Sunday, February 26, 2012

Meryl Streep Won an Oscar!!!!!!!

The biggest, and only wow moment of this years Academy Awards came when Colin Firth announced the winner for Best Actress.  The pundits, bloggers, Oscar-enthusiasts and general movie-loving contingent all pretty much concluded that Viola Davis would victor friend and champion Meryl Streep for her confident and moving performance in The Help.  She not just elevated an okay movie, but made such a significant mark for both the feature and herself by the assured and intelligent gracefulness that she presented through the entire awards seasons-- it's as though she was modeled and trained by Streep herself.  The shock and awe affect was when Firth announced not Viola, but Meryl, and the shock-wave it sends to the central nervous system of every movie lover I feel was palpable.  Not because Streep necessarily deserved it this year for her strong work in the less than okay The Iron Lady, but because the power and awesomeness of this creature, the graceful epitome of ridiculous acclamations like "The Greatest Living Actress" is worn with such a knowing self-awareness and good natured humor that it's impossible not be overjoyed by her presence.  My instincts were a roller coaster ride of emotions.  Firstly, of "WTF?," I bet on Davis, and I have money on the line.  Secondly of, well I still think Davis deserved it this year.  But lastly and ultimately as Streep took the stage was the formidable thought Meryl Streep hasn't won an Oscar in 29 years, and this is the first in my lifetime.  She was gracious as usual, but this wasn't a typical Streep speech-- she seemed nervous, almost on the verge of shock like the rest of us.  And unlike the millions of gut-busting Golden Globe and SAG speeches she's delivered in recent years, there was absolutely nothing canned about it-- she seemed even more in those brief minutes than in the entirety of The Iron Lady.  In the lovely self-deprecating way she said, "I know this will be the last time," it's hard not to feel joyously in love with this woman.  Also, she gave the best speech of the evening, so I can't feel to bad on my Oscar ballot loss...I still won for those who care!
Abridged, but nonetheless sublime.

84th Annual Academy Awards: It's a Wrap!!!

PICTURE: The Artist
DIRECTOR: Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
ACTOR: Jean Dujardin, The Artist
ACTRESS: Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Christopher Plummer, Beginners
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Octavia Spencer, The Help
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Midnight in Paris- Woody Allen
ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: The Descendants- Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon & Jim Rash
FOREIGN FILM: A Separation
ART DIRECTION: Hugo- Dante Ferretti & Francesca Lo Schiavo
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Hugo- Robert Richardson
COSTUME DESIGN: The Artist- Mark Bridges
FILM EDITING: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo- Kirk Baxter & Angus Wall
ORIGINAL SCORE: The Artist- Ludovic Bource
ORIGINAL SONG: "Man or Muppet," The Muppets
ANIMATED SHORT: The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore
MAKE-UP: The Iron Lady

Independent Spirit Awards

FILM: The Artist
DIRECTOR: Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
ACTOR: Jean Dujardin, The Artist
ACTRESS: Michelle Williams, My Week With Marilyn
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Christopher Plummer, Beginners
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Shailene Woodley, The Descendants
SCREENPLAY: The Descendants
DOCUMENTARY: The Interrupters
FOREIGN FILM: A Separation
PIAGET PRODUCERS AWARD: Sophia Linn, Take Shelter
SOMEONE TO WATCH AWARD: Mark Jackson, Without
TRUER THAN FICTION AWARD: Heather Courtney, Where Soldiers Come From
ROBERT ALTMAN AWARD: to the cast, director and casting director of Margin Call

Costume Designer Guild Awards

W.E.- Arianne Phillips
BEST COSTUME DESIGN (Contemporary Feature)
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo- Trish Sumerville
Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows Part 2- Jany Temime

International Film Music Critics Association Awards

FILM SCORE THE YEAR: War Horse- John Williams
ORIGINAL SCORE (Drama): War Horse- John Williams
ORIGINAL SCORE (Comedy): The Rum Diary- Christopher Young
ORIGINAL SCORE (Action): Drive- Cliff Martinez
ORIGINAL SCORE (Fantasy): Super 8- Michael Giacchino
ORIGINAL SCORE (Animation): The Adventures of Tintin- John Williams
ORIGINAL SCORE (Documentary): The Wind Gods- Pinar Toprak
FILM COMPOSITION OF THE YEAR: "The Homecoming," War Horse

All hail John Williams!

Cesar Awards

FILM: The Artist
DIRECTOR: Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
ACTOR: Omar Sy, Intouchables
ACTRESS: Berenice Bejo, The Artist
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Michel Blanc, The Minister
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Carmen Maura, The Women on the 6th Floor
SCORE: The Artist

Sunday, February 19, 2012

MPSE Award Winners

The honors of the Motion Picture Sound Editors Guild:

War Horse


The Adventures of Tintin

The Muppets

Flowers of War

George Harrison: Living in a Material World

Super 8            

Writers Guild Awards

Midnight in Paris- Woody Allen
America's favorite screenwriter celebrates his fifth win from the WGA on his 20th nomination.  He previously won for Annie Hall, Broadway Danny Rose, Hannah & Her Sisters and Crimes & Misdemeanors.  This is his first WGA award (not that he cares) since 1989.  Allen received a WGA (but no Oscar nomination) for 2008's Vicky Christina Barcelona.

The Descendants- Alexander Payne, Jim Rash & Nat Faxon
This is Payne's third triumph at the WGA's, previously triumphing (with writing partner Jim Taylor) for both Sideways and Election.  He was also nominated for About Schmidt.  Rash and Faxon are both first-timers

Barring some unforeseen, Precious-like craziness, the Oscar will likely and predictably follow suit.

DOCUMENTARY SCREENPLAY: Better This World- Katie Galloway & Kelly Duane de la Vega
PAUL SELVIN AWARD: The Help- Tate Taylor- given to the script that best embodies the spirit of the constitutional and civil rights and liberties which are indispensable to the survival of free writers everywhere.

USC Scripter Award

Created in 1988, the USC Scripter Award is handed out by the Friends of the USC Libraries and honors the Best Adapted Screenplay in filmmaking, saluting both its original source and the finished film.

The nominees for 2011 were, The Descendants triumphs:

A Dangerous Method
written by Christopher Hampton, adapted from the non-fiction book A Most Dangerous Method: The Story of Jung, Freud and Sabina Spielrein by John Kerr and the 2002 stage play The Talking Cure by Christopher Hampton.

The Descendants
written by Alexander Payne, Jim Rash & Nat Faxon, adapted from the novel by Kai Hart Hemmings.

Jane Eyre
written by Moira Buffini, adapted from the novel by Charlotte Bronte.

written by Steven Zailian & Aaron Sorkin, adapted from the novel Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Stan Chervin

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
written by Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughan, adapted from the novel by John le Carre.

Cinema Audio Society

SoundWorks Collection: The Sound of Hugo from Michael Coleman on Vimeo.

ACE "Eddies" Awards

The American Cinema Editors Guild has spoken and the "Eddies" go to:

The Descendants
BEST FILM EDITING (Musical or Comedy)
The Artist

What does this tell us?  Absolutely nothing, except confirm The Artist as frontrunner status, and give The Descendants a small sting of potential spoiler status.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Top Ten of 2011

The time has come:

Part humanistic story of a man plagued with very relevant American concerns of adequately being able to provide for his family, part paranoia tale of a person's questioning of their own sanity while terrorized by visions of a looming apocalypse.  Whatever the take, Jeff Nichols' haunting and masterfully minimalist drama never takes a side, put presents a small slice of life horror story, lead with great control and authority by a never better Michael Shannon, whose googly-eyed, ticking time bomb blue collar schmo reads achingly authentic whether staring at a nearby twister in his head or in the arms of his concerned wife (played with maternal grace by Jessica Chastain.)  The slowly built film takes its time, but builds to a simply shot, but tantalizingly chilly finale.  One of the finer American films to explore the insights of a troubling nation through the prism of an ordinary person to come around in some time.

It's difficult to shake the disturbing and often wonky baggage of Lynne Ramsay's told to the rafters film starring a spellbinding Tilda Swinton as woman coping with her culpability to a high school tragedy.  Told within a tightly structured back and forth narrative, showing the before and after in chilling ways, this may be the most divisive film on my list.  I grappled with it since first viewing, and still am honestly.  But this mad hybrid of The Omen and Elephant mixed in with own unique and inescapable aesthetic is memorable for it's messiness and inspiring when it's mad, jacked-up thrills work just right.  And Swinton's performance (sadly overlooked by the Academy) elevates and modulates the shakier sidesteps by her precise and chilly expressiveness.

An exuberant film that feels like it will collapse nearly every second on its own preciousness.  It doesn't because writer\director Mike Mills' nakedly personal and humanistic semi-autobiographical tale is told with such loving affection and acted with such tenderness, but also has a scarcely acknowledged finely-honed visual craft of its own.  A tale of son, dealing with his elderly fathers recent coming-out and his impending death, all the while embarking on a scary new relationship of his own works for because it's ensemble put so much heart and conviction, with nary a bit of sentiment.  Ewan McGregor hasn't given as heartfelt a performance since Moulin Rouge and Oscar-nominee Christopher Plummer, dare I say it, is revelatory, in a performance that confirms that life can start anew, a with joyful optimism even towards the end of ones life.  As rich and nuanced as anything this year.

The coolest film of 2011, with its tripped out music video aesthetic matched with volatile intensity and pure movie magic.  While improperly marketed to the Fast & Furious crowd when it initially opened, movie fans must admit that Nicholas Refn Winding's madly intoxicating ride will likely become cult fodder for generations to come.  Each image so precisely and elegantly staged, all steeped and dripping in classic film noir.  Each frame pretty and grimy at once, and each performance, informed line reading, sound cue, and soundtrack choice so fun and dizzy and crush-worthy and artful at once.  Ryan Gosling brings soul and conviction to his taciturn Driver, a movie stuntman with a dangerous side-job, and burns the screen with such magnitude, it feels akin to what it must have been like to experience James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause for the first time.

Michael Fassbender's performance as Brandon, the emotionally stilted big city player with a nasty sex addiction is one of the most essential and focused turns all year, and the major, not only, reason that Shame, Steve McQueen's brooding and dark film, works as potently as it does.  It hits a nerve so sharp and so strong, that even when the film bobbles from time to time, and nails the Lost Weekend-motif a bit too neatly, he leaves such an aching and intangible reality in his character, one that's most terrified of true intimacy with another.  One of the darkest and most sexually frank films to come around in some time, and while the controversy (and it's NC-17 rating) spoke much of it's content, it missed the point-- this is not an arousing piece of exploitation, but a deep meditation of a dark, unhappy person.  And one of the most absorbing, and, ahem- penetrating pieces of work this year.

Director Andrew Rossi was given unprecedented access to the mecca of mainstream media and documents the fears, agony and stress that underlines what is meant to be a New York Times journalist.  Yet this startling, super-smart and incisive documentary is perhaps one of the most relevant to come about in a while, an avid indictment of the modern world of news-making and reporting and public taste-- what happens to the world if The New York Times folds?  Rossi follows the crew who work in the trenches through and through, quietly masking their fears of tomorrow.  And yet, there's certain joy in a film that could easily read as a dry fan play, a reverie not just the troop of gifted professionals who give them all to the paper, but in the filmmaking itself.  Plus colorful and intelligent commentators like David Carr prove an inspiration to the written word any day.

There's two great sense of discovery to be held in Martha Marcy May Marlene.  The first is the great leading performance from Elizabeth Olsen, whose character of a girl trying to re-assimilate after being seduced by a cult, one such that by design lacks dimension that is delivered with such authority and movie-star in the making expressiveness.  The other is from writer\director Sean Durkin, who is in his debut feature has mounted a film of such intelligence and haunting scope and ambiguity.  The crispness of the editing, the somber but achingly realistic performances, the beautifully and chilly photography-- how could something this accomplished, and of such few first-time hiccups, be concocted by someone so new.  Whatever the magic, I eagerly await the next outing.  And Olsen's as well, who shines in a fresh ensemble cast, including John Hawkes, whose resume undone, is absolutely credible as MMMM's seducer.

He's been called many things-- misogynist, misanthrope, Nazi sympathizer-- but who would ever expect to add the romantic to the long laundry list of words to describe auteur Lars von Trier.  Especially when his tacking something like the end of the world.  Whatever happened, it needs no explanation, as long it creates more movies like Melancholia, a tender, achingly beautiful operetta that while exploring things like the apocalypse and crippling depression happen to showcase the softest side to von Trier perhaps ever.  A tale of sisters-- masterfully played by Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourgh-- and a chart through the human condition of grief, anguish and romance, Melancholia is perhaps the closest 2011 ever came to something like true cinema.

Andrew Haigh's documentary-like Brief Encounter with two handsome guys from Yorkshore who share a weekend, and nothing more, of conversation, debate and sex, was the greatest romance of the year, perhaps one of the greatest in some time in it's raw honesty and deep understanding of it's characters and their place inside and out.  The transcendent nature is rooted in two contradictory ways-- one in which Haigh's revelatory feature harkens back to great Queer New Wave of the early '90s (when the likes of van Sant, Haynes and Aroki were setting the bar) but also in it's own sophistication and insight is a light to any relationship, gay or straight.  Much of the praise too must be bestowed to leading actors Tom Cullen and Chris New, both newcomers, and both who recite with such an unforced intimacy and graceful naturalism that this tightly structured chamber piece feels entirely the opposite-- lived-in and natural.

So here's the pitch:  there's this silent film, shot in black and white, one that's a throwback to Hollywood silents of yore (not just in style, but technique), oh and it's directed by a French filmmaker, starring French actors, shot in Hollywood.  Whatever the case, Harvey Weinstein new what he was doing when he snatched this joyful and playful homage to old-school cinema back at last years Cannes Film Festival.  And be grateful he did, now that everyone has a chance to revel in it's one of a kind movie magic.  What strikes first as mere pastiche, proves a heart-breaking journey of the expression of the medium itself.  Director Michel Hazanavicius doesn't shy away from his influences, but creates something special and unique in his own-- a film unabashedly in love with the possibilities and impossibilities of movie-making, and lasting piece piece of cinema in its own right.  Jean Dujardin, whose a cross between Douglas Fairbanks and Gene Kelly, has so much radiance and charm that we forget about words within minutes, and remember the great Norma Desmond quote, "We had faces then," that crazy, murderous bat would be proud.

Scott Rudin is an EGOT

For those lacking in the uber-geek verse, an EGOT is an individual who has amassed all four the main entertainment awards-- the Oscar, Emmy, Tony and Grammy.  FThe honorees are all a bit "messy" as in some cases they include mentions that may not have been competitive, or in strange categories (the Emmys and Grammys for instance have hundreds of categories.)  Thirteen people belong to this most rarefied group:

  • Richard Rogers
  • Helen Hayes
  • Rita Moreno
  • John Gielgud
  • Audrey Hepburn
  • Marvin Hamlisch
  • Jonathan Tunick
  • Mel Brooks
  • Mike Nichols
  • Whoopi Goldberg
  • Barbra Striesand (includes Honorary Tony Award)
  • Liza Minnelli (Honorary Grammy Award)
  • James Earl Jones (Honorary Academy Award)
The latest:
Uber-producer Scott Rudin, he that produced the controversial Best Picture nominee this year Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, he of amassed reputation that spawns everywhere from vitriol to gay power play to a shout out from Meryl Streep, win she won the SAG award for Doubt a few years back.
He won the Grammy two nights ago for The Book of Mormon, which netted him a Tony last summer.  His Oscar came from No Country For Old Men's Best Picture mention in 2007, and his Emmy was for the Children's Program He Makes Me Feel Like Dancin' back in 1984- auspicious beginnings.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

"The Vow" breaks Valentine's Day Record

Either a notch that the Mayans may have been correct about about 2012, or lazy Hollywood's choice to open just one romantic-themed motion picture of the Valentine's Day week.  Either way, The Vow, from franchise to himself author Nicholas Sparks broke the week-day Valentine's Day record yesterday, netting $11.6 million on Tuesday alone.  Springboarding off it's top place weekend finish of just over $40 million, the romantic weepie starring Rachel MacAdams and Channing Tatum (both on their second Sparks' adaptations) has already trumped it's $30 million production budget and will likely see more of this kind of sub-Love Story dreck in the near future.  The previous week-day record holdover was in 2005: Hitch made $7.5 million.  The all-time record holder is, naturally, Valentine's Day (2010), which earned $23 million on the love day, but had the advantage as it was also a Sunday that year.

The best film still in theaters, The Artist, despite it's 10 Academy Award nominations, and being truly romantic in it's own way, has made just $25 million since opening last November...

American Society of Cinematographer Awards

The Tree of Life- Emmanuel Lubezki

While I may not have been the biggest fan of the muddy origin story helmed by Terrence Malick, I am fully behind any and all awards bestowed to masterful d.p.\poet Lubezki.  His work in The Tree of Life is fluid and artful, full of daring and plenty of, "How in the hell did you get that shot" moments.  His work with Malick is already impressive-- he also lensed his 2005's film The New World, and received an Oscar nomination-- and is the preferred choice for brave auteurs like Malick and Alfonso Cuaron.  He has four prior Oscar nominations to his credit, including the brilliantly shot Children of Men, and no wins thus far.  This needs to change this year.  If The Tree of Life is nothing but a long stream of delicately precise screen savor shots, it's still the best shot void of the year.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Weekend Box Office

Twas the weekend before Valentine's Day, and the romantic weepie from the Nicholas Sparks canon ruled the day, but wait...there's more.  Of the four movie that opened in the wide release over the weekend, all of them (even though all of whom had questionable critical backing) won as well, with openings above $20 million.  Already the marketplace seems to rebounding from last years doldrums.

1. THE VOW- Obnoxiously tagged as "based on a true story," the latest Sparks adaptation starred Rachel The Notebook McAdams and Channing Dear John Tatum and vaulted to the top of the charts with an estimated $41.7 million over the weekend.  The only clear pre-Valentine's Day choice, this one will likely sizzle on Tuesday and be all but forgotten come next weekend.  No worries though, this melodrama cost only $30 million to produce.

2. SAFE HOUSE- Never count out Denzel Washington, even in middling, beginning of the year endeavors, his latest (co-starring Ryan Reynolds) took in $39 million in its first weekend, as a nifty sense of counter-programming to love-in weekend.  Safe House cost $85 million to produce.

3. JOURNEY 2: THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND- The 3-D sequel to the surprise Brendan Fraser family flick Journey to the Center of the Universe (2008) did pretty swell as well, reeling in families (and taking advantage of the inflation only cheap glasses can afford) with $27 million.  I suppose the real trick in tackling a potential franchise is dropping its leading man and replacing him with The Rock.

4. STAR WARS: EPISODE 1- THE PHANTOM MENACE- George Lucas continues his streak of crapping on his fan boy base with the 3-D re-issue of one of the most misguided choices in the franchise movie making history.  It still cashed in with $23 million.

5. CHRONICLE- Last week's champ dropped a reasonable 44% in week two for a total so far of $40 million.  Icing on the bratty superheros cake: the $12 million production budget-- perhaps the biggest prank of all.  Also the hopeful creative future for director Josh Trank.

6. THE WOMAN IN BLACK- Daniel Radcliffe's Harry Potter-follow is performing adequately, if not at the numbers he's known for-- in its second weekend, the period horror flick dropped 50% for a $35 million total so far.  It will shortly however become distributor CBS Films highest grossing film to date surpassing 2010's The Back-Up Plan, which made $37 million.

7. THE GREY- In it's third week, the Liam Neeson survival tale has made $42 million.  However, like The Woman in Black, upstart distributor Open Road Films should be pleased-- it's their highest grossing title of all time.

8. BIG MIRACLE- Drew Barrymore's save-the-whales true story dropped 49% in its second weekend for a sad total of $13 million.

9. THE DESCENDANTS- The only title in the top ten also nominated for Best Picture-- the Alexander Payne dramedy has made $70 million so far, and will become the writer\director highest grossing film ever in a few short days-- Sideways made $71 million in 2004.  It dropped 23% in its thirteenth week of release.

10. UNDERWORLD: AWAKENING- Does anyone really watch these movies?  Just curious, because I don't, and yet they keep coming.  The last chapter has made $52 million in four weeks, offset by a production budget of $70 million, perhaps will this be the last one...

  • The Artist- While secured at least of not being the lowest grossing Best Picture winner of all time (should it win), it's grosses aren't terribly impressive as the film has gone wider either.  It also seems that on 800 screens, The Weinstein Company is appearing sheepish to fully release the charming, if reasonably hard sell, French black and white silent film.  Ranking 13th place this weekend, down 12% for a total so far of $22 million.  C'mon people-- this is majestic filmmaking.
  • Hugo- Martin Scorsese's heavily Academy Award nominated film has made $64 million so far, a decent gross for a ridiculously expensive art film\homage to begins of the medium.  It won't make its money back sadly.
  • Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close ranked 15th over the weekend, the surprise Best Picture nominee has earned $29 million in eight weeks of release.
  • We Need to Talk About Kevin is chugging along in quiet limited release.  On 16 screens, the Tilda Swinton shocker has made nearly $500,000 for a decent $5,000 screen average after four weeks of release.
  • Rampart, the Woody Harrelson corrupt cop morality play opened this past weekend after a one-week Oscar-qualifying run last November (I saw it then, it has some problems despite strong acting from Harrelson) earned $65,000 on 5 screens for an OK-screen average of $13,000.  More on this one later.

Best Great Best Actor Debate

The chart above shows the 2011 Best Actor stands by the awards they won.  Highlighted in red are Oscar nominated, yellow are the sad unfortunate men left outside the Kodak Theater this year.  The green distinguishes the more prolific prizes (they are just way too many critical bodies, industry fawning trophies in any given year.)  They're were a few others who won single prizes throughout the season...Gary Oldman won San Francisco for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Paul Giamatti won Indiana for Win Win, Joseph Gordon Levitt won Utah for 50/50, and Ryan Gosling won a Satellite Award for Drive, however these are the only five to have won a handful of prizes, or prolific ones.

It's interesting at the start of the season, the big question was the highly competitive field Best Actress had, what with Viola Davis, Meryl Streep and Glenn Close all in the question, but that one's been fairly tightened for a while...sure there's still a bit of horse race between Davis and Streep, but I strongly feel that the heat is on Davis to take the trophy.  Meanwhile, it appeared (and really only appeared) that George Clooney was coasting his way to a second Oscar for his performance in The Descendants, but in reality he won as many prizes as Oscar-snub Michael Fassbender, and only a few more than rivals Brad Pitt (at an awkward advantage\detriment as some of critics wins were shared for Moneyball and The Tree of Life), Michael Shannon (outside the Oscar race for his amazing work in Take Shelter) and last minute-possible frontrunner Jean Dujardin, who is smoldering with just as much charm as Clooney for his work in The Artist.

Dujardin's late in the game victories at both SAG and BAFTA make him a serious threat, and awaken something this Oscar race hasn't really seen much of: a breather of excitement.  However, looking at the stats, everyone was a bit vulnerable...all of the five "frontrunners" won at least one major prize...meaning an industry type trophy (Golden Globe, SAG, BAFTA) or a top tier critics prize (NBR, NSFC, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago.)  I like this; I like this a lot.

And a great surprise for Jean Dujardin's substantial performance for The Artist would be delicious icing on the top of a somewhat bland Oscar cake.

Viola Davis Wins the Award For Most Impassioned Oscar Nominee of 2011...

...and while intelligent and dead on, the way she 'goes there' is a bit scary.

British Academy of Film & Television Awards

FILM: The Artist
BRITISH FILM: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
DIRECTOR: Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
ACTOR: Jean Dujardin, The Artist
ACTRESS: Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Christopher Plummer, Beginners
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Octavia Spencer, The Help
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: The Artist- Michel Hazanavicius
ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy- Bridget O'Connor & Peter Straughan
BRITISH DEBUT: Tyrannosaur- Paddy Considine
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Hugo- Dante Ferretti & Francesca Lo Schiavo
CINEMATOGRAPHY: The Artist- Guillaume Schiffman
FILM EDITING: Senna- Gregers Sall & Chris King
ORIGINAL MUSIC: The Artist- Ludovic Bource
COSTUME DESIGN: The Artist- Mark Bridges
VISUAL EFFECTS: Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows Part 2

The Artist leads with 7 BAFTAs, while a too-little\too-late last minute bone is given to the homegrown Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

Irish Film & Television Awards

FILM: The Guard
DIRECTOR: John Michael McDonagh, The Guard
ACTOR: Michael Fassbender, Shame
ACTRESS: Saoirse Ronan, Hanna
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Chris O'Dowd, Bridesmaids
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Fionnula Flannigan, The Guard
SCRIPT: The Guard- John Michael McDonaugh
INTERNATIONAL FILM: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

INTERNATIONAL ACTRESS: Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
CINEMATOGRAPHY: We Need to Talk About Kevin- Seamus McGarvey
COSTUME DESIGN: The Iron Lady- Consolata Boyle
ORIGINAL SCORE: Albert Nobbs- Bryan Burns
SOUND: Albert Nobbs

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Evening Standard Awards

BEST FILM: We Need to Talk About Kevin
BEST ACTOR: Michael Fassbender, Shame; Jane Eyre
BEST ACTRESS: Olivia Coleman, Tyrannosaur
BEST SCREENPLAY: Weekend- Andrew Haigh
MOST PROMISING NEWCOMERS: Tom Kingsley & Will Sharpe, Black Pond
PETER SELLERS AWARD FOR COMEDY: The Guard- John Michael McDonagh

Friday, February 10, 2012

Just Say NO!!!!!

In unfortunate and altogether ridiculous new, Hollywood is toying with the idea of ruining yet another masterful work of art, in this case with a planned re-make of Alfred Hitchcock's 1940 Oscar-winning Rebecca.  The original film, based on the grand Gothic novel by Daphne du Maurier, starred Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine as unexpected lovers tormented by the ghost of his first wife, and the chambermaid still in the past, played with timeless creepiness by Judith Anderson in one of the all time greatest villain showcases in movie history.  Alright, first off, it Alfred freaking Hitchcock, and certainly Gus Van Sant can attest to the notion of trying to better or even putting oneself in the light of comparison is an error no one can run away from.  Secondly, this is a masterclass work of Hollywood glamor and distinction, a property of which should not be's still a wonder.  Thirdly, no matter the gifts of scribe Steven Knight (Dirty Pretty Things, Eastern Promises), nor the passion backed from DreamWorks and Working Title Films as the planned distributors, Rebecca is that one in a million type of classic that cannot be bettered nor filtered through the new-Hollywood reckless way of carbon copying.  This is an endlessly special film, and the first Hitchcock made for Hollywood.  PLEASE DON'T DO IT!!!!!!  Mrs. Danvers will burn down your house.


The latest in the recent sub-genre of "found-footage" films, Chronicle is the story of three high school friends-- one an alienated depressant, the other an in-the-middle social climber, and a hot shot athlete running for student body president-- who through a mysterious sunken hole gain telekinetic powers.  The first half of the film is a surprisingly fun popcorn yarn, taking a premise not exactly the freshest, but tweaked by spry and inventive sense of control and a smooth flow, nicely dusting off the cobwebs of the whole faux-superhero movie, and the dingy, crappy looking veneer of expected Cloverfield rip-offs.  Director Josh Trank and screenwriter Max Landis (son of Jon Animal House Landis) also have a great sense of play with the good natured, boys-will-be-boys shenanigans, a loose sense of fun with the boys discoveries of their new-found powers and a crisp pace.  For a while, this silly film begs the question, "How in the hell is such obvious junk food done so well?"  Then, unfortunately, the slogging and confounding, not to mention bordering on that PG-13 rating type of violence, third act drags the fun and a weird uneven notion becomes clear that Chronicle wants to be more than it should.  Not just a pleasurable diversion, but a morality play on powers going overboard, and the darkness of fragile sensitive youth.

Set in Seattle, with the prime Pacific Northwest rain as it's background, we are introduced to Andrew (Dane DeHaan), an awkward young high school student who for purposes unknown or irrelevant has decided to carry around a video camera and record everything in his path.  Some things should probably have been kept more private, not just for Andrew's sake, but also the movie-- like his alcoholic father and his fits of physical abuse, and his at-her-deathbed mother, as well as his daily assaults from bullies inside and outside of school.  Whatever the case, he's taken under the wing of his only real friend, and cousin Matt (Alex Russell) to break through his moody shell and live a little.  Dragged to a party one night, Andrew and Matt, as well as jock Steve (Michael B. Jordan) stumble upon some crazy, mysterious sunken cavern in the middle of nowhere.  They enter the whatsit Twilight Zone-y portal and awaken with new found gifts.  Trank has stylish fun with film, using camera tricks and sound effects for optimal thrills, but it's all kind of inventive in an it's-far-better-than-it-has-any-right-to-be sort of way.

The boys prank their classmates, innocent bystanders at local stores and there's a sort of gleeful child-like amusement in their exploits.  Yeah, they're kind of jerks, but it's all in a no one is getting hurt way...until someone does.  Andrew's a tad dark, and has trouble realizing the ramifications of his suddenly very potent powers-- he's also an unstable sad sack.  The film biggest weakness is that just as it becomes apparent that Andrew is going to dark side, he's already sort of lost any sympathy from his audience.  He's too grim and moody to start off, and the bad situation at home and constant bullying turn Chronicle into something it shouldn't be: heavy-handed.  The best sequences are such silly flights of fancy, not dark histrionic-filled.  Like the sequence where the boys literally take flight-- it's a joyful, over-the-top, theme park attraction that elicits a genuine sense of playful imagination.  Andrew turn into sociopathic, We Need to Talk About Kevin terrain feels a bit too much, as does the overly violent conclusion.  B-

Jean Dujardin Auditions for Villian Parts (as well as Oscar Votes)

The silent charmer in The Artist wants to proudly proclaim he can be funny (and speak-- even if his English is still a bit rough) in this Funny or Die ad.  

Funniest bit: "Larry Crowne...time to drown."

I do worry that many in the blogosphere have given Dujardin the reductive Roberto Benigni comparison so far, as I see none...he's sincere and delightful, not all in the irritatingly mugging variety, and hope there's more American exposure to come to him, despite the full awareness that most in the country will not have heard of him before Oscar night.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Weinstein Company would like to remind you that Meryl Streep hasn't won an Oscar in 29 Years!

Tacky? Perhaps, but no less than Melissa Leo's odd self-campaigning last year.  Plus, it's kind of nice to see some dirty play in this years more maudlin race.  The real news might be the borderline offense pulled, as Academy rules specify that mentioning prior performances or films in their campaigns are a no-no!

The Oscars Hurt: A Continued Reflection of Masochism

It has been announced that the Academy has scrapped the musical numbers from the Best Original Song category this year.  While this category is need of a major overhaul (and perhaps altogether abandonment) judging on their lack of hearing, taste or discretion, and while no one will complain that a forgettable song from a film long forgotten like Rio won't get any Oscar screen time...this also means that the category's frontrunner, the joyous "Man or Muppet" from The Muppets won't either.  The song, like others, in the film was written by Flight of the Concords alum Bret McKenzie won't get any action at this years Academy Awards.  In a wild dream, I was hoping for a medley of Muppets tunes, including the stupidly snubbed "Life's a Happy Song," and Kermit's touching ballad "Pictures in My Head."  While the Academy has taken this stance in years prior...even a few years back when a worthy and totally listenable tune, like 2009's winner "The Weary Kind" from Crazy Heart wasn't given the stage, there's a bigger point on hand I feel.  Is this a commentary on the Academy's embarrassment of the song category?  Why not let the two songs have their three minutes of stage time; it can't be a choice decision to reduce the run time-- the show is always LONG!!!  One feels that if the Academy isn't going to support the ruins of the flawed Songs- just get rid of them...

The shapelessness of the Best Original Song is so variable however, that take a year like 2011, where the song selection may not have been prime, aside from The Muppets soundtrack, and the overlooked Captain: America pastiche "Star Spangled Man."  Mostly neglected from the Academy versus a stronger year like last year when they had an opportunity for prime awards catnip with the Cher-headlined ballad "You Haven't Seen the Last of Me,"-- yes Burlesque was a dumb movie, but that song rocked, and the performance at the Kodak could have to (Toy Story 3 won the Oscar for the familiar sounding Randy Newman tune "We Belong Together.")  And yes the performances have always been up and down...for every joyous Amy Adams charmer "Happy Working Song" from Enchanted in 2007, there's an overdone clunker like "In the Deep" from Crash in 2005.  The other conundrum lies in the nominating process altogether-- in that the same group can acknowledge worthy songs like "Falling Slowly" from Once in 2007, or "The Weary Kind" from Crazy Heart in 2009, but overlook (or as conspiracy theorists might say, intentionally snub) something as moving as "The Wrestler," Bruce Springsteen's beautifully moody and weathered melody that was so appropriate to the narrative of The Wrestler in 2008.

I hope Kermit the Frog mugs away from Billy Crystal and sings for the four hour telecast in mad protest.

The Avengers

I can't help but really not care about this one at all-- I say in full awareness that the fan boy contingent is preparing the pitchforks set at my doorstep--the whole Marvel lexicon reeks kind of desperate and cheap at this point.  What with the forwarding and perhaps way to neatly (and rushed) pre-packaging of their characters.  The bright side is that Joss Whedon is a master of wit and mythology.  I'm just keeping expectations grounded so it can rock...

Visual Effects Society Winners

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS (in an effects driven feature)
Rise of the Planet of the Apes


BEST VISUAL EFFECTS (animated feature)

BEST ANIMATED CHARACTER (in a live action feature)
Caesar, Rise of the Planet of the Apes

BEST ANIMATED CHARACTER (animated feature)
Rango, Rango

BEST CREATED ENVIRONMENT (live action feature)
Transformers: Dark of the Moon




Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Captain America: The First Avenger

This just makes it confusing-- who's the frontrunner now in the Best Visual Effects category-- Hugo? Rise of the Planet of the Apes? Transformers?

2011 Runners-up

As I slowly start to realize that the calendar year has changed (Hollywood makes that so hard when it's January\February offerings are so unappetizing), it's time to recount my favorites of the last year.  Before I get to the creme de la creme of 2011, first I'd light to indulge and highlight a few favorites that didn't make my final list.  Admittedly, 2011 was a bit shy in brilliant cinema, but here's a few runners-up that caught my attention and stayed with me enough:

Certainly the best full-on comedy of 2011, and at times a deeply felt portrait of depression and self hatred.  Kristen Wiig co-wrote and starred in a tour de force performance that's ugly in that's utterly truthful and hysterical in its full on mania.  While the film sometimes feels shapeless and edited by shards (perhaps that's understandable to a degree, what with the wide range of improv pros in its ensemble...this must have been a monster edit to condense ever line reading into something that was coherent) and wears out it's welcome by a considerable run time, Bridesmaids need not be remembered as the female Hangover, but as an entity all of its own (and a surprise 2-time Oscar nominee) showcasing a wealth of talent, at least three whoppers of comedic sequencing (the endless toast, the airplane scene and the messy bridal shopping scene) and finally an ultimate coming out party for a star that's been at the sides for to long...that would be Wiig!

My second (or third) favorite Best Picture nominee depending on the moment of the day is Martin Scorsese's loving and beautifully rendered ode to le cinema.  Who else could turn something so dependent on major movie studio cash (in 3-D no less) and come up with something so utterly non-commercial and lush and an ultimate statement on film preservation.  Part of the joy of Hugo is, I believe, just that-- how else could a film be so critically beloved and Oscar-approved if it wasn't directed by the medium's most loyal admirer.  The slow and dithering first act finally seep into the realm of the magical when the auteur let's loose on the films (and his) most personal passion.  It also helps that Ben Kingsley gives such a moving (and sadly un-nominated) performance as Scorsese's stand-in-- a passionate filmmaker obsessed with the wonders of the past and the hopes of entwining it with the future.

Few people saw Michael Rowe's provocative film from Mexico, a Cannes winner at the 2010 festival.  Hardly matters, I suppose, for I'd hope the few brave moviegoers that did felt the same as me watching this difficult, raw and exposed portrait of a young woman, struck by guilt and shame, and only roused by the dangerous sexual ploys of her latest suitor.  Monica del Carmen and Gustavo Sanchez Parra may never become household names, but their intimate and soulfully rendered performances charge this voyeuristic and unsettling film.  Leap Year was notable, albeit only the small art house foreign language world, as a film full of sex, and that's more than true, but there's a genuine chill, not just from the content, but of the raw exposure that the actors dare to show and stillness that Rowe films it.  From a synopsis that might read as the NC-17-rated dramatic version of Bridget Jones's Diary comes an almost heartbreaking story of romantic longing and baggage that separates two people.  NETFLIX it!

I just saw, and just wrote about, but I can't quite shake Kenneth Lonergan's messy tapestry of a small personal tragedy woven into a greater post 9\11 mindset, thought-provoking drama.  Mostly I can't shake Anna Paquin's difficult, demanding and altogether stellar performance as a self-deprecating, self absorbent, hysterical teenager rapt by hormones and guilt-- it's such an exquisitely calibrated piece of acting that one certainly hopes that it's internal PR problems don't overshadow it's legacy.  That of which is a supremely flawed, but ambitious piece of filmmaking that feels all too literary and universally cinematic at once.

Every once in a while Woody Allen surprises us with something that reminds us why he is America's favorite screenwriter (or at least the Oscars) with something so undeniably charming and nimble and a perfect anecdote, not just for franchise filmmaking doldrums, but those who enjoy (and likely miss) the pitter-patter of delightfully witty banter.  While I feel that Midnight in Paris was ultimately too lightweight and slightly overrated (it's Allen highest grossing film in history, unadjusted for inflation) to get a shout out on my true top ten, I still feel more than smitten with his ode to Paris and his endless ruminations of the past.  For Woody Allen has never been hip, but a nerdy paean to his own neurosis-- that after a million pictures, maybe he's soften (and realized that not every one of films needs an Allen surrogate; though Owen Wilson is quite close to the model) and become playful and maybe even inventive like he was in the 80s with such confections as The Purple Rose of Cairo and Zelig again.  Whatever the case, Midnight in Paris, while not transcendent is still pretty lovely.

Again with lightweight, but whatever, The Muppets was pure joy through and through, even when it stretched out farther than it needed to, and even though not quite every joke landed.  The film started with the wondrous refrain, "Life's a Happy Song," and for the most part lived up to it.  For me it was almost an awakening of characters I hadn't realized that I missed-- a silly and madcap caper with the best showbiz "let's go on with the show" attitude I've seen in years.

James Marsh won an Oscar for directing Man on a Wire, and his follow-up was shortlisted this year for the Academy.  Unfortunately, it didn't make the final cut, but kvetching aside, Project Nim was one of the best documentaries of the last year for sure.  In recounting, using clever archival footage, reenactments and actor accompaniment, Marsh made a sad, unforgiving and poignant feature about a chimp that was raised like a human in the late 1970s.  While the animal abuse angle of the subject is the most emotional, the human aspect to Nim and the humanity in which his story is told is bold and unforgettable.

What with Hugo and The Artist, 2011 was quite a year for the grand homage to filmmaking.  While The Artist payed tribute to the silent era, and Hugo delved even earlier, Super 8 was all about the age of Spielberg, and it was a nice and humble tribute that while may have delivered less than its blockbuster intent was a gleefully (perhaps too sincere) ode to the naivete of youthful creativity.  Whatever criticisms exist, and many are quite valid, even a fan must admit, there's a dash of magic and spark of awe that lights up in remembering J.J. Abrams homemade-felt dash of 70s-seaped, Close Encounters-inspired pastiche.

How does one tell a crazy story of an ex-beauty queen who kidnapped her lover and seduced him to turn his Mormon beliefs away so they can be together.  Well, one hires Errol Morris, the classiest and shrewdest American documentarian of modern times and the rest sells itself.  Tabloid was a genuine contender on my top ten, and stands as one of the best documentaries of recent year.  Of course the Academy wasn't going to's so weird, and playful with the subject too wild and Morris is clearly having too much fun baiting Joyce McKinney, a woman of a questionable past and perhaps even more questionable memory.  The film makes perhaps an obvious, not dishonest, note about the nature of infamy in our pop culture, and McKinney, through strangeness (and perhaps high IQ) is either a knowing or naive product of such...she's now best known as a crazy broad who cloned her dog.

Most of praise of the underrated dark comedy was given to Charlize Theron's beautifully ugly comedic performance as a writer of teen lit trying to woo back her old boyfriend, as well as writer Diablo Cody's anti-Juno antihero creation.  While I toast both (Theron is terrific in the role, even more specific and texture than her Oscar-winning Monster), I think the true champion of Jason Reitman's fourth feature as a director is film editor Dana E. Glauberman, whose lean finessing leaves a trim finished product without a wasted shot and with precise attention to Theron's terse and ingenious line readings.  Young Adult was a strong contender for my last slot, and I almost feel remiss to include it in the also ran pile, however despite it's paltry box office and zero Oscar interest, I'm hopeful not just for the films legacy, but for the opportunity to see more of Cody's dark side and Theron's funny side...she's got a gift!

Monday, February 6, 2012


With all the troubles and bad press that comes with Kenneth Lonergan's Margaret, it's a bit difficult to see the movie outside of all of that.  Filmed in 2005, Lonergan's second feature as writer\director-- following his 2000 acclaimed art house film You Can Count on Me-- the film was only given a teeny toddler of an actual release in September of last year.  What with all the lawsuits and bridges burned within the post-production hell, it certainly felt that distributor Fox Searchlight saw nothing else to do than to bury this troubled movie.  Whatever disputes and trials it took for it come around, the most unsettling thing about Margaret is that it's too much a thing a value to easily shake.  While the version I saw was not Lonergan's vision-- most of the legal action had to due with the monster editing job that a bevy of the world's most accomplished cutters took part in for the film to reach it's contractually obligated two-hours and thirty-minute run time-- and thus perhaps, still unfinished, Margaret is such a messy, ambitious, volatile film of scope.  Martin Scorsese is claimed to have called an earlier, much longer cut, a "masterpiece" some years back, and while the great auteur may have more patience than myself, there's so much texture and longing in the "final" product for the film to be totally overtaken by it's negative public relations.

Margaret is also a bit of a relic-- but in the sort of rediscovery sense-- not just because leading actress Anna Paquin is playing a high school student, or that co-star Matt Damon looks ten years younger, or that the film features Olivia Thirlby before she became Juno's BFF, or Rosemarie DeWitt before she was Rachel Getting Married in small parts.  Margaret was written and filmed in a specific post-9\11 New York City mindset, a mood that carries the movie in it's anger, sensitivity and its sense of ambivalence and adjusted morality.  And how a smaller more personal tragedy (at the root of its story) equates with a larger more global one.  Not to say the film isn't overstuffed, or pretentious (it fits both a whole lot-- this is a sprawling ensemble drama where Upper West Side teenagers speak like middle aged intellectuals and its title is taken from a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem briefly mentioned), but its messiness and rough around the edges exterior actually compliment the messiness of its complicated characters.  Lonergan's gift for novelistic characterizations (which was so potent in You Can Count on Me) is given greater depth and bigger scope with Margaret, that the parts that sting do so with such power.  It's a shame, or at least interesting, that so much of the film is shapeless and unformed.  That is aside from it's leading character.

Paquin plays Lisa, a 17-year-old Manhattanite of certain privilege.  Smart, and pretty if a bit too tightly wound and overly hysterical.  At the beginning, there's banal exchanges-- her debating her geometry teacher (Damon) over a test grade, a nervous boy trying to ask her out, a quest for a cowboy hat-- before the tone shifts.  Lisa lays witness (and may be partially responsible for) a bus accident that kills a pedestrian.  Shot with anguish and naked emotion and Paquin's blood soaked clothing as she comes to victim's aid, it's clear within that early sequence, that Lisa's overly pampered adolescence is pretty much over.  Not that she see's it like that immediately.  Paquin is so adept at channeling such girlish hormonal histrionics and tuning with on in different ways with different characters, that at times her performance feels like a carnival act.  But her sense of guilt and moral dilemma of culpability are just as vividly expressed when she's capital A acting versus when she's given moments of silence.  It's such a complicated characterization that one would be hard pressed to simply write her off as unlikable or good or bad-- she's human.  At times irritating, selfish, stubborn, but also empathetic and aware of her own brattiness.  One of the films best and worst qualities is in the very human way, especially after something traumatic, that life goes on.  Margaret goes on...and on, in finding that striking imbalance of dealing with something deep and the (un)healthy human reaction to continue as if everything is alright.

Lisa's complications arise when hit with tremendous bursts of guilt-- her statement wasn't entirely accurate-- she did so in a way to help the bus driver (played by Mark Ruffalo), who must have a family to support, and to overcome her own responsibility.  She's also got a heavily dysfunctional relationship with her family-- her mother Joan (played by J. Smith Cameron) has bouts of hysterical mood shifts herself, which compliment her as a successful stage actress; her father is in Los Angeles in is played by Lonergan himself in a series of increasingly flippant phone conversations.  Rounding out the intensity are the bickering post-9\11 debates at school, where Lisa's classrooms might as well be war rooms.  The tapestry of the nuanced textures of the Lisa's life are massive, even if the locations themselves are commonplace.  The words are strong and the mood is all over the map-- there's even a snap shot of romantic comedy as Joan is pursued by Jean Reno, in the films wonkiest stretches-- but is somehow kept together because Lonergan never loses focus with Lisa, and Paquin's performance, prickly as it is, is what Margaret is rested upon.  In Lisa's over-compensated attempts at making amends, she befriends the victim's sole friend, another prickly New York broad, played with brio by Jeannie Berlin, and the films final sections set about the wrong and right ways this accident such be held accounted for.  It's striking (not to give anything away) that Margaret becomes a cynical near satire of sorts of naked human suffering.

What's left with this problematic film?  Well, it's still a problem, and quasi-operatic undertones jell unevenly with the somber personal themes, but there's a wealth of wonderful acting and writing and that ambition thing comes back.  Lonergan has so many conflicting ideas and so much at stake in Margaret, it could fill four films I'm sure.  But even in it's unrefined state, there's an almost lovely glow even in it's soggiest, a flicker of hope and artfulness that wasn't yet established eleven years ago when he made his first feature.  It's in the candid moments and sequences of New Yorkers unaware of what their fair city will become, full of fear, but also warmth.  And while it may be but a relic some six years after the movie was shot, there's also a bit of timelessness to it as well, as while those days (for better or worse) may be gone, the memories of them are still so engrained in our soul.

Perhaps the best thing to come from it's barely-there invisible release last September, was a movement started on Twitter, #TeamMargaret, formed in an effort to get the film back in cinemas, and to continue and further the conversation.  I can think of fewer films in the last year that have the ability to generate such an immediate after-thought-- whether it is loved or hated, or both, it would be hard not to be affected on some level.  While the campaign itself may have been just as quiet as the film's release was, it did come back to a few screens, and while I myself may not quite by on Team Margaret, I stand beside it, for this movement, I believe, is not just for a chance for audiences to get to see Lonergan's film, but also a case for inexpensive, American dramas about grown ups, for grown ups to once again have it's place in the cinema all too crowded with unnecessary and banal sequels and wannabe franchise whats-its.  Whether affected or not, Fox Searchlight did send out screeners of Margaret to Academy members in late December; the film received no Oscar nominations, but I would argue-- even for those whose generosity for the film doesn't go beyond interesting failure-- that Margaret is leaps and bounds better than most of nine nominated Best Pictures.  B+

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Annie Award Winners

2011, and it's sad year of animated features is almost are the Annie Winners:
DIRECTING: Jennifer Yuh Nelson, Kung Fu Panda 2
VOICE ACTING: Bill Nighy, Arthur Christmas
WRITING: Rango- John Logan
SCORE: John Williams, The Adventure of Tintin
STORYBOARDING: Winnie the Pooh
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