messes with my head). Additionally, the imagined scenes between Dicaprio's character and his dead wife are jaw-droppingly gorgeous.

So where the hell did this film go so terribly, terribly wrong?

The review has been glowing thus far, so I imagine you must think I'm over the moon about this film. Wrong. I very, very strongly disliked it. That second star is in acknowledgement of the potential film, lurking under the surface of this one. Shutter Island could have been a masterpiece; instead, it's well-made crap. My best guess for pointing out where this one shot off the rails must point toward the screenplay. No, before the screenplay even: the story. The source material, a Dennis Lehane mystery potboiler, is just a terrible, terrible story that follows this infuriating movement in Hollywood that dictates that all horror/thriller films must have some grand twist at the very end. Well, readers, Shutter Island has a twist, but what's the point? Does the point deepen the story, or comment upon it? Does it enrich the viewing experience? No. It's done entirely for that 'Gotcha!' moment that, for whatever reason, our moviegoing culture has deemed necessary. Well, I may have been gotten, but I sure didn't like it. An ending like this only serves to show that the writers and film-makers were too nervous about the quality of their story to allow it to speak for itself. Throw in a hokey twist, and bam! No one cares about the crappy story that came before it.
The screenplay certainly doesn't help, either. Most of the lines fall somewhere between banal and absolutely ridiculous. That all the actors were capable of giving such impassioned performances whilst working with dialogue from my seventh grade English notebook is miraculous.
...Do you ever get the feeling that you're watching a movie that should have been made as a silent film? I do, increasingly frequently. Shutter Island is one of those films. Indeed, Scorsese seems to recognize that as well. Take the fantasy sequences, for example: the images are beautiful, compelling, and tell a story in their own right. The dialogue needlessly and clumsily retreads what we've already seen. Imagine how perfect these sequences might have been without dialogue, or, if we must, a title card every now and then offering a bit of information. The same applies for almost all of Shutter Island. If only Scorsese had the balls to cut the chatter, this could have been a real work of art. Instead, we get a veritable gaggle of talented artists doing their best to save a story that has long since given up on redemption.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Oscar Reactions

I always feel so...let down after the Oscars. Y'know, insane, lifeless people like myself follow the Oscar Season all year round, and then they're done in three hours. Oh well. As far as this year is concerned, I must say that the awards were generally deserving and pleasing (with a few noticeable exceptions), and the show was mostly garbage. Seriously. The John Hughes tribute was great, but Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin never really hit their comedic stride. Most of their lines fell flat. The orchestra must have been on crack or something, because I've never seen them so quick to jump on a speech. Plus...That dance number. That stupid, stupid dance number. I can say with confidence that a man in a navy jacket doing the robot to the score for Up is the worst thing I've ever seen. And I've seen Transformers 2. I hated it. So, so much. Admittedly, some of the choreography was cool, but it was absolutely ridiculous in context and didn't fit the music at all. I mean, do we really need someone spinning on their head during clips from The Fantastic Mr. Fox? Adam Shankman, one of the show's producers and the choreographer of 'So You Think You Can Dance' should be ashamed of himself for so unabashedly shoe-horning his own career into a night that shouldn't be about him at all. But enough about the show. It wasn't good, we'll get over it. The important things are the awards. I predicted 17/24 correctly (22 if you count my alternates).

Picture-The Hurt Locker (predicted correctly)
I'm just so happy that this one. What a wonderfully atypical winner to finish off a decade of, frankly, lackluster winners in this category. It's quite rare for the Academy to give the top award to the best film of the year, but they did it this time, and for a politically ambivalent, action-fueled war movie as well. This is the first full-out war genre pic they've rewarded since Platoon in 1986.

Director-Kathyrn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker (predicted correctly)
Yay Kathryn! Completely sidestepping the whole "first woman" deal, I'm glad that Ms. Bigelow won the Oscar because she's just a fantastic artist. She refuses to compromise her artistic sensibilities in the face of studio pressure or genre stereotypes. Good for her.

Actor-Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart (predicted correctly)
This is one of the awards I'm disappointed about. I know, I get it: Jeff Bridges is due. But honestly, this performance wasn't anything special, and the film it's in is just piss-poor. Jeremy Renner, Colin Firth, and George Clooney would all have been more deserving here. Oh well.

Actress-Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side (I predicted Gabourey Sidibe for Precious)
Sandra Bullock is wonderfully charismatic and likable, and that's probably why she won. It sure as hell wasn't on strength of performance. Yes, she's a comedian doing a dramatic role, but said role is bland and hardly three-dimensional in a film with very few redeeming qualities. I know I should have predicted this, but I couldn't do so without crying. So I went for Gabby; not because I thought it was correct, but because it was right, dammit.

Supporting Actor-Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds (predicted correctly)
This award has been his to lose since Cannes in May. And he wasn't going to lose. Not up against such weak competition.

Supporting Actress-Mo'Nique, Precious (predicted correctly)
If Mo'Nique had lost, I would have driven to Hollywood and killed everyone, as this is easily one of the best performances of the decade.

Original Screenplay-The Hurt Locker (predicted correctly)
Inglourious Basterds is showier, but I admire Mark Boal's taut, suspenseful script that gets its ideas across without any overt moralizing.

Adapted Screenplay-Precious (I predicted Up in the Air)
This was easily the biggest surprise of the night. But kudos to Geoffrey Fletcher: Push can't have been an easy book to adapt, and he did it with style and heart.

Art Direction-Avatar (predicted correctly)
Of course it won. They designed an entirely new world, for goodness sake.

Costume Design-The Young Victoria (predicted correctly)
I'm kind of sick of the Academy's royalty fetish. They haven't given this award to anything other than an Elizabethan/Victorian era European Monarchy Movie since 2005. Grow an imagination, people.

Visual Effects-Avatar (predicted correctly)
Commentary not needed. This is the most deserving award of the night.

Makeup-Star Trek (predicted correctly)
I loved Star Trek's creature effects. Thank goodness this won over The Young Victoria. Seriously, even watching their little nomination featurette, I couldn't figure out what makeup made that movie awards-worthy. I could do that makeup.

Film Editing-The Hurt Locker (predicted correctly)
The Hurt Locker dominated the technical awards, and this one was very deserving. The Hurt Locker was shot in a Super-16 format, which means that four cameras shot it simultaneously. This left the editors with over 400 hours of footage, and they sifted through all that and created something fast-moving, suspenseful, and breathlessly entertaining. Bravo!

Cinematography-Avatar (predicted correctly)
Some people will complain about the CG imagery, but someone still had to plan and shoot that. Plus, they invented an entirely new camera just to make this movie, which deserves the award in and of itself. Doesn't hurt that the movie looks beautiful, either.

Original Score-Up (predicted correctly)
I love Michael Giacchino's score for this movie, and it was easily the most important to its film success of all the nominees. Plus, any win for Pixar is welcome in my book.

Sound Mixing-The Hurt Locker (I predicted Avatar)
More than a little surprised here. The Hurt Locker's sound design is complex and nuanced, but Avatar is big and loud, and the Academy normally loves big and loud. Chalk this one up to more love for The Hurt Locker than Avatar.

Sound Effects Editing-The Hurt Locker (I predicted Avatar)
Doubly surprised here. Hurt Locker has an impressive soundscape, but the Avatar folks created an entire new world of sound. Perhaps the voters, like myself, noticed the re-used sounds from Jurassic Park (the T-Rex sounds an awful lot like the thanator, and the raptors sound a lot like the horses whose name I forgot), and that put them off.

Original Song-"The Weary Kind"-Crazy Heart (predicted correctly)
I suppose I can't complain. It's a good-enough song.

Animated Film-Up (predicted correctly)
Pixar continues their winning streak, then. Fun fact: since the inception of this award in 2001, the only Pixar films to lose this have been Monsters, Inc. and Cars, which lost to Shrek and Happy Feet, respectively. They've taken this award 4 times out of 9 times. Not a bad track record.

Foreign Language Film-The Secrets of Their Eyes-Argentina (predicted correctly)
Once again, the Academy chooses the big, dramatic, obvious, easy movie over the challenging one. Michael Haneke goes home empty-handed. I hate this.

Documentary Feature-The Cove (predicted correctly)
I haven't seen any of the nominees, but I like watching dolphins getting slaughtered as much as the next guy, I suppose.

Documentary Short Subject-Music By Prudence (I predicted China's Unnatural Disaster)
I should have seen this coming. This branch loves heart-warming, inspirational tales, and this story of a poor, developmentally-challenged girl becoming a singer fits that bill to a T.

Live Action Short-The New Tenants (I predicted The Door)
Man, I sucked on the shorts. I'm surprised they went for gritty over classy here.

Animated Short-Logorama (I predicted A Matter of Loaf and Death)
Also surprised here, but thrilled that they went for the clever, inventive Logorama over the incredibly safe territory of A Matter of Loaf and Death.

Well, there we have it. The only winners that weren't my first or alternate choice were Music by Prudence (my first two choices were China's Unnatural Disaster and The Last Truck) and The New Tenants (my first two choices were The Door and Kavi). Not too bad, I suppose.

What do y'all think of the winners? Surprises? Regrets?
Fun fact: this was my 12-year-old sister's first year at attempting Oscar predictions, and she guessed 15/24 correctly. She missed all three shorts, like myself, Actor (she was predicting an upset for Jeremy Renner), both Screenplays (she went with Basterds and Up in the Air, which was where the smart money was, so it's not her fault), cinematography (her love for Harry Potter kept her from being objective), sound effects editing (like everyone else on Earth, she predicted Avatar), and Foreign Language Film (she optimistically went for The White Ribbon). Not too bad, considering she hasn't really followed the season. She also called The Hurt Locker winning at least one sound award, which impressed me, and had Music by Prudence as her alternate choice. Not bad, kid.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Oscar Winner Predictions, Part 3: Tech Awards

Last day of winner predictions. I'll try to keep the commentary brief, as there are more than a few tech awards to get through. So here we go!

Best Art Direction
The nominees:
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
Sherlock Holmes
The Young Victoria

It's hard to argue against Avatar here. They created an entire world out of scratch. Sherlock Holmes did win at the Art Directors Guild, however, and Nine is a traditional sort of winner. Still, I can't see anyone taking Avatar down.
Winner: Avatar
Alterante: Sherlock Holmes
Dark Horse: Nine

Costume Design
The nominees:
Bright Star
Coco Avant Chanel
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
The Young Victoria

The Academy loves their period royalty, as evidenced by the winners for the past three years in a row (The Duchess, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Marie Antoinette). That makes this category The Young Victoria's to lose. Nine is awfully flashy, and Bright Star has a devoted fanbase.
Winner: The Young Victoria
Alternate: Nine
Dark Horse: Bright Star

Visual Effects
The nominees:
District 9
Star Trek

No need for commentary.
Winner: Avatar
Alternate: District 9
Dark Horse: Star Trek

The nominees:
Il Divo
Star Trek
The Young Victoria

Star Trek has this in the bag. The other two nominees, frankly, aren't well-liked enough to pull an upset over one of the biggest hits of the year.
Winner: Star Trek
Alternate: The Young Victoria
Dark Horse: Il Divo

Film Editing
The nominees:
District 9
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds

This category is both incredibly important and quite difficult to call. Whoever wins this has a very good chance of winning Best Picture. That said, I'm defaulting to The Hurt Locker. Avatar is a real threat however, as the Academy loves to reward action movies here. Inglourious Basterds could also sneak in if the film has more support than I think it does.
Winner: The Hurt Locker
Alternate: Avatar
Dark Horse: Inglourious Basterds

The nominees:
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
The White Ribbon

This category is infuriating, in that every nominee has a potential case to win. Avatar is gorgeous, and people may be looking to check it off across the tech board, but it's also possible that people will react negatively to its largely computer-generated world. The Hurt Locker is the Best Picture front-runner, and is a technical masterpiece, but could be too gritty, as voters prefer postcard-pretty films here. Inglourious Basterds is a very formal, classically made film with iconic images, but could have trouble pushing past the others. The White Ribbon is pretty and black-and-white, which doesn't hurt, but arguably the least seen film of the bunch. And Harry Potter could be considered one of the most stereotypically pretty films in the group, but, let's be honest, it's a Harry Potter movie. They have yet to win an Oscar, and, if they do, I don't know if it will be in a more 'prestigious' tech category like this one. Like film editing, this category will be a good barometer for which film has Academy support on Sunday night.
Winner: Avatar
Alternate: The Hurt Locker
Dark Horse: Inglourious Basterds

Original Score
The nominees:
The Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Hurt Locker
Sherlock Holmes

This one's easier. Michael Giacchino, who scored Up, has won most every prize out there. Plus, his contributions to Up are, arguably, more instrumental (pardon the pun), to his film's success than any of the other composers. Avatar could pull a win here, but James Horner's already got an Oscar; they might not want to reward him again just yet.
Winner: Up
Alternate: Avatar
Dark Horse: The Hurt Locker

Sound Mixing
The nominees:
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
Star Trek
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

This is between two movies: Avatar and The Hurt Locker. Plenty of bloggers have been arguing for a split of the sound categories, tossing this one to The Hurt Locker's complicated, tense mix, but I'm not buying it. Avatar is nothing if not a technical marvel, and I can't imagine Academy voters are going to be voting against it in any of the effects-driven categories.
Winner: Avatar
Alternate: The Hurt Locker
Dark Horse: Star Trek

Sound Effects Editing
The nominees:
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
Star Trek

Same argument as before.
Winner: Avatar
Alternate: The Hurt Locker
Dark Horse: Star Trek

Original Song
The nominees:
"The Weary Kind"-Crazy Heart
"Take it All"-Nine
"Loin de Paname"-Paris 36
"Almost There"-The Princess and the Frog
"Down in New Orleans"-The Princess and the Frog

Another easy category. People love Crazy Heart's songs, for whatever reason. Plus, none of these others are viable contenders: the Princess songs will cancel each other out, Nine was almost universally hated and had terrible new songs, and no one's even heard of Paris 36, much less think "Loin de Paname" is a chart-topper. This goes to Crazy Heart.
Winner: "The Weary Kind"-Crazy Heart
Alternate: "Take it All"-Nine
Dark Horse: "Almost There"-The Princess and the Frog

Well, there we have it. For those of you counting at home, the films with the most wins are as follows:
1. Avatar-5
2. The Hurt Locker-4
3. Precious-2
4. Crazy Heart-2
5. Up-2

We'll see Sunday how wrong I am. In the meantime, how about you? Any predictions before the weekend?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Oscar Winner Predictions Part 2: Acting/Screenplays

Welcome back, sofa monkeys! Today we'll look at the acting and writing categories: two places where I probably won't have the balls to call the upsets that I should. Oh well. C'est la vie.

Best Actor
The nominees:
Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
George Clooney, Up in the Air
Colin Firth, A Single Man
Morgan Freeman, Invictus
Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker

This one's just about a done deal, and it breaks my heart. Jeff Bridges has won everything in sight (seriously, he just won your computer), and there's no signs of slowing. Some brave, hopeful people have suggested that Jeremy Renner might surprise us all and take this one come Oscar night, but, as much as I'd like to see it, it's just not going to happen.
Winner: Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
Alternate: Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker
Dark Horse: George Clooney, Up in the Air

Best Actress
The Nominees:
Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
Helen Mirren, The Last Station
Carey Mulligan, An Education
Gabourey Sibide, Precious
Meryl Streep, Julie and Julia

I really, really wish I had the cojones to predict Gabourey Sidibe here. Precious showed up on nomination morning with more support than anticipated (editing nomination? Really?), which could work in Sidibe's favor. People will be remembering Mo'Nique come ballot time, and perhaps they'll remember Gabby as well. Sandra Bullock and Meryl Streep are neck-and-neck here. Either one could take it, and, as a result of their close competition, someone else could slip through. Actually, you know what? I'm gonna go with Sidibe here. Screw it.
Winner: Gabourey Sidibe, Precious
Alternate: Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
Dark Horse: Meryl Streep, Julie and Julia

Best Supporting Actor
The nominees:
Matt Damon, Invictus
Woody Harrelson, The Messenger
Christopher Plummer, The Last Station
Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones
Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds

A few sad, lonely bloggers are trying to convince me that Christopher Plummer will ride the whole "Dear Lord, he's 80, let's give him an Oscar before he hits the ground" thing to a win, but they just want someone to talk to. This is Waltz's. Plain and simple.
Winner: Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Alternate: Christopher Plummer, The Last Station
Dark Horse: Woody Harrelson, The Messenger

Best Supporting Actress
The nominees:
Penelope Cruz, Nine
Maggie Gyllenhaal, Crazy Heart
Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air
Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
Mo'Nique, Precious

I'm not even going to dignify this with discussion.
Winner: Mo'Nique, Precious
Alternate: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Crazy Heart
Dark Horse: Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air

Best Original Screenplay
The nominees:
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
The Messenger
A Serious Man

Here's another maddeningly tight race. The Hurt Locker and Inglourious Basterds stand about equal chances of winning. The Hurt Locker is the Best Picture frontrunner, but people really love Tarantino when he writes. I'd say that a third film might sneak in and grab the prize while the other two are fighting, but I honestly can't imagine any of the other nominees getting enough votes to do that.
Winner: The Hurt Locker
Alternate: Inglourious Basterds
Dark Horse: Up

Best Adapted Screenplay
The nominees:
District 9
An Education
In the Loop
Up in the Air

This screenplay race, on the other hand, is just jaw-droppingly obvious. Up in the Air used to be the film to beat for Best Picture. Now it's getting a consolation prize.
Winner: Up in the Air
Alternate: Precious
Dark Horse: District 9

There we have it. Tomorrow I'll wrap this up. Sunday I'll post my 'final' predictions. I'll wrap up the Oscars later, and then we can get back to content that people might want to read. Super!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Oscar Winner Predictions, Part 1: Picture/Director/Other Bests

The Oscars are this Sunday: the madness is almost over. I've got a slew of fascinating, insightful content ready to release into the blogosphere when the Oscars are over (I'll avoid spoilers, but I'm throwing together some pieces on a recent film obsession, a director whose short filmography deserves analysis, contrasting two very disturbed Europeans, and looking at a trilogy that, to this day, still haunts my nightmares). Until then, it's predictions ho! I'll start my three-part winner analysis today with Picture, Director, and the other categories you probably don't care about (foreign film, animated film, documentary short, etc.). Tomorrow, I'll cover acting and screenplay, and Friday we'll hit the tech awards. Sunday afternoon, I'll post my FINAL predictions (in case, y'know, I change my mind about them within the next three days, which is totally possible). For now, make due with these:

Best Picture
The nominees:
The Blind Side
District 9
An Education
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
A Serious Man
Up in the Air

Let's take a moment to dispel a commonly-held misconception. This is not only a two-horse race. Sure, The Hurt Locker has won the notable precursors, like the Producers Guild, Directors Guild, and Writers Guild, and Avatar won the Golden Globe, plus made enough money to sink a well-sized cruise ship. That doesn't mean the others are ruled out. Bear in mind that this year, the winner will be determined by a preferential ballot system, which is to say that the film with the most #1 votes doesn't necessarily win. The film that's most well-liked does. So let's take a look at who benefits from that the most. Inglourious Basterds did win the SAG ensemble award, and actors are the largest branch of the Academy. Plus, it's been seen by most everyone, which is certainly beneficial. It's mix of historical revisionism and violence can be a bit polarizing, however. Up and Up in the Air are more likely to get highly placed on most ballots, though they probably won't grab many #1 spots. Avatar will get plenty of top billings, but will also find itself on the bottom half of a fair few ballots. You either love it or you hate it. Doesn't seem to be much of a middle ground. Which brings us to The Hurt Locker. It's going to receive a fair majority of the #1 votes, and no one actively dislikes this movie, so if it doesn't get the #1 spot, it won't be too far away from it.
Winner: The Hurt Locker
Alternate: Avatar
Dark Horse: Inglourious Basterds

Best Director
The nominees:
Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
James Cameron, Avatar
Lee Daniels, Precious
Jason Reitman, Up in the Air
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds

I think we can all agree that Lee Daniels and Jason Reitman are out. Their films were perfectly fine, but they're both too young, not showy enough, and are being eclipsed by bigger names. The safe choice here is Kathryn Bigelow. Academy voters are looking for a historic moment, and she'll be the first woman to win. Cameron is a possibility, but, simply put, he's kind of a dick and the Oscars are a popularity contest as much as anything else. I've heard whispers of Quentin Tarantino pulling an upset, and he does have Harvey Weinstein behind him, which one can't underestimate, but I'm not buying it. This one is Bigelow's.
Winner: Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
Alternate: James Cameron, Avatar
Dark Horse: Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds

Best Foreign Language Film
The nominees:
The Milk of Sorrow-Peru
A Prophet-France
The Secrets of Her Eyes-Argentina
The White Ribbon-Germany

At first glance, this seems like an easier choice. A Prophet and The White Ribbon have been huge critical successes that have battled for the top spot since Cannes in May. But let's take a moment to remember that this is the Academy: you know, the organization that awarded Departures last year over Waltz With Bashir and The Class. Oscar loves emotionally uplifting, obvious, dramatically satisfying, easy movies. A Prophet is a prison epic surrounding the life of a Muslim convict, and The White Ribbon is a surgical, casually horrific WWI fable. Neither are easy, uplifting, or overly emotional. Of the other nominees, The Milk of Sorrow is a classically made film about defective breast-milk, and Ajami is a lived-in, docudrama about Israeli-Palestinian ties. The Milk of Sorrow is out. Ajami has the prestige, but Oscar doesn't like their winners here to feel too improvised or gritty, and apparently Ajami is both. That leaves The Secrets of Her Eyes, which, allegedly, completely fits the Academy bill here. I know I should probably be predicting The White Ribbon, but I'm not going to. The Academy loves bland here, and that's what they'll go for.
Winner: The Secrets of Her Eyes-Argentina
Alternate: The White Ribbon-Germany
Dark Horse: A Prophet-France

Best Animated Film
The nominees:
The Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Princess and the Frog
The Secret of Kells

This one's fairly obvious. Only one of these films landed a best picture nomination. I've heard people say that The Fantastic Mr. Fox can pull an upset, or The Secret of Kells has lots of underground support, based on the fact that it got nominated. Too few people have seen it, however, and Wes Anderson's style turns too many people off. Plus, Pixar pretty much owns this category. They don't like losing here, and they don't do it very often.
Winner: Up
Alternate: The Fantastic Mr. Fox
Dark Horse: Coraline

(now for the categories you all know and love!)

Best Documentary Feature
The nominees:
Burma VJ
The Cove
Food, Inc.
The Most Dangerous Man in America
Which Way Home

Another easy one. The Cove has steamrollered through awards season, taking every prize it can lay its flippers on. Food Inc. is good enough, but lacks the emotional punch the Academy loves here. Which Way Home has that punch, but it's too late to rally for an upset. Burma VJ is a feat of film-making, but Oscar hates feats of film-making.
Winner: The Cove
Alternate: Food, Inc.
Dark Horse: Which Way Home

Best Documentary Short Subject
The nominees:
China's Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of the Sichuan Province
The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner
The Last Truck: The Closing of a GM Plant
Music by Prudence
Rabbit a la Berlin

I'm going against the crowd here. Most pundits agree that The Last Truck taps into the Zeitgeist in a particularly American way. True. Something makes me favor China's Unnatural Disaster, however. Call it a hunch. Music by Prudence is sweet, Rabbit a la Berlin is technically innovative, and The Last Campaign... features an old fellow who'd like to die, but I really think it's between the first two.
Winner: China's Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of the Sichuan Province
Alternate: The Last Truck: The Closing of a GM Plant
Dark Horse: Music by Prudence

Best Live Action Short
The nominees:
The Door
Instead of Abracadabra
Miracle Fish
The New Tennants

It's hard for me to comment here, as I've only seen half of one of these. Instead of Abracadabra is too lightweight, The New Tennants is too profane and bizarre. The Door is allegedly a technical and visual accomplishment, which the Academy favors here. Kavi is about Indian children, which Oscar has loved in recent years. Miracle Fish, the only one I've viewed (part-way), is good, but a little too strange for Academy tastes.
Winner: The Door
Alternate: Kavi
Dark Horse: Miracle Fish

Animated Short
The nominees:
French Roast
Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty
The Lady and the Reaper
A Matter of Loaf and Death

Part of me really wants to go with Logorama here, but I'm hesitant. It's a little...hardcore to be an Academy Award Winner for Animated Short. Plus, Oscar really, really loves Wallace and Gromit. The only time they've lost is when they had to compete with themselves. Sadly, my favorite of the bunch, The Lady and the Reaper, will probably go unnoticed.
Winner: A Matter of Loaf and Death
Alternate: Logorama
Dark Horse: The Lady and the Reaper

That's it for now. Check back in tomorrow when I resume with categories that you knew existed! Yay!

Monday, March 1, 2010

This Year's Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts

Dear Lord, it's been a long time since I've been on here, hasn't it? Apologies. First social life, then travelling intervened. For today, I'd like to offer up a fantastic little opportunity. Brace yourself, readers: the link below will allow you to view 4 of the 5 2009 Oscar-nominated short films.

Oh hell yes. Sadly, one of the films has been yanked off the Internet since I saw it. Such is life. Anyhow, take a moment to watch a few of these. Watching all of them back-to-back takes less than an hour, so if you've got a little time to kill, go crazy. If you don't feel like watching all of them, I'm going to take a brief look at each one below; scan through, see what sounds good, and watch one or two.

In order of their video appearance:

Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty (6:06 minutes)
This is, far and away, my least favorite short. In the film, the titular Granny tells her granddaughter the timeless tale of Sleeping Beauty, with a few embellishments and twists of her own to make the story fit into her world-view. The film has a fantastic premise (re-imagining fairy-tales from a decidedly cynical perspective), but fails to capitalize on that promise. There are amusing moments (I did giggle at the rather literal birth sequence, as well as the visual realization of 'the old fairy), but they never add up to a compelling whole. That this was nominated over other, superior shorts like The Cat Piano and Partly Cloudy is somewhat depressing. Oh well. It's only six minutes, so check it out anyway.

French Roast (8:17 minutes)
This tale of an uptight business-man in a cafe who realizes he's forgotten his wallet is a fantastic example of the storytelling potential of animation as a medium, as well as a showcase for stories told without dialogue. French Roast is entertaining, funny, and never over-stays its welcome. It might be a little too light-weight to win this category, but it's thoroughly enjoyable.

The Lady and the Reaper (8:20 minutes)
What a great little film. The Lady and the Reaper tells the tale of an old woman who is approached by Death: she tries to accompany him to the Other Side, but is thwarted at every turn by the efforts of an ER doctor straight out of a soap opera, accompanied by his three buxom nurses. The Lady and the Reaper is another film without dialogue, yet its silent style never hurts the film, which is visually inventive and full of (very) dark humor. The ending is a quite the shocker. Bonus points: make sure you watch through the first few credits. About thirty seconds in, we get a vision of Charon and the River Styx that's absolutely priceless.

Logorama (16:04 minutes)
Sadly, this one can no longer be found on the Internet. Too bad, because it's one hell of a short. The visual concept is rather brilliant: the entire film is comprised entirely of corporate logos. The main characters are two Pringles cans, a Michelin Man, and Ronald McDonald (whose crime spree is all too believable). The film is profane, violent (Mr. Peanut loses his head to a sniper battle), and cynical. I'll let you know if I can find this one to watch anywhere else, because it's completely worth the time.

Wallace and Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death (29:00 minutes)
I suppose I ought to just say it: I'm not a huge fan of Wallace and Gromit. I love the stop-motion animation, and it's all amusing enough, but I find it curiously lacking. Almost soulless. In this outing, Wallace and Gromit run a bakery, and are forced to pit their wits against a serial-killer who has been systematically knocking off other bakers in the area. The film isn't without its charms, but the constant film references took me out of the moment. Seriously, why do we need an Aliens homage, as well as references to Batman, Ghost, Psycho, The Blues Brothers, and The Empire Strikes Back in a film about a bakery? Cinematic in-jokes can be fun in moderation. Throw too many in, and you just look desperate.

Were I pressed to order the shorts according to my preference, it would be as follows:
1. The Lady and the Reaper
2. Logorama
3. French Roast
4. Wallace and Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death
5. Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty

This is, of course, not ordered according to the likelihood of their win. I'll get into that later this week, but suffice to say that the Academy loves Wallace and Gromit. Did you catch any of these? If so, which did you like best?