Month: January 2012

Rambling Thoughts on the Oscar Nominations

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  • Best Pic: Glad Tree of Life snuck in there, but, as everyone else is lamenting, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close? Really?
  • Director: Yay Terrence Malick! Surprised no Spielberg. Yay Woody Allen! First nod in 18 years!
  • Actor: Surprised Demian Bichir got a nod. It’s this year’s Javier Bardem! Also surprised no Leo. Poor him. Also, yay Gary Oldman!!
  • Actress: Surprised with Rooney Mara and no Tilda Swinton. Sad face.
  • Supporting Actor: Nick Nolte? Surprising. Jonah Hill? sort of. Max von Sydow? Sort of. No Albert Brooks? Blasphemy!
  • Supporting Actress: Jessica Chastain and Melissa McCarthy EFF YEAH!
  • Adapted Screenplay: Yay Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy! otherwise no surprises
  • Original Screenplay: YAY BRIDESMAIDS!
  • Animated Film: YAY RANGO! (totally called Cat in Paris, btw)
  • Cinematography: If Tree of Life does not win, I will shoot someone.
  • Sound Editing: YAY DRIVE. Boo, no other nominations for Drive. Where s Albert Brooks? damn.
  • Original Score: The Artist…looks like Kim Novak can suck it.
  • Original Song: only two nominations? I bet Juan is happy Muppets got a nod.
  • Documentary: I hated If a Tree Falls. Hope PINA wins.
  • do you think we’ll ever reach a time where they have a special 3D category?
  • other thoughts: disappointed with no Death Hallows 2 nods except tech categories. No Drive. No Melancholia. sad face. Really disappointed with no Lars von Trier nod and no Kirsten Dunst nod. At least she had Cannes. Also, no Fassbender for Shame. Very surprised, but I guess masturbation isn’t a thing the Academy likes. Or does. xD
  • also…FUK YEAH WOODY ALLEN. FOUR, count ‘em, FOUR nominations for my beloved Midnight in Paris. Best Picture, his first since 1986’s Hannah and Her Sisters, Best Director, first since 1994’s Bullets Over Broadway, Best Original Screenplay, first since 2005’s Match Point, and Best Art Direction! YES. My day has been made by this.

Place Your Bets: The 84th Academy Award Nominations

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BEST MOTION PICTURE OF THE YEAR

“The Artist”(The Weinstein Co.)
Thomas Langmann, Producer

“The Descendants”(Fox Searchlight)
Jim Burke, Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, Producers

“Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” (Warner Bros.)
Scutt Rudin, Producer

“The Help”(Touchstone)
Brunson Green, Chris Columbus and Michael Barnathan, Producers

“Hugo”(Paramount)
Graham King and Martin Scorsese, Producers

“Midnight in Paris”(Sony Pictures Classics)
Letty Aronson and Stephen Tenenbaum, Producers

“Moneyball”(Sony Pictures)
Michael De Luca, Rachael Horovitz and Brad Pitt, Producers

“The Tree of Life”(Fox Searchlight)
Nominees TBD

“War Horse”(Touchstone)
Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy, Producers

ACHIEVEMENT IN DIRECTING

Michel Hazanavicius – “The Artist”

Alexander Payne – “The Descendants”

Martin Scorsese – “Hugo”

Woody Allen – “Midnight in Paris”

Terrence Malick – “The Tree of Life.”

PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

Demián Bichir – “A Better Life”

George Clooney – “The Descendants”

Jean Dujardin – “The Artist”

Gary Oldman – “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”

Brad Pitt – “Moneyball”

PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

Glenn Close – “Albert Nobbs”

Viola Davis – “The Help”

Rooney Mara – “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”

Meryl Streep – “The Iron Lady”

Michelle Williams – “My Week with Marilyn”

PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Kenneth Branagh – “My Week with Marilyn”

Jonah Hill – “Moneyball”

Nick Nolte – “Warrior”

Christopher Plummer – “Beginners”

Max von Sydow – “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”

PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Berenice Bejo – “The Artist”

Jessica Chastain – “The Help”

Melissa McCarthy – “Bridesmaids”

Janet McTeer – “Albert Nobbs”

Octavia Spencer – “The Help.”

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash – “The Descendants”

John Logan – “Hugo”

George Clooney, Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon – “The Ides of March”

Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin and Stan Chervin – “Moneyball”

Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan – “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.”

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Michel Hazanavicius – “The Artist”

Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig – “Bridesmaids”

J.C. Chandor – “Margin Call”

Woody Allen – “Midnight in Paris”

Asghar Farhadi – “A Separation.”

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM OF THE YEAR

“A Cat in Paris” – Alain Gagnol and Jean-Loup Felicioli

“Chico & Rita” – Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal

“Kung Fu Panda 2” – Jennifer Yuh Nelson

“Puss in Boots” – Chris Miller

“Rango” – Gore Verbinski

ANIMATED SHORT FILM

“Dimanche/Sunday”

“The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore”

“La Luna”

“A Morning Stroll”

“Wild Life”

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

“Bullhead” (Belgium)

“Footnote” (Israel)

“In Darkness” (Poland)

“Monsieur Lazhar” (Canada)

“A Separation” (Iran)

CINEMATOGRAPHY

“The Artist” – Guillaume Schiffman

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” – Jeff Cronenweth

“Hugo” – Robert Richardson

“The Tree of Life” – Emmanuel Lubezki

“War Horse” – Janusz Kaminski

SOUND MIXING

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” – David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce and Bo Persson

“Hugo” – Tom Fleischman and John Midgley

“Moneyball” – Deb Adair, Ron Bochar, Dave Giammarco and Ed Novick

“Transformers: Dark of the Moon” – Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers, Jeffrey J. Haboush and Peter J. Devlin

“War Horse” – Andy Nelson, Tom Johnson and Stuart Wilson

SOUND EDITING

“Drive” – Lon Bender and Victor Ray Ennis

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” – Ren Klyce

“Hugo” – Philip Stockton and Eugene Gearty

“Transformers: Dark of the Moon” – Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl

“War Horse” – Richard Hymns and Gary Rydstrom

ORIGINAL SCORE

Ludovic Bource – “The Artist”

Alberto Iglesias – “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”

Howard Shore – “Hugo”

John Williams – “The Adventures of Tintin”

John Williams – “War Horse”

ORIGINAL SONG

“Man or Muppet” from “The Muppets” – Bret McKenzie

“Real in Rio” from “Rio” – Sergio Mendes, Carlinhos Brown and Siedah Garrett.

COSTUME DESIGN

“Anonymous” – Lisy Christl

“The Artist” – Mark Bridges

“Hugo” – Sandy Powell

“Jane Eyre” – Michael O’Connor

“W.E.” – Arianne Phillips

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

“Hell and Back Again” – Danfung Dennis and Mike Lerner

“If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front” – Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman

“Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory” – Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky

“Pina” – Wim Wenders and Gian-Piero Ringel

“Undefeated” – TJ Martin, Dan Lindsay and Richard Middlemas

DOCUMENTARY (SHORT SUBJECT)

“The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement” – Robin Fryday and Gail Dolgin

“God Is the Bigger Elvis” – Rebecca Cammisa and Julie Anderson

“Incident in New Baghdad” – James Spione

“Saving Face” – Daniel Junge and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy

“The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom” – Lucy Walker and Kira Carstensen

ART DIRECTION

“The Artist” – Production Design: Laurence Bennett, Set Decoration: Robert Gould

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2” – Production Design: Stuart Craig, Set Decoration: Stephenie McMillan

“Hugo” – Production Design: Dante Ferretti, Set Decoration: Francesca Lo Schiavo

“Midnight in Paris” – Production Design: Anne Seibel, Set Decoration: Hélène Dubreuil

“War Horse” – Production Design: Rick Carter, Set Decoration: Lee Sandales

FILM EDITING

“The Artist” – Anne-Sophie Bion and Michel Hazanavicius

“The Descendants” – Kevin Tent

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” – Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall

“Hugo” – Thelma Schoonmaker

“Moneyball” – Christopher Tellefsen

MAKEUP

“Albert Nobbs” – Martial Corneville, Lynn Johnston and Matthew W. Mungle

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2” – Nick Dudman, Amanda Knight and Lisa Tomblin

“The Iron Lady” – Mark Coulier and J. Roy Helland

LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM

“Pentecost” – Peter McDonald and Eimear O’Kane

“Raju” – Max Zähle and Stefan Gieren

“The Shore” – Terry George and Oorlagh George

“Time Freak” – Andrew Bowler and Gigi Causey

“Tuba Atlantic” – Hallvar Witzo

VISUAL EFFECTS

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2” – Tim Burke, David Vickery, Greg Butler and John Richardson

“Hugo” – Rob Legato, Joss Williams, Ben Grossman and Alex Henning

“Real Steel” – Erik Nash, John Rosengrant, Dan Taylor and Swen Gillberg

“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” – Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, R. Christopher White and Daniel Barrett

“Transformers: Dark of the Moon” – Scott Farrar, Scott Benza, Matthew Butler and John Frazier

 

Seems Like Old Times: “Annie Hall” and “When Harry Met Sally…”

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Picture it: two adults, male and female, walking around in a book store discussing the importance of death and misery in life. They seem like smart, well-adjusted people. Now picture this: two adults, again male and female, driving from Chicago to New York and discussing whether men and women can just be friends. These two mildly philosophical conversations come from two very different films, despite the former often being cited as inspiration for the latter. The two films in question are Woody Allen’s Annie Hall and Rob Reiner’s When Harry Met Sally…, two films that both take place in New York and both explore the nuances within relationships.

As often as When Harry Met Sally is said to be a rather obvious homage to Woody Allen’s “first mature film”, and to some extent Annie Hall’s companion Manhattan, the two films seem too different to really be considered similar at all.

Annie Hall’s anxiety ridden relationship between comedian Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) and the tennis playing/amateur photographer/night club singer Annie Hall (Diane Keaton) is far more realistic in the way it explores the trials and tribulations of dealing with an adult relationship. Allen seems to make it obvious that as good as Singer and Hall are together, they aren’t meant for each other. They’re both pretty emotionally stunted as people, neither of them having fully matured, as adults sometimes do (or don’t). It is an adult relationship, one that’s seen in a very non-linear fashion. Instead of seeing the direct development of the relationship, we get thrown into the middle of it, almost as if Allen expects us to know who these people are. This could be very risky, but instead it pays off. While we may not be as terribly cynical or anxious as the pair are, Alvy Singer and Annie Hall are us. It’s the kind of relationship any adult can identify with. Those same kinds of fights and arguments and wishes for perfection have all been brought up and dealt with, and Allen brings up these topics with knowledge and insight.

When Harry Met Sally…, which was written by Nora Ephron, portrays a different kind of relationship. We have the development from stranger to friend to best friends to lovers to strangers to people in love. It’s kind of a long cycle, and it remains relatively realistic…except when you get to the sex. Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) isn’t as anxious as Singer, but he seems just as deadpan and pessimistic (just consider his thoughts on death), and Sally Albright (Meg Ryan) is a different kind of high maintenance compared to Hall. Harry and Sally continually meet by chance and then, after several years, become best friends. Up to here, the relationship resembles many a male-female friendship you see. But when the tow have sex and they stop talking, it’s here that the relationship turns into the stuff of fiction. Yes, the sex and the following cold should is fine, but getting back together is not. While it’s an intricate and romantic portrait of a friendship, the ensuing relationship is not as realistically portrayed as in Annie Hall.

It can be summed up pretty easily: the intellectual, cynical, snobby, pessimistic, embittered singleton in me loves Annie Hall. But the hopeless romantic, the one who loves everything sweet and sappy, adores When Harry Met Sally just as much. But the two films are too different two really compare to one another. Their formats, their view of love, and their general aesthetic. While When Harry Met Sally is punctuated by pretty scenes in Central Park, Annie Hall’s nicest moments, with cinematographer Gordon Willis, are intermittent, sometimes so spontaneously pretty and quick that you barely notice. The format of the films are different. Even though Annie Hall is told in a somewhat autobiographical way with Allen often breaking the fourth wall, When Harry Met Sally is told through various time intervals with intermittent interviews with older couples and their life stories. If anything, aside from its New York setting, the most blatant homage and only real similarity between the two films is the opening titles. Plain white font against a black background.

Both films most definitely have their merits. Annie Hall is more overtly cerebal and sarcastic in its humor, as Woody Allen’s humor tends to be. When Harry Met Sally however is more along the lines of the witty banter that seems to be a contemporary update of the back and forth lines that filled the films of Howard Hawks. Both, however, are excellent films, extremely funny, and utterly romantic. It had to be both of them.

Annie Hall: A

When Harry Met Sally: A

Head Under Water: Review for “The Descendants”

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Making a good dramedy, or even black comedy, is not a science. Although, when watching them, one feels that it should be. Balancing out the drama and the comedic timing is often imperfect, but films like Gran Torino get away with it without pushing the audience way because it is not “serious enough”. It ends up being both impactful in an emotional aspect as well as a humorous one. The subject matter is also up for grabs, for as long as there is good writing and better acting, they can get away with murder (see: Fargo). Alexander Payne, whose last film was the critically acclaimed Sideways in 2004 which I have not seen) and before that About Schmidt (which I have seen), likes deadpan, dark humor. Probably a bit darker than even one of the darkest of comedies, Withnail and I. That means his films can often be a hit or a miss with viewers.

Here, Payne tries to balance the nuance of drama and the absurdity of comedy in The Descendants, whose working title could have been “White People Problems Starring George Clooney as a Handsome White People”. It is a family drama, one that begins with Clooney’s wife in the hospital after a water skiing accident and leads into Clooney learning he has been, as in all interesting familial dramas since Shakespeare’s Othello, cuckolded. His journey not only involves confronting the man with whom his wife cheated on, but also telling various family members of his wife’s now terminal condition and that, according to her will, she wants the plug to be pulled. The journey is taken with Clooney, whose character name is Matt King, as well as with his 17 year old daughter Alex (Shailene Woodley), his 10 year old daughter (Amara Miller), and this dopey kid Alex knows Sid (Nick Krause). All the while, King, who is the sole trust owner of 25,000 acres of Hawaiian land that his ancestor had as her dowry, must decide to whom he must sell this humungous plot.

It all goes down in rather dramatic fashion. That, right there, is one of the main problems. Not only is it sometimes terribly melodramatic, there’s barely a hint of comedy in the film. That is not always because it is not in the screenplay, but the comedic timing of both the director as well as the actors is so poor, they can manage to turn something that could have been highly amusing into something middling and unintentionally annoying. There is no balance here. There is no contrast of the dark drama of human life against the absurdity of it manifested as humor, unlike, say, Woody Allen’s ambitious “comedy up against drama” film Crimes and Misdemeanors. Granted, that film is broader in its comedic format, but even the Coen Brothers, who’ve mastered the art of dark comedy, made something insane and dark like Burn After Reading into something hilarious.

Maybe it is because that the two aforementioned directors (or three, depending on who’s counting) are superb screenwriters, legendary for their wit, pathos, and dialogue. The dialogue in this film comes to a screeching halt. It’s almost as if the actors were not only speaking in clichés, which would have been bad enough, but had been taking them directly from Lifetime Movies. Lines as hard hitting like, “You really have no clue, do you?” and “It’s obvious, isn’t it?” and the tender, “I love my family; I love my wife!” pepper the film’s uninteresting yet relentless melodramatic scenario. That being said, the use of voiceover is actually nice. Creating that kind of nuance and introspection that the films of Charlie Kaufman have been able to do, Clooney’s voice over is calm and nice to listen to. But, like all good things, it does not last. It barely takes up 20 minutes of the film, and thus comes off as inconsistent. The voiceover never actually returns. Regardless of it being presented in the present tense, this inconsistency seems kind of lazy.

Clooney’s performance is nuanced enough so that you can see all the stress etched into his face and his eyes. But because one can normally rely on him having some sort of comedic timing, such as in Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s trilogy, his almost brute unfunniness is a shock and even a bit jarring. You often see him looking down at his shorts to something, contemplating why bad things happen to good people. The problem being, it takes too long for the film to get going for the audience to actually care about his situation. However, his performance, generally speaking, is very good. Just not great.

Shailene Woodley plays an angsty teenager, which is to say, to some extent, playing a character that is completely derivative. Her performance is unoriginal and unenticing. Being a regular on the ABC Family melodrama/teen soap The Secret Life of the American Teenager, Woodley is used to playing this archetype and also well acquainted with the concept of turning on the water works. Again, if only we (or I) cared.

Yes, the film covers a rather dramatic subject matter. But it all seems so trite and lazily done. There is to enough pathos in the film to render it believable or worthy, and it instead comes off as a movie about rich white people problems. With the cinematography being occasionally ostentatious (oh, hey, let’s punctuate each scene transition with pretty Hawaiian landscapes), the acting being pretty lacking with the exception of Clooney, and the dialogue being completely ridiculous, it’s kind of shocking how far off the rails this film went, when it could have been a moving, funny, and intimate portrait of a family going through a tremendous loss with scattered moments of humor. It ended up just being depressing, halfhearted, and lackluster.

Grade: C

Game On: Review for “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”

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The introduction of the “videogame aesthetic” – hyper kinetic editing, ultra-somewhat cartoonish-violence, ear splitting use of sound effects – in mainstream films has been rightfully condemned by critics. Let’s face it; it’s a chore to watch those movies. As “exciting” and “adrenaline pumping” as they are, it’s actually hard to keep up. If I wanted to watch a video game, I’d go over my friend’s house and say “Oh, no, I don’t want to ruin your kill-death ratio” and just watch him play. Video game aesthetics, or what one person called “chaos cinema”, are endless hogwash of attempted excitement that are generally used to cover up and distract from the mediocrity that is everything else.

Allow me to sound somewhat like one of those guys on infomercials and say, “But what if I told you there was a movie that used ‘video game aesthetics’ to its advantage?” The difference being that the video game aesthetics that the film emulates are retro, so to speak, and resemble something more along the lines of arcade games than first person shooters. Nevertheless, you still get a similar kind of adrenaline thrill from this iteration of graphics and editing style that you may encounter elsewhere.

The film in question is Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, directed by British filmmaker Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz), which was adapted from a series of comic books. The fact that it is based on a comic book, one that also tries to emulate arcade style, is telling about the film’s visual style. Not only does it feature that amusing 8-bit sound occasionally (especially in for the Universal Studios beginning), but it feels like a comic book. Sometimes the camera pans from a panel to another, other times there are clear descriptors of characters or actions or cuts in the edit that feel like a comic book. The last time something vaguely similar was pulled off well was in 2005’s Sin City, which utilized the original Frank Miller graphic novels as the actual storyboards. Scott Pilgrim does just as well, creating that same kind of nerdy, almost hipster vibe, without alienating the viewer.

I’ve babbled on long enough about technical details. But what about the film itself? Scott Pilgrim is a nerdy, kind of awkward 22 year old Canadian kid (Michael Cera playing Michael Cera again) who falls for an aloof American girl named Ramona (Mary, Elizabeth Winstead). But before he can date her, he must battle her Seven Evil Exes. Which is exactly what it sounds like.

Melding varying genres generally found in comic books, while it’s not the most premise I’ve ever seen, it is pretty interesting considering. Not only does the aesthetic make this very niche-made film work, the performances and script add more power to the punch. The witty and fast talking screenplay was written by director Wright and Michael Bacall, a script that never lets up. It’s speedy and fun, and I’ll probably get some crap for this, but it’s reminiscent of the fast talking screwball comedies of Howard Hawks. Did I mention it’s hilarious and quotable?

Michael Cera…well, he plays Michael Cera again, which is fine. It works for the character, who is, as per usual, dorky and a little awkward. Scott Pilgrim isn’t actually as awkward as Cera’ characters tend to be. It’s a fine performance, but nothing to rave about. The film pretty much rests on his shoulders, and one does come out surprised that he could actually battle those Seven Evil Exes.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead, however, is a revelation. Playing the slightly broken, rather impulsive Ramona, her character is definitely reminiscent of Kate Winslet’s broken, impulsive Clementine from Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The character could have been perceived as fairly one dimensional, but her comedic timing is great and she gives the character a tender fragility.

The supporting cast is also great. From Kieran Culkin as Scott’s gay roommate Wallace, Audra Plaza (Parks and Recreation) as the sharp and foulmouthed Julie, and the Seven Evil Exes themselves, it ends up being a supporting cast that makes the film.

The thumping, probably hipster-esque music is a highlight of the film. Partly compiled and written by Beck, it thumps, throngs, and shakes with powerful bass and a dynamic sound that is, while completely self-referential, completely fantastic to listen to. It not only fits the generally hipster feel of the film, but also its Canadian locale.

Generally speaking, almost every element of the film is rendered perfectly. It does exactly what it is supposed to do and it’s a fast and fun film, a ride that is totally original and memorable. It’s the kind of film that, if it were a game, you would definitely be scrambling for more tokens so you could play it again.

Grade: A-