22 February 2015
  Oscar predictions...
In a few hours, mildly annoying media personality Neil Patrick Harris will preside over the worst three and a half hours of television this year in which the "best" films and performers of the year are honored. Fuck that. Here's who should be honored instead.

supporting actor:
Will win... There are going to be very few if any surprises at this year's Academy Awards (with the possible exception of Best Picture). Perhaps the single most guaranteed win will be for J.K. Simmons' performance as a sadistic music teacher in Whiplash.
Should win... Logan Lerman got absolutely no accolades for his (possibly lead, but I am sticking with supporting) performance as a scared WWII tank newbie in Fury. He gets better and better in every movie he does, and I can't wait to see what he does next.
My five... Logan Lerman, Ethan Hawke, Josh Brolin (Inherent Vice), Riz Ahmed (Nightcrawler) and Christoph Waltz (Big Eyes)

supporting actress:
Will win... This is one of my favorite categories this year, with a lot of worthy performances, some nominated, some not. Patricia Arquette is very deserving of this award, and it will be nice to see Boyhood take home at least one guaranteed prize.
Should win... I really go back and forth on this one between no less than four different performances. But in the end, I choose Rene Russo's unexpected portrayal of an aging news personality in Nightcrawler. She imbues the character with so much more than what was simply written for her.
My five... Rene Russo, Meryl Streep, Tilda Swinton (Snowpiercer), Patricia Arquette and Katherine Waterston (Inherent Vice)

Will win... This is the least sealed up among the year's acting categories. It could be Eddie Redmayne taking home the award for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking in Theory of Everything, but I expect many voters to go the more sentimental route and settle on Michael Keaton for Birdman.
Should win... I was not overly excited by Redmayne's Hawking or Keaton's Birdman. Neither did I love Benedict Cumberbatch's stoic mathematician in The Imitation Game. I would have much rather seen Jake Gyllenhaal nominated for Nightcrawler. But the best performance of the year in any category was given by Bradley Cooper in American Sniper.
My five... Bradley Cooper, Jake Gyllenhaal, Joaquin Phoenix (Inherent Vice), Tommy Lee Jones (The Homesman) and Ellar Coltrane (Boyhood)

Will win... Nicole Kidman, Kate Winslet, Reese Witherspoon, Cate Blanchett- the Academy Awards have a long history of presenting the award for Best Actress to a performer who has done much better work in much better films throughout her career. This year, Julianne Moore joins this cohort with a win for the embarrassingly ho-hum Still Alice.
Should win... Trust me. I love Julianne Moore. A lot. She is one of my all-time favorite performers, and I think I have seen every movie she has ever done. That's why I really don't want to see her win tonight. She will be forever associated with this bad movie. I would much rather see Reese Witherspoon take home the trophy for Wild.
My five... Reese Witherspoon, Hilary Swank (The Homesman), Charlotte Gainsbourg (Nymphomaniac), Essie Davis (The Babadook) and Julianne Moore

original screenplay:
Will win...This could go a couple of different ways. But I suspect that voters will take this opportunity to reward Wes Anderson's Grand Budapest Hotel. Alternate: Birdman
Should win... Boyhood is terrific, but the screenplay maybe isn't the reason for that brilliance as much as the directing and acting. That being said, I am in awe of Lars von Trier's exposition in Nymphomaniac
My five... Nymphomaniac, Boyhood, Nightcrawler, Selma and Snowpiercer

adapted screenplay:
Will win... Once again, it will interesting to see which way voters go with the adapted screenplay category as well. I think they will use this occasion to give an award to The Imitation Game, but it wouldn't be surprising to see Whiplash honored here as well.
Should win... Wild is a great movie and a great screenplay. But my pick for the best of the year goes to to Paul Thomas Anderson's imaginative Inherent Vice script.
My five... Inherent Vice, Wild, The Homesman, Into the Woods and Unbroken

Will win... I hope I won't be proven wrong, but I think it will be difficult not to reward Richard Linklater for a groundbreaking 12-year cinematic accomplishment, along with rewarding him for a long and distinguished career.
Should win... Nobody has accomplished this year what Linklater accomplished with Boyhood.
My five... Richard Linklater, Clint Eastwood (American Sniper), Lars von Trier (Nymphomaniac), Paul Thomas Anderson (Inherent Vice) and Joon-Ho Bong (Snowpiercer)

Will win... Birdman
Should win... Birdman
My five... Birdman, Unbroken, Grand Budapest Hotel, Nightcrawler and Fury

Will win... In the end, it is looking more and more like Birdman will inexplicably take this award away from the much more deserving Boyhood.
Should win... Boyhood.
My five... Boyhood, Wild, Snowpiercer, Nightcrawler and American Sniper
  Best of 2014
Honorable mentions go to Chef, Into The Woods, Pride, Selma, The Skeleton Twins and Unbroken. My top ten of 2014 includes:

10. The Babadook... A legitimately scary movie with a superb performance by lead actress Essie Davis. And what about that book? Please someone make this children's book for real so that I can have one! The best horror movie I have seen in years.

9. Fury... It's odd that WWII movies seem to have fallen out of favor with Oscar voters in favor of prestige biopics in recent years. There were two great WWII movies this year in Fury and Unbroken, and neither one made much progress on the awards scene. Fury is the superior and more creatively constructed of the two. 

8. Nymphomaniac... Lars von Trier has done it again, constructing a darkly funny 4+ hour epic of one woman's love affair with her own vagina. There is no way this movie should have worked. It juxtaposes sex addiction with fly fishing for God's sake. But it ends up as an insightful, engaging and deeply watchable (if oftentimes uncomfortable) study of sex.

7. Inherent Vice... Did I understand everything that happened in this movie? Absolutely not. The penultimate scene with Josh Brolin's straight-laced cop eating a joint just about did my brain in. But this screenplay was without a doubt one of the most clever of the year, making me ruminate on what I had scene for days afterwards. .

6. American Sniper... Eastwood's Iraq War opus is without a doubt the best movie made to date on the ongoing Middle East quagmire. The way in which the director carefully unwraps this conflict over the course of two hours reveals not only the futility of the war itself, but how the players involved should have realized their error from the beginning. 

5. Nightcrawler... If you want to name the movie that is the best representation of the modern age in which it was made, however, American Sniper just misses out to Nightcrawler. A could-be-depressing study of news-meets-entertainment-media, this movie delves into our consumer fascination with all things sensational in a deeply amusing way. (And bonus points for the best car chase sequence in recent film memory).

4. The Homesman... Perhaps the biggest surprise of this year's awards season for me was Tommy Lee Jones' The Homesman. Maybe just a little two subtle and pensive (i.e. indie) for mainstream awards voters, this movie delves into the plight of womanhood in the Old West, illuminating a situation I had never seen depicted on screen before. And it reminded me why I love Hilary Swank. It's impossible to imagine anyone else playing this lead role.

3. Snowpiercer... This movie could have been an absolute disaster. Look at the casting alone? Who would put together action stars with indie performers with television personalities with Korean actors with old Hollywood royalty? It doesn't seem to make sense. But what this cast accomplished was something that is so rare today (at least outside the James Bond landscape): a deeply intelligent and superbly made action film. 

2. Wild... Jean-Marc Vallée has truly redeemed himself after what I felt was a deeply flawed (from a directorial standpoint) Dallas Buyers Club. Wild is just simply a terrific film. I can't really name a single thing in it that could have been improved upon. Pitch perfect in every way. I was honestly inspired by what I saw. Can't wait to own it on DVD, so I can watch it again and again.

1. Boyhood... For the second year in a row, this year's best film was made by Richard Linklater. Last year, he wowed me with Beyond Midnight, the third installment in his groundbreaking relationship trilogy. This year, out of the blue, he has stunned everyone with a 12-year study of growing up. Nobody constructs a scene like Linklater. You never for a second in this movie believe you are watching actors. You are simply watching a kid grow up. There is no artifice. This is why it is so sensational that Ellar Coltrane and Lorelai Linklater (hell- even Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke) are in fact growing up on screen, right alongside their characters. It makes it so much more real. A great accomplishment and a truly special film that nobody will ever be able to imitate.
02 March 2014
  Oscar predictions...
Only a few more hours left until the most unwatchable four hours on television, that for some reason I anticipate all year long, and where they present awards to a handful of people who were preordained as winners weeks--if not months ago. Here are my predictions.

supporting actor: 
Will win... Jared Leto is the likely winner here, but the supporting actor category has thrown in some curve balls lately. that being said, i predict that this will be the only category of the night to result in any type of upset. Barkhad Abdi for the win.
Should win... Jared Leto did some undoubtedly great work in Dallas Buyers Club, and I couldn't be happier for his acting comeback.
My five... Jared Leto, James Franco (Spring Breakers), Matthew McConaughey (Mud), Tom Hanks (Saving Mr. Banks), Barkhad Abdi

supporting actress:
Will win... This is likely to be one of the closest categories of the night, but something tells me that Jennifer Lawrence is walking away with Oscar #2 tonight. Nobody will be shocked if Lupita N'yongo wins, but I think it is just too easy to check off the eminently likable Lawrence when filling out Oscar ballots this year.
Should win... Jennifer Lawrence elevates everything she is in, and she is one of the best things in American Hustle.
My five... Jennifer Lawrence, Oprah Winfrey (The Butler), Lupita N'yongo, Margo Martindale (August: Osage County), Sarah Paulson (12 Years a Slave)

Will win... The McConaissance has truly swelled over the last two years, and it is simply Matthew McConaughey's turn to win an Academy Award. He has waited in line long enough, and he won't go home empty handed. Poor Leonardo DiCaprio.
Should win... For me it is a virtual tie between Matthew McConaughey and Leonardo DiCaprio, but I give the edge to McConaughey if only because of Mud, The Wolf of Wall Street, Killer Joe, The Paperboy and The Lincoln Lawyer.
My five... Matthew McConaughey, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips), Christian Bale and Miles Teller (The Spectacular Now)

Will win... I love Cate Blanchett, but I hate this category. Blanchett gave the most bizarrely wooden performance of her career in Blue Jasmine. Never once for a moment is it possible to suspend disbelief that you are watching a character and not an actor. She should be picking up a Razzie tonight, not an Oscar.
Should win... Amy Adams gave my single favorite performance of the year in American Hustle. I was so glad to see her nominated, but it would have been really great to see her win as well.
My five... Amy Adams, Judi Dench, Meryl Streep, Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks), Shailene Woodley (The Spectacular Now)

original screenplay:
Will win... I don't think anyone really knows what film is going to take away the original screenplay Oscar, but I say that a bunch of writers will be moved by a movie about writing, and Her will edge out American Hustle in the end.
Should win... My vote would go for American Hustle. The best written characters of the year.
My five... American Hustle, Spring Breakers, The Bling Ring, Mud, The Place Beyond the Pines

adapted screenplay: 
Will win... 12 Years a Slave is destined to take this award by default. It's too easy to check off the presumed front runner. Too bad it is nowhere near the best writing of the year.
Should win... The best writing of the year hands down goes to Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke for Before Midnight. I wish I could write like that.
My five... Before Midnight, The Spectacular Now, Catching Fire, Philomena, Captain Phillips

Will win... Alfonso Cuarón broke new ground, practically creating outer space out of nothing. For the second year in a row, it looks like there will be a picture/director split
Should win... Alfonso Cuarón. Can't wait to see what he does next.
My five... Alfonso Cuarón, Martin Scorsese, Richard Linklater (Before Midnight), David O. Russell (American Hustle), Harmony Korine (Spring Breakers)

Will win... Gravity
Should win... The Wolf of Wall Street
My five... The Wolf of Wall Street, Prisoners, The Bling Ring, Her, Spring Breakers

Will win... Gravity
Should win... The Broken Circle Breakdown
My five... The Broken Circle Breakdown, Nebraska, Gravity, Philomena, Saving Mr. Banks

production design: 
Will win... 12 Years a Slave
Should win... The Great Gatsby
My five... The Great Gatsby, American Hustle, Catching Fire, Saving Mr. Banks, August: Osage County

Will win... 12 Years a Slave was preordained as this year's best picture winner months and months ago. It certainly wasn't my favorite film of the year, but at least it isn't Lee Daniels' 12 Years a Slave. Thank goodness for small favors.
Should win... Of the nine nominated films, I have no problems checking off American Hustle on my Oscar ballot. That being said, the year's best film was Before Midnight
My five... Before Midnight, American Hustle, Gravity, The Wolf of Wall Street, The Spectacular Now
  My Top 10 of 2013
One year. 10 films. Here we go.

10. Spring Breakers... Starring a bevy of Disney Channel starlets and made by a director known for his signature sexualization of teenagers, on its surface, Spring Breakers looks like nothing more than an attractive MTV-inspired bauble. But what Harmony Korine actually managed to accomplish here in his best movie to date is a sardonically clever allegory of youth, celebrity, wealth and the modern ritual of spring break itself. Plus James Franco is the best he has ever been.

9. Broken Circle Breakdown... Devastating. This Belgian best foreign film nominee stayed with my days after I viewed it. The tragedies that these characters face seem so real, I almost dread watching it a second time. The terrific bluegrass score alone, however, is sure to reel me back.

8. Philomena... I have always been underwhelmed by Stephen Frears' films, from The Grifters to The Queen. This wasn't the case with Philomena. Watching Philomena Lee's journey to find her long lost son, I think I experienced practically every emotion imaginable--in just a two hour span. That's a good movie.

7. Captain Phillips... There are moments in Captain Phillips that I wasn't crazy about (most notably the brief, but perhaps too obvious interchange at the beginning between the captain and his wife) but the movie's realism makes it impossible to look away from the screen. One of Tom Hanks' best performances ever.

6. The Wolf of Wall Street... I think this is Martin Scorsese's best film since Casino. A pretty seamless production of monumental scale that pretty much shows why Scorsese is one of the best filmmakers working today.

5. The Spectacular Now... Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley are not only part of the newest generation of great actors, they may in fact be leading the charge. The scene is The Spectacular Now where the pair hang at a bar with Teller's father is one of my favorite moments in film of 2013. I can't wait to see what these two do next.

4. Gravity... Alfonso Cuaron without a doubt broke new ground with me, if not with film itself in bringing Gravity to the screen. This is the first movie driven by computer effects that I have ever enjoyed. He successfully created a scene in space, making you forget that these actors never actually left a sound stage.

3. Catching Fire... The rare sequel that surpasses the original. The screenplay for Catching Fire focuses on all the right elements of the book, discards the elements that deserve to be discarded and leaves you desperate for the next installment. The most entertaining movie of 2013.

2. American Hustle... My number one and two picks are essentially a tie. It is almost impossible to decide which is my favorite between these two very different films. David O Russell continues his streak with American Hustle. The best ensemble of the year. One of the best screenplays of the year. You could watch it again and again.

1. Before Midnight... Richard Linklater's "Before" trilogy absolutely must be standard viewing for anybody who loves movies. These films provide such brilliant insight into the evolution of a relationship that it is difficult to remember that Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke aren't married in real life. I pray that we get another update on the state of this couple in another decade's time
24 February 2013
  Oscar predictions. . .
It's been one of the closest and most suspenseful Oscar races in recent memory. Yet, in the end, and after dozens of awards have already been handed out from other organizations and critics groups, the frontrunners in nearly every category seem pretty clear. I am hoping for some surprises tonight, but not holding my breath. Here are my predictions:

Supporting actor:
Will win. . . Tommy Lee Jones. If there is an upset in any of the acting categories it will be here. Voters clearly love Argo, and I won't be surprised to see Alan Arkin take home the Best Supporting Actor Oscar, although I would be very disappointed. In the end, smart money is still on Tommy Lee Jones, however.
Should win. . . Of those nominated (and discounting two that I deem to be category fraud) my preference is for Robert DeNiro. The person who should truly be getting this award, however, is the not-nominated Dwight Henry for Beasts of the Southern Wild.
My five. . . Dwight Henry, Robert DeNiro, Tommy Lee Jones, Leonardo DiCaprio (Django Unchained) and Javier Bardem (Skyfall)

Supporting actress:
Will win. . . Anne Hathaway can not be beaten for Les Misèrables. Granted it is an excellent performance in a role that was virtually assured awards attention. But it has been her relentless campaigning for the award that is what won it for her in a landslide.
Should win. . . It is an extremely close call for me, but I would go with Sally Field over Anne Hathaway, just because there is unexpected range and depth to her performance of Mary Todd Lincoln, that Hathaway doesn't necessarily bring to her performance.
My five. . . Sally Field, Anne Hathaway, Allison Janney (Liberal Arts), Maggie Smith (Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) and Amy Adams

Will win. . . Daniel Day Lewis won the Best Actor Oscar before he even put on the stovepipe hat. It certainly isn't undeserved, although it may be a bit boring.
Should win. . . No doubt Daniel Day Lewis is brilliant in his role, but his acting doesn't excite me in the way that the two leads of The Master do. In the end, I would go with Joaquin Phoenix.
My five. . . Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master), Daniel Day Lewis, Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained) and Logan Lerman (Perks of Being a Wallflower)

Will win. . . As usual, this is the weakest field in the Oscar race—not because the nominees are necessarily undeserving, but because there are so relatively few "Best Actress" performances to choose from. In another category, Quvenzhané Wallis and Emmanuelle Riva would have had trouble getting in, but I think they made it here, almost by default. The award goes to Jennifer Lawrence.
Should win. . . I love Jennifer Lawrence. I am so excited to see her win. I loved her in Silver Linings Playbook. However, the biggest travesty of awards season for me is the absence from the category of deserved Best Actress winner Keira Knightley for Anna Karenina.
My five: Keira Knightley, Jessica Chastain, Jennifer Lawrence, Julianne Moore (Game Change) and Quvenzhané Wallis

Original screenplay:
Will win. . . For me, this is the most unpredictable of all the major awards categories. There is a three way race between Django UnchainedZero Dark Thirty and Amour. Smart money is probably on Mark Boal for Zero Dark Thirty, but my instinct tells me this one will (inexplicably) go to Michael Haneke for Amour.
Should win. . . Paul Thomas Anderson's screenplay for the Master is. . . well, masterful.
My five. . . Paul Thomas Anderson, Mark Boal, Quentin Tarantino, Josh Radnor (Liberal Arts) and Neil Purvis/Robert Wade/John Logan (Skyfall)

Adapted Screenplay:
Will win. . . For Tony Kushner to win Best Adapted Screenplay here would be just as much of an upset as for Daniel Day Lewis to lose Best Actor. There is no competition.
Should win. . . For me there was far more exciting and original screenwriting this year than Kushner's admittedly apt work. My choice would be Benh Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar for Beasts.
My five. . . Zeitlin/Alibar, Stephen Chbosky (Perks of Being a Wallflower), David O. Russell, Ol Parker (Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) and Tom Stoppard (Anna Karenina)

Will win. . . Steven Spielberg is the most obvious choice for the Best Director Oscar, and it is likely to go to him. However, I would honestly not be shocked to see Benh Zeitlin stun the audience with a win. After all, he stunned with a nomination. Zeitlin is my no-guts-no-glory prediction
Should win. . . Benh Zeitlin. Hands down. No Question. He crafted something so remarkable here, and no director could have done what he has done. Pure vision.
My five. . . Benh Zeitlin, Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master), Tom Hooper (Les Misèrables), Joe Wright (Anna Karenina) and Sam Mendes (Skyfall)

Will win. . . This is the first year that I am almost happy there are more than five Best Picture nominees. There are so many deserving films this year, as opposed to in past, so it is nice to see more honored. Of the nine best picture nominees, the one that seems most undeserving of its spot is Argo. And Argo will win in a landslide. Whatever.
Should win. . . Tonight, I will be rooting for Beasts of the Southern Wild to come out of nowhere and take it all. It will never happen, but how amazing if it did. My pick for the best of the year, however, goes to Sam Mendes' dazzling Skyfall.
My eight(!). . . Skyfall, Beasts of the Southern Wild, The Master, Anna Karenina, Les Misèrables, Silver Linings Playbook, The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Will win. . . I think Roger Deakins finally takes home the award for Skyfall.
Should win. . . Deakins' camera work in Skyfall is the single element that truly makes that film. Well deserved.
My five. . . Skyfall, Anna Karenina, Beasts of the Southern Wild, The Impossible and Django Unchained

Production Design:
Will win. . . I think Sarah Greenwood surprises as it is hard to deny the brilliance of her work in Anna Karenina
Should win. . . Greenwood
My five. . . Anna Karenina, Les Miserables, Lincoln, The Impossible and Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Will win. . . Please dear God don't let it be John Williams. Yet another hackneyed, lazy and predictable effort from him. I think it is likely to be Michael Danna for his work for Life of Pi.
Should win. . . My preference is for the thumping, dramatic zydeco-inspired score to Beasts of the Southern Wild.
My five. . . Beasts of the Southern Wild, Anna Karenina, Silver Linings Playbook, Skyfall and Zero Dark Thirty

22 February 2013
  My top 10 of 2012
Throughout the past year, the movies loomed large in the public consciousness. Movie stars once again played a major roll in the reelection of the President. A massacre in an Aurora, Col. movie theater struck the country as a singular tragedy. The Hunger Games, a new movie franchise that is sure to dominate popular culture for several years to come, came alive on the big screen, while at the same time the oldest franchise in movie history, the 007 saga, perhaps gave us its greatest installment. And the 2012 awards season has garnered much attention as one the most remarkable and unpredictable in modern memory.

2012 has been a year where popular mainstream cinema often impressed by straying far beyond the minimal expectations for the category. Yet an explosion of exemplary independent films also showed that they can draw in audiences. Some of the greatest movies of the year were made about children and adolescents, yet adults loved them just as much. And others were made about geriatrics, yet they managed to draw in viewers from across all demographics. As such, my top ten list for the 2012 is a surprisingly eclectic one.

10. Killer Joe. . . If there was en entertainer of the year in 2012, it was Matthew McConaughey, and nowhere was he better than in the NC-17 crime drama, Killer Joe. A bizarrely watchable almost David Lynch-ian take on a B-movie thriller, Killer Joe features McConaughey as a cop-turned-hitman with a penchant for young girls and fried chicken. Accompanying McConaughey on screen is another ubiquitous face from 2012, actress Juno Temple, who plays the hitman’s teenage love interest. Both McConaughey and Temple have yet to be Oscar nominated, but it is only a matter of time.

9. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. . . This film was not the only 2012 entry in the growing canon of major releases to feature characters in their autumn years, but it was certainly the best. Marigold Hotel’s expansive cast was probably the most remarkable ensemble of the year, but surely nobody was surprised. It is inspiring how actors like Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Penelope Wilton keep turning in some of the best performances of their careers in film after film as they get older. I am definitely looking forward to Marigold Hotel’s sequel, rumored to be in development.

8. Liberal Arts. . . A love letter to my alma mater, Kenyon College, Josh Radnor’s Liberal Arts is simply one of the most authentic films ever made about college. Period. The fact that this movie has not garnered more attention (no Independent Spirit Awards nominations, seriously?) is one of the biggest mistakes of the 2012 awards season. Liberal Arts absolutely encapsulates the spirit of the liberal arts college experience, including both what the experience feels like to those going through as well as what it is like to reflect on that experience years later. As an added bonus, Allison Janney gives the single funniest performance of the year.

7. Silver Linings Playbook. . . Perhaps written by a different screenwriter, crafted by a different director and starring a different cast, this could have been a simple, forgettable, easily dismissed (and likely offensive) romantic comedy of the Renée Zellweger variety. However, in its finished state, Silver Linings Playbook is a poignant, often heartbreaking look at what it is like to be living with mental illness in an unkind world. And when the film reaches its romantic apotheosis, what could have been a cliché, turns into a necessary reminder that these characters can and will live their own lives, despite of and in the midst of the social norms that should define their paths.

6. Les Misèrables. . . Tom Hooper has once again outdone himself by revolutionizing the musical theater genre. Much has been made about Hooper’s directorial choice to have the actors sing live on camera for Les Misèrables, but the effect of this choice from an audience standpoint can not be overstated. The emotions of these characters become so visceral when the actors are filmed in this way. It is far different from the sleek, polished look of other movie musicals, a look that would simply have been wrong for this gritty story. Les Misèrables has never been my favorite musical, but Hooper manages to elevate the material into something truly remarkable.

5. The Perks of Being a Wallflower. . . For some reason, I waited to see this until it came out on DVD, but after my first viewing, I immediately wanted to rewind the tape and watch it again. (No, I don’t use videotapes, but you get the picture.) Wallflower simply features an utterly compelling screenplay. The main character Charlie is heartachingly portrayed by Logan Lerman, while emerging talent Ezra Miller himself gives an admirable performance as the freshman’s flamboyant older confidante. I can’t say that I exactly related to what these characters were going through, but I definitely related to what they were feeling, and this is the mark of a great film.

4. Anna Karenina. . . Every film Joe Wright makes contains specific elements that sort of trademark the film for the audience. In Atonement, it was the movement of fingers across the keys of a typewriter. In Anna Karenina it is the way the scenes unfold as part of a giant industrial pop up story book. The technique is undoubtedly jarring at first, certainly transporting the audience outside the story at times. But as you get further and further into the film, you see that the ways in which the industrial design of the film reflects the calculated nature of Russian society from which Anna is constantly struggling to escape. In the end, I think Wright’s filmmaking here, albeit idiosyncratic, is simply enthralling.

3. The Master. . . This is not the most watchable of Paul Thomas Anderson’s films. It doesn’t contain the sense of humor of Magnolia or Boogie Nights. It doesn’t really feature the drama of There Will Be Blood. Yet I can’t say that I really enjoyed it any less than these three masterpieces. The Master is many things. It is an intimate look at post-war U.S. society. It is a character study of two unique individuals. It is a reflection on what it means to be a part of or the leader of a movement. Because of its complex, not easily definable nature, Anderson’s latest work probably never got the attention it deserved, but its viewership will no doubt continue to rise in the future as it is discovered on DVD.

2. Beasts of the Southern Wild. . . There are many beasts depicted in this work of magical realism about a bayou community displaced by a hurricane. The main character in the film, a young African American child named Hushpuppy, is forced to face an absentee, alcoholic father, outside authorities intent on driving her to the mainland, as well as a series of prehistoric beasts always hurtling toward her. Yet in some way she is able to derive strength from everyone and everything around her, so that in the end, not even these aforementioned mythical beasts can move her off her feet, which are so firmly planted in “The Bathtub.” This film truly deserves all the accolades being heaped upon it, and I can’t wait to see what Benh Zeitlin comes up with next.

1. Skyfall. . . Over 50 years, the character of James Bond has appeared in 23 separate films, yet none of these have managed to achieve what was achieved by Skyfall this year. Skyfall is more than a simple action film. First of all, it is the most beautifully shot film of the year. However, it is the storytelling that makes this film unique in the larger 007 pantheon. Skyfall simultaneously serves as a prequel and epilogue to the entire franchise. It is a story about a pair of individuals intent on maintaining their devotion to their country, while at the same time, everyone around them is telling them they have become to old to be useful. As these two people almost single handedly save Great Britain from one of the most unhinged villains in Bond history, a new era emerges in which age is sure to be but a number from here on out. The most watchable movie of the year, and sure to be the one that will ultimately define 2012.
23 February 2012
  oscar predictions. . .

it's not the mtv movie awards. it's not the international cinephile society awards. so, in defense of the oscars, can we just let it be the oscars. they are never going to award the mainstream sci-fi, superhero and raunch-com fare that, even when good for its genre, doesn't fit into the sort of cinematic archetype the oscars are designed to reward. similarly, one never expects the grand achievements of arthouse auteurs to have much of a presence at the oscars either. there are other venues to reward these films, but not here. so let's just agree that the oscars give awards to the best oscar movies of the year, and acknowledge the fact that a nomination for hooper, spielberg or scorsese isn't coming at the expense of nolan, apatow or von trier. they were never going to be invited to the party in the first place. my predictions:

supporting actor:
will win. . . christopher plummer is likely to win, but it is still a relative toss-up between him and max von sydow. in any case, regardless of which one wins, it will be an alan arkin-type lifetime achievement win rather than an award for the performance for which they are specifically nominated.
should win. . . of those nominated, christopher plummer. but this is a very weak field. my personal choice in the category would be brad pitt in the tree of life.
my five. . . brad pitt, christoph waltz (carnage), albert brooks (drive), armie hammer (j edgar) and christopher plummer

supporting actress:
will win. . . octavia spencer. i suspected a year ago, before even knowing who she was, that she would be in contention for an oscar for this role. and she definitely deserves the award, although i don't think she is necessarily the best in her category or her film. that would be, rather-
should win. . . jessica chastain. not only has she given like six acclaimed performances this year, but she was really the overall highlight for me in the help.
my five. . . jessica chastain (the help), octavia spencer, jessica chastain (the tree of life), melanie laurent (beginners) and carey mulligan (shame)

will win. . . jean dujardin. i really feel like george clooney is out in this category. he has a relatively recent win. instead, i think the race here is between dujardin and brad pitt, who is really due and gave two great performances in best picture nominated films this year. still, the safest bet is on dujardin.
should win. . . i hope i'm not being suckered in (since i haven't seen any of his other work and could just be dazzled by his personality) but i did love dujardin in the artist.
my five. . . jean dujardin, ryan gosling (drive), michael fassbender (shame), leonardo dicaprio (j edgar), and demian bichir.

will win. . . per usual, this is the category with the fewest real contenders this year. that's because they make so few movies with female leads. it is certainly no coincidence that only one of the five nominated women comes from a best picture nominated film. that being said, viola davis has no competition in the category.
should win. . . of the five, viola davis. although, unfortunately, the single best onscreen performance of the year was not nominated. that would be kirsten dunst in melancholia. absolutely my favorite performance of 2011.
my five. . . kirsten dunst, charlotte gainsbourg (melancholia), viola davis, berenice bejo (the artist) and meryl streep.

original screenplay:
will win. . . woody allen. they will probably want to reward allen's "comeback" somehow, and this is where it will be. incidentally, i am dumbfounded at the praise being heaped on this film, but that's how i pretty much always feel about his work.
should win. . . in this category, it's tough for me to say, as I have yet to see a separation, and i thoroughly hated both midnight in paris and margin call. plus it would be hard for anyone to convince me that the artist has much of a screenplay. i'm sorry. overall, my favorite screenplay of the year is without a doubt the exquisite but not nominated script for the tree of life, by terrence malick.
my five. . . the tree of life, melancholia, beginners, weekend, and shame

adapted screenplay:
will win. . . much like in the original category, here they are likely to want to reward the descendants somewhere so screenplay is the most likely bet. i certainly wouldn't be shocked to see moneyball upset though in this category, especially since aaron sorkin's name is sort of vaguely attached.
should win. . . the ides of march is probably the best nominated adapted screenplay and truly the best of 2011 overall.
my five. . . the ides of march, the help, carnage, drive, and jane eyre.

will win. . . michael hazanavicius is likely to win for the artist, and it would no doubt be a tremendous surprise were anyone to overtake him at the last minute.
should win. . . it is a tremendously difficult decision to choose between two such evenly matched filmmakers who each surpassed all expectations in creating the best artistic pieces of the year and of their careers. in the end, and i'm sure i will be second guessing myself tomorrow, i choose terrence malick over lars von trier, but only by the slightest of margins.
my five. . . terrence malick, lars von trier, michael hazanavicius, wim wenders (pina) and kelly reichardt (meek's cutoff)

best picture:
will win. . . the artist was going to win best picture six months ago. it's still going to win best picture. people might be disappointed with the lack of drama in the category this year, but i doubt many are disappointed with the outcome. well deserved.
should win. . . the tree of life is the best of the category. melancholia is the best of the year. but, as i said in the beginning, the oscars isn't really the place for these kinds of films. that being said, i certainly won't be sad to see the artist win here.
my six. . . melancholia, the tree of life, the help, drive, the ides of march and shame

will win. . . hopefully the academy will want to reward the tree of life with something and it will rightfully get its award here. still, i'm predicting the artist.
should win. . . once again, i am very very narrowly choosing the tree of life over melancholia here, but it's such a close call.
my five. . . the tree of life, melancholia, war horse, the artist and drive

art direction:
will win. . . many are predicting hugo to win this one, but i would really be surprised to see the artist miss out here. plus, i just think that the sets and artistic backdrop behind the artist far outweighs the sort of superficial look scorsese put together for hugo. perhaps just a matter of taste really.
should win. . . of those nominated, definitely the artist. my personal pick for best art direction is a little bit out on a limb, but i really admired the sort of avant garde work of wim wenders' dance documentary, pina.
my five. . . pina, the artist, the help, tinker tailor soldier spy, melancholia

will win. . . the artist. it certainly has the most prominent and memorable score of any film this year. i wouldn't say it was exactly groundbreaking really, but it fit the film perfectly.
should win. . . the artist. the film couldn't have succeeded without this score.
my five. . . the artist, the help, hanna, jane eyre, and tinker tailor soldier spy
21 February 2012
  my top 10 of 2011

it really seems that good film years and bad film years alternate annually, and this has definitely been one of the latter, in my opinion. i have been disappointed by highly anticipated films far more this year than i have been wowed by them. i could make a top 10 list in and of itself of films that i should have liked but just didn't. that might actually have been easier than trying to come up with a list of the year's ten best, honestly.

i think it really says something that a great many of critics' top ten lists this year are overpopulated with indie arthouse fare that is really only yet available in new york, la and on the festival circuit. and since many of us here in tucson haven't had the luxury of seeing films like we need to talk about kevin and wuthering heights, i can't include these on my list.

with that being said, there were five movies this year that i truly loved and at least a handful more that i found remarkable in at least some way. although admittedly not all truly exceptional, my top 10 films of 2011 include:

10. meek's cutoff. . . i don't know if "sparse" is a good enough word to describe the incredibly frugal filmmaking style of kelly reichardt. as in her debut work, the haunting wendy and lucy, meek's cutoff is a film that chooses to show rather than tell. deeply introspective, this isn't so much a narrative film as it is a voyeuristic gaze upon these characters. reichardt rarely seems to make her actors perform on camera. the cameras always just seem to be out of the actors' sight, simply watching as the action unfolds, unperturbed. the result is an imperfect but deeply beautiful work of art.

9. j. edgar. . .for the third time in a row, clint eastwood has made a film that is simply not being given credit for being as good as it truly is. not that there aren't problems. yes, the makeup simply isn't very good, and i was distracted by it. but if you can get beyond that, what you are left with is a really interesting, complicated look at an interesting, complicated historical figure. in a lot of ways, i think critics would have been happier if eastwood had taken sides and made a more straightfoward biopic (think other far inferior, but critically lauded works like ray, walk the line, milk) but eastwood chose to go another way, in short to eschew conclusions. and this decision really elevated the work.

8. weekend. . . the field of queer cinema is so bereft of much of anything of quality, that to say that weekend is one of the best queer films i've ever seen is really to downplay its accomplishment. strangely, many critics of the film seem to downplay its queerness, arguing that this is really a broader film about love and human interconnectedness. no. this is a film about how these heteronormative concepts are confronted by queer communities. that is not to say that weekend was made solely for a gay audience. i think that anyone watching it, gay or straight, would be affected by its revelations.

7. beginners. . . the sad thing for me about beginners is that nearly all of the film's praise has been heaped on christopher plummer, who only really appears in it for a matter of minutes. although he is good in a very small (albeit central to the plot) role, there is so much more to like about this movie. every year, we are given at least a dozen romantic comedies that are either snarky, nasty, cliched or some combination of the above. and, if lucky, we are given one or two that are clever, genuine or at least somehow original. this was the film that filled that quota for 2011.

6. shame. . . this is a hard film to love. its characters are hopelessly despicable. the sex is painfully unerotic. and as a viewer, i was often left feeling like an unwanted voyeur watching something i simply wasn't meant to see. that being said, it takes a sort of expert filmmaker to elicit this sort of uncomfortable feeling from an audience. shame is definitely a film that stays with you long after you've seen it. and i give director steve mcqueen special credit for crafting a final scene that does anything but provide closure. my favorite film ending of the year.

5. the ides of march. . . i found george clooney's first directorial success good night and good luck to be a sanctimonious diatribe, and it stands as one of my all time least favorite films. so i wasn't really all that hopeful about his most recent work. but i was surprised. much like good night, ides is a work deeply guided by a social message. however, rather than bludgeoning the viewer over the head with this message, clooney rather chose to create an incredibly entertaining narrative that really stands on its own. probably my favorite political thriller since 2000's the contender.

4. drive. . . this is just one of those movies that was destined to be iconic from its inception. the costumes, the music, the art direction, even the title font, all will go down in film history as essentially, originally, iconically drive. it probably isn't much of a surprise that the conservative academy didn't see fit to much acknowledge this exceptionally violent work, but i almost think that it is such a cool film, that a best picture nomination might actually have damaged the work's inevitable cult film status.

3. the help. . . simultaneously the most dominating and undervalued film of 2011. why is it that hollywood studios repeatedly refuse to market non-romantic movies featuring female leads? hopefully the immense success of the help will change this, but it is unlikely. even so, and despite a best picture nomination and sag ensemble prize, many still argue that help is sort of bland and average. overall, the help is probably the most entertaining film i saw all year and is likely to be the one i rewatch the most in the future. and it is punctuated by strong performances, excellent direction and a strong screenplay. it's remarkable that the help isn't in competition as a best picture frontrunner.

2. the tree of life. . . although 2011 may not have been an overall banner year for cinema, the year's two best works nearly make up for this larger film recession. i went into the tree of life fully expected to hate what was sure to be an intentionally weird non-narrative film experiment. but i was almost immediately enraptured. yes it is weird. yes it is non-narrative. but it is a beautiful, insanely intelligent work that plumbs the very questions that root humanity to this planet. how any filmmaker could have ever thought it possible to successfully make a film about the origin of life on earth is beyond me? how malick was able to successfully envision and create this work is truly remarkable.

1. melancholia. . . in my opinion, perhaps a career best achievement by the greatest living filmmaker working today. in melancholia, von trier really seems to be stretching himself an auteur, using cinematography in a way he has never done before, at times expressing himself through images alone. inspired by the paintings of french artist jean genet, melancholia serves as a sort of visual artistic spectacle in and of itself. but that isn't to say von trier hasn't also given us a profoundly moving screenplay as well. in sum, an elegant, moving meditation on the meaning of life at the end of the world.
20 February 2012
  2011, the year in film

each year, perhaps only by coincidence, there seems to be a single major theme that ties together many of the year's major films, a sort of singular cultural zeigeist that several filmmakers chose to inhabit seemingly simultaneously. this year i'm not entirely sure that you can quite so easily point to any overarching narrative linking together the films of 2011. sure many can point to the prominence of the idea of nostalgia, and in particular cinematic nostalgia, but this really only calls together a couple of major works (the artist and hugo, namely). instead, i think that 2011, the year in film, is best defined by two films, the year's absolute best, that operate as sort of bookends of one another, at the same time mirroring major social preoccupations of our age: terrence malick's the tree of life and lars von trier's melancholia.

although in some ways practically opposites of one another, the parallels between these two films are so uncanny, that one wonders at some points if the directors somehow collaboratively crafted them as part of some sort of grand film experiment. in its essence, the tree of life represents the birth of existence, everything that has happened since the beginning of time that has brought us to this point, right now. and in its essence, melancholia represents the end of existence, what it would mean if all life, the planet itself, were to cease to be at this point, right now.

the directors even seem to be mirroring one another in the cinematographic tools they employ. perhaps the most striking sequence in the tree of life, is a long operatic one in which malick visually depicts the birth of the earth from nothingness, and the gradual emergence of life on this planet. similarly, one of the most striking sequences in melancholia is the similarly operatic one that opens the film, in which von trier slowly unveils the last moments of life on earth. interspersed with one another, these segments alone could have made up a singular filmic meditation on life and death.

what is even more striking, however, is that although both dealing with literally opposing subject matter, both von trier and malick seem to come to similar conclusions regarding what could be the central question guiding both of their works, that is the meaning of life itself. as we see sean penn's character in the tree of life, essentially the culmination of all history, we hear in his head the greatest on screen utterance of the year: "mother, father, always you wrestle inside me, always you will." by this point, we have seen a billion years of history unfurl before us. we have literally seen the cellular birth of life. but what has shaped this character the most is the relationships he has formed throughout his life, and which he continues to carry with him.

similarly, in melancholia, we watch for two hours as kirsten dunst's justine attempts to shrug off the end of the world, literally telling her sister at one point that when the earth evaporates, nobody will miss it. then, in the final moments before the apocalypse, we find justine, her sister and nephew hastening away to a "magic cave," where they can be together, sharing the moment as a family. once again, no matter how much she attempts to deny it, dunst proves herself deeply shaped by and inextricable from those around her.

it is most certainly not coincidental that these two films came to us at this point in history. in 2011, our world is experiencing increasing preoccupation with both the end of the world, and the beginning of life. at the same time, our society includes those feverishly attempting to predict the rapture or interpret mayan doomsday prophecy and those attempting to decode the human genome and scientifically reproduce the big bang. archaeologists scour mt. ararat for noah's ark, while biblical scholars scour the book of revelation for apocalyptic codes. we are a society that deeply feels that the end of the world may not be far away. and before that day comes, we'd like to figure out what it all means. and both melancholia and the tree of life engage with and emerge out of these dichotomous preoccupations.

malick's and von trier's works stand out among the films of 2011, not only because they so perfectly represent where our society was in this year, but because they are simply the two best works produced in this year. although for many the tree of life and melancholia have been pushed away in terms of popular culture in favor of more digestible faire, i hope that in ten or fifty years, people will look back on these films as those that truly define the year in film—

that is, if people are still around by then. fingers crossed.
24 January 2012
  what's to say?

i think at this point there are a number of conclusions one can make after seeing this morning's oscar nominations announcement.

1. this three year experiment must be brought to an end, bringing the best picture category back to a five nominee slate. when the change was originally introduced, it was presented as a way to honor more of each year's most deserving work. what has clearly happened over and over again is that the same brilliant filmmaking that was ignored before the change is continuing to get ignored. instead, the best picture category has simply made more room for mediocre-but-oscar-baity material and the works championed by powerful hollywood producers. after three years of >5 nominees, we still have powerful works like drive and melancholia left out, but have a growing list of dubious and all but already forgotten best picture nominees like district 9, the kids are all right, and now—

2. extremely loud and incredibly close. seriously. i can't say so definitively, but this will have to go down as one of if not the all time worst reviewed best picture nominee in history. even the 44 percent of the film's reviews rotten tomatoes is claiming as positive are at best tepid. all this nomination shows is that producer scott rudin and directed stephen daldry are becoming matched only by the weinsteins in their power over the oscar voting community.

3. i am finally willing to openly accede to the argument that has been made over and over again over the past several years: the academy is simply out of touch. it was so easy for them to just hand over a best pic nomination to steven spielberg, as well as two nominations to his films' scorer john williams, despite the fact that they produced bland, unoriginal and self-derivative work, while completely ignoring edgier and far more deserving films like drive, shame and we need to talk about kevin. i guess one can hope that we might be finally reaching a point where it is actually cooler to be snubbed by oscar rather than recognized by it. i'm sure that's how tilda and michael feel at least.

4. the best original song category needs to be put out of its misery. this has been patently obvious for years now. the songs nominated in this category are almost invariably terrible, contributing little to the films they are featured in. it is difficult even to remember the winners in this category over the past decade. now this year we have a category with just two nominees, one of which nobody who has seen the film even remembers. We need to switch over to a new category that recognizes excellence in film music more generally. this will be a category to honor works like black swan, inglorious basterds, magnolia, drive and others that superbly use music to tell their story, but not necessarily in the form of a score.

5. and finally, the documentary category. there are no words. year after year the academy simply refuses to even nominate the year's best works in this genre, let alone give it the ultimate prize. i don't know who is orchestrating the debacle that is the year's best documentary feature, but let's just fire her and be done with it.
23 January 2012
  oscar nominations tomorrow

in a lot of ways, the oscar nominations announcement is really a lot more exciting than the actual ceremony. by the time we get to the end of february, most everything is pretty sewn up, and the chances of anything unexpected or even eventful happening at the actual awards ceremony is pretty slim. but when you're sitting there watching the nominations announcement, you feel for a moment that anything could happen. i mean, sure, after the fifteen minute broadcast is over, you're pretty much left with a slate of nominees that is exactly what you expected to see. but at least for the moment, there is the potential that something interesting could occur.

this year, (and i hate to give the academy credit for doing something right, but) things seem even more exciting, as the rules have changed, allowing for anywhere between five and ten nominees. if we had a guaranteed slate of ten films nominated for the top award, one could pretty much script out which films that would be, but the nebulous number of nominees leaves things sort of up in the air. this coupled with the fact that the nominees will not be presented in alphabetical order, promises to make things a little exciting tomorrow morning.

in addition, i anticipate that the manner in which the best pic field is chosen could result in some surprises at least in that category. that is, since the academy essentially chooses best picture nominees based on how many number one votes the films receive, the final slate could differ slightly from the top five and ten lists already compiled by guilds and critics groups that use a more straightforward method of vote tabulation. for the academy awards, what matters is how many voters think a particular film is the best. it doesn't matter if a thousand voters agree that a movie is one of the top five best of 2011, if none of them mark it down as the absolute best, it won't get a nomination.

this leads me to the one out-of-the-blue prediction i am making regarding the nominations announcement. the help. everyone seems to agree that this one is a shoe in for a nomination. i'm going to say nuh-uh. sure, a lot of people, including me, really enjoyed this film. but is it really going to get a lot of first place votes? on a guaranteed ten nominee slate, the help would definitely be on there, but i honestly don't think enough academy members will put this movie in the top position on their ballots to net it a mention.

when you're making your best pic predictions, you have to think what are the movies that have a strong following. Even if the majority of the voters leave one film off the list altogether, if a strong core constituency thinks it is number one, it will still make the cut. so what films fall into that category? first, you have the artist, the girl with the dragon tattoo, hugo, and the descendants. those are all in. i suspect that midnight in paris, war horse, and moneyball will also get enough number one votes to make the cut. and, going somewhat out on a limb, i am going to say that the tree of life rounds out a slate of eight nominees, as, despite the fact that it has missed out on almost all the guilds, there are definitely those out there who will put it in their number one slot.

this leaves the also-rans: the help and tinker tailor soldier spy. they will get some votes, certainly, but i don't suspect either one to get enough number ones to secure a nomination this year.

In other categories, best supporting actor is one of the strangest acting categories i can remember in years. frankly, none of the expected front runners are all that great, and it is hard even to imagine who should be there instead. i'd like to see armie hammer there, as i thought he was great in j. edgar, but i think it is unlikely. same for philip seymour hoffman who was the bright spot for me in moneyball, and gave a nomination worthy performance in ides of march, but he won't make the cut. i didn't care at all for jonah hill in moneyball (far outshined by hoffman in a much smaller role), and i don't buy that the academy will go for him either. similarly, i can't imagine extremely loud and incredibly close's max von sydow or warrior's nick nolte (did anyone even see this movie?) making the list. i am going to bet on christopher plummer (beginners), albert brooks (drive), kenneth branagh (my week with marilyn), ben kingsley (hugo) and brad pitt (tree of life) making up the nominees. pitt is probably my out on a limb pick, but i have been thinking he might be a double nominee for a while now. it was nice to see guy lodge at in contention had the same thought, including him in his final nominations.

in the best actress race, the at best underwhelming rooney mara is a shoe in for dragon tattoo, despite many thinking of her as an underdog. many assume this will be at the expense of glenn close, but it is probably more likely to knock tilda swinton out of the nominees. how great would it be to see kirsten dunst shock everyone by getting nominated for melancholia though? hers will definitely go down as my single favorite performance of the year by any actor.

the supporting actress nominees are pretty wrapped up, and as mystified as i am that bridesmaids has been uttered at all in awards conversations, it looks like melissa mccarthy is in. check one for loud, stereotyped, scatological humor in awful, unfunny "comedies." if only the academy would change their rules barring an actor from being nominated twice in the same category (sorry jessica chastain).

best actor is another one where i really think there could be a surprise. remember a couple years ago when tommy lee jones got a surprise nomination for in the valley of elah after pulling off a string of awards worthy performances? i just don't think the academy will be able to deny nominated ryan gosling for something, after he turned in three top tier performances in two years. i think he is in for ides of march. it should be for drive, but i think march is more likely. so who's out? probably michael fassbender. his movie is not very academy friendly, and despite the fact that he too has given a number of great performances this year, he is still pretty new to the scene, and maybe doesn't seem to deserve it as much at this point as gosling does. dicaprio is in too, despite many who think he might miss the cut.

the director category is another weird one, as it is mostly going to be populated with filmmakers popular with the academy, rather than those who truly deserve to be there. the exceptions are michael hazanavicius and alexander payne. but i don't think that too many could say with a straight face that expected nominees woody allen, david fincher and martin scorsese made better movies this year than should-be nominees terrence malick, lars von trier and nicholas winding refn.

overall, i would love for there to be just one or two surprises. dunst showing up in the best actress category, or for that matter, melancholia showing up anywhere would be awesome. I'd love to see a stronger than expected showing for the tree of life, and would especially be excited for a well deserved director nod for malick. it would also be a welcome surprise to see ryan gosling nominated for drive. finally, one can hope that dragon tattoo sees a low showing and that there are no nominations for mara, mccarthy and hill.
09 November 2011
  The Help a film full of unsung stars
In Contention's Guy Lodge once again hits the nail on the head in this very late rumination on The Help. Although I don't know why he waited this long to finally see and write about the film, he is one of the first reviewers I have seen to cite Jessica Chastain's performance as perhaps the film's best. I couldn't agree more.

The Help is no doubt a rather populist film, much more accessible than some of the year's other earlier releases now jockeying for awards attention (see: Meek's Cutoff, Drive, The Tree of Life). And I am of the opinion that there isn't necessarily anything wrong with that. Much like with the overly-eviscerated recent best picture nominee, The Blind Side, The Help is able to take source material that too easily could have become a Lifetime-movie-for-women and elevated it to a smart, well crafted and eminently watchable film. And much of the success of the film has to be credited to its astonishing cast.

If The Help is practically assured one accolade this awards season, it has to be the SAG best ensemble prize. Every performance in this film is nuanced and finely crafted, and they all fit together so compatibly. That is, Emma Stone gives an excellent performance, but it is the equally excellent work done by Allison Janney as her mother that really makes her work shine. In this way, it seems to me that no single performer in this movie is really any more deserving of awards attention than any other.

However, from the very beginning, critics have pointed out two of the film's actors as the cream of the crop: Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer. Davis no doubt gives an incredible performance as the film's lead and deserves the Oscar she seems destined to receive for the role. However, in terms of supporting performances, I am not sure I would pick Spencer's as the film's best.

Once again, I think all of the film's actors performed ably, but the one that really affected me the most was that of Jessica Chastain as the town outcast Celia Foote. Chastain's performance was just more multifaceted, a little deeper, and frankly more affecting than Spencer's sassy maid Minnie Jackson. In leaving the movie, the one character from the film that stuck with me days afterwards was Chastain's.

The good news is that Spencer and Chastain are likely to each find themselves on the best supporting actress slate come this February. However, Chastain's nod is likely to come for what for me is her much less interesting turn in The Tree of Life. Still, I will be happy to see her get some attention regardless. T
27 July 2011
  red band trailer for drive

the festival circuit reviews (like this one) for nicholas winding refn's drive have been nothing short of fawning, and my interest was definitely piqued months ago when the film debuted at cannes. it wasn't until this week, however, that we got our first look at the film. now that i've finally gotten to see a trailer for the movie, i think it's safe to say that this movie is going to be awesome. i don't think that there is another movie coming out this year that i am looking forward to more than this one. ryan gosling is definitely due for an oscar nom, after his unconscionable snub last year, and it looks like he is definitely in the running again this year. assuming he has some decent dramatic scenes to work with here (in addition the action) i think we'll definitely be seeing him in the running come january. watch the trailer and see for yourself.
19 May 2011
  thought of the day
"It strikes me that von Trier’s thoughts are far more complex than his off-the-cuff fumbling with the English language is equipped to express. But how can anyone confuse the human capacity to feel a grain of sympathy for a Nazi with being a Nazi sympathizer? There’s important nuance there, and a lot of people are missing it."

from ryan adams at awards daily
  titanic in 3D april 6, 2012
james cameron announced today that his 3D reissue of titanic will be hitting screens on april 6, 2012, the 100 year anniversary of the day the ship set sail for the first and last time. on the one hand, i feel a little nauseated at the thought that one of the most iconic films of all time and one of my personal favorites is being reimagined in any respect. but on the other hand, WE GET TO SEE TITANIC ON THE BIG SCREEN AGAIN *YEA*! why can't they just show the original sans 3D? oh well.
19 April 2011
  new trailer: the help

the new trailer for upcoming awards season hopeful the help was released this week, and i am a little bit surprised. reading imdb synopses can really confuse you, because i was expecting this to be a sort of drama. the trailer makes it look like a light dramedy in the vein of the julie & julia or vintage rob reiner maybe. in any case it definitely looks decent and i stick by my earlier prediction that viola davis and octavia spenser are sure to be supporting actress contenders.
  a plea for m. night shyamalan

okay, okay, i give the people behind this website some credit for their creativity in attempting to raise money to send m. night shyamalan to the nyu film school AND i am certainly sympathetic to the over 500people who have thus far donated money as part of this effort. however, i must plead with anyone reading this, PLEASE DO NOT DONATE MONEY TO SEND "FILM"MAKER M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN BACK TO FILM SCHOOL. first of all, i do not support any public effort that may enable this man to continue making movies. and secondly, i don't really think that he could get into nyu even if he wanted to. instead, i plead in the reverse that the public should band together in agreement that we will no longer give this man any means to continue in his artistic pursuits. this means, we all must stop renting, purchasing, and attending screenings of his movies, even if we are doing it ironically. no good can come out of furthering this man's career.

although he is certainly not the only one in his boat, i am so irritated with this handful of big budget filmmakers (read, shyamalan, bay, emmerich, et al.) who continue to get investors to donate buckets of cash to the trash they are putting out there, while so many smaller films go viewer-less and certainly in want of funds. it would be in everyone's best interest if we took that money we were going to spend to send shyamalan back to film school and spent it to go see kelly reichardt's upcoming low budget indie work meek's cutoff.
13 April 2011
  yea for comeuppance!

sasha stone at awards daily posted this short documentary today, and everyone should watch it whether or not they are into film simply because it is extremely entertaining. the overwhelming message behind this film is "don't treat people like dirt or it will come back to haunt you." and who doesn't like a story where bad people face some serious comeuppance.

the story is: some guy named bhindi was running this very successful scam by holding faux film festivals all over the world. the scam was that he accepted all films submitted to his festivals, but charged filmmakers 30 dollars for each acceptance. then, he gets a local school or small theater or whatever to donate space. he then shows all of the accepted films basically on a loop in small classrooms or closets or whatever is available with no schedules. that is, unlike a real film festival with "screenings," there is no schedule or anything at these festivals and bhindi just shows the films whenever and wherever he can in order to technically fulfull his end of the bargain. on top of that, there is absolutely no money spent on promoting these festivals, and thus there is no audience present outside of the few filmmakers that show up. then, on top of all of this, bhindi tops off his scheme by holding a black tie awards reception at the end of the festival which, you guessed it, forces filmmakers to pony up additional fees. the whole thing is essentially a fairly low tech version of those "who's who in american high schools" books, this time in film festival form.

now the comeuppance: two filmmakers from california recently attended bhindi's swansea international film festival in wales in order to promote a documentary they had filmed. they were of course shocked upon arrival to realize that there was no schedule of when the films were to be shown, so they couldn't invite anyone to their film's screening. they are simply given an estimate of when the screening might take place, and the time happens to be opposite the time when the festival is holding a party at which all the filmmakers are expected to be in attendance. the documentarians politely bring their concerns to bhindi's attention. his response is to rudely accuse them of being poor filmmakers who have an inability to attract viewers to their poor work.

unfortunately for bhindi these filmmakers turned out to not be so inept after all. in fact they proved their talents by making this short documentary about the absolute failure that is swansea. the film has garnered a significant audience, especially among those who were previously involved in the festival. all of the celebrities affiliated with the festival, the media involved, the local government and the groups that donated facilities dropped out. the scam has garnered national media attention in wales, and bhindi's operation is more or less squashed.

the lesson to be learned: if you're fucking people over the least you can do is try and be nice about it. i guess this lesson seems pretty commonsensical to us in the u.s., but then again we have congress.
Luke and John talk about movies

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