Archive for February, 2008

Oscar Night

Sunday, February 24th, 2008

oscar1.jpg

In less than an hour and a half, the 800th Academy Awards will begin, and I will start yelling at the TV (probably). Traditionally, the Oscar for Best Picture goes to either epic films like Dances with Wolves, feel-good movies like Driving Miss Daisy, or feel-good epics like Forrest Gump. Cynical, interesting movies, usually, just get nominations (a good example would be Goodfellas losing out to the aforementioned Dances with Wolves). Just because a film is, in fact, the best of the bunch, doesn’t mean it will win. Again, Goodfellas (or Raging Bull, it lost out to Ordinary People). Sometimes, films that didn’t really fit into a Best Picture mold would win, like Silence of the Lambs or Unforgiven, but for the most part, if your film was bizarre or unique, don’t think about Oscar.

I think the year that changed was the year that American Beauty won, a dark comedy about death in suburbia. The next year Gladiator won, and the Academy Awards were back to more standard winners (in the context of the “Best Picture Type”). I mention this just to help paint the picture of how unusual this year’s crop of Best Picture nominees is. No Country for Old Men is a bleak, cynical film, with a strong feeling of hopelessness and regret. There Will be Blood is a three-hour long character study about an unrepentant oil tycoon. Both No Country and There Will Be Blood had endings that were reviled by close-minded movie morons who were confused that a film didn’t have to have a clear-cut, by-books, Hollywood ending. Hey, Michael Clayton‘s ending was also similarly unique and reviled. So, three sharp, intelligent films about the dark side of human nature. Atonement seems from the previews to be a pretty standard Best Picture nominee, a romance set against the backdrop of World War II. But, the film’s structure was full of flashbacks and the same event from different points of view, plus the narrative itself is designed in such a way to leave the audience member with many questions after the last ten minutes.

Juno, the little movie that could, as it’s been called, is a comedy about a pregnant high schooler. Five movies that, I think, signify a change in the kind of movies that are going to get nominated from now on. Sure, the nominated film’s will still mostly be those that have the strongest campaigns (never forget that the Oscars are about making money, not about awarding excellence in film), but I think we’re going to be getting more unique, less standard nominees from now on.

There Will Be Oscar (or: No Country for bad Oscar jokes)

Saturday, February 23rd, 2008

oscaroygles.jpg

So, the 80th annual Academy Awards are rapidly approaching (this Sunday, mark those calendars!), and I figure it’s about time to make some predictions of who is going to take home the gold. Now, usually my online predictions are different than the predictions I make on Sunday (when I do the official ballot pool with my friends and family, it’s usually much different than my previous picks), but I’m going to try not to change them too much. A few categories seem like more or less dead locks, while others, not so much (I’m talking about you, Best Supporting Actress category!!)

BEST PICTURE

No Country for Old Men will win. Deal with it. The other four nominees (Juno, There Will be Blood, Michael Clayton and Atonement) range from good to brilliant, but No Country will take the Best Picture Oscar.

Dark Horse: Juno (??)

BEST ACTOR

This is what they call in the ‘biz a lock: Daniel Day-Lewis is going to get his second Academy Award, for There Will Be Blood.

Dark Horse: George Clooney for Michael Clayton (but, c’mon, I seriously doubt it).

BEST ACTRESS

This is a two-way tie between Julie Christie for Away from Her and Marion Cotillard for La Vie en Rose. I think Christie has the upper hand, but who knows?? Still, as of right now, I’m going with Christie.

Dark Horse: Could Ellen Page secure enough votes for Juno to walk away with the prize?

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Javier Bardem will win for his chilling portrayal of Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men. For the rest of the nominees, it was an honor just to be nominated, unless…

Dark Horse: veteran character actor Hal Holbrook wins for Into the Wild. Remember, nobody thought that veteran character actor Alan Arkin would win last year for Little Miss Sunshine; everybody (including myself) thought that Eddie Murphy was a lock. So, it could happen. But, probably not.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

This is the messiest category of the night, I think. Ruby Dee is a living legend, and this is her first nomination ever, for her wonderful work in American Gangster. But, Academy fave Cate Blanchett was nominated for both Actress categories this year, so the odds are she’s gonna win something, and it won’t be for Best Actress for Elizabeth 2. Something tells me not to rule out Amy Ryan for her haunting portrayal of a dead-beat mom in Gone Baby Gone. So, Ruby, Cate or Amy. Shit, three-way tie?? Right now, I’m gonna say Ruby Dee, but just barely.

Dark Horse: Amy Ryan.

BEST DIRECTOR

The Coen Brothers

Dark Horse: Paul Thomas Anderson for There Will Be Blood

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Juno will win for something, and Diablo Cody is already practically a household name, mostly thanks to the fact that everybody is shocked that a stripper can have a second career as a screenwriter.

Dark Horse: Tony Gilroy for Michael Clayton

Best Adapted Screenplay

The Coen Brothers

Dark Horse: P.T. Anderson

Best Cinematography

Roger Deakins for No Country for Old Men

Editing

Roderick Jaynes for No Country for Old Men (I’m looking forward to this category, since Roderick Jaynes is actually a psuedonym for those rascally Coen Brothers, and I’m looking forward to their tongue in cheek acceptance speech.)

Art Direction

Atonement

Costume Design

Elizbeth: The Golden Age

Makeup

La Vie en Rose (I refuse to acknowledge that Norbit is actually nominated for an Oscar!)

Original Score

Atonement

Song

That one from Once, that’s a good one.

Sound

Bourne Ultimatum

Sound Effects Editing

No Country for Old Men (the sound effects are crucial to the film’s success)

Visual Effects

Transformers or Pirates, whichever one made more money. I dunno, let’s say Transformers, just because Pirates 3 is a piece of garbage.

Animated Film

Ratatouille

Foreign Film

The Counterfeiters (Die Falscher)

Best Documentary

No End in Sight

That’s the way it’s going to go down. At least, that’s how I think it’s going to go down at this exact moment. We’ll see how I feel tomorrow.

Nic Cage in: Tax Trouble

Thursday, February 21st, 2008

There was a time when Nicolas Cage was a risky, terrific actor. Hey, he’s won an Oscar, for goodness sakes. Then, as Cage got kookier in his personal life, his films got worse. Films like Raising Arizona, Leaving Las Vegas, Valley Girl and Wild at Heart made way for garbage like National Treasures 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and Ghost Rider. That being said, he still is willing to take risks, at least with the United States Government. Cage has been accused of tax fraud. The IRS has accused Cage of using his production company to “wrongly write off 3.3 million in personal expenses.”

cage_blaze.jpg

Ugh

Wednesday, February 20th, 2008

If you’re a nerd like me, then you’ve probably heard by now that they’re making a new movie about Wolverine, called X-Men Origins: Wolverine; man, I hope they change the title to just Wolverine, much cooler. Anyway, Hugh Jackman will reprise the role that he played so brilliantly in X-Men and X2, and so blandly in X-Men 3: The Last Stand. But, the latest casting news for this film is pretty ridiculous. Deadpool, the wisecracking, deadly assassin, is going to be played by… Van Wilder. Ryan Reynolds, that horrible “comic” actor, is going to be playing Deadpool.

I’m pretty sure this movie is being cast by a group of people who have never read a comic book, either that or by the same person who cast Topher Grace as Venom.

deadpool.jpg

van-wilder.jpg

No Country for Old Men- a second look

Wednesday, February 20th, 2008

no-country-for-old-men_0.jpg

Yesterday afternoon, I went and saw No Country for Old Men for a second time. Now, as I’ve said many times before, few directors’ films invite a second (or third or fourth or fifth) viewing more than the Coen Brothers’ movies do. In fact, their films really should be seen multiple times to pick up all the nuance and detail that each of their films have. I just finished Cormac McCarthy’s novel, and I am convinced this is one of the best film adaptations of a book I have seen. On the second viewing of the film, I was struck by how much this film (and the book) is about hopelessness; an inevitable sadness permeates this film in a way I hadn’t noticed on the first viewing.

Javier Bardem is sure to win Best Supporting Actor for his haunting, terrifying performance, but I also realized that Tommy Lee Jones was robbed an Oscar nomination for this film; his performance is one of the key reasons why the film works. Few films I can think of benefit as much from the sound effects than No Country, the sounds of paper crinkling, of locks opening, of footsteps crunching softly into the dirt, of gunshots. The musical score in this film, by Coen regular Carter Burwell, is so subtle and connected to the sound effects that I didn’t even notice it the first time I watched the film.

Make no doubt about it, this is a phenomenal movie, and you should have seen it by now. Or, if you have, go see it again.

Away from Her (*** 1/2)

Tuesday, February 12th, 2008

awayfromher.jpg

Grant and Fiona have been married 44 years, and live alone in a cabin somewhere in the Canadian wilderness. They are still deeply in love, sweet to each other, inseparable, and live what seems like an idyllic life. One night, as they clean the kitchen, Fiona puts a frying pan in the freezer, and from that moment on, everything changes.The idea of a love story involving Alzheimer’s disease is intriguing in part because, since memory is so closely tied to the idea of romance (remembering your first date, first kiss or wedding day) that you wonder what would happen if memory went away. Would your wife still love you if she didn’t really know who you were? Sarah Polley’s feature film directorial debut, Away from Her, dares to answer these questions in a film that is beautiful, sad, haunting and uplifting, without ever becoming a manipulative tear-jerker.

Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent play Fiona and Grant, in two of the most powerful performances of 2007, and their work helps elevate a film that is already relentlessly effective. Eventually, it is decided that perhaps Fiona should stay, for a time, at a nursing home. Grant refuses, stating that he could not be without her. After Fiona wanders off on a skiing trip and is found by Grant several hours later, he realizes that she may be right.

If you haven’t yet read the other reviews or seen any previews, I will let you enjoy the rest of the plot, as it’s hard to describe much more without ruining it. I will say that the script, also by Polley, is a masterwork, as I really felt that these characters’ whole histories were contained in this 110 minute movie. By the end of the film, it felt like I really knew this people.

The other main characters in the film are all well-cast. Michael Murphy plays Aubrey, a mute fellow patient of Fiona’s who comes to depend on her as well, and Murphy’s performance is a marvel of subtleness. Olympia Dukakis gives her best performance in many years as Aubrey’s wife, Marian, who Grant comes to for some advice. Kristen Thomson plays Kristy, a nurse at the home who becomes a confidant to Grant, and it’s refreshing to see a good part written for a nurse, for a change.

Julie Christie was nominated for her phenomenal work here, and she deserves the nomination, but without a nomination also for Gordon Pinsent, it seems like a bittersweet victory. The film’s main narrative follows things more from Grant’s point of view, since as Fiona’s memory fades, her grip on reality will fade to, and the emotional core would be harder to convey on film. As Grant says, he cannot imagine life without Fiona. The film is not really about how he manages without her, but rather how he comes to terms with the fact that he might have to.

Roy Scheider (1932-2008)

Monday, February 11th, 2008

jaws_swims_behind_chief_brody.jpg

Roy Scheider, the two-time Oscar nominated actor and star of the classic horror film Jaws, has died. Scheider was a gifted, vastly underrated actor, who could play a wide range of roles. Of course, he will probably best be remembered for Jaws, in a performance that I always felt should have gotten him an Oscar nomination. He was nominated in 1971 for Best Supporting Actor for The French Connection, and in 1979 for Best Actor for All That Jazz.

With each role, Scheider gave it his all. I remember the frenzied, manic directness of Joe Gideon, his character from All That Jazz, for example. Some of Scheider’s other noteworthy films include the under appreciated crime drama The Seven-Ups, Sorcerer, 52 Pick-Up, 2010 and Naked Lunch.

The 10 Scariest Muppets

Monday, February 4th, 2008

As you’ll see in a moment, there is such thing as a scary Muppet. Man, is there ever. I reached deep into my pop culture memory for this one, some of the choices are obvious, some, not so much. Though a good deal of the Muppets really did scar me as a child (OK, and as an adult), a few of them are just creepy. And some really aren’t that scary anymore, but they sure did freak me out in my younger days. On with the list.

#10 Count Von Count (from “Sesame Street”)

count_von_count.jpg

As a boy, Count Von Count delighted me with his enthusiasm for counting and his confident, comical manner. That is, until I had a nightmare where I was alone in a house and Count Von Count was walking to the door, intent to kill me. I think I was four. From that moment on, Count Von Count was still one of my favorites, but I was also aware that he had a darker, more sinister side, and he’d get me if I wasn’t careful.

#9 Wander McMooch (from “Fraggle Rock”)

wander-mcmooch-fraggle-rock.JPG

This villain from the classic show “Fraggle Rock” is an obscure Muppet, to be sure, but a pretty creepy one. There was one episode, in particular, where McMooch, the Great Trash Heap’s arch-nemisis, was especially startling and eerie. This was the only decent photo I could find, and it fails to capture his frightening presence.

#8 Sweetums (from The Muppet Movie, “The Muppet Show,” The Great Muppet Caper)

sweetums.jpg

Definitely one of the most instantly recognizable of the Muppet Monsters, Sweetums is a big lug with a soft side. That being said, he can still be cruel, intimidating and threatening.
#7 Trollop (From “The Storyteller” episode “The True Bride”)

trollop.jpg

Ok, so there were two freaky trolls from this episode of Jim Henson’s “The Storyteller,” but Old Troll’s daughter was by far scarier. She terrified me as a child, and she still freaks me out.

#6 The Ultra-Gorgon (from “The Monster Maker”)

ultra-gorgon-monster-maker.jpg

Ok, this might be the most obscure Muppet on the list. There was this great episode of “The Jim Henson Hour” called “The Monster Maker” that was all about this little boy who wanted to work with this famous monster maker, played by Harry Dean Stanton, and the Ultra-Gorgon was one of the maker’s creations, who was real!!! Ok, it was probably 19 years ago, but man, I remember this one! (this was the only photo I could find.)

#5 Uncle Deadly (from “The Muppet Show”)

uncle-deadly.jpg

Uncle Deadly (also known as The Phantom) was without a doubt the creepiest regular on “The Muppet Show.” I remember his voice being particularly effective.

#4 Aunt Taminella (from “The Frog Prince”)

aunt-taminella.jpg

This one goes without saying. Few villains from children’s television shows have stayed in my mind the way Aunt Taminella has. When I was five, and I used to watch this, geez. Every Muppet on this list (so far) has been mixture of terror and camp, but Aunt Taminella just might be the perfect blend.

#3 The Fire Gang (from Labyrinth)

firegang1.jpg

Ok, as a child, these merry monster pranksters from the classic film Labyrinth were frightening, threatening, but also kind of silly and endearing. They’d kill you, but you’d have fun dying.

#2 The Garthim (from The Dark Crystal)

garthim_2.JPG

The crab-like, monstrous Garthim, the foot soldiers for the foul Skeksis were terrifying, but not in the fun, safe Muppet way. They were really terrifying. In fact, almost nothing from The Dark Crystal was this scary, except for…

#1 The Skeksis (from The Dark Crystal)

skeksis.jpg

 

skeksil.jpg

 

skekshod.jpg

 

skekung.jpg

Yeah, like it was going to be anything else. God, these fuckers have haunted my dreams since I was three, where they scared the ever-loving shit out of me, yet fascinated me at the same time. It was from the Skeksis that I learned that movie monsters could be frightening and intriguing, that they could repel and entertaining. The Skeksis, as a toddler, was my introduction to the monster movie, a genre that I have adored ever since. The Skeksis are some of the most grotesque, revolting characters ever put into a movie, and this was a children’s film!

Atonement (***)

Monday, February 4th, 2008

atonement.jpg

Atonement, based upon the novel by Ian McEwan, is about how the hasty actions of a young girl shatter multiple lives, including her own. It’s a romance, to a point, but it’s also haunting, bitter and heartbreaking. Two of its main characters are fools in love, and the third is younger, full of wit and creativity, but, she sees something that she doesn’t understand, and changes everything.

Joe Wright, the director of 2005’s winning version of Pride and Prejudice, re-teams with that film’s star Keira Knightley, alongside James McAvoy, to make a gorgeously photographed, exquisitely rendered, well-acted drama. Keira Knightley plays a privileged young lady named Cecilia Tallis, and James McAvoy plays Robbie Turner, the son of hired help, who grew up with Cecilia and in fact went to medical school on her father’s dime. Of course, they fall in love. Saoirse Ronan plays Cecilia’s younger sister Briony, a fiery little girl who writes plays and has a small crush on Robbie.

On a sunny afternoon, Briony sees Robbie and Cecilia by the fountain, and doesn’t understand what she is seeing. Later that night, she sees something else, and her imagination begins to work. Eventually, Robbie is accused of a crime by Briony. And we flash-forward several years, as these three people must now live with the consequences of Briony’s actions.

Pretty heavy stuff, and indeed, Atonement is not a light, giggly affair. The first act feels like one of those breezy British romance films about the class struggles, but there is a dark undercurrent, and as the film enters its second and third acts, it gets even bleaker. It still am not sure if Keira Knightley is a good actress or not, she was luminous in Pride and Prejudice, and here she’s just as lovely, but as far as her acting goes, she’s definitely the weak link in the cast. James McAvoy gives a very strong performance as Robbie, and helps make the tragedies of the film all the more tragic. The Oscar-nominated Saoirse Ronan’s role is very effective, pretty surprising when you learn that the actress is only thirteen! Romola Garai is not as good as Briony at age 18, but Vanessa Redgrave, in her brief role as an older Briony, gives a great performance, and makes the film’s narrative all the more twisty and complicated. Brenda Blethyn has a small role as Robbie’s mother, and I need to call out Benedict Cumberbatch’s unsettling performance as Paul Marshall, a chocolate maker with some unhealthy interests.

From a visual standpoint, Atonement is an artistic triumph. There is a tracking shot, for instance, at the beach at Dunkirk that lasts for five and a half minutes, and will probably have you holding your breath. It’s that good. The cinematography, by Seamus McGarvey, is beautiful and lush, and look at his use of colors, how they’re mostly drab and muted, except for the rare outbursts of strong colors like green, the color of Cecilia’s evening dress.

Atonement is a fascinating, depressing, great looking movie.