Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sundance Film Festival Winners

Winter's Bone- stars Jennifer Lawrence (The Burning Plain) and centers around a girl trying to hunt down her drug dealing father-- sounds sort of familiar with 2008's Grand Jury Prize winner Frozen River, which was also written and directed by a woman, Winter's Bone was written and directed by Debra Granik. Currently no distributor has purchased the film, but I doubt that will be for long. Coincidentally, no film in it's history has one a best picture nomination that won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance-- this might change this year however with Precious.

happythankyoumoreplease- directed by Josh Radnor (star of How I Met Your Mother) and star Malin Ackerman.

GRAND JURY PRIZE (Documentary)
Restrepo- directed by Sebastian Junger, writer of the The Perfect Storm, this film details the war in Afghanistan.

AUDIENCE AWARD (Documentary)
Waiting for Superman- from director Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth, It Might Get Loud), this documentary about education in the US will be released by Paramount Vantage.

Animal Kingdom- Aussie film starring Guy Pearce-- the musical Once won this prize at the 2007 film festival.

Undertow- this one seems to be a supernatural story with gay undertones...

3 Backyards- Eric Mendelsohn- Mendelsohn directed the cool 1999 film Judy Berlin, his latest stars Embath Davidtz (Junebug) and Edie Falco.

Winter's Bone- Debra Granik-- I gather they really liked this movie!

Obselidia- Zak Mulligan

Sympathy for Delicious- the directing debut of Mark Ruffalo starring Orlando Bloom, Juliette Lewis and Laura Linney.

correction: Winter's Bone was acquired by Roadside Attraction Pictures, and Granik, the film's writer\director previously made the film Down to the Bone, a Sundance hit in 2004 which starred Vera Farmiga (or Alex in Up in the Air, or Madeline in The Departed) as a drug addict, her claim to fame, and an excellent movie for anyone looking for a great, tragically depressing film.

Directors Guild Association of America

The winner for Best Director of the Year from the DGA is:

Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker

Becoming the first woman ever to be bestowed this honor will Oscar follow suit?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Sundance Film Festival 2010

I typically don't follow film acquisitions from festivals, but since last fall, only one major film got distribution (A Single Man by The Weinstein Company) from screening at film festivals, I think it's interesting how it seems to be the face of American independent filmmaking has changed. I post this on the very day that Miramax Films (the subsidiary of Disney), once prominently and infamously owned by the Weinsteins, officially closes up shop. It would be a mistake to say that without Miramax the last twenty-five years or so would have been a lot bleaker for independent film in the United States, as well as prominence in foreign films.

They exloded on the scene with sex, lies and videotape in 1989 as the brashed, hippest studio around. Of course this studio was owned by the Walt Disney Company which made its controversies even more warped. But the debut of Steven Soderbergh's raw and risky teeny-tiny film somehow catipulted in the zeitgeist of the pop culture and announced the bold new world of American independent film. Thanks to shrewd marketing the Weinsteins, the film was a relative success, and scored Soderbergh an Oscar nomination for original screenplay-- but it was the fact that the film had made an impact on the film industry, for bustling filmmakers and for the Weinsteins that makes the film a starting point of the buyers market that has been around various film festivals like Sundance, Cannes, Venice and Toronto for the past two decades.

Things have changed a lot since then. What Miramax started, was what every major studio did over the next two decades...form a small version of their bigger studios. 20th Century Fox has Fox Searchlight; Universal Pictures has Focus Features; Paramount Pictures has Paramount Vantage; Warner Bros. has Warner Independent Pictures; Sony Pictures has Sony Pictures Classics. The problem is that with the exception of Fox Searchlight, Sony Classics and Focus, most of others aren't very good at maintaining them the way Miramax was. Add to that an economy that sucks, and suddenly everyone's becoming more conservative about spending money on films that aren't guarnateed a big profit. This isn't to say all is gloom, but it's not as joyous and exhuberant as years before.

Last year for example, Lion Gate Films purchased Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire which is now on it's way to becoming an Oscar nominee (the first best picture nominee ever that won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, an aside), but it wasn't the selling frenzy as it might have been year ago, when for instance Little Miss Sunshine was sold to Fox Searchlight after an intense bidding war for over $10 million. Or when Focus Features paid even more for Hamlet 2. Or when Miramax back in 1999 went ape shit and spent $10 million on Happy, Texas, a movie that didn't come close to earning that green back.

This year the offerings at Sundance look very interesting, at least on paper, and it seems the buyers are there too, but not as prolifically as years past. So far, Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids Are All Alright is the biggest sale-- almost $5 million to Focus Features. The film stars Annette Bening and Julianne Moore as a lesbian couple with children, and when their children start to wonder who their father is, Mark Ruffalo shows up. Reviews so far have been very positive and the A-list actors insure that Focus will likely earn it's coin back. Other sales are the Iraq-stuck in a coffin film Buried, with Ryan Reynolds, which sold to Lions Gate for $3 million, the Hassidic Jew film Hesher with Joseph Gordon Levitt and Natalie Portman to Newmarket for $1 million, as well as the Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvienent Truth; It Might Get Loud) education documentary Waiting for Superman to Paramount Vantage.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Costume Designer Guild Nominations

  • Avatar- Mayes C. Rubeo & Deborah Lynn Scott
  • The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus- Monique Prudhomme
  • Star Trek- Michael Kaplan
  • (500) Days of Summer- Hope Hanafin
  • Bruno- Jason Alper
  • Crazy Heart- Doug Hall
  • Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire- Marina Draghici
  • Up in the Air- Danny Glicker
  • Coco Before Chanel- Catherine Leterrier
  • Julie & Julia- Ann Roth
  • Nine- Colleen Atwood
  • Sherlock Holmes- Jenny Beavan
  • The Young Victoria- Sandy Powell
snubbed and potentially doomed from any Oscar nominations: Bright Star, also rather surprised Inglorious Basterds missed the mark, but maybe category confusion was the problem, was it period or fantasy?

Sunday, January 24, 2010


The Producers have spoken in a singular and beautiful way-- re-igniting a facade of a race for the Oscar season.

The Hurt Locker


The Cove

Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire

In what constitutes a shock, the Producers Guild of America are with the critics, decreeing The Hurt Locker as 2009's ultimate triumph. What does this mean? It means Avatar is not the here-by, end-all film of the year, as it's Golden Globe triumph and $550 million box office might suggest. This weekend Cameron's film became the second highest grossing film of all time in domestic receipts (only in terms of dollars and cents, not adjusted for inflation, or by attendance), but The Hurt Locker captures the PGA award, and Inglourious Basterds snarled the SAG award. It's not a lone race, and I am happy for that!

The PGA at a glance:

2008: Slumdog Millionaire (won Oscar)
2007: No Country For Old Men (won Oscar)
2006: Little Miss Sunshine (lost to The Departed)
2005: Brokeback Mountain (lost to Crash)
2004: The Aviator (lost to Million Dollar Baby)
2003: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (won Oscar)
2002: Chicago (won Oscar)
2001: Moulin Rouge! (lost to A Beautiful Mind)
2000: Gladiator (won Oscar)
1999: American Beauty (won Oscar)
1998: Saving Private Ryan (lost to Shakespeare in Love)
1997: Titanic (won Oscar)
1996: The English Patient (won Oscar)
1995: Apollo 13 (lost to Braveheart)
1994: Forrest Gump (won Oscar)
1993: Schindler's List (won Oscar)
1992: The Crying Game (lost to Unforgiven)
1991: The Silence of the Lambs (won Oscar)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Awesome-ness of Tilda Swinton


I'm late in this conversation I'm well aware, just to preface. I saw an extraordinary piece of acting from this last year in a teeny-tiny film entitled Julia. In it, the incomparable Tilda Swinton, she the saucer angel of acting, or demon, or both, plays Julia Harris, and blowzy, alcoholic mess of a woman who, out of desperation and I don't know, perhaps even boredom, kidnaps a child in an attempt to get rich. As her plan (all made up on of the spur of moment) backfires and becomes increasingly ridiculous, she eventually ends up in Mexico in another kidnapping attempt on the same child. The story itself is sort of rip off of Cassavettes, but all that doesn't matter, because Julia is held together, some times on the skin of it's teeth, by Swinton who throws just about everything into this performance. When she utters the line:

"And it's time my luck changed. And it's time something went right for me!"

On the page it might sound like a customary line of self-entitlement and seeking redemption, with Julia it's a cry for mercy, and a battle cry all at once. It's predatory and pathetic. Swinton has the bravery to make her character unattractive and unlikable, without making her disposable. Her dailty routines of waking up hung over in strange men's apartments and clubbing it up at night the next day. Swinton makes it all real. My favorite line of dialogue is one such bar adventure, when a suitor asks what she does for a living. Her response, "I make dreams come true." And the dream world is probably where Julia lives.

I write of this after tonight's SAG ceremony where Ms. Sandra Bullock was the winner, and well to point out that perhaps the best actress race looks a tad drab, boring, unspectacular. The unfortunate thing that wouldn't be the case if Tilda Swinton were up there getting awards. Sadly, only the brave souls of the Online Film Critics Society even had the courage to nominate such a bold and provocative performance. I'm not blaming the individuals bodies and guilds for not acknowledging the best female leading performance of the year, especially since it's admittably a hard sell. But you can't complain about a weak year for leading ladies when the best one keeps getting ignored. Sorry Sandra, Julia could eat you for breakfast.

SAG Winners

BEST ENSEMBLE: Inglourious Basterds
BEST ACTOR: Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
BEST ACTRESS: Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds

Oh Actors, oh can you be so right and so wrong at the same time! You had an enviable (if predictable) streak going of quality, kick-ass winners, and then just to be difficult you add more credibility to the notion of Sandra Bullock becoming a potential Oscar spoiler...and don't get me wrong, it would be a spoiler, not a worthy surprise. And I don't want to sound mean, since Ms. Bullock is an infinitely likable performer, nor do I want to sound like I'm attacking. I may be not fan of red, white and blue cheese that consisted of The Blind Side, but if I honestly felt that there was much credence in acknowledging her work over the work of Meryl Streep, or Gabourey Sidibe, or even Carey Mulligan (and mind you, I didn't like An Education much either), I'd back off. But it's not...

Anyway, I'm done being cruel-- the rest were delightful and completely worthy. Bridges, Waltz, and Mo'Nique will, forgoeing some strange calamity, be your eventual Oscar winners, which I'm more than fine with. And for once, the actors understood what the world ensemble meant and choose the best one with Inglourious Basterds-- damn all those European actors were crazy awesome (Waltz, Fassbender, Bruhl, Laurant.) It almost makes up for last year's unfortunate case of Slumdog fever.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Best Foreign Film

Here the finalists eligible for the Best Foreign Film Oscar. I don't always cover foreign films here simply because I don't think I see enough of them to really have a valuable opinion-- usually I'm late in the game with the foreign films-- I see Almodovar films way after they've come out, not right away-- as shameful as that may seem.

  • Ajami (Israel)
  • Kelin (Kazakhstan)
  • The Milk of Sorrow (Peru)
  • A Prophet (France)- winner of the Grand Prix (second place) at Cannes 2009
  • Samson & Delilah (Australia)
  • El Secreto de Sus Ojos (Argentina)
  • The White Ribbon (Germany)- winner of the Palme D'Or at Cannes; Golden Globe winner
  • Winter in Wartime (The Netherlands)
  • The World is Big & Salvation Lurks Around the Corner (Bulgaria)

The Academy shortlist usually takes quite a beating, and usually it's fairly apt. For instance the strange and unfortunate snubbing of 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days in 2007, a film that won the top award at Cannes and was considered to be one of the strongest international films that year. Other examples are the shameful snubbings of Pedro Almodovar's work-- although the guy has two Oscars so maybe we shan't feel to badly for the guy.

Of 2009 foreign slate, I've hear of about half this list, and need to see The White Ribbon. Of the bigger submissions not selected a few notables: I Killed My Mother, from Canada and Mother, from South Korea. Of foreign films released in the United States this year not included are Broken Embraces, The Maid, and Coco Before Chanel.

Motion Picture Sound Editing Nominations

This particular guild honors the best in sound editing-- not necessarily the best films, but the best in terms of sound, and the way the sound is put together through dialogue, music and action's a bit confusing, and the guilds and Oscars don't necessarily seem to make any acknowledgment distinguishing the differences in sound and sound editing since the same movies tend to win both categories.

MPSE Guild nominations are:

BEST SOUND EDITING- Dialogue and ADR in Feature Film
(500) Days of Summer
A Serious Man
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
Star Trek
The Stoning of Soraya M.

BEST SOUND EDITING- Visual Effects and Foley in Feature Film
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
Star Trek
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Cesar Nominations

Two days ago the British version of the Academy Awards announced their nominations, here's the French equivalent. The Cesars unlike the BAFTAs are far less indicative of the Oscars, for the French always honor their own.

In the Beginning The Concert Wild Grass Skirt Day A Prophet Rapt Welcome


Jacques Audiard, “A Prophet”

Lucas Belvaux, “Rapt”

Xavier Giannoli, “In the Beginning”

Philippe Lioret, “Welcome”

Radu Mihaileanu, “The Concert”


Yvan Attal, “Rapt”

Francois Cluzet, “In the Beginning”

Francois Cluzet, “One for the Road”

Vincent Lindon, “Welcome”

Tahar Rahim, “A Prophet”


Isabelle Adjani, “Skirt Day”

Dominique Blanc, “The Other One”

Sandrine Kiberlain, “Mademoiselle Chambon”

Kristin Scott Thomas, “Leaving”

Audrey Tautou, “Coco Before Chanel”


Firat Ayverdi, “Welcome”

Adel Bencherif, “A Prophet”

Vincent Lacoste, “The French Kissers”

Tahar Rahim, “A Prophet”

Vincent Rottiers, “I’m Glad That My Mother Is Alive”


Pauline Etienne, “Silent Voices”

Florence Loiret-Caille, “Someone I Loved”

Soko, “In the Beginning”

Christa Theret, “LOL (Laughing Out Loud)”

Melanie Thierry, “One for the Road”


“The French Kissers,” Riad Sattouf

“One for the Road,” Philippe Godeau

“Spy(ies),” Nicolas Saada

“La premiere etoile,” Lucien Jean-Baptiste

“Silent Voices,” Lea Fehner


Jacques Audiard, Thomas Bidegain, Abdel Raouf Dafri, Nicolas Peufaillit, “A Prophet”

Xavier Giannoli, “In the Beginning”

Jean-Paul Lilienfeld, “Skirt Day”

Philippe Lioret, Emmanuel Courco, Olivier Adam, “Welcome”

Radu Mihaileanu, Alain-Michel Blanc, “The Concert”


Stephane Brize, Florence Vignon, “Mademoiselle Chambon”

Anne Fontaine, Camille Fontaine, “Coco Before Chanel”

Philippe Godeau, Agnes de Sacy, “One for the Road”

Laurent Tirard, Gregoire Vigneron, “Le petit Nicolas”

Alex Reval, Laurent Herbiet, “Wild Grass”


Christophe Beaucarne, “Coco Before Chanel”

Laurent Dailland, “Welcome”

Stephane Fontaine, “A Prophet”

Eric Gautier, “Wild Grass”

Glynn Speeckaert, “In the Beginning”


“Avatar,” James Cameron

“Gran Torino, ” Clint Eastwood

“Milk,” Gus Van Sant

“I Killed My Mother,” Xavier Dolan

“A Town Called Panic,” Stephane Aubier, Vincent Patar

“The White Ribbon,” Michael Haneke

“Slumdog Millionaire,” Danny Boyle

On terms of Oscar watching this means virtually nothing, but A Prophet, to be released stateside this spring, is in contention for this years foreign language Oscar, and it being the one of the most acclaimed foreign films of 2009 is arguably one of the frontrunners along with The White Ribbon.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Cinema Audio Society Nominations

The best sounding films according to their fair guild were:

  • Avatar
  • District 9
  • The Hurt Locker
  • Star Trek
  • Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Never to be disrespectful, but what about Inglourious Basterds.

BAFTA Nominations

The nominees for the British Academy of Film & Television Awards are:

  • Avatar
  • An Education
  • The Hurt Locker
  • Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire
  • Up in the Air
No surprises here as An Education was the biggest British picture of the year for American terms-- of course if the Oscars were doing a tradition top 5 this year, it would be substituted for Inglourious Basterds.

  • An Education
  • Fish Tank
  • In the Loop
  • Moon
  • Nowhere Boy
Eclectic mix of British films this year-- 60s period piece, coming of age drama, sci fi oddity, political satire, and John Lennon nostalga film. Of the five only An Education, In the Loop and Moon have been released stateside. Should be an easy win for An Education.

  • Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
  • Neill Blomkamp, District 9
  • James Cameron, Avatar
  • Lone Scherfig, An Education
  • Quentin Tarantino, Inglorious Basterds
Nice mix of directors here-- two women, a South African native and two American giants.

  • Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
  • George Clooney, Up in the Air
  • Colin Firth, A Single Man
  • Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker
  • Andy Serkis, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll
The Brits weren't fans of Invictus I gather evidenced by the zero nominees and the lack of an easy one for Morgan Freeman...that's okay be me, it's nice that they substituted him for the homespun Serkis, even cooler would have been a nomination for Sam Rockwell (Moon) or Sharlto Copely (District 9.)

  • Carey Mulligan, An Education
  • Saorsie Ronan, The Lovely Bones
  • Gabourey Sidibe, Precious
  • Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia
  • Audrey Tautou, Coco Before Chanel
Surprised about Tautou, and the general admiration for Coco Before Chanel, since it's been long forgotten over here-- shockingly no Bullock, but maybe not so-- The Blind Side wears it's red, white and blue stronger than any film of 2009.

  • Alec Baldwin, It's Complicated
  • Christian McKay, Me & Orson Welles
  • Alfred Molina, An Education
  • Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones
  • Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
I still think McKay stands a shot at an Oscar nod, because he's playing Orson Welles- the AMPAS loves mimickry-- shocked it took this long for Molina to get acknowledged. I'm guessing The Messenger didn't open in Britian to qualify for this, but still there has to be a better nod than Alec Baldwin, right? Doesn't really matter since it's Christoph Waltz's to lose.

  • Anna-Marie Duff, Nowhere Boy
  • Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air
  • Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
  • Mo'Nique, Precious
  • Kristen Scott Thomas, Nowhere Boy
Again digging the local British pride this year-- the last couple of years it just seems the BAFTA's have been gunning for Oscar prognisticators, lacking any sort of an original voice...I like that it's come back a lot more this year.

  • The Hangover- John Lucas & Scott Moore
  • The Hurt Locker- Mark Boal
  • Inglourious Basterds- Quentin Tarantino
  • A Serious Man- Ethan Coen & Joel Coen
  • Up- Bob Peterson & Pete Doctor
The Hangover over (500) Days of Summer--- please! I realize the film was a huge hit, and even admit to laughing a couple of times, but it's not an awards worthy film-- it's sophomoric filmmaking at best-- the dialouge and structure could have been written in any frat house around the world. It's a hit, but not an artistic triumph! Damn you, BAFTA why must you make me sound like this....

  • District 9- Neill Blomkamp & Terri Thatchell
  • An Education- Nick Hornby
  • In the Loop- Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Ianucci & Tony Roche
  • Precious- Geoffrey Fletcher
  • Up in the Air- Jason Reitman & Sheldon Turner
I suppose I should actually watch In the Loop.

  • Broken Embraces
  • Coco Before Chanel
  • Let the Right One In
  • A Prophet
  • The White Ribbon
  • Coraline
  • Fantastic Mr. Fox
  • Up
  • Avatar- James Horner
  • Crazy Heart- T-Bone Burnett & Steven Bruton
  • Fantastic Mr. Fox- Alexandre Desplat
  • Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll- Chaz Jankel
  • Up- Michael Giacchino
Am I the only one who felt the score to Avatar was annoying and derivivative, am I? If so I'll shut up, but if not, why does it keep popping up on best score lists-- is it lazyness? Lack of proper hearing on voting bodies? Just curious...

  • Avatar- Mauro Fiore
  • District 9- Trent Opaloch
  • The Hurt Locker- Barry Aykroyd
  • Inglourious Basterds- Robert Richardson
  • The Road- Javier Aguirresarobe
  • Avatar- Stephen Rivkin, John Refoua & James Cameron
  • District 9- Julian Clarke
  • The Hurt Locker- Bob Murawski & Chris Innis
  • Inglourious Basterds- Sally Menke
  • Up in the Air- Dana E. Glauberman
  • Avatar- Rick Carter, Robert Stromberg & Kim Sinclair
  • District 9- Phillip Ivey & Guy Poltgieter
  • Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince- Stuart Craig & Stephanie McMillan
  • The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus- TBA
  • Inglourious Basterds- David Wasco & Sandy Reynolds Wasco
  • Bright Star- Janet Patterson
  • Coco Before Chanel- Catherine Lettierer
  • An Education- Odile Dicks-Mireaux
  • A Single Man- Arriane Phillips
  • The Young Victoria- Sandy Powell
  • Avatar
  • District 9
  • The Hurt Locker
  • Star Trek
  • Up
  • Avatar
  • District 9
  • Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince
  • The Hurt Locker
  • Star Trek
  • Coco Before Chanel
  • An Education
  • The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
  • Nine
  • The Young Victoria

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

So Now What...

As Sunday's telecast of the Golden Globes concluded (with an uptick in viewership from last year), the general opinion was the Hollywood Foreign Press might really be the People's Choice Awards. The behemoth of 2009 filmmaking, Avatar snatches the two biggest prizes (picture, drama and director) in the same weekend the James Cameron opus breaks $500 million in domestic box office; Cameron, pleased with himself, even speaks a few lines of his invented language of the Nai'Vi in winning best director. In winning the best picture drama prize, Cameron bested the other two alleged top contenders, The Hurt Locker and Up in the Air; it also became the first science fiction film in Golden Globe history to win best picture-- something that has never occured in Oscar history either.

In the musical\comedy field The Hangover, with it's massive popularity and gay jokes won in true underdog fashion over more prestige comedy choices like the indie hit (500) Days of Summer and Nine, a surprise casuality for the singing and dancing loving HFPA (as witnessed from previous love for Moulin Rouge!; Chicago, and Dreamgirls.) Could it be that The Hangover could become a real possibility with the Academy after this key win and nominations from the Writers Guild and ACE Editors Guild?

Other populist choices were Sandra Bullock winning best actress in drama for The Blind Side (box office is $230 million and counting) and Robert Downey, Jr. winning actor in a comedy for Sherlock Holmes ($180 million and counting.) While Downey, Jr.'s win won't mean anything to the Oscars, Bullock's stock is ever gaining. After tieing the Critics Choice Awards with Meryl Streep (for Julie & Julia, another big hit at $90 million) and winning the Globe, Bullock has emerged, at least in media terms, as the dark horse in best actress. The "deul" is one between Bullock and Streep. In fact, really the only awards given out at the Golden Globes that didn't go to an extremely popular and successful film were Jeff Bridges actor win for Crazy Heart, and the song "The Weary Kind," from the same film. This is in huge contrast to recent years where the independent film community had stronger grasps in key awards-- for example last year films like Happy-Go-Lucky, In Bruges, Vicky Cristina Barcelona and The Wrestler all won key awards-- Avatar handily beat all of those films box office within it's first couple of days.

I personally thought it was a pretty dull show, even though I can't complain about the majority of the trophies handed out. Well actually I can: The Hangover and it's frat boy humor had nothing on the witty charm of (500) Days of Summer. Robert Downey, Jr., as awesome as he is, had nothing on Joseph Gordon Levitt's incandescent romantic. And Sandra Bullock, as likeable and warm as she is didn't really have an awards worthy performance in The Blind Side, which isn't to discredit it really, even though I wasn't exactly a fan. She has always been a very warm presence on screen, and a natural at the press rounds-- her speech was lovely because she exuded all the charm and American sweetheart-ness we like about her, but in terms of a cohesive, complex feat of acting triumph I think not. Also, I was left cold by the big wins of Avatar, not because I didn't like the film, but because Cameron always has to ruin it by speaking.

Is 2009 a stronger year for commercial filmmaking, or is it post-The Dark Knight criticism coming back in an eager and desperate attempt for award shows to prove that they aren't elitists? I think it's a strange case of both. 2009 has been a boon for commercial filmmaking, notably, I would say with the exception of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, all of the big blockbusters of the year have been decent-- this year alone saw a sort of re-birth in classic science fiction (District 9, Star Trek, Avatar), a rejuvenation in animation (Up, Coraline, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Princess & the Frog), a wonderful year for women named Meryl (Julie & Julia and It's Complicated are two of her highest grossing films to date) and Sandra (The Proposal reminded everyone that light comedy is her specialty and The Blind Side made history as being the first film ever to gross over $200 million with a woman carrying it.) 2009 also saw revisionist history at it's finest (Inglourious Basterds became Quentin Tarantino's highest grossing film to date.)

All of this coupled with the diminished returns of the American independent companys-- many of them released less or simply folded in the past year, have put the Oscar spotlight back in big, glossy Hollywood product. It's interesting to note that in the year's before Titanic, American filmmaking and Academy tastes were in a similar spot-- the smaller films were beating the big studio films and the old adage of Hollywood being out of touch was a trademark. Twelve years later and James Cameron has come again to save the movie industry. I meant that remark with a tinge of bitterness, but not too much, being an admirer of Avatar myself and all it's 3-D fantastical glory. The problem with the situation at hand this standstill of the awards season is basically the AMPAS is damned if they do and damned if they don't-- anointed a big popular film will delight the broadcasters and advertisers, and enrage the cinephiles.

My current predictions for the top ten best picture slots are:
  • Avatar
  • District 9
  • An Education
  • The Hurt Locker
  • Inglourious Basterds
  • Invictus
  • Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire
  • Star Trek
  • Up
  • Up in the Air
The ironic thing is that in this first post-The Dark Knight awards show, there really didn't need for a big change like putting 10 nominees for a big movie to enter, and maybe even win. Avatar's principle rivals currently are The Hurt Locker (which has had the critics salivating since opening in July, the prestige factor in being a war movie, a slew of critics prizes and guild mentions, but as of now only made about $12 million in box office-- no film in recent best picture history has made that little money) and Up in the Air (a more AMPAS friendly title with critical support and booming box office-- it's about $60 million and counting-- plus big names in George Clooney, and Academy nepotism in Jason Reitman, and a timely subject matter, but it's also a comedy and it's lighter touch might make it a tough sell for the academy voters who prefer a bit more of a heavy hand.)

I guess the point is should the success of films at the box office be there one reward, and are we mistaken in calling some of the big hitters of the year artistic successes...

Wow, this is been a long rant-- I hope it makes sense to someone...

Monday, January 18, 2010

Golden Globes


BEST PICTURE (Musical or Comedy)
The Hangover

James Cameron, Avatar

Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart

Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side

BEST ACTOR (Musical or Comedy)
Robert Downey, Jr., Sherlock Holmes

BEST ACTRESS (Musical or Comedy)
Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia

Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds

Mo'Nique, Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire

Up in the Air- Jason Reitman & Sheldon Turner


The White Ribbon

Up- Michael Giacchino

"The Weary Kind," Crazy Heart-- Ryan Bingham & T Bone Burnett

Broadcast Film Critics Association

The Critics Choices:

PICTURE: The Hurt Locker
DIRECTOR: Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
ACTOR: Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
ACTRESS: (tie) Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side; Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
ENSEMBLE: Inglourious Basterds
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Inglourious Basterds- Quentin Tarantino
ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Up in the Air- Jason Reitman & Sheldon Turner
YOUNG ACTOR: Saorsie Ronan, The Lovely Bones
FOREIGN FILM: Broken Embraces
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Avatar- Mauro Fiore
COSTUME DESIGN: The Young Victoria- Sandy Powell
SCORE: Up- Michael Giacchino
SONG: "The Weary Kind," Crazy Heart-- Ryan Bingham & T-Bone Burnett
MAKE-UP: District 9
SOUND: Avatar
COMEDY: The Hangover

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

American Cinema Editors Nominations

Here's a critical guild that influences the best picture Oscar...the editors, the unsung heroes of filmmaking.

  • Avatar- Stephen Rivkin, John Refua & James Cameron
  • District 9- Julian Clarke
  • The Hurt Locker- Bob Murawski & Chris Innis
  • Star Trek- Maryann Brandon & Mary Jo Markey
  • Up in the Air- Dana Glauberman
I'm starting to warm to the idea of 3 sci-fi features actually getting into the best picture race...I'm fairly certain I might feel foolish after that statement, but the guilds are feasting on District 9 and Star Trek, along with the expected lust of Avatar-- it's telling more so here that films like Precious and Invictus were ignored, while the sci-fi trifecta looms large...

  • (500) Days of Summer- Alan Edward Bell
  • The Hangover- Debra Neil-Fisher
  • Julie & Julia- Richard Marks
  • It's Complicated- Joe Hutshing & David Mortiz
  • A Serious Man- Roderick Jaynes (the Coens)
  • Coraline- Christopher Murray & Ronald Sanders
  • Fantastic Mr. Fox- Andrew Weisblum
  • Up- Kevin Nolting
  • The Cove- Geoffrey Richman
  • Food, Inc.- Kim Roberts
  • This is It- Don Brochu

Vancouver Film Criitcs

PICTURE: Up in the Air
DIRECTOR: Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
ACTOR: Colin Firth, A Single Man
ACTRESS: Carey Mulligan, An Education
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air
SCREENPLAY: Up in the Air- Jason Reitman & Sheldon Turner
FOREIGN FILM: Summer Hours
DOCUMENTARY: Anvil: The Story of Anvil

Monday, January 11, 2010

American Society of Cinematographers Nominees

  • Avatar- Mauro Fiore
  • The Hurt Locker- Barry Aykroyd
  • Inglourious Basterds- Robert Richardson
  • Nine- Dion Beebe
  • The White Ribbon- Christian Berger

Writers Guild Nominations

  • (500) Days of Summer- Scott Neustradter & Michael H. Weber
  • Avatar- James Cameron
  • The Hangover- John Lucas & Scott Moore
  • The Hurt Locker- Mark Boal
  • A Serious Man- Ethan Coen & Joel Coen

  • Crazy Heart- Scott Cooper
  • Julie & Julia- Nora Ephron
  • Precious- Geoffrey Fletcher
  • Star Trek- Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman
  • Up in the Air- Jason Reitman & Sheldon Turner

I'm always excited by the writing nominations here and at the Oscars because more time than not the films I'm super passionate about have to settle for screenwriting laurels, usually missing the best picture berth. The writers group tend to honor a lot of the more daring pieces of filmmaking that the Academy as a whole seems to either not fully understand or out and out reject. Which is odd this year, since the WGA eligibility requirements eliminated a lot of the best movies of 2009 in it's voting this year, something in which I hope the Academy remedies.

In the original screenplay category, it's a solid group....the writers have always been more favorable to comedy than AMPAS (hence The Hangover mention), and really the only one I feel doesn't belong is Avatar, whose visual bravura notwithstanding, could have used a tighter screenplay--- it's not raking in billions of dollars worldwide for it's dialogue. I expect the Academy will go with (500) Days of Summer, A Serious Man, The Hurt Locker, and two films not eligible for WGA: Inglourious Basterds (Tarantino is not a member of WGA) and Up (animation is disqualified here), but Pixar has overcome that obstacle many times before (Toy Story, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, WALL-E.)

In the adapted screenplay category- again nothing is really complaint worthy, but like original is more a second-tier writing group, because so many films were overlooked for eligibility requirements also including An Education, A Single Man, Fantastic Mr. Fox, District 9, and The Road. I imagine that WGA nominees Up in the Air and Precious may be the only films that make it to the Oscars. I also imagine that Star Trek will be replaced with District 9.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Art Directors Guild Nominations

The ADG has chosen it's best decorated films:

  • Inglourious Basterds- David Wasco
  • Julie & Julia- Mark Ricker
  • Public Enemies- Nathan Crowley
  • A Serious Man- Jess Goncher
  • Sherlock Holmes- Sarah Greenwood
  • Avatar- Rick Carter & Robert Stromberg
  • District 9- Philip Ivey
  • Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince- Stuart Craig
  • Star Trek- Scott Chambliss
  • Where the Wild Things Are- K.K. Barrett
  • Angels & Demons- Alan Cameron
  • The Hangover- Bill Brzeski
  • The Hurt Locker- Karl Julisson
  • The Lovely Bones- Naomi Shohan
  • Up in the Air- Steve Saklad

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Directors Guild Nominations

The DGA nominations are in. This is crucial, as DGA, best director, and best picture are intrinsically linked. Here are the noms:

  • Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
  • James Cameron, Avatar
  • Lee Daniels, Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire
  • Jason Reitman, Up in the Air
  • Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds

Since 2009 represents probably the most diverse field of worthy director nominations, I'm happy with this list, even if it doesn't really offer any sort of surprise-- all 5 of these films seemed poised for Best Picture nominations from the start, but I'm especially happy for the Lee Daniels mention; so much fresher than a Clint Eastwood shout-out. Since 2009 was so diverse it's also refreshing that there is really only one nomination that feels the norm (Cameron has the older white guy vote.)

2009's offerings:

  • 3 women (Bigelow; Jane Campion for Bright Star; Lone Scherfig for An Education)
  • 4 gay men (Tom Ford for A Single Man; Lee Daniels for Precious; Pedro Almodovar for Broken Embraces; Rob Marshall for Nine)
  • South African (Neill Blomkamp for District 9)
  • black guy (Lee Daniels for Precious)
  • Austrian (Michael Hanake for The White Ribbon)
  • 4 white guys under 50 (Reitman; Tarantino; Ford for A Single Man; The Coens for A Serious Man)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Online Film Critics Society

PICTURE: The Hurt Locker
DIRECTOR: Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
ACTOR: Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker
ACTRESS: Melanie Laurent, Inglourious Basterds
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Inglourious Basterds- Quentin Tarantino
ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Fantastic Mr. Fox- Wes Anderson & Noah Baumbach
DOCUMENTARY: Anvil! The Story of Anvil
FOREIGN FILM: The White Ribbon
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Inglourious Basterds- Ralph Richardson
SCORE: Up- Michael Giacchino
FILM EDITING: The Hurt Locker- Chris Innis & Bob Murawski

A Single Man

"We're invisible," Jim (Matthew Goode) says early on to his lover George (Colin Firth) in fashion designer Tom Ford's debut feature film, A Single Man, as he edges closer to give him a smooch in their private residence. It's a powerful sentiment in an unapologetically gay, unpolitical sad love story set in a lush version of 1960s Los Angeles. The film itself never even utters the word "gay," or "homosexual," but the doomed lovers of the film make a striking pair, and the setting makes a potent case for the people that unfortunately inhabited an era in which they couldn't naturally be themselves. In many ways, there are still places like this today. But more to the point, director Ford deftly and beautifully adapts Christopher Isherwood's haunting and quiet character study with a sturdy hand in technique that rarely falters. The famed fashion designer seems more than adept at establishing period (which probably isn't too much of a surprise), and has a lot of fun with the period detail of production design and costuming, but the faultless and powerful acting of the leading players here prevent A Single Man from being mere window dressing.

The film opens with George in sleepless despair over the loss of his lover of sixteen years, Jim, who died in a tragic car accident. Unaware of how to deal with the pain of the love that still is socially shunned, the film follows George over a very long day in what may becomes (as he plans) the last day of his life. What makes the quiet and reserved George an involving and moving character is all in way Firth portrays him. Above anything else A Single Man is a tribute to his marvelous performance. Early on in the film, he's informed via phone that his late lover's memorial will be a "family only" event, and the quiet desperation on his face, embodied by a long running single tear, almost fetishized by Ford, Firth grounds the film and delivers such a persuasively emotional and tender performance.

A Single Man is not so much bogged by plot, but motivated by mood, and Ford does an expert job of making the film colorful and emphatically breathtaking visually-- it almost feels like a lost film by Almodovar at times, yet he ably steers clear of melodrama through the control of the actors, also including the great Julianne Moore, as George's old friend (and one time female fling who always loved him), a big, ballsy dramatic creature soaked in gin. Moore's brief sequence in the film could in some ways be seen as the comical portion, because of the mad gusto and brio she brings to the role, but it would be wrong, I think, to call it shallow, even if it is over-the-top. Her love for George aches her almost as much as George's love for Jim. She knows (even if she resents him for it) that it will never be returned, and serves a stand-in to all the gals and guys in similar problems-- un-returned affection from gays by the straight that yen for them isn't something seriously explored much in movies, but I think holds true for many. Moore is bold, but it never feels wrong. Other events of George's very long day include a flirtation with a student (Nicholas Hoult-- from About a Boy fame, all grown up) and mundane rituals leading up to his impending suicide.

I feel haunted by this film in a way I haven't felt in a long time, and perhaps I need a second viewing to truly absorb the artifical beauty of the film, and feel the flow. But now, on one viewing, I feel confident in thinking that A Single Man is a puzzling, but mesmerizing piece of cinema, gay or otherwise. And Colin Firth, rid of the Mr. Darcy cloak, gives his most powerful performance to date. A-

USC Scriptor Nominations

Here adapted screenplays and their source material are honored:

An Education
screenplay by Nick Hornby
based on the novel by Lynn Barber

Crazy Heart
screenplay by Scott Cooper
based on the book by Thomas Cobb

District 9
screenplay by Neill Blomkamp & Terri Tatchell
based on the short film by Neill Blomkamp & Terri Tatchell

screenplay by Geoffrey Fletcher
based on the novel "Push" by Sapphire

Up in the Air
screenplay by Jason Reitman & Sheldon Turner
based on the novel by Walter Kim

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Producers Guild Nominations

Here are the nominees for the Producers Guild Association of America. Like the Academy Awards, they have opted for 10 nominees this year. Will this be the Oscar list? Usually the PGA differs slightly, but then again, with 10 this year, who knows. One thing to keep in mind-- the PGA likes big movies, profitable movies alongside more middlebrow dramas.

  • Avatar
  • District 9
  • An Education
  • The Hurt Locker
  • Inglourious Basterds
  • Invictus
  • Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire
  • Star Trek
  • Up
  • Up in the Air
The sci-fi nerds must be in Klingon heaven here, as sci-fi\fantasy ruled an otherwise predictable slate...why is Invictus here? When the slobbering of Mr. Eastwood stop; the man has four Oscars already-- his legacy is sealed.

  • 9
  • Coraline
  • Fantastic Mr. Fox
  • The Princess & the Frog
  • Up

  • Burma VJ
  • The Cove
  • Sergio
  • Soundtrack for a Revolution

  • Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire

Respectable list-- lusting over the District 9 and Up mentions-- could it be? An amazing animated feature and the best sci-fi hybrid of the year on their way to the pantheon of the Oscars.... I wouldn't read too much into the Star Trek mention (the PGA has a long history of supporting big moneymakers, especially ones with any artistic cred.) These are producers. I think the official awards death of Nine has just occured as well.

Kansas City Film Critics Circle

Up in the Air

Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker

George Clooney, Up in the Air

Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia

Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds

Mo'Nique, Precious

Inglourious Basterds- Quentin Tarantino

Up in the Air- Jason Reitman & Sheldon Turner

Every Little Step



District 9

Monday, January 4, 2010

50 Favorite Performances of the Decade

So this is a listing of my favorite performances from the last decade (2000-2009.) This is my personal favorites and very much in my thinking as of now, and is very likely to change possibly as soon as tomorrow.

  1. JULIANNE MOORE, Far From Heaven- my absolute favorite performance of the decade, and without certainty this will stick. Think about for her performance as long suffering wife Cathy Whitaker, the gifted Moore had to not only create a credible emotional performance without typical histrionic gimmickry, but also had to co-exist with the film Douglas Sirk homage, in all it's heightened beauty and encoded messaging. It's a genuine gift to le cinema, a performance to be studied and fawned upon for generations. Oh that train scene at the end, when her one shot a happiness leaves, and camera abandons her as's breathtaking. Add to that, in an age where beautiful actresses seem to have to ugly themselves up (Charlize Theron in Monster, Halle Berry in Monster's Ball, Hilary Swank in anything) to get recognition, Moore with the assist of brilliant ace director Todd Haynes do just the opposite (in appriopriate Sirk fashion) and make Cathy radiant and beautiful. Of course Moore lost the Oscar that year to Nicole Kidman's false nose in The Hours, but her work here is enough to leave a lasting legacy, not just to film geeks, but to film acting.

The rest of the list is in alphabetical order:
  • Amy Adams, Junebug
  • Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men
  • Maria Bello, A History of Violence
  • Cate Blanchett, The Aviator
  • Cate Blanchett, I'm Not There
  • Steve Carrell, The 40-Year Old Virgin
  • Nicolas Cage, Adaptation.
  • Sharlto Copely, District 9
  • Jeff Daniels, The Squid & the Whale
  • Daniel Day-Lewis, There Willl Be Blood
  • Julie Delpy, Before Sunset
  • Judi Dench, Notes on a Scandal
  • Johnny Depp, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
  • Robert Downey, Jr., Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang
  • Paul Giamatti, Sideways
  • Ryan Gosling, Half Nelson
  • Gene Hackman, The Royal Tenenbaums
  • Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
  • Holly Hunter, Thirteen
  • Vlad Ivonov, 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days
  • Catherine Keener, Into the Wild
  • Nicole Kidman, Birth
  • Nicole Kidman, Dogville
  • Heath Ledger, Brokeback Mountain
  • Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
  • Laura Linney, The Savages
  • Virginia Madsen, Sideways
  • Anamaria Marinca, 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days
  • Ewan McGregor, Moulin Rouge!
  • Viggo Mortenssen, A History of Violence
  • Emily Mortimer, Lovely & Amazing
  • Samantha Morton, Minority Report
  • Bill Murray, Lost in Translation
  • Liam Neeson, Kinsey
  • Edward Norton, 25th Hour
  • Ellen Paige, Juno
  • Gwyneth Paltrow, The Royal Tenenbaums
  • Sean Penn, Milk
  • Dennis Quaid, Far From Heaven
  • Charlotte Rampling, Under the Sand
  • Mickey Rourke, The Wrester
  • Imelda Staunton, Vera Drake
  • David Strathairn, Good Night, and Good Luck
  • Meryl Streep, Adaptation.
  • Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler
  • Uma Thurman, Kill Bill: Volume 1 & 2
  • Naomi Watts, Mulholland Drive
  • Kate Winslet, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  • Renee Zellweger, Bridget Jones's Diary

Sunday, January 3, 2010

National Society of Film Critics

The Hurt Locker

Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker

Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker

Yolande Moreau, Seraphine

Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Paul Schneider, Bright Star

Mo'Nique, Precious

A Serious Man- Ethan Coen & Joel Coen

Summer Hours

The Beaches of Agnes

The White Ribbon- Christian Berger

Fantastic Mr. Fox- Nelson Lowry
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