Saturday, February 28, 2009
The thing about Wilder’s films that fascinates me is that his films transcend time. Though visually Wilder’s movies are obviously set in a specific era, they remain fresh and current because his stories and themes are not rooted in the time period; instead, the stories are rooted in universal concepts, concepts that are not rooted to one time period. The reason The Lost Weekend won best picture, the reason it remains a great film to this day is because it deals with an issue that is still in society today – alcohol addiction.
When Wilder made The Lost Weekend it was so realistic for the time that Paramount briefly shelved it because they were afraid of the reaction it would received, in fact as they were filming Wilder had to keep sending pieces of the script for review as he shot. It is actually an amazing thing that The Lost Weekend was even finished, much less a best picture winner.
What is so controversial about The Lost Weekend is merely the fact that it brings addiction, and the conspiracies so many people were using to hide it to the surface. Wilder has the lead character become so completely desolate that being as high as rock bottom would be a relief; this is a movie that shows hopelessness, despair, and the emotional trauma that the addicted person and those closest to them go through – it is a vicious, painful, shocking cycle that cannot end unless the addicted party can manage to face what they have become and why. This movie does not pretend; many of the themes reflected in The Lost Weekend are the same themes that someone like Darren Aronofsky later goes on to address in Requiem for a Dream, but Aronofsky and the filmmakers like him are able to be so blunt about an issue like addiction because of the inroads started for them by pioneers like Wilder.
While The Lost Weekend is an incredibly real, stark film it is only the first in a series of films where Wilder pushes the envelope of societal convention and taboos. I really think that The Lost Weekend prepared Wilder for two of his most biting films - Sunset Blvd. and Ace In The Hole - these are films that were highly controversial and two of his most relevant. Throughout his entire career Wilder was not afraid of replicating the controversy he created in The Lost Weekend.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
To start with the best picture category at the ISA’s were The Wrestler, Frozen River, Rachel Getting Married, Ballast & Wendy and Lucy. I cannot speak for the latter two films but I have seen three of the five nominated films. They are all films I would own, films that made me sit and marvel at how they were made, films that gave me a creative spark and reminded me why film is so different from any other art form. The Wrestler walked away with the award for the evening and let me tell you, the story of a broken down ex-pro wrestler who can’t pull his life together was leagues better and more deserving than Slumdog Millionaire. The Wrestler was not a recycled story as so many of this years Oscar nominees were.
I was also upset by this years nominees for best director at the Oscars because I felt that the best directing jobs of the year were not the ones nominated. Again, the ISA’s got it right; I saw three of the director nominees for the ISA’s – Jonathan Demme for Rachel Getting Married, Courtney Hunt for Frozen River and Tom McCarthy for The Visitor. All three of the films that I saw relied heavily on phenomenal jobs by the director because the films required the actors breaking down and reaching a powerful all too human point that drove the plot of the film forward. They were complete worlds that could not exist without a strong and powerful director at the helm. Winner Tom McCarthy created one of my new favorite films of the year in The Visitor, and managed to walk the line between message film and humanistic story in a way that the message didn’t intrude on the story, an error that far too many filmmakers make.
The best screenplay award went to Woody Allen for Vicky Cristina Barcelona, a film that was almost entirely ignored by the Academy and Penelope Cruz’s acceptance speech for best supporting female in the film was more memorable than her Oscar acceptance speech.
Best male lead went to Mickey Rourke instead of Sean Penn because the ISA’s chose to recognize talent instead of political motivation. Mickey’s speech and reaction were genuine and memorable and let’s face it, what Mickey did in The Wrestler blew everyone of every age, gender and sexual orientation away; it was not just a phenomenal performance, but a rebirth and I hope that Mickey can get more roles with that kind of power.
However, that’s just my take on my favorite winners. I encourage you all to continue watching the movies you like and challenging what any organization or individual considers “the best”. The problem with awards is that a good film is art and that means while there are criteria for judging them in the end each opinion is subjective and it is really damn hard to judge one film against another – a fatal flaw in the awards system.
If you would like to see a full list of nominees and winners for the Independent Spirit Awards it can be viewed here: FIND.
THE WRESTLER: I love Darren Aronofsky and THE WRESTLER is yet another masterpiece to be added to his already impressive resume. Mickey Rourke gives the performance of the year and his career as Randy “The Ram” Robinson a washed-up beaten down has-been of a wrestler whose life and career closely reflect that of the man playing him.
From the moment this movie begins you know you’re in for something special. Shot in a loose and rough fashion as if a documentarian or wildlife photographer is following some exotic and wild animal the movie instantly immerses you in Randy’s world and gives you brilliant insight into the make believe world of professional wrestling that and the very real toll it takes on the lives of those involved. THE WRESTLER serves as a blistering expose of not only the human frailties of our heroes but also that of the American mindset over the past several decades.
Through it all Randy a character who could very easily garner very little if any sympathy in the wrong hands causes the audience to instantly identify and root for him, bruised face, sub par intellect and all. This is in no small part thanks to the genuine warmth and heart Rourke brings to the character. The two most effective scenes in the film are when we see Randy working at the local meat market, engaging, fun and gregarious, showing the promise of living a normal life and his haunting final act of proud yet foolish placation of the masses as he succumbs to that which will only lead to his destruction.
Such brilliant dichotomy displays the genius of all involved as no matter what happens in the movie or the decisions made by the main character do we ever begrudge him or think less of him. Instead, we can only watch enthralled and horrified as the gleaming spotlight of fame strips away any hope for normal life and replaces an existence of peace and happiness with one of infamy and tragedy. Your typical sports film this is not and that amongst many other reasons is why THE WRESTLER was by far one of the brightest stars of 2008.
RACHEL GETTING MARRIED: As I made mention of earlier in this gigantic rambling mess of a year end review CHASING AMY is one of my favorite movies of all time. One of the reasons for this is because I think it holds one of the best acted, most emotionally raw scenes in the history of cinema. The scene in question involves Ben Affleck’s character (That’s right Ben Affleck, seriously when the dude tries he can act his ass off) confessing his love to the lesbian played by Joey Lauren Adams. Hands down it is one of the most brutal, emotionally naked scenes ever caught on film. All of RACHEL GETTING MARRIED is like that scene.
Shot in a fly on the wall, almost voyeuristic style this movie is a master class in acting by everyone involved, not the least of which is Anne Hathaway giving an Oscar worthy and career performance. Likewise just as much credit goes to Jonathan Demme who proves he is far more than just the SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, PHILEDALPHIA guy.
I think my sister put it best when she said after watching this film you feel like you’ve been through the entire wedding process along with the characters. She didn’t mean that in a mean or cutting way towards the film, but instead that the movie does such a good job of immersing you in the lives and situations of Kym and her family that when all is said and done you feel just as emotionally drained as the characters you were watching up on the big screen.
Every single aspect of this film is beyond brilliant, from the way the entire soundtrack is done externally to the first rate script. Sitting in the theatre after the movie had finished unspooling before my eyes I sat in awe and reverence for every bit of work done in this film. It is a testament to the quality of some of the other films this year that this movie was not my single favorite film of the year because I guarantee you in a lesser year it most assuredly would have been.
TROPIC THUNDER: Hands down one of the single funniest movies I’ve ever seen. In the 6 months since first seeing this movie my love for it has only grown more and more and I am now more than convinced that this is one of the all time great comedy classics that will stand the test of time.
There is not a single solitary thing about this film that isn’t completely, brilliantly inspired. I’ve been a fan of Ben Stiller as a writer and director for quite some time now but I never could have guessed he had a movie like this in him. Every single aspect of this film isn’t just funny, its laugh until you’re on the verge of wetting yourself hysterical. Each actor, each moment is perfectly picked to deliver the maximum amount of comedic gold in a way that very few movies do. TROPIC THUNDER would have been more than worth the price of admission alone for Robert Downey (Putting the icing on the greatest year of his career) as Kirk Lazarus and Tom Cruise as the greatest studio executive in the history of film, but once you throw in Danny McBride, Jack Black, Nick Nolte, Steve Coogan and Simple Jack… er, I mean Ben Stiller you have a barrage of humor that even the most frumpy, stuck-up person is powerless to resists.
I’ll freely admit I’m not sure this movie plays quite as well to people that aren’t movie obsessed or knowledgeable about the industry, but frankly I don’t care. In a year filled with truly great comedies, movies that made me wish the Oscars would steal the one thing that works about the Golden Globes and add a Best Comedy or Musical category, TROPIC THUNDER stood head and shoulders above all that tried to bring humor to our hearts and laughter to our lips this year.
IRON MAN: I’ve been going to Comic-Con for at least a decade now. In that entire time I’ve sat in on dozens and dozens of panels and none of them have ever come close to matching the experience I had 2 years ago at the Paramount panel. Jon Favreau a man whose career I’ve followed since his debut as a writer and actor in SWINGERS all the way to his criminally under seen children’s film ZATHURA surprised the amassed geek audience and showed 5 minutes worth of footage from his upcoming film IRON MAN. Up until that point we had all been cautiously optimistic based on his casting and story choices that the dude that gave us ELF might turn in a halfway decent comic book movie. By the time the footage was done rolling there wasn’t a single person in Hall H, that most blessed of Comic-Con auditoriums, that hadn’t been knocked flat on his or her fanboy / fangirl ass. In May of 2008 almost a full year after seeing that footage and growing more and more excited about the idea that Favreau and company may have flat out nailed it the world as whole got to bear witness to one of the greatest comic book movies of all time and in my humble opinion one of the single best tent-pole, big budget, summer blockbuster films in ages.
I LOVE IRON MAN! I mean seriously I could write pages upon pages as to why this film kicks so much ass on every single conceivable level. Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark is one of the single greatest pieces of casting in the history of cinema and the performance he turned in honestly should have netted him an Academy Award. The supporting cast from Jeff Bridges to Terrance Howard and Gwyneth Paltrow is all uniformly great as are the visual and practical effects that sadly pay a fitting tribute as the late, great Stan Winston’s final masterpiece.
Above all else though Jon Favreau and his team of screenwriters deserve every bit of credit in the world for not only turning in one of the most faithful comic book adaptations of all time but also flat out one of the best movies of the year. Amidst all the high tech coolness and quippy dialogue IRON MAN is the best character piece of the year, featuring the most interesting, fully realized character arc of the year, the kind you’d expect to see in a film nominated for an ISA, not writ large across your local multiplex screen while jet fighters and mechanized beasts duke it out with personal demons and issues of responsibility for your attention.
In a year of spectacular comic book movies and great genre features IRON MAN set itself up as the film to beat very early on. The fact that this film, along with at least one other wasn’t nominated for more Oscars perfectly displays why I was so disgusted with the entire proceeding this year. For years now people have bitched that the only “good” movies come out of the independent film world, that this is the only place where strong, character, plot driven films can hope to thrive. IRON MAN and several other films proved how much of a fallacy that is given you put the material in the right people’s hands. This gigantic, big budget event film wasn’t just as good as anything that came from Fox Searchlight or Paramount Vantage, it was actually better. IRON MAN is one of the rare films that tells a deep, personal and emotional story and still manages to blow enough crap up to keep everyone happy all the way through. PLEASE Hollywood make more films like this!
Sunday, February 22, 2009
Anyone that has talked to me over the past several weeks (Or during the course of the show or you know read this blog) knows that I was pretty unhappy with the choices for this years Oscar nominees. I thought they showed a lack or originality and served to display how out of touch the Academy has become with the ideas of great film making in general. As such I can not think of a time in my life where I’ve less looked forward to the Oscars than this year. I mean for the first time in probably at least 5 years I didn’t even bother seeing all the films that were nominated for Best Picture simply because I couldn’t care enough to do so. With all that in mind what did I think of this year’s ceremony? IT WAS A BALL!
Simply put a great presentation of the award’s show almost completely made up for the lack of quality or my apathy towards the films being honored this year. My hats are off to ever single person that had anything to do with the show. While I can’t say it was any shorter than it has been in past years it sure as heck seemed to move like it was and it kept things pretty interesting right from the get go. The sets and stage design were beautiful, immaculate, grandiose and yet somehow offered a very intimate feeling between the presenters and the nominees. Michael Giacchino (The 3rd best film composer in the business at the moment) doing the music was inspired. Having a cavalcade of best actors and actresses present the awards and call out everyone was touching and amazing. I love the fact that they at least acknowledged the other genres of film that exist (Such as action and comedy) and by throwing the bits with the dudes from PINEAPPLE EXPRESS and Ben Stiller as a guy who works at a “Hasidic meth lab” into the fray they more than made up for the lack of a stand-up comedian as the host this year. Which brings me to Hugh Jackman!
While I loved the idea of Hugh Jackman as host in theory I can’t help but admit that I was more than a little wary about the whole thing as well. I mean in my lifetime pretty much all I’ve known are the likes of Billy Crystal, Steve Martin, Jon Stewart and so on as Oscar hosts. Well, bar none next to Billy Crystal the best I’ve witnessed since I began watching the show is Hugh Jackman. No ifs, ands or buts about it Wolverine brought the house down and flat out kicked every form of ass imaginable. He was funny, he was sincere, he brought a wow, movie star quality to the proceedings that hasn’t been there in a long time and he made the entire thing come alive anytime he started singing and dancing. Getting Bill Condon and Baz Luhrman to help orchestrate everything along with him were some of the most inspired ideas the Academy has had in recent memory.
There’s no doubt in my mind that despite the spectacular show that was put on that this broadcast will go down as one of, if not the lowest rated of all time. That however is due to the movies that were nominated not the show itself. My hats are off to everyone involved and I can only hope the Oscars learn from this year, not only in how they do the show, but the in the movies they nominate as well. Until then Hugh, Bill, Baz and everyone else, thanks for making it all more than bearable. I promise me and a few of my friends will be there in person soon enough.
LET THE RIGHT ONE IN: Hands down one of the best vampire films ever made! Don’t let the fact that it’s Norwegian scare you off, this sucker is an out and out masterpiece. Focusing on a child vampire and the little boy that befriends her this movie boasts some of the best child performances every committed to film and is deeply sweet and touching while also being ice water in your veins chilling. This is so unlike most vampire and horror movies you’re used to seeing and as such when it does embrace the tropes of it’s genre it becomes all the more effective. The final sequence in the pool (That’s all you get, there’s no way I’ll spoil it for you) is one of the most brilliantly directed, effective pieces of cinema I’ve seen in quite some time. Please do yourself a favor and seek this out when it hits DVD. I guarantee you will not be disappointed in the least.
Now before you go out and start showing this to your Aunt Ruth and everyone in between know that this is still VERY much a Kevin Smith film and that I am only using this simile to try and describe what it is that makes ZACK AND MIRI work so well. As with all of Smith’s film this movie is dirty, debauched, lewd, crude and hilarious. However like many of his greater films the movie has a tremendous amount of heart and I think more than any other movie he’s ever made at the end of this day the movie is just flat out sweet. If you’re a fan of Kevin Smith you know that’s not a word one would usually use to describe his work.
Kevin Smith shows a lot of the ways he’s grown as a film maker in this movie. For one it looks like a real movie (He himself readily admits he’s good at people talking, not much else), more so than any of his other films. It’s also refreshing to see obviously well known and talented stars spewing Smiths’ words. By casting Elizabeth Banks and Seth Rogen and allowing them to inflect themselves into the dialogue each character actually sounds unique and different bringing a whole new level to Smith’s work and making the central romance come alive in a truly effective way.
At least for me though, I think the thing that works better than anything else is the story of the characters actually making the umm…. movie. If you know anything about Smith’s career you’ll recognize that in a lot of ways he is recounting what he did to make CLERKS. In doing so he does a great job of showing how such a hair-brained, wild idea brought a bunch of people together by struggling through the various ups and downs of trying to make anything that could be considered art (I’m not saying that’s what adult cinema is, it’s just the device Smith uses to get such ideas across). Having made a movie within the last 6 months that, more than anything else really spoke to me and got me right where I lived. Those emotions that come with embarking on such an endeavor are such a hard thing to capture yet somehow Smith managed to do it.
This film is very much like every other movie Kevin Smith has ever made and yet in a lot of ways so much more as well. I love all of Kevin Smith’s work and the more films he makes the harder I find it to figure out which ones I like better than the others. While no matter what I will always hold CHASING AMY as his master work this one definitely goes up there with the likes of CLERKS II and DOGMA and over time I may find that it surpasses even those. Sorry to go on so long but I really love this movie.
GRAN TORINO: Many have speculated that this may very well be Clint Eastwood’s last film as an actor and if that be the case I can’t think of a more fitting swan song to end one of the greatest screen careers of all time. The fact that this movie got completely shutout of the Oscar nominations shows just how moronic the Academy can be.
Now I’ll be the first to admit that the script for this movie isn’t one of the most complex things ever written, in fact the entire film hangs on one thing; Eastwood. If not for his brilliant turns both behind and in front of the camera this movie may very well play as nothing more than an overripe after school special. However, what sets it apart and makes it one of the truly great films of 2008 is the way Eastwood uses it to deconstruct his vigilante, Dirty Harry like persona that he spent so many years building up on the big screen. In many ways this film is the perfect companion piece to Eastwood’s beyond amazing UNFORGIVEN in which he did the same thing to his Spaghetti Western, Man With No Name alter-ego.
Going in I didn’t expect to like this movie nearly as much as I did. Walking out of it I was blown away by the brutally precise way Eastwood dissected the fallacies behind what made him such a legend, in turn because he like so many others provided the cut and dry, might makes right solutions American society was clamoring for. Decades removed from those characters and looking at their influence on society and vice-versa Eastwood has turned in easily one of the greatest performances and greatest films of his career.
Saturday, February 21, 2009
Iron Man: A few weeks ago I teased about the movie that surprised me most in 2008, and to those that follow the director is in it will come as no surprise that Iron Man is that film. From the opening this movie grabs you and won’t let go all the way to the closing credits; Jon Favreau deserves some recognition for creating a phenomenal movie & coming into his own as a director, and Robert Downey Jr. definitely deserves some recognition for bringing emotional depth and range to a womanizing playboy.
In Bruges: I have to say that for a movie I thought was going to be a sarcastic little comedy I was blown away; the film is a dark comedy but more than anything it’s a tale of sin & redemption. Colin Farrell needs awards & accolades for his performance.
The Dark Knight: Everyone knows why this movie has been praised & it should have gotten a best picture nomination. Heath deserves all the glory he’s getting & Christopher Nolan was snubbed by the Academy and should have gotten the DGA award.
Tropic Thunder: I can’t stop laughing every time I watch this movie. It is phenomenal, the actors, directing and writing are phenomenal. I think this movie is an instant classic and a breath of fresh air to the genre.
Rachel Getting Married: It makes me sad to think that Anne Hathaway will probably win none of the major awards for her role in this movie. Not only is the movie brilliant, but it is the kind of a role an actor gets only once or twice in a career and Hathaway hit it out of the park.
Valkyrie: I expected this movie to be terrible…but I think that it was one of the best movies of last year. Bryan Singer and Christopher McQuarrie made a film that made a select group of Nazi’s sympathetic – go figure.
Gran Torino: If I could have voted on the Oscar nominees this film would have been one of them that I wanted to be on the best picture ballot. It was phenomenal.
The Wrestler: This is another that would have been one of my best pictures. Mickey Rourke needs to get the best actor Oscar.
Australia: Give me crap for this one if you want but I loved it. Baz Luhrmann makes films like no one else and Australia is one of the most unique films that came out last year.
Revolutionary Road: This is a movie I thought was going to sweep awards shows. DiCaprio, Winslet & Mendes created a moving work of art.
Frost/Nixon: I didn’t know watching two men sit & throw barbs at one another could be arresting, but somehow it was. Ron Howard and Frank Langella did the impossible and made Nixon sympathetic.
The Visitor: This is how message movies should be made, the message is part of the story but it isn’t the story. If I didn’t want Mickey Rourke to get the Oscar so badly I would be rooting for Richard Jenkins.
Friday, February 20, 2009
I just want to pop in and say, "THE MOVIES FINALLY ROCK AGAIN!" I don't know if it's the return of favorite characters, such as Rocky, John McClain, and yes, even JASON . . . but once again, going to the movies is a ride! And it's not just more of the same either. These icons (no - that's not good enough) . . . These LEGENDS have been reinvented, and they have a new edge that makes the classic elements new and fresh.
It's like Hollywood remembered what used to rock, and they decided to get back to basics. It is so exciting. There are so many movies that I want to see, and I just can't come close to pulling it off. But every one I see, I'm left wanting more. I'm begging for sequels!
I'm not one to get into all the award shows. In fact, if you feel like your current award show isn't making the right choices, just get some people together and create your own. Somewhere, out there, people are waiting for your award show to be created, just so they can watch it. The point is . . . I could care less what the snobby critics think. Especially in a year like this past one for film. There are too many choices to pick just one.
So I say, do what I do during the superbowl . . . GO TO THE MOVIES!!!
It's with great sadness that I report that I'll be missing the telecast this year. I am currently in London at the close of a whirlwind tour of Europe and, for the first time in what seems like forever, will not be able to watch the Academy Awards live. Instead, because of the generosity of a friend, I will be able to watch them after I get back. Before I left, I was willing to try to watch them here, whatever the cost. Now, after experiencing the rigors of non-stop travel and how hard it is to keep up with a 9 hour time difference, I feel differently.
However, there's no way in this world or the next that I would leave you without my Oscar picks. I've been trying to pick the winners for years now, with varying degrees of success. This year, I'll just say it. Some of the winners look like sure things, but as I always take care to remind you, this is the Academy we're talking about. They LOVE to make the "screw-you" pick that no one expects. So, while some seem like sure things, you never know.
- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
- The Reader
- Slumdog Millionaire
Predicted winner: Slumdog Millionaire
If I was voting: The Reader
Possible upsets: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Reader
Analysis: Slumdog Millionaire is the obvious favorite. It's won nearly every single major award leading up to Oscar night and received overwhelming critical acclaim. That said, I can't help but feel that it's not entirely deserving of the Academy Award. Don't get me wrong, I liked it a lot and think that it's clearly one of 2008's best films, but I don't think it's got the "pop" that a Best Picture winner should have. Some of this stems from the fact that I think the film has third act problems and is just basically a really well-done feel-good movie. Now, once again, while a win in this category looks like a sure thing, you never know. A few years ago, Brokeback Mountain was in an almost identical position and lost to Crash, much like Saving Private Ryan's loss to Shakespeare In Love. If anything can beat it, I'd have to give the dark horse status to The Reader (never count Harvey Weinstein out of anything. ANYTHING.) and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (for some reason, this scenario has a dim glimmer of possibility).
- David Fincher - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
- Ron Howard - Frost/Nixon
- Gus Van Sant - Milk
- Stephen Daldry - The Reader
- Danny Boyle - Slumdog Millionaire
Predicted winner: Danny Boyle
If I was voting: David Fincher
Possible upsets: David Fincher
Analysis: Danny Boyle has all the momentum, and, perhaps most importantly, the Director's Guild Award. That said, I think the Academy might split the Best Picture/Director awards and reward David Fincher's virtuosic work. While the film itself could have been stronger, the fact that Fincher managed to keep all of the balls in the air and somehow emege with a coherent film is a feat that deserves much more recognition than it's gotten up to this point. So, I'd be somewhat foolish not to pick Boyle, but I'm holding out hope for Fincher.
- Richard Jenkins - The Visitor
- Frank Langella - Frost/Nixon
- Sean Penn - Milk
- Brad Pitt - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
- Mickey Rourke - The Wrestler
Predicted winner: Mickey Rourke
If I was voting: Mickey Rourke
Possible upsets: Sean Penn
Analysis: Basically, Penn and Rourke are the only serious contenders in this category. Penn has a bit more momentum than Rourke at this point, but I think that the Academy might not be able to resist rewarding Rourke's comeback. So, I'm picking Mickey Rourke with the knowledge that it could very easily be Sean Penn's night.
- Anne Hathaway - Rachel Getting Married
- Angelina Jolie - Changeling
- Melissa Leo - Frozen River
- Meryl Streep - Doubt
- Kate Winslet - The Reader
Predicted winner: Kate Winslet
If I was voting: Meryl Streep
Possible upsets: Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway
Analyis: I think this award will probably go to Kate Winslet as a kind of consolation prize because she's been regarded as one of the best in the biz for so long without having won. That said, while I'm glad the Academy put her in the right category for this film (finally!), I think that Meryl Streep's performance was much better in the under-appreciated Doubt. There was a moment in that film when Streep gave me goosebumps. You don't fake that. I loved The Reader, but Winslet never got to me on that level. I don't care if Streep's won twice already. I don't care that she always gets nominated and never wins nowadays. This time, I think she's earned it. That said, I still think it's Winslet's night.
Best Supporting Actor:
- Josh Brolin - Milk
- Robert Downey, Jr. - Tropic Thunder
- Phillip Seymour Hoffman - Doubt
- Heath Ledger - The Dark Knight
- Michael Shannon - Revolutionary Road
Predicted winner: Heath Ledger
If I was voting: Heath Ledger
Possible upsets: None.
Analysis: This category is closed. No one else stands a chance. Was the buzz around Ledger's turn as the Joker heightened by his untimely death? Absolutely. Was that buzz underserved? Absolutely not. Ledger is that good. I remember when I first heard that he'd gotten the part. I didn't understand why he, of all people had been chosen. Now, I can't imagine anyone else in the part. No one else stands a chance on Sunday night.
Best Supporting Actress
- Amy Adams - Doubt
- Penelope Cruz - Vicky Cristina Barcelona
- Viola Davis - Doubt
- Taraji P. Henson - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
- Marisa Tomei - The Wrestler
Predicted winner: Viola Davis
If I was voting: Marisa Tomei
Possible upsets: Penelope Cruz
Analysis: In the early going, Penelope Cruz had a lot of momentum, until Kate Winslet started getting acclaim for her performance in The Reader. However, after the Academy finally did the right thing and nominated her in the Leading category for that performance, this category has been thrown wide open. I think that Davis has the momentum right now, but Cruz could certainly swoop in for the win. That said, I have to be honest when I say that Marisa Tomei's character in The Wrestler was one of my favorite characters in any film last year. I don't think she'll win, but I loved her all the same. Hold on to your hats and glasses. This is the most open of all the major categories.
In closing, here's hoping that Hugh Jackman knocks it out of the park as the host, David Fincher gets his due, and and Slumdog Millionaire gets brought back down to earth. That balloon needs popping. Good film, but 10 nominations? Get real.
Enjoy the show.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
THE INCREDIBLE HULK: Finally someone made a movie worthy of the name. This is one of those movies that makes you forget the first even exists. In a year filled with brilliant comic book movies THE INCREDIBLE HULK was far from the best but it was the nice icing on the geek cake we all feasted from throughout the year. This movie got EVERYTHING about the Hulk perfectly right and in doing so delivered a wonderful companion piece to the “other” Marvel Films movie that came out this year.
HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY: I love the original HELLBOY movie but it doesn’t hold a candle to the brilliance that is this sequel. This film took everything that worked about the first film and multiplied it by a thousand while casting away everything that didn’t. If you were a comic book fan this year darn near melted your brain and HELLBOY II did nothing to stop it. There’s so much imagination on display in this film that I’m fairly certain you could watch it a hundred times and still only be scratching the surface. This is comic book and fantasy film making at its best. Now bring on THE HOBBIT.
DOOMSDAY: For a while now I’ve felt Neil Marshall may be the next James Cameron. I mean the dude loves strong, kick-ass females in a way that would make the director of ALIENS and TERMINATOR proud. After seeing DOOMSDAY I’m fairly certain Neil Marshall is the second coming of John Carpenter instead (Just with really strong, kick-ass female leads) and I find absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Make no mistake DOOMSDAY is bug nuts crazy. Marshall takes ROAD WARRIOR, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and everything but the kitchen sink and throws it all up on screen, mixing in a little medieval knight action for good measure. Trust me though it all makes sense and combines to make easily one of the most entertaining movies of the year. 2008 had a nice little crop of films that I’m fairly certain will become cult classics. I guarantee this is one of them.
QUANTUM OF SOLACE: Any doubt that Bond was back and better than ever was laid to rest in one of the most kick-ass James Bond films ever made. Unique in the fact that it’s the first direct sequel in the franchise’s history SOLACE played perfectly as the KILL BILL VOL. 2 to CASINO ROYALE’s KILL BILL VOL. 1. I heard some people complain about a lack of depth or good old fashioned Bond fun in this movie and I think those people missed the point completely. This movie is simply the second half of CASINO ROYALE and due to the events of that film pretty much a straight up revenge flick. When put together the two films tell the origin of the greatest spy the world has ever known. This film literally starts with the petal to the metal and never lets up delivering some of the best action sequences of not only the year but in the entire history of the franchise. In my entire life I have never been this excited about the Bond franchise and after this perfect capper to the beginning of an all new saga I’m foaming at the mouth for the next one.
VALKYRIE: God, I love this freaking movie. I can’t say it’s exactly a happy, feel good movie but this movie gave me so much joy that sitting here thinking about it now gives me a nice warm and fuzzy feeling. Yes, I know I need help.
Bryan Singer made a no frills, gripping, men on a mission type film set in the most fascinating period in history. Every single actor turns in spectacular performances (So much so that you don’t care that none of them sound remotely German). The script is razor sharp and the directing tight as a drum. I don’t know if this is the best comparison I can make but this movie truly reminded me of the likes of WHERE EAGLES DARE, GUNS OF NAVARONE and ICE STATION ZEBRA, the kinds of movies they simply don’t make anymore. I sincerely hope Singer ditches Superman and sticks to this kind of thing instead.
ROLE MODELS: 2008 was a banner year for comedy. I think at least 4 of the best comedies I’ve seen in the last 10 years all came out this year. One such movie was ROLE MODELS. The concept of this film isn’t all that deep or inspired but everything else about the film is. This is one of those movies that will make you laugh your ass off yet there’s a sweet emotional core and genuine three dimensional characters with fully realized character arcs to give the film loads of heart as well. This is one of those years where I honestly wish the Oscars had a Best Comedy category like the accursed Golden Globes because honestly some of the best work of the entire year was done in this often overlooked genre and this film exemplifies that to a T.
SEX DRIVE: Another example of a brilliant comedy with a heart of gold is this criminally under seen film. This film should be a one trick pony, a guy drives halfway across the country because he thinks he’s gonna get laid. Instead it offers up some of the most amusing, likeable, and yes, very funny characters cinema had to offer this year. This movie is worth it if nothing else for James Marsden as a psycho older brother and Seth Green as the smarmiest Amish guy you’ll ever meet. At the end of the day though it’s the rest of the characters, the story and the heart that seep from every frame of film that make this a winner.
SPEED RACER: You remember how I said there were more than a few films this year that would become cult classics? Well this film is at the top of that list. Make no bones about it I LOOOOOOVVVED this movie. No question about it this was easily one of the best times I had at the theatre all year.
I know this movie got panned and that it’s considered one of the biggest flops of all time but don’t let that keep you from seeing this true gem of a film. The Wachowskis need to stop being so weird and start doing press and Joel Silver and Warner Brothers should have realized that pumping over $130 million into a remake of a cult classic Anime wouldn’t necessarily spell instant success.
For years people have been trying to translate cartoons into the realm of live action. For the first time ever someone fully succeeded. SPEED RACER is a live action cartoon, it really is and as such it dazzles the senses in a way that very few movies have EVER done. What makes the movie so much more though is the fact that amidst all the spectacle and eye candy there’s a great story about family and following your dreams that will touch you no matter how hard you try to not allow it.
Please for the love of all that is good and pure give this movie a chance. It’s a family movie but it’s a great one. I seriously don’t know a single solitary person that saw this film that didn’t instantly fall head over heels in love with it. I know this thing seems like a gigantic lame duck now but trust me years from now those of us that embraced it from the beginning will have the last laugh.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
There is one thing I never want to hear again. 2008 was not a bad year for film. Every critic I read, every movie buff I talk to has ballyhooed 2008 as a lackluster year in cinema. Excuse me but… WRONG! 2008 wasn’t just a good year for movies; it was a spectacular year for movies. The only thing is that it wasn’t was the banner year for the types of movies that everyone always associates with quality cinema.
Look at this years Best Picture nominees; can you really get excited about any of them? Of course not, they are in every way indicative of the one thing that people seem to be focusing on. 2008 was a pretty lousy year for prestige, Oscar bait movies. The entire year movie fans kept waiting for a THERE WILL BE BLOOD or a NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, heck even a JUNO or an ATONEMENT to be thrown into the mix and much to everyone’s chagrin it never happened.
THE DUTCHESS was supposed to be Keira Knightly’s ticket to Oscar gold, only it sucked. SEVEN POUNDS reteamed the people behind the critically lauded and publicly loved THE PURSUIT OF HAPYNESS and all I’ve heard people do is bitch about a jelly fish. DEFIANCE was entertaining, but nowhere near Oscar worthy. THE SOLOIST looked amazing; too bad we won’t see it until April. W. is an amazing piece of historic filmmaking but something that won’t be recognized for it’s brilliance until decades worth of history prove how astute it is. BLINDNESS, MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA, FLASH OF GENIUS, the list goes on an on of movies that everyone thought would be fighting their way into the Oscar race only to have them disappear with very little fanfare because there was something about each and every single one of them that kept them from connecting with, well, pretty much anyone.
Because this year doesn’t have a THERE WILL BE BLOOD, a NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, a THE DEPARTED, an AMERICAN BEAUTY or a RETURN OF THE KING people are bemoaning the fact that it was such a bad year for movies. To those people I would like to say; you’re full of crap.
Where 2008 dropped the ball in the sort of movies we’ve been used to seeing dominate awards shows and the like for nearly the past decade it excelled in realms that I had begun to believe were past the point of assistance. Namely that of genre and dare I say it… blockbuster movies.
Hands down this was probably the single best year for genre film making since 1982, the year that gave us the likes of E.T., BLADE RUNNER, THE WRATH OF KHAN, CONAN THE BARBARIAN, ROAD WARRIOR, TRON and THE DARK CRYSTAL. Out of the very best movies I saw all year at least 4 of them were genre pictures and they all had budgets well over $100 million dollars.
If 2008 goes down as the year that Hollywood failed to give us the kind of prestige pictures we’ve come to expect, it may also very well be seen as the year Hollywood pulled their heads out of their collective rectums and realized that just because a movie costs untold of sums of money to make or it deals with superheroes or sci-fi or fantasy doesn’t mean it has to be mindless. It doesn’t mean that these movies, movies that people flock to see in droves can’t be relevant, poignant and brilliant in the EXACT same ways a Paul Thomas Anderson or Sam Mendes film can be. If that isn’t a triumph for the industry and those of us people that follow it so closely then I don’t know what is.
As if I haven’t given enough preamble already I feel the need to confess several things before jumping into the real meat of this thing. 2008 was a very odd, yet very good year for me. I believe I saw the least amount of movies in the theatre this year than I have in at least the past 5 or so. This is in no small part due to the fact that for the first time ever I actually made a movie of my own in 2008. This endeavor sapped my time and my finances in ways that they’ve never been sapped before and as a result I became VERY choosy about what I plopped down my hard earned cash to see. As much as I’ve tried to resist it in the past I found myself catching up with more and more films on DVD than ever before simply because I couldn’t get around to them in the theatre. This along with the new level of insight I gained while making my own movie perhaps skewed my view on certain movies in some unexpected ways.
I also feel it only fair to acknowledge that for the first time in my life I was actually allowed to vote for one of the awards ceremonies, namely the Independent Spirit Awards. While making my own movie I joined an organization called Film Independent and in doing so I was allowed to vote for the ISA’s which meant I got screeners of movies for the first time in my life.
What you are about to see isn’t a normal list by any stretch of the imagination. There I believe are at least 20 films discussed in the following pages and posts. Try as I might I couldn’t figure out how to weigh something like THE WRESTLER against say, DOOMSDAY. I was equally entertained by both and as such I felt both worthy of being mentioned. For the most part only the last 6 or so films that I will talk about are in any sort of order, namely number 6 to number 1. Other than that I’ve decided to just jot down a few lines about the movies that struck me this year. The ones that entertained me enlightened me and thrilled me. The ones that are already part of my DVD collection or will be shortly. Mind you there are still many more movies from 2008 that I have yet to see but at this point these are the movies that made it a banner year for cinema, the ones that won’t get mentioned by most but will be applauded by me. Let’s have at thee shall we.
CLOVERFIELD: Ten minutes into this movie I was kicking myself. This is one of those movies with such a brilliant premise that as a writer the entire time I kept asking myself, “Why the hell didn’t I think of that?” From top to bottom this movie was a great thrill ride. I don’t care if some of the characters are a bit shallow or look like they stepped out of a department store catalog. I don’t think the movie was quite what anyone expected but mark my words J.J. Abrams and Co. made a monster movie for the ages.
THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON: I know this movie left a sour taste in some people’s mouths and while I don’t think it’s worthy of a Best Picture this movie is truly remarkable and beautiful. The special effects and make-up in this movie are second to none and display the potential modern technology holds for story tellers. The thing that really struck me about this movie is how it’s sort of the dark, morbid step-brother of FORREST GUMP. This is a beautiful movie about life, death and everything in between but at the end of the day it’s a fairly dour and sobering message that David Fincher delivers. Would you expect any less from him?
SLUMDOG MILLIONARE: I’m really trying to not allow the fact that this film is going to win the Best Picture Oscar when it doesn’t really deserve it to sour my opinion of the movie. Danny Boyle made a vibrant, vivacious, kinetic, crowd pleasing love story that also serves to offer a glimpse into a world many of us are completely oblivious too. At the end of the day I can’t help but feel that this movie is nothing more than a feel good movie but in Danny Boyle’s hands it’s so adeptly handled even if you realize that’s the case, you don’t fully care.
STREET KINGS: This is a movie that pretty much slipped under everyone’s radar. A gritty, smart, very well put together cop film that in a lot of ways plays like a modern L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, of course the fact that the movie was written by that book’s author, James Elroy may have a lot to do with that. None the less this movie flat out thrilled the crap out of me. Everyone turns in great performances, even Keanu Reeves who adapts to Ellroy’s tough guy dialogue with great aplomb. This movie isn’t fancy and it won’t win any awards but it will get repeat spins in my DVD player and stands as one of the true underrated gems of the year.
THE BANK JOB: As a writer I can tell you, you can’t make this kind of stuff up. Based on the true story of a group of two-bit thugs that broke into some VERY sensitive safety deposit boxes this is a heist movie unlike any other. The heist portion of the film is for the most part very rout and standard, there’s no cool Danny Ocean type manipulations or brilliant cons. No, this movie goes from entertaining to flat out unbelievably fascinating and gripping the moment the heist is done. I don’t want to give away anything but this is one of the most unique and interesting heist films I’ve seen in a long, long time. The fact that it’s all based on actual events makes it even more so. Another way under seen and under appreciated film from 2008 whose fan base will only grow as the word of mouth about it spreads.
Sunday, February 15, 2009
If you ask ANYONE that follows movies on a somewhat unhealthy level, every single one of them will tell you 1999 was one of, if not the single greatest years for movies in recent memory. Heck, I’ve even heard more than a few people declare it the single best year for movies… EVER! While I’m not sure if I’d go quite that far it’s pretty hard to argue that it was a banner year for cinema, no matter how you slice it. Just take a look at some of the films that were released that year:
BLAST FROM THE PAST
LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS
10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU
STAR WARS EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE
AUSTIN POWERS: THE SPY WHO SHAGGED ME
RUN LOLA RUN
THE WINSLOW BOY
SOUTH PARK: BIGGER, LONGER AND UNCUT
SUMMER OF SAM
THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT
EYES WIDE SHUT
THE IRON GIANT
THE SIXTH SENSE
THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR
BOYS DON’T CRY
THE STRAIGHT STORY
BRINGING OUT THE DEAD
BEING JOHN MALCOVICH
TOY STORY 2
THE GREEN MILE
MAN ON THE MOON
THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY
If you ask me that is one heck of a list. Sure some are better than others but that year had something to offer for EVERYONE and not just a few things but lots of genuine quality, regardless of your tastes. It was the year that launched careers and signaled what the next decade of cinema would look like.
This was the year that really introduced us to Angelina Jolie, Brad Bird, Sam Mendes, Alexander Payne, Russell Crowe, Spike Jonze, Charlie Kaufman, Hillary Swank, The Wachowski Brothers, Guy Ritchie and so much more. It was the year that brought perhaps the most eagerly awaited film in the history of cinema in THE PHANTOM MENACE. It was the year that proved that Matt Damon was far more than a pretty face when he turned in his devastatingly brilliant performance in THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY. It was the year that Kevin Smith showed you could make a controversial film about religion that still managed to be as entertaining as all get out. It was the year that proved Pixar really was that good and Paul Thomas Anderson could make anything interesting, including a chauvinistic Tom Cruise and frogs raining from the sky.
The reason I bring all this up is because several months ago it dawned on me that this year, 2009 is the 10 year anniversary of what many people consider to be one of the hallmark years in the history of cinema. When this thought crossed my mind I found it hard to believe. Has it really been a decade since THE MATRIX, since BEING JOHN MALCOVICH and FIGHT CLUB? It couldn’t be could it? Wow, time flies when you’re getting old.
As the realities of time have sunk in I decided that since this is the 10 year anniversary of the year that changed cinema in a way that hasn’t happened in decades, if ever, that I would be remiss if I didn’t celebrate this anniversary like every good movie lover should. As such throughout the year you’ll see me chiming in every so often about certain movies that were released in the year proceeding the new millennium. Just researching the movies that came out that year it dawned on me how much that lone 12 months affected the entire world of cinema in ways that are still being felt today. How could I not honor that?
This isn’t a normal post; this is something just to get the old brain juices flowing. Ten years ago the world of cinema changed right before our very eyes. Ten years ago the multiplexes were afire with not just great movies, but films that would be considered instant classics. Over the next ten and a half months I intend to give credit where credit is due, hopefully you’ll all come along for the ride.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
If only I could go to the movies in Paris. That'd be perfect.
Monday, February 9, 2009
I enjoy watching movies. I enjoy reading about movies (which is why I have a stack of Film Comment, Film Int, and DGA Quarterly by my TV). I enjoy movies. I've seen more than most people I know have, and have heard of or know about even more than I've seen.
All that being said I'd like some suggestions. What movies should I add to my netflix?
Sunday, February 1, 2009
I'll keep you posted on any breaking developments . . .