05 March 2010
  oscar predictions. . .

seem to be a superfluous exercise at this point, but here they are anyways.

supporting actor:
will win. . . christoph waltz. this doesn't really make much sense to me, as i think his performance was pretty over-the-top, but people seem to like it i guess.
should win. . . stanley tucci, but not for the lovely bones. he is definitely the male actor of the year with two acclaimed performances, and he should be winning his first oscar for the better of the two, his terrific performance as paul child in julie & julia.
my five. . . stanley tucci, nicholas hoult (a single man), steven lang (avatar), matt damon and alfred molina (an education)

supporting actress:
will win. . . mo'nique. it's not a perfect performance, but an affecting one definitely. at times, she can be a little over the top and definitely at times, you can tell that she's acting, but it's okay. she still gives the best acting performance of the year.
should win. . . mo'nique, although in a weaker year for the category, rosamund pike's performance in an education would be oscar-worthy as well. her performance is the complete opposite of mo'nique's, but almost as great.
my five. . . mo'nique, rosamund pike, julianne moore (a single man), marion cotillard (nine) and penelope cruz (nine).

will win. . . jeff bridges. this isn't the greatest performance of his career, but he has done consistently good work, and i am happy to see him finally get rewarded.
should win. . . jeff bridges. i consider this the weakest of the acting categories, even though bridges definitely does good work in crazy heart. i still don't see his performance as THAT much better than daniel day lewis in nine or morgan freeman in invictus.
my five. . . jeff bridges, daniel day lewis, morgan freeman, joseph gordon levitt (500 days of summer) and jeremy renner (the hurt locker)

will win. . . sandra bullock. i love sandra bullock. i love the blind side. i think she is good in the blind side. with that being said, PLEASE don't give the oscar to sandra bullock. as an actress she isn't even in the same league as any of the other women in this category. she just doesn't deserve it.
should win. . . meryl. she gave two great performances this year, and should finally win her third oscar for her role as julia child in julie & julia. i know she is constantly being recognized, and the other ladies deserve some love too, but this is the oscars and we should be rewarding the most worthy *immediately breaks down in fits of laughter*
my five. . . meryl streep, hilary swank (amelia), saorsie ronin (the lovely bones), drew barrymore (grey gardens), jessica lange (grey gardens)

will win. . . kathryn bigelow, the hurt locker. so this year has given us a onslaught of good, acclaimed films by women, people of color and the gays. it seems like it's finally time to award this statue to someone other than a white man. that being said. . .
should win. . . james cameron, avatar. when cameron loses this award i think it will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the single greatest mistakes the academy has ever made. avatar is a masterpiece of directing. criticize the acting. criticize the screenplay. criticize the music. but you cannot criticize the direction. this is the best achievement in film direction in the last ten years (at least)
my five. . . (and again i'd really like to put some women and gays in here, but) james cameron, lars von trier (antichrist), clint eastwood (invictus), joel and ethan coen (a serious man) and quentin tarantino (inglourious basterds)

original screenplay:
will win. . . mark boal, the hurt locker. there are a lot of nice things about this movie, but the screenplay isn't one of them. it's an action movie, and there isn't even a whole lot of dialogue. this is a huge bandwagon mistake.
should win. . . joel and ethan coen, a serious man. i can't honestly say that i loved this movie, but it is definitely the best written film of the year. an immensely clever, superbly crafted screenplay. i would LOVE to see an upset here.
my five. . . the coen brothers, james cameron, quentin tarantino, lars von trier, scott neustadter and michael weber (500 days of summer)

adapted screenplay:
will win. . . jason reitman and sheldon turner, up in the air. ho hum. who really cares. it's an okay screenplay and an okay film, but in a year nobody will even remember it.
should win. . . of four of the five that i've seen, i don't think any of the nominated screenplays are oscar-worthy (i haven't yet seen in the loop). that being said, i am going WAY out on a limb here to argue that the year's true greatest adapted screenplay, is that written by michael sucsy and patricia rozema for grey gardens. i've chosen to just ignore that it isn't eligible for academy awards. it is a superbly written work. there's nothing more to say.
my five. . . michael sucsy and patricia rozema, anthony peckham (invictus), jason reitman and sheldon turner (up in the air), christopher hampton (cheri) and michael tolkin and anthony minghella (nine).

will win. . . the hurt locker, although i would love to see an upset. not a bad movie, but waaaay overrated.
should win. . . avatar is unequivocally the greatest movie of the year.
my five (i am sick of the ten. there aren't ten best picture-worthy movies this year. get over it). . . avatar, capitalism: a love story, grey gardens, invictus and (500) days of summer.
04 March 2010
  2009 top 10

i can't remember ever struggling to come up with a year-end top 10 films list as much as i have this year. so many disappointments. it is really unfortunate that the academy decided this was the year to expand the best picture nominees to ten. one can imagine someone ten years down the line imdb-ing this year's oscars and being totally dumbfounded that district 9 got a friggin best pic nomination. in any case, here are the ten movies this year that stood out above the rest for me.

10. inglourious basterds. . . in a stronger year, this one probably would have just missed out. i find it unpleasantly campy at times, and some of the acting (particularly brad pitt and christoph waltz) gets under my skin. however, it is provocative, well-written and entertaining. and i can see this one growing on me over time.

9. the blind side. . . for some reason, i can't say that i was ecstatic seeing this film nominated for best picture (i guess because it made it in over nine and invictus) but i definitely enjoyed watching this movie more than almost any other this year. the blind side really elevated what could have been sappy, melodramatic source material. as it is, this is an intelligent film about issues of race, class and family. and sandra bullock is terrific.

8. food inc. . . this isn't the first time a documentarian has taken on the food that u.s.-americans eat, but food inc. does something entirely new with that material. i think of myself as pretty well informed about this subject matter, but i learned so much from watching this film, particularly regarding the corporate nature of farming and producing food. the scenes surrounding monsanto's control of soybean production are particularly staggering and infuriating.

7. away we go. . . sam mendes follows up the darkly brilliant revolutionary road with this much less serious dramedy tracing the travels of young couple searching for a place to make a home for their upcoming child. besides being one of the funniest films of the year, mendes does a terrific job here, as usual, of subtly developing his characters, especially the female ones. kate winslet is so lucky to be married to this man, who seems to understand women oh so well.

6. nine. . . the whipping boy of the awards season is so much better than it is given credit for being. first of all, it is hard to deny that nine has the best ensemble cast of the year. one can feasibly imagine 6 acting nominations coming out of this film. also, the music is fantastic, especially fergie's "be italian." she is really a revelation. but it is the creative way in which the real filmmaker takes us inside the psyche of a troubled fictional filmmaker that makes this movie truly stand out.

5. (500) days of summer. . . it's possible that any movie starring joseph gordon levitt would have been on this list (i love him) but (500) days of summer is one of the year's best movies based on merit alone. it's one of those films that is so good you wonder how you will ever be able to look at these actors again without thinking of the characters they played here. (i worry that i might forever hate zooey deschanel.) oh well, autumn is better for him anyway.

4. invictus. . . clint eastwood continues his late-in-life surge as this country's greatest filmmaker. unfortunately, this film is much too quiet, subtle and understated to be fully appreciated in the current moment of widespread affection for huge, sensory-overwhelming movies. where this movie did get notice was in the acting categories, which is a shame, because i think the acting is a slightly weak element in a film that is elevated by its incredible direction.

3. grey gardens. . . who makes decisions about what movies get released on tv and which ones go to the theaters? they really dropped the ball on this one. it is unthinkable that, had this been a cinema-release, one wouldn't find at least drew barrymore or jessica lange nominated in the best actress category this year. an absolutely beautiful, charming and well-acted film that i could watch over and over again.

2. capitalism: a love story. . . as i wrote yesterday, michael moore achieved something truly spectacular this year, not only directing his best film to date, but also performing the best excavation of the current moment of national malaise in a year when SO many filmmakers have tried (and failed) to do just that.

1. avatar. . . i believe this to be the only true masterpiece of film fiction produced this year. strangely, fortunately, it is also one of the greatest film masterpieces of all time, destined to live on forever, admired as a true game changer in 21st century movie-making. it isn't as good as titanic, but in a lot of ways it seems unfair and unwise to compare the two. if huge blockbuster films exhibited just a modicum of the attention to detail james cameron pays to his work, maybe i would be drawn to the theaters to watch these movies more often. never happen.
02 March 2010
  boo-hoo, saying goodbye to the films of 2009.

i certainly wouldn't be the first person at the end of this year's awards season to reflect on the films of 2009 as largely strung together on the single thread that is 21st Century U.S.-American melancholia. let's face it, over the past few years, the vast majority of well-reviewed and oscar-nominated films have been major downers. but this year, the theme of widespread malaise (if not outright millenarianism) has virtually exploded on the big screen. if you look back on the past year at the movies you will be confronted over and over again with themes of fear, mourning, hopelessness and general sadness. still, even though i admit to not being the first person to make this now-commonplace observation, i think perhaps i am in fact the first person to offer another, related reflection on the films of 2009. i argue that what many people have characterized as filmic representations of ennui is in fact an epidemic of filmmaker pouting. after decades of illusions of u.s.-american righteousness and infallibility, things have dramatically devolved for the people of this country. and one result of this, among the u.s. public at large, has been the simultaneous reactions of self-pitying, blaming and decrying "i-told-you-so." over the past year, these reactions have finally crept full-force into the film industry.

in general, this has been an extremely weak year at the movies, full of major and minor disappointments. i think the last year that was as week as this one was 2006 (when crash was virtually the only thing produced worth seeing). the problem that i have encountered over and over again this year has been that every time i go to the movies i leave feeling at least mildly disgusted by the ways that the filmmakers use their art to pout and whine and make themselves appear self-righteous. for me, there is a clear difference between movies that insightfully probe personal and national ennui (think sideways or election) and movies that exist only to make you feel bad about yourself and your situation in life.

case in point. precious, for me, is an utter failure as a film, due to the out-of-touch ineptitude of director lee daniels (even though it may have worked originally as a novel.) the problem is that daniels sucked every ounce of thoughtfulness and every drop of genuine intellectual content out of the source material, in favor of saturating each second of his movie with the most disgusting, depressing and downright nauseating pieces possible. i can't imagine that anyone has left this movie feeling anything other than hopelessness for humanity. my argument is that if daniels really felt any compassion for these characters--if he really connected in a personal way to these events, he wouldn't have been able to put this material on screen. and if he had related to the material and still made the movie, it would have been a different and better movie based on characters that ultimately bore resemblance to actual humans. i am not saying that these characters might not exist somewhere, but there has to be more depth to them than what daniels provides. in short, precious is a film made by a man pouting about the conditions of a people he doesn't really know and doesn't ever take the time to get to know.

precious is without a doubt the paradigm of this epidemic of self-pitying and generally heartless filmmaking that has saturated the cinemas over the past year, but it isn't the only example. one of the movies i was looking forward to this year, carlos cuaron's rudo y cursi, basically consisted of a director senselessly making fun of two dysfunctional, ranchero, football playing brothers (gael garcia bernal and diego luna) rather than making an attempt to connect the audience with their problems. 2012 was essentially roland emmerich's pointing his self-righteous finger at a cast of characters so loathsome that you pray they ultimately crash their savior ship into a glacier at the film's predictable climax. up in the air wasn't a bad movie necessarily, but the screenwriters ultimately missed a great opportunity to seriously reflect on a national crisis in favor of focusing on one whiny out-of-touch, overprivileged white guy's non-problems. and the unbelievably shallow it's complicated almost literally made me gag on its unending deconstruction of the midlife crisis of a woman so uninteresting that i come to the conclusion it can only be a self-pitying memoir of the filmmaker, nancy meyers. the hurt locker, a serious man, an education, nine, crazy heart, a single man, district 9, antichrist-- each of the movies, in one way or another, led me to the same ultimate reaction: why should i care?

this doesn't mean that there wasn't at least one film this year that did a respectable job of actually engaging the theme of malaise, rather than just wallowing in it. in perhaps 2009's biggest surprise (to me anyways) michael moore's capitalism: a love story poignantly, at times beautifully, probed the national sadness pervading the current moment. at first, the title of this film seems to refer to the u.s. love affair with free market economics, when in fact i see this movie as a love story between moore (and perhaps a large part of the nation) and the nation of the past that cherished its workers, its citizens and a spirit of mutual support. moore uses recent changes in auto manufacturing over the past few decades as a metaphor for larger changes that have occurred in this country as capitalism has taken on new forms. the result is a brilliant and uncharacteristically (for this particular filmmaker) romantic study of the working class u.s.-american citizenry. this is one of the few films i have seen this year that actually brought me to tears--such a welcome respite from leaving the theater furious that the director just didn't and doesn't get it.

so, with that i say goodbye to 2009-on-screen, a little disappointed that we still don't have a solid film canon reflecting the trials and tribulations of the past decade. and i pray that in ten or twenty years we don't look back at films like precious or up in the air to get a glimpse into the psyche of a nation. trust me. it isn't in there.
Luke and John talk about movies

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