Sunday, February 21, 2010

Oscars 2009 Picks and Predictions

Mimicking Entertainment Weekly's thing, here I go. I may not do the "detailed analysis" I did last year (Nick's Flick Picks is neglecting them entirely), but to leave the predictions completely... eh, non.

Best Picture:

The winner will be... Avatar

The winner should be... A Serious Man

The nominees, in order of preference:

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

Best Actor:

The winner will be... Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart

The winner should be... Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker

Nominees in order of preference:

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

Best Actress

The winner will be... Meryl Streep, Julie and Julia (one out-on-a-limb pick per year, people; I predicted her last year and it was unsuccessful, but maybe this time?)

The winner should be... Helen Mirren, The Last Station

Nominees in order of preference:
Helen Mirren, The Last Station
Gabby Sidibe, Precious
Meryl Streep, Julie and Julia
Carey Mulligan, An Education (I'll give the praisers their due, this is a "Hepburn-esque," interesting performance. It's kind of cool that kind of thing got a nomination)
Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side (maybe this is a little low, but I agree with the people who said that it was kind of "annoying acting".)

Best Supporting Actor

The winner will be... Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds

The winner should be... Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds (is it a first that Cannes Best Actor and an Academy winning performance are one and the same?)

The nominees, in order of preference:
Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Christopher Plummer, The Last Station
Woody Harrelson, The Messenger
Matt Damon, Invictus

Haven't seen: Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones

Best Supporting Actress:

The winner will be... Mo'nique, Precious

The winner should be... Mo'nique, Precious (simply the best performance nominated this year)

Nominees, in order of preference:

Mo'nique, Precious
Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air
Maggie Gyllenhaal, Crazy Heart

Haven't seen: Penelope Cruz, Nine

Best Director (just my luck I saw two of the directors in person in NYC)

The winner will be... Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker (I see a BP/BD split going on)

The winner should be... Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker

Nominees, in order of preference:

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

Best Original Screenplay

The winner will be... Mark Boal, The Hurt Locker

The winner should be... Joel and Ethan Coen, A Serious Man

Nominees, in order of preference:
Joel and Ethan Coen, A Serious Man
uentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds
Mark Boal, The Hurt Locker
Alessandro Camon and Oren Moverman, The Messenger
Bob Peterson and Pete Doctor (w/Tom McCarthy), Up

Best Adapted Screenplay

The winner will be... Shelton Turner and Jason Reitman, Up in the Air

The winner should be... Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, and Tony Roche, In the Loop (this will finally make amends with Joezeph Zukö)

Nominations in order of preference:

Geoffrey Fletcher, Precious
Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell, District 9 (the ideas in this movie are admittedly good, even though the movie never really started)
Nick Hornby, An Education
Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air

Best Animated Feature

The winner will be... Up

The winner should be... Fantastic Mr. Fox (it'd be nice to see Wes Anderson win an Academy Award, because this is probably the only time he's ever going to have the chance)

Nominees in order of preference:

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Haven't seen:
The Princess and the Frog
The Secret of Kells

Art Direction:

The winner will be... Avatar

The winners should be... either Avatar or The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (which I haven't seen but looks good in terms of art direction)

Nominees, in order of preference:

I've only seen one of these movies, Avatar

The other nominees:
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
Sherlock Holmes
The Young Victoria

Best Cinematography

The winner will be... Avatar (but The Hurt Locker has a definite chance)

The winner should be... (as people like my friend said) The White Ribbon or The Hurt Locker (both of these movies achieved a look with two vastly different styles, as NFP commented)

Nominees, in order of preference:
The White Ribbon
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
Avatar (I think it's a matter of separating Effects from Cinematography, like NFP sort of did last year; the camerawork in this movie was kind of regular)

Haven't seen: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Costume Design:

The winner will be... Nine (because of Colleen Atwood, and because they want to give this movie and Harvey Weinstein at least something)

The winner should be... Bright Star (amazing costumes, period)

The nominees, in order of preference:
Bright Star is the only one of these that I've seen

The other nominees:
Coco Before Chanel
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
The Young Victoria

Documentary Feature

The winner will be... The Cove

The winner should be... I've seen two, The Cove and Food, Inc., and while both were good, I wasn't as blown away as last year. Maybe Burma VJ will be good or something. Otherwise, these films both had their ups and downs, so I'd rank them about the same. NO PREFERENCE

The nominees:
Burma VJ
The Cove
Food, Inc.
The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsburg and the Pentagon Papers
Which Way Home

Documentary Short: No preference

The winner will be... China's Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province

The nominees:
China's Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province
The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardener
The Last Truck: The Closing of a GM Plant
Music by Prudence
Rabbit á la Berlin

Film Editing:

The winner will be... Avatar

The winner should be... it's a little obvious and (as a friend said) "new-school", but The Hurt Locker

The nominees in order of preference:
The Hurt Locker
District 9 (I dunno, I guess it's pretty good)
Inglourious Basterds

Foreign Language Film

The winner will be... A Prophet (France)

The winner should be... (I haven't seen it yet, but) A Prophet (France)

The nominees (since I've only seen The White Ribbon)
Ajami (Israel)
The Milk of Sorrow (Peru)
A Prophet (France)
The Secret in His Eyes (Argentina)
The White Ribbon (Germany)

The winner will be... The Young Victoria

The winner should be... I saw like the first 5 minutes of Il Divo, and I think it had good makeup

The nominees (I've seen only one all the way through, Star Trek)
Il Divo
Star Trek
The Young Victoria

Music (Original Score):

The winner will be... Up

The winner should be... If you want to talk about integrality to the movie (like wpk914 on Itunes), then it should be a split between Fanastic Mr. Fox and Up. Most interesting to listen to: Sherlock Holmes.

The nominees, in order of preference:

Sherlock Holmes
Fantastic Mr. Fox
Up (I guess it's "pleasant," but it has that annoying Pixar feeling to it)
The Hurt Locker (I guess its interesting in some ways, and though someone said it's all "clangings," etc., it's still pretty good)
Avatar (so stereotypical, but sound)

Music, Original Song:

The winner will be... "The Weary Kind," Crazy Heart

The winner should be... "The Weary Kind," Crazy Heart

The nominees in order of preference:
"The Weary Kind," Crazy Heart
"Down in New Orleans," The Princess and the Frog
"Almost There," The Princess and the Frog
"Loin de Paname," Paris 36
"Take it All," Nine (it's presence is kind of annoying)

Animated Short Films (no preference)
The winner will be... A Matter of Loaf and Death

The other nominees:
French Roast
Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty
The Lady and the Reaper

Live Action Short Films (no preference)
The winner will be... Miracle Fish

The other nominees:
The Door
Instead of Abracadabra
The New Tenants

Sound Editing (no real preference; I can't really remember that much from these movies):

The winner will be... Avatar

The other nominees:
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
Star Trek

Sound Mixing (same as above)

The winner will be... Avatar

The other nominees:
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
Star Trek

Haven't seen (actually I saw half): Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

And finally,

Visual Effects

The winner (obviously) will be... Avatar

The winner should be... Avatar or possibly District 9

The nominees in order of preference:
District 9
Star Trek (I berated these heavily in my review, so there you go).

Ha. Took a while, but here I am.

Films I'm Going to Pursue --- Part 2

Ripping off the Playlist and Nick's Flick Picks for a second straight day... I just want to show you want I want to see.

Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky)
Where I heard about it: The Playlist

Aronofsky's new film, after 2008's outstanding "The Wrestler," released by Fox Searchlight. Apparently it's supposed to be a "melodrama." I'm excited to see if he's going to be consistent in his greatness.

Ajami (Scandar Copti, Yaron Shani)
Where I heard about it: Oscar coverage, Owen Gleiberman's positive review

One of the Best Foreign Film nominees that I know is coming around soon. Kino International here is giving it to us. It's a pretty small release, but I've seen posters at my local theater for it, so I estimate it coming in the next few weeks. Camera d'Or special mention, too.

The Secret in Their Eyes (Juan José Campanella)
Where I heard about it: Oscar coverage

Another Best Foreign film nominee, supposed to "drop" sometime this year from Sony Pictures Classics (beast!). It's going to be at the Miami Film Festival on March 13, so probably after that. All I know is that I won't see it before the Oscars :(, but I will eventually. It has gotten an MPAA R rating for "a rape scene, violent images, some graphic nudity, and language." I think it will have a release similar to "The Baader Meinhof Complex." Good synopsis from IMDB: "A man wants to solve a murder committed 30 years ago."

Raging Sun, Raging Sky (Julián Hernández)
Where I heard about it: Chicago Film Festival Coverage, Nick's Flick Picks Top 100 of the Decade, Armond White

This is supposed to be really good, and it's gotten a TLA Releasing release. I'll try. This is another one of those Film Forum type of movies, about a "gay relationship" at "141 or 191 minutes."

Lourdes (Jessica Hausner)
Where I heard about it: Toronto Film Festival Coverage

Film Forum is playing this movie right now, LOL. I doubt I'll see it, but it got positive buzz from the festival and I'm sort of interested.

Ondine (Neil Jordan)
Where I heard about it: The Playlist

This was big time in the Playlist features I read. It looks pretty interesting. It got a PG-13 rating (for "some violence, sensuality, and brief strong language") so I know it's coming around and Magnolia is releasing it, so there you go.

Women Without Men (Shirin Neshat, Shoja Asari)
Where I heard about it: Toronto/Venice Coverage

Coming out via IndiePix in the US in 2010, this is some sort of female activist picture or something, but it won the Silver Lion at the 2009 Venice Festival. Some people loved it, some (like Olaf Moller) hated it, but I'm looking forward nonetheless.

Baaria (Giuseppe Tornatore)
Where I heard about it: Venice Coverage

Ölaf Moller apparently hated this one; "a poor man's 1900" to him. But I'm interested: Best Foreign Film nominee at the Golden Globes, 150 minutes, "spanning the history of Italy." It could be good, you never know. Summit is apparently putting it out. It had an appearance at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, like Dogtooth, so that bodes well.

Mother and Child (Rodrigo Garcia)
Where I heard about it: Toronto Film Festival coverage

A very negative paragraph was written about it in Film Comment, but I think Ebert liked it and it has a definite May 7, 2010 release date, so I think I'll probably check it out.

Clash (Pepe Dionko)
Where I heard about it: Venice Coverage

I'm breaking my rules: this is not going to have a release in the US anytime soon or anywhere. But, but, but... it sounds really good and Olaf Moller liked it, so there you go. Apparently it has only a couple of "takes" in it.

Area 51 (Oren Peli)
Where I heard about it: The Playlist/Screendaily

I chickened out on "Paranormal Activity," but this one will probably be really cool. "A group of teenagers stumble upon an area in the Nevada desert known for hosting an alien encounter." That's the IMDB synopsis as of now. Paramount has it.

The Fighter (David O. Russell)
Where I heard about it: The Playlist

Apparently is "going to get Oscar buzz." This sounds like the type of film that's going to come to me, so that's good. I'm definitely really interested. Paramount has it.

Biutiful (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu)
Where I heard about it: The Playlist

Sure to be some sort of something in 2010. It's going to have a Focus Features release, booyah. I don't think I'll have to go after this one, either, since this is the director of "Babel."

My Neighbor, My Killer (Anne Aghion)
Where I heard about it: Chicago Film Festival Coverage (NFP)

A film about "forgiveness in Rwanda after the Genocide." Sounds very allegorical, and it should be around at some point, as Gacaca apparently is putting it out. Hopefully I can see this, because it no doubt will be a Best Documentary nominee at next year's Oscars.

Definitely more later.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Films I'm Going to Pursue (Films Going to Have a US Release in 2010) ---- Part 1

Here's a riff inspired by the Playlist (kind of stealing their idea) and Nick's Flick Picks alike. Here are the films I heard a lot about in 2009 at festivals that I didn't have access to OR movies that I have recently heard of and I am desperate to see nonetheless. I keep a sidebar on this topic, yes, but I thought you might like to hear my go a little deeper. Since this is all I talk about. :)

A Prophet (Jacques Audiard)
Where I heard about it: Cannes and Toronto coverage

After I saw this trailer at "Broken Embraces," I was totally smitten and definitely pulled in. I probably will see it in the next couple of weeks since I know it's in New York and will eventually make its rounds in my area. I think it will be too tempting to wait, however, so as soon as this film is released, I'm going to see it. I really liked "The Beat That My Heart Skipped" (if anyone reads this, go rent it very soon).

The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick)
Where I heard about it: The Playlist

This is bound to be a classic masterpiece. Malick is going to do a great job with this idea. If it truly is from the "beginning of creation" to now, I'm going to weep in its beauty. I love reading Genesis, so there you go. Plus, Brad Pitt and Sean Penn will probably be good, too. This production shot is suggestive of greatness.

City of Life and Death (Lu Chuan)
Where I heard about it: Toronto Film Festival coverage, Grace Wang

This film finally has an MPAA rating (an R for "wartime violence and atrocities including sexual assault, and for some sexuality and brief nudity") and I am guessing that means a 2010 release. I've heard this is one of most disturbing films in a while, about the "Rape of Nanjing." Surprisingly, this is a release by National Geographic. That's pretty weird. I hope it's not that type of film. But I guess, as other people said, "i'll see my films any way I can."

Enter the Void (Gaspar Noe)
Where I heard about it : Cannes Film Festival Coverage

This movie's sure to have great "visuals" (compared to Kubrick) and with an IFC release, it will now be of access to the American people. This film is supposed to be as "graphic" as Noe's other films, so I might step back, but chances are I'll be seeing this one. What a poster.

Dogtooth (Giorgos Lanthimos)
Where I heard about it: Toronto Film Festival Coverage

It won the Un Certain Regard category at Cannes, which intrigues me. I want to fill out my quota of that category (I've already seen "Precious," "Mother," and "Police, Adjective"). This will get an American release apparently from Kino, and it has a poster (an incredible one, at that). I've heard some people say this movie is incredibly dull but I think I just might try it out, as the production shots look mystifying and the plot synopsis is weird.

Looking For Eric (Ken Loach)
Where I heard about it: Cannes Film Festival Coverage

Ebert cited his disappointment in this film, but it's from Cannes Official Selection 2009, and it's coming to America on IFC, so I'll definitely check it out. I've heard some good buzz about it (such as here) and it's fantastical enough to give a whirl.

Vengeance (Johnnie To)
Where I heard about it: Cannes Film Festival Coverage

It has Johnny Hallyday in it (from the 6th best movie of the decade), and it's yet another Cannes Official Selection movie. IFC is quite the buyer, as they're releasing this one, too. This one did receive props from Ebert in his Cannes Feature. His dissection of some of the shots really intrigued me.

The Killer Inside Me (Michael Winterbottom)
Where I heard about it: Sundance Film Festival Coverage

I think I'll probably back out of this one, because people cited "gratuitous violence towards women," but it sounds intriguing and it will be accessible through IFC. Ever since "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford," I've been into Casey Affleck. I'm just not sure if this movie will be watchable. I also saw some of the teaser, and it was pretty repulsive. But perhaps.

Valhalla Rising (Nicolas Winding Refn)
Where I heard about it: Toronto/Venice Film Festival Coverage

Olaf Moller, the very tough film critic who's Venice Film Festival coverage I read, thought this movie was the "best of the fest." IFC, again. I thought "Bronson" was terrible but I'm willing to give Refn a second chance because this film looks so interesting and so "primitive/gothic." This production shot (the first one I saw) sums it all up.

Lebanon (Samuel Maoz)
Where I heard about it: Toronto/Venice/New York Film Festival Coverage

Apparently a very "claustrophobic" film, I am looking forward to it and its second perspective in recent memory on the 1982 Lebanon War. It won the Golden Lion at Venice, which bodes very, very well. It has an MPAA rating (another R for "disturbing bloody war violence, language including sexual references, and some nudity so it seems set for release here, which is good. Let's give a hand to Sony Pictures Classics for doing this, woo-hoo.

Wild Grass (Alain Resnais)
Where I heard about it: Cannes/New York Coverage

The opening night film at NYFF and an Official Selection pic at Cannes, with a PG rating ("some thematic elements, language, and brief smoking") so that everyone can see it, the latest Resnais movie (a director who I've seen none of) will probably be good. Sony Pictures Classics are sending it out, so it's going to come around sometime soon (this is the type of movie that comes through my region).

Accident (Soi Cheang)
Where I heard about it: Toronto Film Festival Coverage

Apparently Palisades Tartan is putting this out in the US. I had the chance to see it (at Film Comment Selects, currently running) but I passed due to constraints. It still looks pretty interesting.

Spring Fever (Ye Lou)
Where I heard about it: Cannes Film Festival

Best Screenplay winner at Cannes, and being released by Strand (same company as Apichatpong Weerasethakul). Someone trumpeted "What a disappointment" on IMDB, but I'm still interested. Apparently it's "shot on non-intruding digital camera." This film will probably have like a one week release at Film Forum and fall away. I'll try to see it but I probably won't :(.

The Father of My Children (Mia Hansen-Løve)
Where I head about it: Cannes Film Festival

Once more: IFC. I know absolutely nothing about this movie except for the one line synopsis on IMDB: "A film producer struggles with suicidal despair." Still, it got a write-up from Ebert, so that's good. I'll check it out, maybe, but I'm not stimulated/hyped about it.

I'll be back with more at some point.

Shutter Island

It would be lying to say that Martin Scorsese's "Shutter Island" isn't affecting. But then again, to really praise this film would be, too. Here's a "mind-bending" (Peter Travers) film that sometimes doesn't have the control necessary, whether it be with the overdone music (that I think A.O. Scott disliked) or the writing (that my friends and I didn't like). It works in being involving (like Owen Gleiberman said), but, hen it "reveals its twist," I couldn't help but groan, as it seems that Dennis Lehane/Laeta Kalogridis had totally ripped off "Memento."

But to deny the film has any merits would be too harsh. I really thought that Leonardo DiCaprio had a grounded presence here, playing Teddy Daniels, who comes in to Shutter Island (along with his partner Chuck, played by Mark Ruffalo in the same kind of role as always) to see what's what. May I applaud the idea of staying on Shutter Island throughout the film and only "seeing beyond it" in visions, etc. (like Ebert said of "Dogville") It's run by Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley, annoying and aggravating to his advantage), who believes in "respecting mental patients" like Benjamin Rush. The film starts as the two trying to track down Rachel Silondo, who apparently killed her children and did ghastly things with them (I'll come back to this later to discuss how disturbing this gets). But the plot does that unraveling thing and what we really find is Daniels wanting to shut down Shutter Island and simultaneously kill the murderer of his wife (Michelle Williams, who's really strange in this movie), an Andrew Laeddis. This film all kind of blends together as "the search for the truth" and everything else are all entangled.

In retrospect, this is (in a small respect) a brilliantly told film. For example, how the patient interrogation scenes are played is interesting. You'd need to see it twice to really understand the points of view of everyone throughout. How the film seems to delve into "Oldboy" surveillance is also intriguing. (I'll probably receive flak for noting this is a better film than Chan-Wook Park's. Also involved is the whole "loss of innocence" climax, where Daniels' wife tries to steer him away.) But "Shutter Island" is somewhat ruined by its willingness to mimic "Memento," which seemed horribly climaxed originally but I now see as really an appropriate conclusion. This movie couldn't really have gone anywhere else, yes, but the problem is that an idea isn't so great if you've seen it twice.

This film is problematically made, too. (On a side note: it has been ravaged for being overlong but I liked the length.) I really didn't like the beginning, when everything seemed over-simplified and (as a friend said) "operatic." The film is always flawed, sometimes minor, other times major. It never seems to know what do with a scene, plunging into melodramatic scoring when Daniels is interrogating George Noyce (Jackie Earle Haley). Plus, the whole "Liberation of Dachau" theme is way overplayed. It's sort of just "piled on," except for one amazing execution shot that, surprisingly, should go down as one of the best things that Scorsese has ever done. This is not a horrendous film. Parts stick out as being good. However, I'm not really sticking up for this movie. C+

Monday, February 15, 2010

Ten Worst Oscar Snubs - 2009

Before I do my Oscar coverage by category (or at least I think that's how it will go), here's a look at the Academy's biggest "sins of omission." Thanks to people on for reminding me about Mackie and Moon, as well as Ebert and (I think) Variety who wrote pieces on Moore and Swinton.

10. Anthony Mackie, The Hurt Locker (Best Supporting Actor)
9. Julianne Moore, A Single Man (Best Supporting Actress)
8. Paul Schneider, Bright Star (Best Supporting Actor)
7. The Road (Best Visual Effects/Art Direction)
6. Michael Stuhlbarg, A Serious Man (Best Actor)
5. Moon (Best Visual Effects, Best Art Direction and Best Score)
4. Souleymane Sy Savane, Goodbye Solo (Best Actor)
3. Sita Sings the Blues (Best Animated Film)
2. Tilda Swinton, Julia (Best Actress)
1. Tyson (Best Documentary)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Blind Side

"The Blind Side" exceeded my expectations, but only slightly. I was going into the film thinking it was going to turn out disastrous (with some hope), based on what I'd heard, but it managed to be a mild entertainment. That said, it's definitely not one of those films that comes onto you (read: "Fish Tank"), and, as people said, it follows a formula down to the last scene, in both its visual style and plotting. But it manages.

Sandra Bullock plays Leigh Anne Tuohy, who would be described in such adjectives as "feisty" and "stubborn." She's a charitable person, apparently, and she does "the next in her line of charities" when she meets Michael "Big Mike" Oher (Quinton Aaron, subtly). She lets him stay in her McMansion (straight from the Taco Bell fortune of her husband, Tim McGraw), since he's basically wandering around otherwise, without any winter clothes or anything. It's not too much later when he becomes "a part of their family."

Michael's friend lobbies for him to get into the "Christian school" where the Tuohys send their kids. The problem is, though, that Mike is so apparently scared of all the white people that he can't write anything. (This is later solved by just having him take every test orally.) He has to raise his GPA so he can actually play a sport, which, obviously, is football. He's going to play for Coach Burt, who is played by Ray McKinnon in a remarkable transformation from "That Evening Sun." Leigh Anne is really involved in this, too, and when she gives Michael some advice, she basically lets loose his total beastness at left tackle.

Okay. I enjoyed parts of this despite it being not terribly well-written. The problem I have to mention is the whole racism debacle. Everyone in the film who is a racist is a stereotype and a cardboard cutout, dismissed as a "redneck." The only football game in the film is to illustrate how racist other team's fans are. Also employed is one of those "Julie and Julia" lunch scenes where the main character is somehow alienated from the rest, with an added bonus of everyone being racist! John Lee Hancock (the director) is very (as people like I believe the Playlist said) "heavy-handed" when it comes to this, and he plays it up whenever he can. WHENEVER. It seems to be something no one can avoid: as Doris Bell put it (with "a town's football madness"), "Friday Night Lights," while being probably a little better, was similarly "topical." But still, I expect a little more out of a Best Picture nominee.

Let's talk about this last thing. To repeat an oft-used argument: in a year of "Where the Wild Things Are" and "Julia," the Academy takes the easy way out by awarding (as my friend) the movies that made the most money. This is the type of film that's usually dismissed. It's not horrible, but to put it on par with "The Hurt Locker" simply isn't fair. It's the whole Bullock craze combined with people being too easily "emotionally manipulated." She doesn't deserve it this time. It's at best decent. She regularly spouts those kind of lines as "You threaten my son, you threaten me." She's up against Helen Mirren and Gabby Sidibe, so I'm not giving her my support. Perhaps she's in the movie longer than Mirren is in her's, and thus she has more time to carve out a presence. But then again, isn't the only reason anyone watched this movie because of the "true story" behind it? In some ways, I think it may be character over actor here.

"The Blind Side" itself is somewhat of a mediocre film. You don't see cameos by NCAA football coaches everyday, but you can't say that about most of this stuff. I wasn't a huge fan of the overused way of doing flashbacks (I guess it was one of the only options, but anyone who's seen "Ghost Dog" knows that someone jacked the playbook). Also, the "user-friendly" appeal that I know (and heard) was aimed for with "Invictus" I wasn't totally at ease with. And those "gangster" scenes? I dunno. All-in-all, "The Blind Side" is a mildly formidable film, not a Best Picture. C+

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Best Films of the Decade (2000s)

I come to you all with a late 2000's perspective. That was when I really started covering films. Here's my list. (As Nick's Flick Picks so often does, I supplied IMDB links as well as links to my own reviews.)

9. Hunger (buy the criterion here:
15. Munich
18. Children of Men
19. Punch-Drunk Love
20. Casino Royale

Each of these films is quite amazing, though it may not be the first viewing ("Casino Royale" for example took two) you recognize them for what they are.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Fish Tank

"Fish Tank" is one of the best films I've seen from Cannes 2009. It's great 90% of the way through, and even if the ending wasn't extremely satisfying, I think this is a movie you need to see. The cinematography in this film by Robbie Ryan (save maybe one scene) is amazing in many ways, including the way it utilizes movement and uses the colors it does. The plot is somewhat of the same, showing Mia (Katie Jarvis), who we first see stepping up to go pick a fight with some girls when she's probably drunk and afterwards going to try to free a horse. Her family is ridiculous: her mother is abrasive but mostly drunk, her sister sits around and drinks and smokes with her friends (she's way, way underage for both), and she, Mia, does roughly the same. Her mother sometimes tries to make her go to school, but Mia just runs out of the door, into the world, escaping her clutches. She goes to some other apartment to dance (the only thing she seems to want, as other people said), because her mother would get mad otherwise.

Connor (Michael Fassbender) she runs into at her house (that's the best way to describe it, since all she uses it for is to eat, sleep, and occasionally lie on the couch), and she doesn't like him, probably because it's a change and/or because she's extremely antisocial. He's just some guy, originally. But then things start to get put into motion (a MacGuffin, perhaps) when they go out to some obscure place where Connor catches a fish and Mia gets bitten. Somehow this really ties them together. They were the only two that went into the water of the four (Mia's mother and sister being the other two).

What ensues afterwards isn't perhaps the most satisfying second half of a film I've seen, but, as a friend says, it definitely beats most stuff out today. Another friend put it as "An Education meets Julia" and that's about right. It might not be the most original climax, but, as even all of the film's detractors have been saying, it's still watchable.

Jarvis is good, and there are not any others that come to mind in place of her. Fassbender, as Nick's Flick Picks said, gives a very good performance, one of those that's subtle. You realize, though, that the movie would not be as good without him. Otherwise, I think people suit their parts well. Andrea Arnold has done a fine job with this movie, a film about watching (as is her "Red Road") and about how if you follow certain obsessions too far, you may not like what you see. A-

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Last Station

"The Last Station" is Michael Hoffman's attempt at adapting a Jay Parini novel that gives the audience an entry point into the Tolstoy household, which is surrounded by paparazzi with notebooks and wind-up cameras. The entry point is a secretary, Valentin Bulgakov, who's mission (sent by Vladimir Chertkov) is to perpetuate the Tolstoyan movement before it crumbles due to the grasp of Sofya Tolstoy. Leo Tolstoy, however, feels the movement is not about him, and that the Tolstoyans are more "Tolstoy" than he himself is.

This film seems somewhat sugarcoated in its structure. It deviates from showing the two Tolstoys all the time and decides to follow Bulgakov through his affairs, having a love affair with Masha, who works at the Tolstoyan place. It could have been somewhat like what I've heard about William Gaddis' "Carpenter's Gothic," just a portrayal of the marriage itself with no parameters. But it brings in all of the history, too, which has its benefits but also its problems. It's an interesting film on a certain level, but I'd agree with the person who'd say its boring.

This story is not endlessly fascinating, and I don't think I'd want to see anyone but these actors giving it to me. Helen Mirren as Sofya practically makes the movie, with her uncontrollable manner to "make a scene" wherever she goes. She plays nice and sardonic for Bulgakov, but she's all insane around her husband, except in bed. Christopher Plummer is also good as Tolstoy, who finds himself behind something that's different than he imagined. Apparently "Tolstoy does not approve of sexual intercourse," but he does it himself, breaks all of the rules. He feels something, whereas everyone else has been relegated to not a thing but ideals. James McAvoy as Bulgakov is very painful to watch, enough said. A nose gag is used throughout the movie, to very annoying extents. Paul Giamatti is okay is Chertkov, but pretty "histrionic" (as a friend said) for once. Kerry Condon, who's pretty attractive here, makes a somewhat okayish performance.

If you're seeing this movie, it probably won't be for the story, more for the Oscar nominations given to Mirren and Plummer. That's a pretty good reason, as they're good. As a friend said, if you take them out of the equation, it's unsure of what this movie would be. B-


"Zombieland" is an in-your-face, disgusting, and very comical zombie film that loses control after it goes somewhere random and doesn't know what to do next. I enjoyed a good portion of it, but (as my friend said) as how most of the movies of this genre get, I found it, like my friend said, very dulling past a certain point. I felt roughly the same with the oft-compared "Shaun of the Dead," which I found to terribly disappointing (as my friend did) and badly marketed as an actually funny film. "Zombieland" delivers on that front. Rhett Reese and Paul Warnick give a funny script to the actors, at least for the most part. But, yes, the movie works principally because of Woody Harrelson, who, if there was a comedy Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor, should have at least gotten some praise there. Jesse Eisenberg doesn't hurt either, but, to quote Chris Nashawaty, he's very "one-note." Much like how the film is, or at least becomes, when the effect wears off.

Basically, the film immediately tries to be appealing and watchable, first by trying to wrap everything around "rules" that appear on-screen. I found this to be equally annoying as comical (Zombie Kill of the Week, though, you have to give props for being totally ridiculous). Same with the zombies are black-bile drooling freaks, who set their eyes on a target and go after it like nuts. Seems kind of like what I've heard regarding Danny Boyle's "28 Days Later" (I think I heard it from Aspergian Sarah) and "running zombies." Anyways, you can see how many unsuspecting people get rendered undead. Oh, and they go for goading consumerism with the whole Twinkie meme, which probably will cause some people to go out and "enjoy the little things" at their local convenience store. It's so "integral" to the plot that I'm being less than cynical.

Now, I should get on to describing the plot. Jesse Eisenberg, the audience's kind entry point to Zombieland USA, is walking around after he's lost his car and apparently his family to zombies. He meets Woody Harrelson, who's driving a Lincoln Continental with a huge snowplow and who's a veteran when it comes to this stuff, even a zombie sadist (as another friend said, there's an interesting variety of zombie kills in this movie). Harrelson and Eisenberg take the two extremely annoying nicknames of Tallahassee and Columbus, which they'll be called for the whole movie, due to the destinations they're supposedly trying to reach. They find two sisters as well, who they call Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin). You'll find these two are experienced con artists, and they even play the same sort of trick that Nicolas Cage and Alison Lohman do in "Matchstick Men." Wichita will also become the lover of Columbus, resulting in scenes that are pretty sappy and remind me of "Adventureland" (Eisenberg's other recent film, which was better).

For some reason, all of the "destinations" are on the East Coast, but the sisters decide to make a U-turn and go all the way to Pacific Playland in Los Angeles, because it "reminds them of their childhoods." I can somewhat excuse it in a zombie film where there is no direction whatsoever, but usually it would be considered pretty contrived. But first, they randomly make a stop for shelter at not anyone's old house to spend the night (I don't get this whole thing). You are probably going to get mad at me for telling you who it is, so I'll just say a coda about it at the bottom, regarding its semblance to a video I saw a long time before this movie.

Anyways, a long-feeling portion of the film is spent here, and the climax, which is contrived with good cinematography. Ruben Fleischer, the film's director, loses control. The movie gets a lot less interesting than the beginning. Now for the technical stuff. Harrelson was good, Eisenberg was pretty decent, Breslin got a little annoying, and Stone I don't think I was crazy about either. It's a Harrelson movie, pretty much. I don't know, though, if I'd take the time to see it. Funny for a while, but getting so random and just unexplained it doesn't work. Even "Shaun of the Dead" had a better hand on its plot. C+

Don't look on the IMDB page if you want the twist to be kept secret

CODA (SPOILER ALERT; REGARDS "MAIN TWIST," as it has been called): The person in question is actually Bill Murray. I thought it was kind of funny when Columbus mistook him for a zombie (saying a line reminiscent of "The Tuxedo" and James Brown), but the section didn't work beyond a certain point and felt just a like an advertisement for Bill Murray dripping in hero worship. Here's the video I was talking about that has him in it in a very similar situation (that doesn't involve zombies). Pete and Brian beat them to the punch, apparently.