Saturday, January 31, 2009


"Millions" is a fantastic family film, one of the greatest achievements in children's filmmaking that I've seen in a long time. Danny Boyle, known mostly for his gross-out work in "28 Days Later," his heroin-addiction film "Trainspotting," and most recently, his uplifting, fast-paced "Slumdog Millionaire," shows that he can make films for all ages. His film is witty and truthful about many things, money most prominently. Frank Cottel Boyce adapts his own book here, and he makes sure none of the charm is lost. If anything, the screen version is better. "Millions" follows two brothers named Damien (Alex Etel) and Anthony (Lewis McGibbon) who's mother has died and their father (James Nesbitt) is having to manage their lives and having to keep them at middle-class level. Damien is a wonderfully rounded character, especially in the facet that he can speak to saints. These sequences are some of the biggest fruits of the film. Anyways, Damien happens to be watching trains when a large sum of money in a bag drops from a train. Damien lets Anthony in on the secret. Of course, there is conflict over the spending. Damien wants to help the poor, and in many instances, he does. Anthony is more caught up all the status symbols that the X-Gen is into. He wants to spend the money and make connections at school. Another problem: in a few days, the Euro will become the new currency of Europe. This heightens the anxiety. This is all very well done. There was only one subplot I didn't really enjoy: that was of the unidentified Man (Christopher Fulford) who gives the film a bitter edge. He threatens Damien over the money. See, he was stealing it, and the kid got his hands on it. This is the part where Boyle doesn't direct with the strongest of hands. He does tune this out well, though, and towards the end redeems himself with a series of uplifting episodes that warm our hearts, minds, and bodies. Boyle taps into a vein that he rarely does, and it works spectacularly. He realizes all of the book's joys, and adapts them into the film. One of my personal favorite scenes was that of the Nativity play director, played by Boyce, the screenwriter, himself. The cameo is a delight in a film full of them. Everyone can see this powerful, striking, and beautiful movie. A

What Should and Will Win Best Adapted Screenplay? - 2008 Oscar Edition

And here is my analysis on Best Adapted Screenplay.

What Will Win: Slumdog Millionaire (written by Simon Beaufoy, from the novel "Q and A" by Vikas Swarup)
Beaufoy's delightful, well-written screenplay is very good. Although most of the action is visual, there are some very good lines that Beaufoy's spins here. The Academy will award this to "Millionaire", hands down. No questions asked.

Second Thoughts: Delightful? Well-written? Upon second viewing, I believe I went a little too far. I believe that "Slumdog's" script should rank even below Frost/Nixon on this list.

What Should Win: Doubt (written by John Patrick Shanley, from his own play)
I know I'm not the only one who finds Shanley's script utterly fascinating and brilliant. Although the actors are top-notch here, Shanley's script is magnificent. He supplies the likes of Streep, Seymour Hoffman, Adams, and Davis with enough great dialogue so that they can shine. No doubt it will be beaten.

The other nominees:
The Reader (written by David Hare, from the novel of the same name by Bernhard Schlink)
Although the script isn't that great, Hare weaves some interesting images in. Take for example the scene intercut between the dinner and the lovemaking. That's brilliant.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (written by Eric Roth, from the short story of the same name by F. Scott Fitzgerald)
Oh, how I didn't like the script by Roth. It draws way too many parallels to the far superior "Forrest Gump" and treads on too many cliches to get anywhere. Roth has written great movies before ("Munich," and "The Insider" were amazing), but here he gets the nod just in the gust of Button praise.

Frost/Nixon (written by Peter Morgan, from his own play)
Just as much, Morgan's script was bad. Filled with cheesy one liners for Frank Langella and dumb dialogue for everyone else, this is one of the least deserved nominations of the year. How did Morgan go from "The Queen" to this?

Who and What Should and Will Win Best Picture and Best Director? - 2008 Oscar Edition

My Best Picture and Best Director analysis. I decided to make one set of predictions since the predictions would be the same.

What Will Win: Milk (dir. Gus Van Sant)
As they will do in the Best Actor race, the Academy will take the political route here and pick Gus Van Sant's Harvey Milk biopic. The film, though, is quite astounding. Sean Penn and Josh Brolin turn in great performances, supported by Emile Hirsch, James Franco, and Diego Luna. It's a historical film that makes you feel in the moment. This may be Van Sant's finest hour.

What Should Win: Slumdog Millionaire (dir. Danny Boyle)
Although not the actual best picture of the year, it's the best of the nominees. Danny Boyle's fast-paced, wonderful film set in Mumbai is a grand achievement. The editing, cinematography, and score are Oscar-worthy. Dev Patel's subtle turn as the lead character on a game show is very well done. It's an "crowd-pleaser" but there have been good crowd pleasers before. This is a great one.

Second thoughts: ed. Upon re-watching both Slumdog and Milk, I've come to the conclusion that "Milk" should have in fact taken the top prize at the Academy awards.

The other nominees:
The Reader (dir. Stephen Daldry)
Stephen Daldry's timeworn moral drama is Oscar-worthy until the last 45 minutes. Even still, this is a very good movie, featuring one of Kate Winslet's best performances. David Kross and Ralph Fiennes, as Michael Berg, portray the changes of the man very well. The film strays from Bernhard Schlink's novel, but what can I say? It works.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (dir. David Fincher)
A problematic drama from David Fincher is a gimmick-driven fable of uneven proportions. Brad Pitt showed more acting ability in "Burn After Reading." Cate Blanchett was fine. Taraji P. Henson was good, not nomination-worthy. The special effects and makeup were good I guess. Fincher makes a romantic movie for once. I don't think it works.

Frost/Nixon (dir. Ron Howard)
Ron Howard's media picture is the weakest of the nominees this year, and doesn't have many high points at all. It has been lapped up by critics who have confused the film with the genre, and who have taken in Frank Langella as Nixon because it's "presidential." This movie's only facets have to do with the interviews, but the movie is more about the setups, unfortunately.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Top Ten Worst Snubs by the Academy - 2008

I was happy (ed. then) for all the praise being lauded onto "Slumdog Millionaire," but I believe the academy made a lot of flaws in 2008. Here is my list:

Top Ten Worst Snubs (One place per film):
10. Kristin Scott Thomas (I've Loved You So Long) - Best Actress
9. Rachel Getting Married, Jonathan Demme, Rosmarie DeWitt/Debra Winger, Jenny Lumet, and Declan Quinn - Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Cinematography
8. Josh Brolin (W.) - Best Actor
7. The Fall - Best Art Direction (as others may have said)
6. Gomorrah - Best Foreign Film
5. Happy-Go-Lucky, Mike Leigh, Sally Hawkins, and Eddie Marsan - Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, and Best Supporting Actor
4. Doubt and John Patrick Shanley - Best Picture and Best Director
3. Hunger, Steve McQueen, and Michael Fassbender - Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor
2. Synedoche, New York, Charlie Kaufman, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Adam Stockhausen, and Judy Chin - Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor Best Original Screenplay, Best Art Direction, and Best Makeup
1. The Wrestler, Darren Aronofsky, and Bruce Springsteen - Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Song

Who Should and Will Win Best Actor? - 2008 Oscar Edition

Best Actress, Best Picture, and Best Adapted and Original Screenplays coming soon. Here are my picks for Best Actor.

Who Will Win: Sean Penn, Milk
After Prop 8, the Academy will give itself a pat on the back for handing the Oscar to Penn for playing gay, iconic politician Harvey Milk. Penn is mesmerizing. This is work again not to be ignored.

Who Should Win: Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler
I haven't seen such vigor, sadness, and flawlessness in a performance in a long time. Rourke's leading turn in "The Wrestler," which is quickly becoming the most underrated film of the year, is the best performance in recent memory, easily one of the best of the decade. Rourke may pull an upset (!), but I doubt it. But do yourself a favor, and see this.

The other nominees (I wasn't huge generally on any of these three, but it's been a while since I've seen them):

Richard Jenkins, The Visitor
Jenkins, a character actor no one pays much attention to, does a pretty good performance. He plays a depressed professor who returns to his NYC apartment to a couple living inside of it. He also did a very funny turn in "Burn After Reading" to solidify himself as a double entertainer in 2008 (EW approved).

Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon
Langella plays Nixon pretty well, but doesn't deserve a nomination. It's a nice performance that adds a little to a very weak effort about the interviews between the two title characters. It's better than Michael Sheen as Frost, at least.

Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
If there was nomination in 2008 less deserved than Pitt as Button, I'd like to see it. Pitt (actually assisted by six other actors) slumps through a leading man job where he flexes no acting muscles. He'll never return to the same mindset as in the 90's, where he chose good roles ("Twelve Monkeys," "Fight Club").

Who Should and Will Win Best Supporting Actor? - 2008 Oscar Edition

Here's the male counterpart of my first analysis.

Who Will Win: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
It's no secret: Ledger has the Oscar wrapped up, and it will be the second win by an actor who passed away before he could get the win. Ledger is scary good, I admit, and he brings truth to a role that may have been botched by another actor. This is a very good performance.

Who Should Win: Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road
Shannon is perfect choice for the insane, genius mathematician John Givings, who rains on the parade of the Wheelers. He shows that the Wheelers are in fact like everyone else. Shannon, in short, aggressive scenes, out acts both DiCaprio and Winslet and he deserves the Oscar, because he is simply amazing.

The other nominees:
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt
Seymour Hoffman is not to be looked down upon. He has taken a back seat in a race he maybe could and should win another year. He plays Father Flynn, the accused, who has been believed to have molested a child. It is a fantastic performance. Check this work out.

Josh Brolin, Milk
Brolin, who was better as the 43rd President of the USA, brings some scariness to the role of Dan White, the man who shot Milk. He captures that sore loser essence so perfectly, and he throws all of his anger onto the shoulders of Milk, who will not concede. Brolin deserves praise for this, and his nomination is certainly fitting.

Robert Downey, Jr., Tropic Thunder
Not to be outdone, Downey, Jr. caps off his high-flying comeback year with a hilarious turn as a method actor who attempts to play an African-American character with a surgical facelift. There were some nice, funny moments in "Thunder," and Downey supplied almost all of them.

Who Should and Will Win Best Supporting Actress? - 2008 Oscar Edition

I am now counting down to the Oscars by revealing my picks one by one. Here's my analysis of the best supporting actress race.

Who Will Win: Viola Davis, Doubt
The Academy loves "fury packed into a few minutes" (as has been said) and Davis' great performance packs that in. Davis plays the mother of a possibly molested boy, and she plays her with a lot of intensity. She only enhances the greatness of "Doubt," a film that didn't receive even a nomination for Best Picture. The Academy will honor the film here.

Who Should Win: Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
I was going with Davis as my choice most of the way. That was until I saw Cruz's brilliant turn as a bisexual, suicidal painter who believes her husband has ripped off her style. I don't know what other actress could have done this so well and so sadly. Woody Allen milks a performance not usually found in his work.

The other nominees:
Amy Adams, Doubt
Adams had subtle work in "Doubt," and she did well as the reluctant whistleblower who doesn't know if she's right or wrong when she reports to her superior (Meryl Streep), Sister Aloysius. This is not quite her year, but this is not a performance to be missed in any way.

Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler
Her character makes Darren Aronofsky's brutal pic have a heart. Tomei plays a stripper named Cassidy/Pam who has a relationship with Randy "The Ram" Robinson going. The reason that it's devastating is that she comes to him too late. Tomei is a good choice, and it's a good performance, nomination-worthy, but not Oscar-worthy.

Taraji P. Henson, The Curious Case of Benjamin
Easily the best part of David Fincher's uneven, misguided film, Henson plays the boardinghouse owner who takes Button in as her own son. It's a good performance, but I don't think it's really worthy of a nomination.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Woody Allen's romantic, passionate, and very solid European love story "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" is a big improvement from his last outing in "Cassandra's Dream." It leaves very little to be desired: it does as much as it can with this plot. Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johanson) take an epic trip to Spain where Cristina hopes to find herself and Vicky hopes to study and complete her thesis. They attend an art exhibition with friends (Patricia Clarkson and her husband) and meet artist Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), who proposes to take them to a Spanish town to see a sculpture and "make love." Vicky is quite apprehensive. See, she is engaged to Doug (Chris Messina), an overtly cliche American tourist, who's eager to get back to the US of A and play tennis and watch TV. Messina's small satirical performance is one of the non-romantic joys of this film. Well, of course they go along with Juan, and relationships spark like wildfires, between both Juan and Cristina and Juan and Vicky. The difference is that Vicky has a rockier but more worthwhile love life with Juan, but Cristina is more of what we and like to think of as "compatible" with Juan. She is also a building block with Juan's past marriage, an unbalanced, bisexual painter who accuses Juan of stealing her style. Her name is Maria Elena, and she is played by the gorgeous Penelope Cruz, who I doubted in the Supporting Actress category, but she is really amazing in this film. Cruz unleashes a wild side, unmatched by any other actress this year. The performance is something not usually milked out of an Allen film, but Woody really did it this time. At this point, he is warming up to the continent across the pond. He has set his past four films there (the other three being "Match Point," "Scoop," and "Dream"). He shouldn't leave. The only problems I can think of are the sometimes slightly tepid acting by Hall, who got a Golden Globe nomination and didn't deserve it. She is good in some subtle moments, but she isn't that good. Another thing is that the movie isn't particularly great except for some good, quiet moments where glances are exchanged, feet rub against each other, and the narrator mentions photography. The real reasons to take a look at this are Cruz and Bardem, as unhappy, violent lovers who can't live with or without each other. It is a strange, thoughtful paradox in a Woody Allen piece full of them. B+

Sunday, January 25, 2009


"Frost/Nixon" is unmistakably a recounting of the interviews between magnetic but down-on-his-luck host David Frost and recently resigned president Richard M. Nixon. I believe this would make a good play, since it mostly surrounds a series of candid talks between the two aforementioned celebrities. It in fact was a play. Peter Morgan, screenwriter of "The Queen," adapts his own stagepiece into a two-hour, overacted, mediocre film that begs to be a spectacle but doesn't really come close. Martin Sheen and Frank Langella reprise their roles of the stage as Frost and Nixon, respectively, and they're alright, but not in any way Oscar-worthy. Langella is a good choice for Nixon, but he's merely okay, and not really worthy of the praise he's being awarded. Neither is Ron Howard, who crafts a real media pic, in which there are numerous shots of characters in front of, inside of, and behind cameras, boatloads of archival footage, and much more typical of the genre. Howard doesn't bring anything new to the table, and his efforts at a revealing Nixon rehash are not very adequate of such a film. He succeeds in making the interviews mildly engaging, but there is no bomb to be dropped that we don't see coming. We are left with a predictable setup, history regardless, and some pretty bad technical work. I'm thinking that it would be good onstage as there are no cameras to cut away from the action repeatedly, like in the movie. The Oscar-nominated film editing is poorly done, and I am convinced the only reason that it got a nomination was because of the genre. But the real problems of the film lie in the background work. Sam Rockwell, usually a source of good acting, turns in a terrible performance as Nixon-bashing James Reston, Jr., who wrote four books proclaiming his hatred of Tricky Dick. Oliver Platt is just as bad as Bob Zelnick. These actors are supplied with terrible bits of writing from Morgan, who usually can pop the right witty dialogue in at the right time. The only reason any of the movie is getting any attention is because the Academy wants to love such a bit of history. The critics are hailing the film, but it really doesn't deserve to be considered along with superior films such as "Milk" and "Slumdog Millionaire." I believe the Academy is guilty of wanting a film to be what it could be so much, that they confuse the product with the possibilities. C

Friday, January 23, 2009

Tropic Thunder

The film industry is a machine, a place where multi-million dollar sequels are made, movie moguls are ridiculous, and it helps to play a mentally-challenged part to win an Academy Award. "Tropic Thunder" captures this humorous essence, reads our minds, stretches to the outer boundaries of cinematic satire, and is one of the funniest movies of 2008. "Thunder" knows how to play its cards, knows its insider knowledge, and is biting as ever. Ben Stiller, who knows his Hollywood trivia, directs with a steady hand, and is not afraid to lampoon every facet of the film industry that he went through. He stars as Tugg Speedman, an action star who has signed on to play a young version of a war vet named Four Leaf Tayback (Nick Nolte), who's book, "Tropic Thunder," is the basis for the war movie being made. He's starring alongside Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black, in a strange performance that is pretty funny), the equivalent of Eddie Murphy (he is in an obvious parody of "The Nutty Professor") on heroin, Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson), one of the funniest characters in the film, who's whole outfit selling "Booby Sweat" is a vehicle to conceal that he's gay, and Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel), the guy on the team everyone forgets. And then, of course, there's Robert Downey, Jr., in an Oscar-nominated performance as Kirk Lazarus, the Australian method actor who gets into his black sargeant and stays in character for nearly the entire movie. Downey, Jr. had a good performance in "Iron Man," but here, he goes to town, pretty much carrying the movie the whole distance it needs to go. Downey knows the industry as well, and he knows how to base a comeback. Along with Mickey Rourke, this is the comeback of the year. The film is also anchored by a few other performances, all of which I will leave you to discover. But the movie is really fearless: Hollywood is played like a guitar, and we're in on the joke. This movie covers all the strategies, all the cliches, all the behind-the-scenes goings on, and even has trailers before the film commences. Tinseltown may like to be joked about, but this may be a little excessive. Believe me, though, when I say it is funny, because it simply is. It works on so many levels. The fact that the film's script is not being recognized is a travesty. But I guess awards don't mean everything. Well, except to Kirk Lazarus. B+

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Wrestler

"The Wrestler" is all that everyone involved could have possibly hoped for. It's a spectacle of a film, one in which we are offered many interesting ideas: the lack of limits in the sport of wrestling, how the wrestlers are affected, the hunger for violence that the spectators offer. But the film, more than anything, is for Mickey Rourke, who turns in one of the best performances of the decade. In this role, as Randy Robinson, famed wrestler who had his heyday in the eighties. Nowadays, he's been fighting on the local circuit. In the first match we see, we are offered headbanging, bodyslams, and the like. But in match two, the limits expand to awful proportions. Everyday objects are applied as weapons and Robinson suffers a heart attack after his hard match. This puts his long career to a screeching stop.

At this moment, he starts to focus more on his life. He's in love with a stripper named Cassidy/Pam (Marisa Tomei), who devastatingly realizes the fruits of their relationship too late. His daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) has been subjected to too many missed occasions over the years and is now spurning him for his personal wrongdoings. He's lonely, going to work at the local supermarket. But all the time, he's got his finger on a comeback, despite the doctor's warning to stay out of the ring. Rourke's work here is flawless, and he puts real emotional weight on a man who's personal destruction has taken a toll on him. The wrestling's the only thing he's got, and it tempts him too much. Darren Aronofsky, senior director who's previous works include "Pi," "Requiem for a Dream," and the unbearable "The Fountain," creates a harrowing character study where he examines Robinson's desperation, but without Rourke's work, the film may not have amassed to the highest heights it did.

"The Wrestler" is undoubtedly the best American film that 2008 had to offer, and it may even be the best of the year. The raw nature of the film, which dazzles in its subtle moments, moved me. Here's a movie that's engaging, realistic, and devastating. "The Wrestler" has significance in many areas, and it takes a very interesting subject, the real/fake nature of wrestling, and gives it full exposure. It's painful to watch how Rourke/Robinson makes himself bleed for the audience. Is it just me, or does that cross the line into twisted, masochistic mentality? Wrestling is a fascinating sport, but "The Wrestler" shows you the participant's point-of-view. And Rourke won't ever have another role like this one. A

The Wrestler is very violent, has many scenes in strip clubs, and is not, I repeat not, for children.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Assassination of Richard Nixon

Sean Penn may very well be the man of all seasons in Hollywood. He can play pot-smoking dudes, brothers of game-entranced businessmen, gay politicians, and here, a man who falls into insanity when his life falls to pieces. "The Assassination of Richard Nixon" is not a great film, but it really captures certain obscure details that could have slipped under the radar in a more mainstream film. There are many shots of Penn, contemplating the transformation of the character and his actions, and to me that made a big difference. Penn plays Sam Bicke, a office supply salesman who is very much mistreated in his life. He's separated from his wife Marie (Naomi Watts), he has 3 children and a dog, and a tire-selling brother (Michael Wincott) that he's lost a lot of love with over the years. He can only talk to Leonard Bernstein, his favorite musician, a man who reveals over the course of the film the inside thoughts of Bicke. Bicke is an avid hater of Nixon, and he gets the idea from a past attempt to fly a helicopter into the White House. His friend Bonny (Don Cheadle) is being racially mistreated, and he is very aware of this. He at one point charges about 500 of his brother's tires to this man because of his injustices. The film details for the most part his gradual, disturbing transformation from family man to sleepy assassin. With this film, Penn proves evermore that he's a character actor. He can convince you he's a killer, and he unleashes a dark side in this. Niels Mueller, the director, coaxes it out of him in such a way where it borders both on containment and sheer venom. This is one of Penn's great performances, an underrated one at that. The movie has a score of flaws: Watts, Cheadle, and the rest of the cast pale in comparison to Penn's astounding work. Their support is no short of average here. The camerawork is masterful, though, and the portrayal of Penn is just as impressive. As I said, "Nixon" is not a virtuoso achievement, it's a vehicle for Penn's acting, and a good one at that. B+

The Assassination of Richard Nixon is rated R for language and a scene of graphic violence. It is altogether harrowing. Not for most children.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Golden Globe Picks - 2008

The Golden Globes are at 8 PM EST tonight on NBC, and to prepare, I will give you my picks, that will be followed soon by Oscar Picks. That is, when the noms come out.

Best Picture - Drama
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Reader
Revolutionary Road
Slumdog Millionaire - My pick

Slumdog is a tour de force, fast-paced, kinetic, a wonderful film. I know people are praising "Button" for its "magic," which was nearly vacant from my viewing, and I know I won't be so enchanted by "Frost/Nixon", "The Reader", and "Revolutionary Road" (three films I haven't seen) that I won't choose Slumdog. Omissions include "Synecdoche, New York," "Milk," and "The Dark Knight." (I revise my opinion and say that out of these nominees, the best was "Revolutionary Road.")

Best Actress - Drama
Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married - My pick
Angelina Jolie, Changeling
Meryl Streep, Doubt
Kristin Scott Thomas, I've Loved You So Long
Kate Winslet, Revolutionary Road

Hathaway was stunning in her transformation from "Get Smart" to black sheep sister in "Rachel." She brought the best out of a movie that could have fallen apart without her. Meryl Streep was fantastic in "Doubt," but she had support from the likes of Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, and Viola Davis. Kristin Scott Thomas deserves a Tony for her Broadway role in "The Seagull," although here she brought some raw nature to her role. It was that last scene that messed it up for me. I am wondering if Winslet can pull off April Wheeler, but I'm pretty convinced she'll do a good job. Omissions include Melissa Leo for "Frozen River" in the best performance of the year.

Best Actor - Drama
Leonardo DiCaprio, Revolutionary Road
Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn, Milk
Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler - My pick

Even from the trailers, Mickey Rourke looks like he did a heck of a job (I haven't seen the film). Sean Penn was great in "Milk;" he's my second choice. Brad Pitt was miscast and mediocre in "Benjamin Button," and DiCaprio doesn't seem to look like he can hold his own with Winslet and play Richard Yates' Frank Wheeler. Omissions include Gabe Nevins for "Paranoid Park," (a great, underrated youth performance), Josh Brolin for "W.," Philip Seymour Hoffman for "Synecdoche, New York," (the most underrated performance of the year), Mathieu Almaric for "A Christmas Tale," and Richard Jenkins for "The Visitor."

Best Picture - Musical or Comedy
Burn After Reading
Happy-Go-Lucky - My pick
In Bruges
Mamma Mia!
Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Although it was more of a dramedy, "Happy" was a fabulous film. "Burn After Reading" was very funny, and I thought the way it applied comedy to violence was interesting; it was my second choice. I didn't see the other three, but I know that there is some buzz surrounding "Mamma," and this award. I don't think it should win.

Best Actress - Musical or Comedy
Rebecca Hall, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky - My pick
Frances McDormand, Burn After Reading
Meryl Streep, Mamma Mia!
Emma Thompson, Last Chance Harvey

Hawkins was great as an optimist, and with a win here she'll get an Oscar nod. She's definitely the strongest actress in this field, no question. McDormand was still very funny, but she's been getting compared to her role in "Fargo," which makes no sense, as she plays a cop in one and a gym employee in the other.

Best Actor - Musical or Comedy
Javier Bardem, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Colin Farrell, In Bruges - My pick
James Franco, Pineapple Express
Brandon Gleeson, In Bruges
Dustin Hoffman, Last Chance Harvey

Farrell does hilarious work "In Bruges" (mind the horrible pun used frequently by promoters). Gleeson was very funny as well, and Bardem did well.

Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams, Doubt
Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Viola Davis, Doubt - My pick
Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler
Kate Winslet, The Reader

Viola Davis is a powerhouse in "Doubt", and she definitely deserves the award. Marisa Tomei looks good as well, Amy Adams was very good, Winslet looks good, and Cruz looks pretty overrated in a role as a mentally unstable painter. Omissions include Samantha Morton for "Synecdoche, New York," and Rosmarie Dewitt for "Rachel Getting Married." (I eat my words about Cruz and say she should win after actually SEEING THE MOVIE!)

Best Supporting Actor
Tom Cruise, Tropic Thunder
Robert Downey, Jr., Tropic Thunder
Ralph Fiennes, The Duchess
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt
Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight - My pick

Hoffman's performance drives "Doubt" it's highest of heights, and I would have crowned it champ if it had been for Heath Ledger, who commands the screen horrifyingly in "The Dark Knight," a film that would have been merely adequate without him. "Doubt" would have been very good. Ledger gave it his all, and he should win. Fiennes was pretty awful in "The Duchess," so if he wins, it won't make any sense. Omissions include Eddie Marsan for "Happy-Go-Lucky," Dev Patel for "Slumdog Millionaire," Josh Brolin for "Milk," and Brandon Walters in the best debut of the year in "Australia."

Best Animated Film
Kung Fu Panda
Wall-E - My pick

Wall-E is a remarkable film, Pixar at its absolute best. It deserves the award. Omissions include "Waltz With Bashir."

Best Foreign Film
The Baader Meinhof Complex
Everlasting Moments
I've Loved You So Long
Waltz With Bashir - My pick

Although I haven't seen it, "Bashir" looks astounding, a tri-force in terms of awards (Documentary, Foreign, Animation). Omissions include "A Christmas Tale."

Best Director
Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire - My pick
Stephen Daldry, The Reader
David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon
Sam Mendes, Revolutionary Road

Danny Boyle's film is amazing, and his style is the main reason. Daldry's directing looks great, but the same can't be said of Mendes or Howard for me. Omissions include Gus Van Sant for "Milk" and "Paranoid Park," Charlie Kaufman for "Synecdoche, New York," Mike Leigh for "Happy-Go-Lucky," (omitted as the film is a "comedy"), John Patrick Shanley for "Doubt," Christopher Nolan for "The Dark Knight, Jonathan Demme for "Rachel Getting Married," Andrew Stanton for "Wall-E," Tarsem for "The Fall," Courtney Hunt for "Frozen River," and Joel and Ethan Coen for "Burn After Reading."

Best Screenplay
Eric Roth, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
John Patrick Shanley, Doubt - My pick
Peter Morgan, Frost/Nixon
David Hare, The Reader
Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire

"Doubt" was adapted very well by Shanley, who supplied each character with great, multi-faceted dialogue. "Slumdog" is more impressive visually than as a screenplay. Roth recycled "Forrest Gump" in his terrible script. Hare's adaptation of Bernhard Schlink's "The Reader" looks impressive. And Peter Morgan had his time with "The Queen," which was sharp-tongued, as opposed to "Frost/Nixon," which feels... historic. Omissions include Charlie Kaufman for "Synecdoche, New York," Mike Leigh for "Happy-Go-Lucky," Joel and Ethan Coen for "Burn After Reading," Jenny Lumet for "Rachel Getting Married," Andrew Stanton and Jim Reardon for "Wall-E," and Dustin Lance Black for "Milk."

Best Original Score
Alexandre Desplat, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Clint Eastwood, Changeling
James Newton Howard, Defiance
A.R. Rahman, Slumdog Millionaire - My pick
Hans Zimmer, Frost/Nixon

A.R. Rahman's Bollywood-style score is integral to "Slumdog Millionaire," something new for a score. The other four, especially James Newton Howard's "Defiance," are very well done and nice to listen to, but none figure in as well as Rahman's. Omissions include Jon Brion for "Synecdoche, New York," and Nico Muhly for "The Reader."

Best Original Song
Peter Gabriel and Thomas Newman, "Down to Earth," Wall-E
Clint Eastwood, Kyle Eastwood, Jamie Cullum, and Michael Stevens, "Gran Torino," Gran Torino
Miley Cyrus and Jeffrey Steele, "I Thought I Lost You," Bolt
Beyoncé Knowles, Amanda Ghost, Scott McFarmon, Ian Dench, James Dring and Jody Street, "Once in a Lifetime," Cadillac Records
Bruce Springsteen, "The Wrestler," The Wrestler - My pick

Springsteen's great tribute Mickey Rourke's Wrestler is astounding. Beyonce wasn't too bad either.

Well, that does it. Expect Oscar picks soon!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Duchess

I'll admit, "The Duchess," has fantastic costumes, ones that will surely be nominated for Academy Awards and might win. That's what this movie is: a vehicle for gowns, hairdos, and 18th century aristocratic life. The term we use is "costume picture." "The Duchess" really is all about its fashion: it has really no point other than for the ladies of England to walk around, showing off their dresses. The film has two great leads, Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes, and neither are really employed to any good use here. Knightley plays The Duchess of Devonshire, known informally as Georgiana. Fiennes is merely a presence as The Duke of Devonshire, a man who gets his way, just like all men in the 1700's. Georgiana is summoned to give The Duke an heir, and she is not extremely successful, and as she tries, the relationship thins to a crisp.

There is "sexual tension" being given off by two different lovers: Lady Bess Foster (Hayley Atwell of "Cassandra's Dream,") with The Duke and Charles Grey (Dominic Cooper) with The Duchess. We are supposed to care, and the whole film is built off of these very shallowly portrayed relationships. This is why the film ultimately fails to be as good as it can. Also, there is a lack of sufficient emotion. When Georgiana is raped by The Duke, the way the scene is done, she doesn't seem to care. This is towards the end, for sure. The film makes a definite nosedive after the first hour, so much that I couldn't believe the movie had gone that far. Saul Dibb seems to think that a movie can run on style, but like other filmmakers before him, he's wrong in so many ways. Just like this film is. C

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Burn After Reading

"Burn After Reading" is Joel and Ethan Coen's (as people call it) "dark comedy" of 2008, a film that is pulled off with such genius and wit that we take the assorted tomfoolery in stride. It has a cast of dreams: George Clooney, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Brad Pitt, and Tilda Swinton, not to mention Richard Jenkins and J.K. Simmons in funny supporting roles. Malkovich plays Osbourne Cox, a dismissed CIA analyst who dictates his experiences and compiles them into an audio-memoir. This somehow turns up on the floor in the ladies locker room at Hardbodies Gym. The somewhat dim-witted individuals who work here are McDormand as plastic-surgery desiring Linda, and Brad Pitt in his funniest and best role to date as Chad Feldheimer. Their manager is a man of good intentions, Ted, played by Jenkins. Clooney and Swinton are lovers who are having an affair, Harry Pfarrer and Katie Cox (yes, she is married unhappily to Osbourne). Pfarrer is married to Sandy (Elizabeth Marvel), an author of bizarre children's books about the senate that only the Coen Brothers could come up with. But the oddities of this film is the fun. Pitt's hilarious performance is so dumb that without the rest of the cast he would have been mediocre. McDormand is the main source of support, and she's also good. I think that Malkovich gets runner-up to Pitt for best performance, as a raging, axe-wielding lunatic who attended Princeton. Clooney is a close third, as he turns in a good comedic performance and does what he can do with the conscientious operative that he plays. The big winners, though, are the Coen Brothers. They are consistently inventive in their humor, with all the more quirks and idiocy than in "The Big Lebowski." This film is in the same caliber. The Coens haven't dropped their style for ten years, and here's there award: a hilarious film that is definitely one of the funniest, darkest, and most idiotic films of the year, a film with Coen written all over it, which proves a lot of things. Like that Brad Pitt, the same wooden actor of "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," can carry a movie. With all due hydration, of course. B+