Thursday, December 31, 2009

Can I just say...

...that I will be sad if James Cameron wins the best director oscar for Avatar. Not because the directing wasn't great. But because of Kathryn Bigelow. And because the rundown would be frustratingly similar to the '93 and '03 situations. I'm referring, of course, to the two other recent years when a woman was a viable candidate for Best Director. In both years, the woman had directed a smallish, critically acclaimed indie film that she had also written. And in both years, she was up against a PHENOMENON: a huge film that had swept the board and literally couldn't lose. And what's happening this year? Yeah, the same thing.

1993: Jane Campion (The Piano) vs Steven Spielberg (Schindler's List)
Win: Spielberg (Campion wins best original screenplay)

2003: Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation) vs Peter Jackson (LOTR)
Win: Jackson (Coppola wins best original screenplay)

2009: Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker) vs James Cameron (Avatar)
Win: ???

Round 3. What will happen?

For all the similarities, it is worth noting that there's a lot that's different about this year.

For one thing, the woman (Bigelow) has literally nearly swept the board of directing honors (so far), to a greater extent than either of her predecessors, I believe. Meanwhile, Cameron (as a director) has won nothing. This bodes well for Bigelow to win, unless the late-breaking phenom that is Avatar starts cleaning up at Golden Globe and DGA time (a distinct possibility).

Also, Bigelow has no consolation prize category to win, as did Campion and Coppola. This could be a factor. I think the fact that Campion and Coppola could be honored elsewhere helped voters feel less bad about denying them the big prize.

ALSO, Cameron has already won. And it was for the most recent film he made (Titanic, 12 years ago). So he's not "due" in any way. In previous years, the men in the race were very highly regarded industry giants who'd never won, despite whole careers of brilliant work. This year, Bigelow is the one with the career that demands attention.

Plus, all the other major films directed by women this year - Bright Star, An Education, Julie & Julia, It's Complicated, Amelia (in rough descending order of significance) - have caused many onlookers to declare 2009 "the year of the woman." There's a definite feeling in the air that "it's time." Everyone seems to feel that a woman should win.

But will she? Or will Avatar just become too big to ignore, as Schindler and Return of the King did before it? And how will the "ex" factor play into the race? You know what I'm talking about.

The dynamics of all three awards years ('93, '03, '09) actually have striking parallels to the recent Hillary/Obama primary war. Isn't that funny? Art imitates life, as film awards imitate politics. Every time a woman comes along and directs a film (or runs a Presidential campaign) that would've won in any other year, she has the bad luck to be up against a once-in-a-generation phenomenon who's simply unbeatable. Them's the breaks, it seems.

Bottom line: This is shaping up to be a very exciting contest, the likes of which we haven't seen for quite a while. All may become clear soon enough, but I, for one, hope there's plenty of suspense right up through the big night. It should be fun.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Golden Globe nominations! (& my prediction success)

I did pretty well on these. Nominees I predicted correctly have an asterisk next to them. Those I'm now predicting to win are in bold. Let's dig in:

Inglorious Basterds*
The Hurt Locker*
Up in the Air*

I scored 4 of 5. But I'm happy to be wrong on Invictus and wrong about the Precious snub. The latter is a very good film, and I'm glad to see it recognized. In fact, this lineup is pretty great in general. I'm still pretty sure Up in the Air will take this, though Best Director is probably headed to Bigelow (or her ex-hubby).

(500) Days of Summer*
A Serious Man
The Hangover
It's Complicated*
Julie & Julia*

4 of 5 again. Dammit. Deep down I knew The Hangover would make it here - after all, it was a giant sleeper hit with good reviews - but I refused to believe it. Nine will still win this award, though it isn't looking nearly as dominant as I thought it would.

Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart)*
George Clooney (Up in the Air)*
Johnny Depp (Public Enemies)
Colin Firth (A Single Man)*
Morgan Freeman (Invictus)*
Tobey Maguire (Brothers)

4 of 5 yet again. So Tobey ended up in the wild card spot. Fair enough. He'll most likely be replaced by Renner at oscar time. I do think Clooney will take this one, with the momentum he has from all the critics' awards plus the fact that the starfucking globes love him. But Bridges will likely take home the SAG and oscar.

Emily Blunt (The Young Victoria)
Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side)*
Abbie Cornish (Bright Star)
Helen Mirren (The Last Station
Carey Mulligan (An Education)*
Saorsie Ronan (The Lovely Bones)
Gabourey Sidibe (Precious)*

Ouch! 3 of 5. I stupidly bet against Mirren, and (like most of the world) didn't see Emily Blunt coming. This probably puts Ronan's oscar hopes to rest... it now looks like Bullock, Mirren, Mulligan, Sidibe and Streep, with Blunt and Cornish looming on the outside. Also: I think Bullock will win this. Mulligan certainly could (as could Sidibe), but An Education didn't register much with them, and if the double nom is any indication, they're itching to reward Sandy.

Matt Damon (The Informant!)*
Daniel Day-Lewis (Nine)*
Robert Downey Jr. (Sherlock Holmes)*
Joseph Gordon-Levitt (500 Days of Summer)*
Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man)*

5 of 5! Nailed it. These really seemed like the right five. I think DDL is winning, but he's not the runaway favorite he would have been if Nine had gotten more love. I don't think Damon or JGL have what it takes, but I could see Downey or Stuhlbarg upsetting (though I haven't seen their films, so I don't know how confident I am in that happening).

Sandra Bullock (The Proposal)*
Marion Cotillard (Nine)*
Zooey Deschanel (500 Days of Summer)
Julia Roberts! (Duplicity)
Meryl Streep (It's Complicated)*
Meryl Streep (Julie & Julia)*

4 of 5. I was definitely on the right track here (double Streep, double Bullock, Cotillard, no Pfeiffer), but I did miss the crazy-out-of-nowhere love for Julia Roberts. Though it's really not that surprising. I do think that, with the Nine love dampened and Cotillard's categorization in doubt, Streep has this one locked up. She'll take it for J&J.

Matt Damon (Invictus)*
Woody Harrelson (The Messenger)*
Alfred Molina (An Education)
Christopher Plummer (The Last Station)
Stanley Tucci (The Lovely Bones)*
Christoph Waltz (Inglorious Basterds)*

4 of 5. Not bad. I had an inkling that Molina wouldn't show up, but I predicted him anyway, leaving off the "duh" choice of Christopher Plummer. I do still think Waltz will win - he's been sweeping the critics, and the GGs are loving his film - but this one could really go to anyone.

Penélope Cruz (Nine)*
Judi Dench (Nine)
Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air)*
Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air)*
Mo'Nique (Precious)*
Julianne Moore (A Single Man)

4 of 5. I definitely overestimated the Nine love. And I was doubting Moore's chances, so I left her off in favor of perennial nominee Judi Dench. But I think this category is great. Love the Up in the Air girls. Haven't seen Moore or Cruz yet, but love them in general. Also love Mo'Nique (who's clearly winning).

Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker)*
James Cameron (Avatar)*
Clint Eastwood (Invictus)
Rob Marshall (Nine)
Jason Reitman (Up in the Air)*
Quentin Tarantino (Inglorious Basterds)*

4 of 5. Overestimated the Nine love once again. And I assumed Eastwood's film would make it, but he wouldn't. Turns out I had that one backwards. This race should be very exciting - Bigelow, Cameron and Reitman are all definitely in play - though I think this one goes to the girl. Should be awesome.

The Coen Bros, A Serious Man
Nick Hornby, An Education
Neill Blomkamp & Teri Tatchell, District 9
Quentin Tarantino, Inglorious Basterds*
Nancy Meyers, It's Complicated
Mark Boal, The Hurt Locker*
Jason Reitman & Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air*

3 of 5. Not bad, considering how whacked out this category is. I'm proud of myself for calling The Hurt Locker here. But the Nancy Meyers nomination is unfortunate. The District 9 nomination is weird, but welcome. I'm perplexed by the Coen Bros snub, and rather happy about the An Education snub. All in all, kind of a fun category.

Bright Star
Coco Avant Chanel
The Informant!*
A Single Man
The Lovely Bones
Where the Wild Things Are

2 of 5. Ouch. But the globe score category's always weird. At the least here, the nominees are good-weird. Loving the Single Man and Wild Things nods. Good on you, Golden Globes.

Crazy Heart
Everybody's Fine
Up in the Air

2 of 5. Meh. Sad about the Up in the Air snub. "Help Yourself" is REALLY GOOD, and the sequence where it's used in the film is quite memorable. Oh well. I'm assuming the Everybody's Fine and Brothers songs won't go the distance. What could win here? Tough to say. Right now, I'm saying Crazy Heart.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
The Fantastic Mr. Fox*
The Princess and the Frog*

4 of 5. This is probably the oscar shortlist. Too bad for Ponyo and Mary & Max.

A Prophet*
Broken Embraces*
Coco Avant Chanel
The Maid
Sin Nombre
The White Ribbon*

3 of 5. Not terrible.

So the tally is:

6 - Up in the Air (I guessed 7)
5 - Nine (I guessed 8... oops)
4 - Avatar (nailed it)
4 - Inglorious Basterds (nailed it)
3 - Invictus (got it, though in different categories)
3 - The Hurt Locker (nailed it)
3 - A Serious Man (failed it)
3 - A Single Man (I predicted the wrong Man for 3 nods)
3 - An Education (they didn't love it)
3 - It's Complicated (didn't see that third nod coming)
3 - Precious (got the # of categories right)
3 - The Lovely Bones (not so much)
3 - (500) Days of Summer (the Zooey nomination didn't happen)

So I knew which two movies would come out on top (though I thought Nine would fare better than Up in the Air), and I had a good idea of which other films would do well (i.e. 3 or 4 nods). Not bad, if I do say so myself.

Questions? Comments? Praise? I love reader participation...


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Trailer of the year:

This was up on Awards Daily many months ago, but I thought it deserved another home on my blog. This is one of the most gorgeous and rapturous trailers I've ever seen; it's more moving than it has any right to be. And it's SO ridiculously superior to the first Bright Star trailer, it's unreal. This one really captures the fleeting, poetic beauty of the film.

The music is available on iTunes in a slightly different form (the iTunes track has vocals instead of strings). It's called "To Build a Home", and it's by the Cinematic Orchestra (fittingly enough). It's worth the $0.99. Just beautiful.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

My top five of 2009 so far (in no particular order):

Perhaps the most perfect film this year, Jason Reitman's latest feels both timely and timeless. George Clooney gives the performance of a lifetime in a film that feels like it will age very well, despite its obvious relevance to the here and now. I'm convinced that history will mark this as the zenith of his distinguished career. But the other two principals are stellar as well: Kendrick is impressive in a role tailer-made for her, and Farmiga reveals a sly charisma and mystery that I had no idea was there.

The impeccably crafted script gives the actors room to create real characters, and the film, though annoyingly sleek and glossy at first, keeps deepening until its gloriously "open" ending. In short: believe the hype. This one is the real deal.

I'll be honest: I'm a trekkie from way back. I've seen all of the first ten movies; in fact, I owned nine of them on VHS. But after the embarrassing Star Trek: Nemesis and the slow fizzle of the latest series, I began to question my former fandom, and basically wrote the franchise off for dead.

But this reboot surprised me. I initially dreaded it, assuming it would chuck everything that was great about the originals and replace it with CW-style vapidity. But instead, it turned out to be perhaps the most viscerally cinematic entry in the whole Star Trek canon. All absurdities of physics and preposterousness of plot aside, this is one grand adventure yarn, powered by stirring music, editing and effects, and a wonderfully game young cast. My hat is off.

Lee Daniels' moving film about an obese, abused teenager in 1980s Harlem is not perfect. His seemingly indiscriminate directorial flourishes and indulgent, haphazard style do little to foster any sense of cohesiveness. But then, the world he's putting on display is not perfect either - far from it. And what Precious does best is put us, the audience, deep inside the head of its protagonist, and thoroughly immerse us in her world. The raw open wounds of her life are laid bare for all to see - and feel - in this gripping and deeply emotional film.

Great performances abound, but Mo'Nique is a true standout. Her monstrous Mary Jones is like the gritty naturalistic flipside of Streep's Miranda Priestly: not as sleek or fun, but much scarier and, ultimately, more moving.

What I respect most about Tarantino's newest epic ode to violence, vengeance and showmanship, other than all the pure craft involved, is that he dared to have fun with a topic normally considered sacrosanct: World War II and the Holocaust. As a result, he now has a film that is at once utterly trashy and totally oscar-bait. Oh, the irony.

That this film has become both a financial and (more than likely) an awards success, despite its somewhat divisive nature, is further evidence that filmmakers shouldn't be afraid to go for broke, defy expectations, and challenge stuffy viewpoints, preferably all in the service of a fun ride. Basterds does all this and more, and thus is one of the year's most fun and thrilling cinematic offerings.

Pure poetry. That seems like the most appropriate phrase to describe Jane Campion's beautiful study of first love. Many will find this Keats biopic (of sorts) slow, plodding, or even downright boring, but those adjectives describe many of my favorite films. This is the kind of movie I'll be able to pop in on a quiet afternoon while I work, or at night to help lull myself to sleep. It's a keeper. But it was also a joy to discover for the first time on the big screen: the gorgeous images, vivid atmosphere, and slow-burn romance were infectious.

Abbie Cornish is a revelation in a kind of "everygirl" role, but the underrated Ben Whishaw is also terrific: he captures the charm, elusiveness and "je ne sais quoi" quality of Keats with such aplomb that we easily see how Frannie would fall for him.

These writeups will likely be recycled when I do an official top ten list in the coming weeks. But since I've actually seen enough films so far this year to justify a bit of a retrospective, I thought I'd get started now. Unfortunately, I still have some major blind spots, The Hurt Locker and Hunger chief among them. But those will be rectified soon enough.

Thoughts? Similarities? Differences? I'd love to hear some opinions on this year's crop of films.

I'm back with Golden Globe nomination predictions!

Hi, all! I know I don't blog anymore, so my readership is probably gone, but I'm gonna start back up again anyway since it's AWARDS SEASON now, and I have to vent my obsessions. I hope I can corral some people in here to comment. Early winner predictions in bold, with asterisks if I'm extra confident:

Inglorious Basterds
The Hurt Locker
*Up in the Air*

So many options... I wanted to go out on a limb and predict something like Bright Star or The Road or The Last Station, but there just doesn't seem to be room for a smaller film to break through. Apparently Avatar was very well received at an HFPA screening, Invictus has "bait + Clint Eastwood + international" in its favor, Inglorious Basterds is also international (so many languages!) and also has verve and an a marquée director, and Hurt Locker and Up in the Air have had all the buzz for some time now. I realize I'm taking a risk by leaving off Precious, but it hasn't had quite the box office people expected, and I'm sensing it's on the wane... and what is life without risks? And obviously An Education could show up here, too, though I feel surprisingly confident that it won't.

(500) Days of Summer
A Serious Man
It's Complicated
Julie & Julia

The Hangover poses a definite threat, but I refuse to predict it. Here's hoping A Serious Man keeps it out of this list... though I suppose Sherlock Holmes is possible, too.

Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart)
George Clooney (Up in the Air)
Johnny Depp (Public Enemies)
Colin Firth (A Single Man)
Morgan Freeman (Invictus)

I think Depp takes Renner's spot here. The other four seem locked and loaded for both this list and oscar's. The one other guy (aside from Renner) who could totally end up on this list is Viggo... but I don't think there's room.

Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side)
Abbie Cornish (Bright Star)
Carey Mulligan (An Education)
Saorsie Ronan (The Lovely Bones)
Gabourey Sidibe (Precious)

This category's actually quite crowded. I'm gonna just roll the dice and say Mirren gets snubbed (maybe they just won't respond much to The Last Station?) in favor of the above five. I wanted to predict Swinton, but I can't see her beating out any of these buzzier contenders. And that SUCKS. But there you go.

Matt Damon (The Informant!)
*Daniel Day-Lewis (Nine)*
Robert Downey Jr. (Sherlock Holmes)
Joseph Gordon-Levitt (500 Days of Summer)
Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man)

Let's just go with this. There are other contenders, but I feel pretty good about these five.

Sandra Bullock (The Proposal)
Marion Cotillard (Nine)
Zooey Deschanel (500 Days of Summer)
Meryl Streep (It's Complicated)
Meryl Streep (Julie & Julia)

Yes, I am predicting that Pfeiffer will get the shaft in favor of Bullock (or rather, her great year), Cotillard, Deschanel, and a double dose of Streep. I also think Adams will be undone by the prevailing notion that her storyline was the inferior half of Julie & Julia and should've been eliminated altogether. But those two would be the obvious spoliers... along with perhaps Ellen Page and a few others.

Matt Damon (Invictus)
Woody Harrelson (The Messenger)
Alfred Molina (An Education)
Stanley Tucci (The Lovely Bones)
Christoph Waltz (Inglorious Basterds)

I've erred on the side of bigger names here - Damon, Harrelson and Tucci seem like good bets for the globes, along with likely winner Waltz - but I have left off Christopher Plummer. For some reason I'm feeling like they may just completely ignore The Last Station. We'll see.

Penélope Cruz (Nine)
Judi Dench (Nine)
Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air)
Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air)
*Mo'Nique (Precious)*

I'm guessing this category gets totally swarmed by women from what I think will be the nomination leaders (and eventual best picture winners) Up in the Air and Nine. But for what it's worth, I think Julianne Moore and Samantha Morton have strong potential to upset this list.

Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker)
James Cameron (Avatar)
Rob Marshall (Nine)
Jason Reitman (Up in the Air)
Quentin Tarantino (Inglorious Basterds)

Yes, I think both Clint Eastwood and Lee Daniels will be snubbed in favor of Tarantino and Marshall. I actually think Marshall could win here if they really go crazy for Nine, which they might. Obviously Reitman or Bigelow could also take the prize, as could Cameron if Avatar turns out to be huge.

The Coen Bros, A Serious Man
Nick Hornby, An Education
Quentin Tarantino, Inglorious Basterds
Mark Boal, The Hurt Locker
*Jason Reitman & Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air*

I'm fairly confident in everything but The Hurt Locker. I actually didn't want to predict it, but I couldn't think of anything else I believed in more, so I figured it had the best shot for the 5th slot. It is a very well-regarded film and will probably get nominated somewhere other than picture and director, so I guess this could be the place. Not sure what could really replace it... maybe In the Loop, The Last Station, or The Lovely Bones? We'll see.

Bright Star
Coco Avant Chanel
The Informant!
The Lovely Bones

No idea. But I think some of these will be right...

Up in the Air

Again, no idea. But I think some of these will be right, particularly Avatar, the Nine songs, and Up in the Air.

The Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Princess and the Frog

A Christmas Carol, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs or Mary & Max could definitely place, but I'm betting on these five.

A Prophet
Broken Embraces
Coco Avant Chanel
Sin Nombre
The White Ribbon

I think three or four of these will definitely place, but I doubt I'm totally on the mark. Just trying to go with acclaim, fame level of the filmmakers, and general buzz... although Spanish and French films are totally over-represented...

Capitalism: A Love Story
Food, Inc.
The Cove
This is It
Valentino: The Last Emperor

The globes tend to go more populist in this category (as I recall), so I'll go with these. But it's really hard to say.

So the tally is:

Nine (8)
Up in the Air (7)
Avatar (4)
Inglorious Basterds (4)
Invictus (3)
The Hurt Locker (3)
A Serious Man (3)
An Education (3)
Precious (3)
The Lovely Bones (3)
(500) Days of Summer (3)

...and the rest with scraps. So I guess I'm thinking they'll really spread the wealth, outside of the clear dominance of Nine and Up in the Air. Though the best pics are obvious, I expect director to be very tight between Bigelow, Reitman and Marshall, so it should be fun to see how that plays out.

Questions? Comments? Praise? I love reader participation...