Thursday, September 22, 2011

"Rise of the Planet of the Apes" Review (In Theatres)

                                                                                                                                   4 1/2 stars

     Let me start by saying that I have never been a big fan of the Planet of the Apes franchise.  When I first heard about this film's impending release, my initial reaction was "Another one?".  My second reaction was to yawn.  I truly had no intention to see it.
     Then I saw the first trailer.  It looked far more interesting than I had expected.  Hell, it looked good.  The critical response followed suit, as did the box office.  Next thing you know, I found myself on the way to the theater to see it.  I am so, SO glad that I did.
     So much great science fiction centers around humanity's quest to improve their lives through technology, consequently causing their own downfall.  This movie flips that template on end.  Mankind's destruction at its own hands serves as a backdrop to this story, but this tale is not really ABOUT mankind.  It is about the apes, and it is especially about Caesar.
     Much has been said in the media about Andy Serkis's performance.  Be prepared... I'm about to say more.  We all know how well Serkis does this kind of work (motion capture) from the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  His work as Gollum was outstanding, but nothing compared to his performance here.  When  Caesar is a child, his reactions are simplistic, almost like a normal chimpanzee.  Awe, wonder, terror, all those overblown childhood expressions that never look as comfortable on the faces of adults, are captured brilliantly.  The real challenge, though, comes as Caesar ages.  Serkis is given the daunting task of conveying all the complex inner workings of a well developed leading role through facial expression alone and does it so well that the audience never thinks of him as an animal, or monster.  In this award worthy turn, Serkis makes Caesar more human than the humans.
     Which bothered me, if I'm being honest, as I watched the film.  Most of the human cast is fairly two-dimensional by comparison to their simian counterparts.  Of course, this is totally by design, and becomes essential to the film's thematic development, as we'll discuss later.  Still, the limited demands of playing Will Redman seemed to be a waste of James Franco's considerable talents.  Only John Lithgowe, as Will's dementia ridden father Charles, is given any sort of emotional range to work in.
     Writers Jaffa and Silver do an excellent job of crafting a very creative prequel to a well known series.  One can easily see how the events in this film could unfold over centuries to create the world of The Planet of the Apes.Yet, this is still a perfect insertion point for new fans, whole in and of itself, with a needfully modernized tone and pacing.  For returning fans, there are a few subtle tips of the hat to the original.  Caesar's  mother is named "Bright Eyes" just as Charlton Heston's character was dubbed by his ape captors.  There is another moment that repeats a line from the first film in a similarly flipped allusion.  I would say more, but it would be far too much of a spoiler.
     The special effects work here is tremendous.  Much of the film, including some complex action sequences near the end, is completely reliant upon a perfect marriage of motion capture, original CGI, and live action footage.  I've never seen these elements integrated more intricately or seamlessly.  This film should be a formidable competitor in this year's Visual Effects race, as well as in one or both of the sound categories.
     Ultimately, this film is a commentary on the dehumanizing effects of living in modern society.  Will's boss Steven Jacobs (as played by David Oyelowo) is a monstrous soldier of capitalism.  Will and his love interest Caroline (Frieda Pinto) are more sympathetic in their intentions, but are still so emotionally flat that I can only believe that actors of this caliber and emotional range made a conscious choice to portray them that way.
     Tyler Labine evinces a little more depth as animal psychology expert Robert Franklin, but this could easily be due to his immersion in the psyches of more natural, primal beings.  His limited immunity to the heart deadening conventions of civilization does not ultimately protect him, however, as he becomes the first victim when humanity's self destruction kicks into high gear.
     As I said before, Will's father Charles is easily the most fully realized human character in the movie.  His Alzheimer's is the inspiration for his son's research and therefore the source of Caesar's evolution.  It also removes him from caring for, or understanding of, modern society's conventions.  This returns him to a more human (albeit confused) way of viewing and relating to the world around him.
     It is in Caesar, however, that we see the spark of true humanity.  Jacobs goes in guns blazing to defend his profits.  Caesar shows compassion to his enemies, time and again.  He compels his "people" to behave in the same manner, even when faced with aggression and brute violence.  Civilization is shown to be the "new barbarism".
     On the surface, Rise of the Planet of the Apes appears to be a pointless relaunch of a tired franchise.  On the contrary, it quickly reveals itself to be a full re-imagination of a classic concept, an allegory for a new age. It certainly pays homage to, and builds off of what has come before, but it emerges fully realized as a relevant, poignant portrait of today's modern world.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Best Screenplay Nominations - Aug...oh hell, September

     Ok, so I have been REALLY slack the last few days about finishing out my first round predictions in the top eight categories.  These totals are a little behind, and do not reflect the reviews coming out of the Venice and Telluride film festivals.  Let's say that The Descendants and The Artist should probably be considered to have received a surge of buzz since I drafted these charts and leave it at that.  Oh, and Shame.  We'll get to all of that, though, in October.
     The screenplay nominations in both categories are usually filled by Best Picture nominees and near miss Best Picture nominees.  In a field with ten slots for Best Picture, eight or nine of them would have corresponding screenplay nods.  Last year, Black Swan was the surprise omission.  The year before, it was far less surprising to see both Avatar and The Blind Side left out.  "Unobtanium" indeed, Cameron should have just called it "Fossilfuelitate" and been done with it.
     The writer's branch occasionally throws a curve ball nomination to a film kept out of Best Picture's nearer orbits by its genre.  Highly acclaimed comedies (Bridesmaids?), horror films, sci-fi flicks, and animated features all have a better shot at screenplay than they do at best picture.  The most recent surprise of this sort was dark comedy In The Loop at the 82nd Oscars.
     On a final note, no matter how original of a story it tells, any film that utilizes characters already established in a previous film or other media (i.e. sequels), is automatically considered an Adapted Screenplay candidate.
     Anyway, let's start with the Originals:

  1.  Midnight In Paris - Woody Allen (59)     (2 wins out of 14 nominations in writing categories)
Best Picture prospects look better all the time and this would be this year's most likely spoiler in any event.  Then again...I don't have a then again, it might not WIN, but...
  2. J. Edgar - Dustin Lance Black (57)     (1 win out of 1 nomination)
True life story of a controversial figure that seems right in Black's wheelhouse.  Then again...might the generation gap between he and Eastwood make for an incongruous pairing?
  3.  The Tree of Life - Terrence Malick (42)     (0 wins out of 1 nomination in writing categories)
Aging, iconic writer/director.  Then again...allegations have been made that the film doesn't utilize the script well.
  4.  Young Adult - Diablo Cody (40)     (1 win out of 1 nomination)
First project to reunite Cody with Juno collaborator Reitman.  Then again...high expectations are easy to fall short of.
  5.  Like Crazy - Drake Doremus & Ben York Jones (31)  (both never nominated)
Highly acclaimed on the festival circuit, this film could easily slip in here even if nowhere else.  Then again...relatively unknown writing/directing team may hurt its chances.

  6.  The Artist - Michael Hazanavicius (30)     (never nominated)
If this film performs as well in the Best Picture race as many are expecting, look for it here as well.  Then again...will the lack of dialogue hurt its chances with a branch so reliant on spoken words?
  7.  Contagion - Scott Z. Burns (26)     (never nominated)
If this film really transcends mere disaster flick status, it MUST start with the script.  Then again...that's a big if.
  8.  The Iron Lady - Abi Morgan (21)     (never nominated)
Abi Morgan does have two horses in the race this year.  Fans of Shame who think it is too dark to stand a chance could easily throw her support here. could split the vote among her supporters.
  9. Martha, Marcy, Mae, Marlene - Sean Durkin (19)    (never nominated)
The film (including the storyline) earned high praise at Sundance.  Then could be a little edgy for the more conservative members of AMPAS.
  10.  Super 8 - J.J. Abrams (15)
The film was an early year favorite for wide recognition.  Then has faded considerably due to lackluster critical response.
  Also with ten or more points:  Beginners - Mike Mills, Bridesmaids - Kristen Wiig & Annie Mumolo, Rampart - James Elroy & Oren Moverman, Shame - Abi Morgen & Steve McQueen, Take Shelter - Jeff Nichols, Take This Waltz - Sarah Polley

     Midnight in Paris is a lock.  J. Edgar will be as well if it doesn't flop.  The rest of the top five seem iffier at this point.  Expect The Artist to uproot something shortly.  If Martha, etc. or Take Shelter end up garnering serious attention in other races, nominations here seem like serious possibilities.
     And now...the adaptations:

  1.  The Ides of March - George Clooney & Grant Heslov (50)     (0 for 1 and 0 for 2)
Has two big pluses:  Buzz and Clooney.  Then again...of all Clooney's hats, this one is the least celebrated.
  2..War Horse - Lee Hall & Richard Curtis (46)     (both with 0 wins out of 1 nomination)
Perhaps the baitiest film of the season.  Then again...will the script stand up to the film's visual majesty?
  3.  The Descendants - Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, & Jim Rash (44)     (1 for 2, never, and never)
Payne is at least as respected for writing as he is for directing.  Then again...even here the film competes with that other Clooney picture.
  4.  A Dangerous Method - Christopher Hampton (36)     (1 win out of 2 nominations)
The two time nominee for Dangerous Liasons and Atonement is certainly no stranger to either the Kodak or the Academy.  Then again...has he already had his due?
  5.  Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close - Eric Roth (31)     (1 win out of 4 nominations)
Oscar certainly likes to keep inviting him back.  Then again...Can he capture the essence of the twenty-first century as effectively as he did the twentieth?

  6.  Moneyball - Aaron Sorkin & Steven Zaillian (29)     (1 for 1 and 1 for 3 respectively)
Has not one, but two former winners collaborating.  Then again...Sorkin JUST won and Zaillian is competing against his own work in Dragon Tattoo.
  7. We Bought a Zoo - Aline Brosh McKenna & Cameron Crowe (25)      (never & 1 for 2)
The Academy loves a comeback, this could be Crowe's. could be Elizabethtown.
  8.  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Steve Zaillian (24)     (1 win out of 3 nominations)
Strong source material and direction coupled with an accomplished writer.  Then again...has to stand up to both the source material and the original film adaptation.
  9.  Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy - Peter Straughan & Bridget O'Conner (19)     (both never nominated)
Early promotionals look great and buzz is slowly building.  Then again...will the film be more flash than substance?
  10.  The Help - Tate Taylor (18)     (never nominated)
Hugely popular film both with critics and the public.  Then again...its popularity is not due primarily to the script.
  Also with ten or more points:  Albert Nobbs (Glenn Close & John Bannville), Carnage (Roman Polanski), Hugo (John Logan), My Week With Marilyn, We Need To Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsey & Rory Kinnear)

     I don't know what to predict here.  Largely sight unseen, this list looks pretty good.  I do think Tinker is just waiting for something else to fall off, though.  Albert and Kevin seem like potential spoilers.

                          Watching hungrily for flies in the ointment,

Friday, September 2, 2011

Best Supporting Actress Predictions - August(like)

     This category is even more difficult to nail down than Best Supporting Actor.  The reason for this is that so many of the largest female roles in movies are still limited enough in screen time that they often land here rather than in Lead.  Category confusion confounds all the acting categories, but nowhere more so than here.
     That said, as of today (okay, two days ago) the buzz looks(ed) like this:

  1. The Help - Viola Davis (61)     (0 wins out of 1 nomination)
The Academy caught flack for last year's lack of minority nominees, they already respect Davis, and her reviews are great.  It would be in the bag.  Except...she will probably campaign as lead.
  2. Corialanus - Vanessa Redgrave (57)     (1 win out of 6 nominations)
74-year-old legend getting rave reviews...oh...and the Weinstiein Co.'s most buzzed about horse in this race.  Then again...The Weinsteins COULD back Riseborough in W.E. instead.
  3. The Help - Octavia Spencer (50)     (never nominated)
Other than the previous nomination she has everything going for her that co-star Davis does.  When Viola goes lead, this becomes a lock.  Then again...there's a VERY small chance that allegations of stereotyping might hurt her campaign.
  4. A Dangerous Method - Keira Knightley (43)     (0 win out of 1 nomination)
Should have a lot of meat to chew for a supporting turn, and Knightley can chew.  Then again...Might she suffer from category confusion?
  5. J. Edgar - Naomi Watts (30)     (0 wins out of 1 nomination)
Many feel she was treated un-Fair-ly last year.  Could this be her consolation?  Then again...if the overall film falls flat, she will be far less likely than Leo to land a nod anyway.

  6. The Tree of Life - Jessica Chastain (29)     (never nominated)
She is easily the most celebrated new actress of 2011 and if she makes wise choices she will be around for a long, long time.  Then again...NO ONE HAS EVER BEEN NOMINATED FOR ACTING IN A TERRENCE MALICK FILM.
  7. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close - Sandra Bullock (25)     (1 win out of 1 nomination)
Everybody loves Sandy and if she's great in this it would prove that her serious acting aspirations extend beyond The Blind Side.  Then I the only one who thinks that Bullock and Hanks make an undeniably talented, but potentially cheesy combo?
  8.  The Ides of March - Marissa Tomei (21)     (1 win out of 6 nominations)
Oscar loves her, and she rarely disappoints with quality material.  Then again...Will co-star Wood steal her thunder?
  9.  J. Edgar - Judi Dench (21)     (1 win out of 6 nominations)
It's Judy Dench.  She can win this award with 90% of a movie's screen time tied behind her back (and has).  Then again...Her co-star Watts seems to have stronger buzz.
  10. War Horse - Emily Watson (17)     (0 out of  2 nominations)
She's been out of the awards game for awhile.  This could be her comeback.  Then know what they say about working with children and/or animals.
  Also, with ten or more points:  Albert Nobbs (Mia Wasikowska), Carnage (Kate Winslet), Drive (Carey Mulligan), Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Viola Davis), Hugo (Chloe Moretz), Midnight In Paris (Marion Cotillard), My Week With Marilyn (Judy Dench), Take Shelter (Jessica Chastain), The Descendants (Shailene Woodley), The Help (Jessica Chastain), The Ides of March (Evan Rachel Wood), W.E. (Andrea Riseborough), and...whew...We Bought a Zoo (Scarlet Johanssen)

     Do you see how many possibilities we still have to consider?  All right, pure hunches at this point...I can easily see it coming down to Redgrave and Spencer.  That is making the big assumption that Davis goes lead.  Of course, if Take Shelter gains awards traction, make that Spencer/Redgrave/Chastain.  Knightley also seems like a formidable candidate  Wasikowska, Moretz, Wood, or Mulligan could easily swoop in.  Anything can happen in Supporting Actress.  This time last year, three of the eventual nominees weren't even in my top ten yet.
                                   Hoppin to it,

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Best Supporting Actor Predictions - Augustesque

    I am going to try like crazy to get the remaining four categories in the top eight posted in the next day or two as their tallies reflect how things were at the end of August, before The Ides of March screened in Venice, so I won't be mentioning the recent spike in George Clooney's Best Supporting Actor buzz in this article.  Oh, dammit, I just did.
     The supporting categories are much more difficult to narrow down than their leading counterparts because the fields are so much wider.  While a film typically only has one, maybe two leading roles, it can have almost any number of possible nominees in the supporting categories.  Of course, generally speaking, once the pictures are seen, it becomes obvious who the one or two (or three, look at The Fighter last year) standouts are in any given cast. At this stage, it's mostly guesswork.

With that in mind:

  1.  Beginners - Christopher Plummer (73)     0 wins out of 1 nomination
Highly praised work from an Oscar-less veteran who's done highly praised work for decades.  Then again...Could his work in Tattoo split his votes?
  2.  A Dangerous Method - Viggo Mortensen (53)     0 wins out of 1 nomination
Many feel that he is overdue and was snubbed two years ago for The Road.  Then again...Will he stand out enough in a cast full of potential standouts?
  3.  The Ides of March - Phillip Seymour Hoffman (50)     1 win out of 3 nominations
Arguably the king of modern character actors in a big baity film.  Then again...with Giamatti and Clooney also supporting in Ides will the Academy be able to choose?
  4. J. Edgar - Armee Hammer (47)     (never nominated)
Oscar loves when straight men play gay and he has a lot of leftover Social Network love.  Then again...Is he still too new to catch Oscar's eye?
  5. The Iron Lady - Jim Broadbent (40)     (1 win out of 1 nomination)
Consistently great actor who's still waiting for that second nod.  Then again...Could his performance fade into the background next to Streep?

  6. My Week With Marilyn - Kenneth Branagh (36)     (0 wins out of 1 nomination in this category)
Early reviews have focused most of their praise of him,  exceeding expectations with Thor didn't hurt, Weinstein is backing his film, and he has no Oscars after four nominations in four different categories.  Then's not currently in the top five?
  7. The Tree of Life - Brad Pitt (26)     (0 wins out of 2 nominations)
Praised by many as his best work to date.  Then actor in a Malick film has EVER been nominated.
  8.  Drive - Albert Brooks (22)     (0 wins out of 1 nomination)
Highly praised work by a veteran actor in a critically acclaimed but rather un-Oscar-y film that the Academy is likely to want to reward with a nomination SOMEWHERE.  Best Supporting Actor could be that category.  Then again... so could Editing.
  9. Moneyball - Phillip Seymour Hoffman (19)     (1 win out of 3 nominations)
If the film gains overall traction, expect Hoffman to follow suit.  Then again... he's competing against his own performance in Ides.
  10. Martha, Marcy, Mae, Marlene - John Hawkes (18)     (0 wins out of 1 nomination)
He's already made a splash on the festival circuit, and caught Oscar's attention in Winter's Bone.  Then again...the field this year looks both wide and deep, and he JUST got his first nomination last year.
  Also, with ten or more buzz points:  Carnage (Christoph Waltz), Extremely Loud and Incredible Close (Thomas Horn), Hugo (Ben Kingsley), The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Christopher Plummer), The Ides of March (George Clooney), The Ides of March (Paul Giamatti), The Tree of Life (Sean Penn), We Need To Talk About Kevin (Ezra Miller)

How accurate was the buzz this time last year?
  1. The Fighter (Christian Bale)
  2. The Way Back (Ed Harris)
' 3. The Kids Are All Right (Mark Ruffalo)
  4. The King's Speech (Geoffrey Rush)
  5. Get Low (Bill Murray)

     Three out of five is pretty good, especially with the eventual winner in the top slot.  Renner and Hawkes were both eleventh hour contenders.  The Town far exceeded expectations and Winter's Bone grew in stature after the Gotham and Inderpendant Spirit Awards.  Murray peaked too early and The Way Back just sort of fizzled.
     Any of this year's unseen films could disappoint or pleasantly surprise, but I doubt Broadbent's chances. I fear that the Iron Lady will just be the Streep show.  The Weinsteins are likely to throw supporting support to Branagh instead.  Brooks and Hawkes are dangerous wild cards.  And just lately, everyone is muttering about Nick Nolte's work in Warrior.  Look for him on the next update.
                  Swamped for time,

Best Actress Predictions - Augustish

     In many ways, it is still a man's world.  It's unfortunate, but not nearly as many movies feature strong leading roles for women as for men.  Consequently, the Best Actress race rarely mirrors the Best Picture race as closely as does the Best Actor race.  You would think that this would make the field less predictable.  This would be true, except that there are so few "awards bait" films led by women that the initial field is much narrower.  There have been noticeably MORE valid best actress contenders in the last couple of years.  Last year the field was wide enough to snub Naomi Watts, Julianne Moore, Tilda Swinton, Leslie Manville, and Noomi Rapace who could all have been shoo-ins in weaker years.  Maybe the gender divide is closing.  There are certainly no shortage of great, underutilized actresses to fill it.
     On the cusp of the fall festivals (Venice started yesterday!!!), the 84th Best Actress race looks like this:

  1.  The Iron Lady - Meryl Streep (100)    (2 wins out of 16 nominations)
It's Meryl...with Harvey.  Then Academy could be tired of teasing her?...?
  2.  Albert Nobbs - Glenn Close (70)     (0 wins out of 5 nominations)
Brilliant overdue actress in a cross dressing role that she already won an Obie for.  Then again...Might Streep take this year's only veteran slot?
  3.  My Week With Marilyn - Michelle Williams (64)     (0 wins out of 2 nominations)
Highly respected actress playing iconic Hollywood figure.  Then again...Early reviews have favored Branagh's performance more prominently.  The Weinstein Co. already has one horse in this race.
  4.  Martha, Marcy, Mae, Marlene - Elizabeth Olsen (52)     (never nominated)
Rave reviews on the festival circuit and I'm sure many in Hollywood would love to show her older siblings how readily they embrace a performance of quality.  Then again...the film is small and she is a relative unknown.
  5. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo - Rooney Mara (51)     (never nominated)
She showed real promise under Fincher's guidance in The Social Network and we certainly know how much potential the role carries.  Then again...that's the problem.  She has to out-Salander Noomi Rapace.

  6.  We Need To Talk About Kevin - Tilda Swinton (49)     (1 win out of 1 nomintion)
Outstanding reviews for a great actress in a role that carries her film.  Then again...might the subject matter be too dark for many Oscar voters to sit through?
  7.  Young Adult - Charlize Theron (43)     (1 win out of 2 nominations)
AMPAS approved actress leads movie by AMPAS approved writer/director team.  Then again...will it be too light?
  8.  Melancholia - Kirsten Dunst (38)     (0 wins out of 1 nomination)
Won Best Actress at Cannes, and stellar critical response.  Then again...Von Trier is PR poison and the movie is reportedly quite bizarre.
  9.  Like Crazy - Felicity Jones (33)     (never nominated)
Already won a Special Jury Prize at Sundace.  Then again...she is much better known as a television actress.
  10.  The Help - Emma Stone (22)     (never nominated)
Current Hollywood It Girl gives great performance in surprise hit Best Picture contender.  Then Davis may also campaign in lead.
   Also with ten or more points:  A Dangerous Method (Keira Knightley), Carnage (Jodie Foster), Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Sandra Bullock), Jane Eyre (Mia Wasikowska), The Help (Viola Davis), and The Lady (Michelle Yeoh).

A year ago, I was working from this list:
  1. The Kids Are All Right (Annette Benning)
  2. Winter's Bone (Jennifer Lawrence)
  3. Blue Valentine (Michelle Williams)
  4. Another Year (Leslie Mannville)
  5. Love and Other Drugs (Anne Hathaway)
     So, I had three out of five correct already, with the other two circling in close:  Natalie Portman was in sixth for Black Swan and Nicole Kidman was in eighth for Rabbit Hole.  Generally, this category is made up of one or two vets (Benning, Kidman), one or two established younger actresses (Portman, Williams), and one or two fresh faces (Lawrence).  Those who are somewhere between the first two categories (Kidman last year, Bullock the year before) can serve in either capacity.
     Unless The Iron Lady or Albert Nobbs really bomb critically, the veterans seem pretty established already.  Sorry, Ms. Foster, but your cinematic year was bookended by a directee's antisemitism and director's statutory rape.  Not a good position for the Academy PR wise.  Olsen and/or Mara seem well positioned to represent the newbies.
     The middle ground, however, seems much more questionable.  Williams seems likely to slide down this list as her distributor pushes for Streep.  Who is likely to take her place?  If Viola Davis runs as a lead, she seems  QUITE likely at this point, as does Tilda Swinton.  Outside of them, Theron seems the most likely spoiler.  Also, don't count out dark horse Michelle Yeoh.
                             Time flies when you're watching movies...or flies,

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Best Actor Predictions - August

     The truth of the matter is that film is still such a male dominated medium that there are usually enough strong male leads in the Best Picture nominees to fill most of the Best Actor slots.  Throw in one...maybe two...wild cards.  To fill this final slot (or maybe slots) they might choose the star of a film that was praised mostly on the strength of his performance.  They could alternately go with a living legend giving what might be their last great performance.  And that, my friends, is how you build a Best Picture field.

1.  J. Edgar - Leonardo DiCapprio (82)     (0 wins, 3 nominations)
Considered by most to be long overdue for a win and snubbed for last year's brilliant work in Inception (and to a lesser extent, Shutter Island).  Then again...starring in the latest Clint Eastwood picture didn't help fellow AMPAS darling Matt Damon last year.
2.  The Descendants - George Clooney (63)     (1 win, 3 nominations in acting categories)
Probable meaty dramatic turn from one of Oscar's favorite sons.  Then again...His energies will already be stretched campaigning for multiple possible nods for...
3.  The Ides of March - Ryan Gosling (52)     (0 wins, 1 nomination)
Snubbed for last year's Blue Valentine, already drawing positive attention this year for Crazy, Stupid Love, and leading one of the season's most anticipated films.  Then is a political drama.
4.  Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy - Gary Oldman (44)      (NEVER NOMINATED!)
In all of Hollywood, maybe the actor most overdue for a nomination.  Then this the sort of film where the action will overshadow the acting?
5.  A Dangerous Method - Michael Fassbender (42)     (never nominated)
Rising star, fresh off of X-praise, in an iconic role.  Then again...has he risen far enough, and noticeably enough?

6. The Artist - Jean Dujardin (36)     (never nominated)
Almost universally praised performance that won Best Actor at Cannes.  Then again...he is almost completely unknown in the U.S.
7.  Moneyball - Brad Pitt (32)     (0 wins, 2 nominations)
Top actor whose 2011 body of work began accumulating praise with The Tree of Life.  Then again...the premise sounds soooooo dry.
8. We Bought a Zoo - Matt Damon (27)     (0 wins, 2 nominations in acting categories)
Highly respected actor, highly anticipated film.  Then again, he does already have an Oscar, albeit for screenplay.
9. Take Shelter - Michael Shannon (23)     (0 wins, 1 nomination)
Powerhouse performance already highly praised on the festival circuit.  Then again...this small indie production might fail to grab enough attention.
10. The Skin I Live In - Antonio Banderas (22)     (never nominated)
Reunites muse and mentor, and Oscar loves to find ways to honor Almodovar when Spain fails to submit his films.  Then's a horror movie, not a strong genre in the acting categories.
     Also with ten or more points:  A Dangerous Method - Viggo Mortenson, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close - Tom Hanks, The Rum Diary - Johnny Depp

At this point last year, things looked like this:
1. Blue Valentine - Ryan Gosling
2. Get Low - Robert Duvall
3. The King's Speech - Colin Firth
4. Biutiful - Javier Bardem
5. The Fighter - Mark Wahlberg
     So I had only two out of five correct.  Jeff Bridges was closing in at seventh place, and James Franco was just starting to make waves in eleventh.  There was no real buzz behind Jesse Eisenberg at all.
     Duvall and Gosling's buzz peaked way too early and Wahlberg ended up overshadowed by his supporting cast.  No one knew at this point how much of 127 Hours would rest solely on Franco's shoulders or how well he would handle it.  No one yet foresaw how much of a phenomenon The Social Network would become, nor what Eisenberg was truly capable of.  So...anything can still happen.
     But what do I expect next?
     Unless J. Edgar REALLY disappoints, DiCapprio should go ahead and just start campaigning for the win, and it could EASILY be his year unless someone comes along and just owns it.  Competing with himself is probably the main factor that caused him to miss out on a nomination last year.  Most of the men on this list seem like formidable contenders, although one or two of them are bound to disappoint.  Oldman seems REALLY due for his (FIRST?!?!) nomination.  Dujardin and Shannon both seem like stronger contenders than the numbers currently reflect.  Beyond that...???
                                                    Because buzzing makes me salivate,

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Best Director Predictions - August

     The five (yes, always five) Best Director nominees almost always directed five Best Picture nominees.  With a slate of ten nominees in the latter category, this seemed completely assured.  Now, however, it seems merely highly unlikely for a director to be honored for an overall production that is ignored.  It COULD happen in a year with only five or six BP nominees.  If it did happen this year, it would probably be to give a nomination to Woody Allen.

     As things stand now (buzz points in parentheses):
  1.  War Horse - Steven Spielberg (73)     2 wins, 7 nominations in this category
First Oscar friendly film in years from one of the greatest living directors.  Then again...he's already won twice.
  2.  The Tree of Life - Terrence Malick (71)     0 wins, 1 nomination in this category
Iconic director many feel is overdue.  Then again...the film is divisive and has many detractors (including co-star Sean Penn).
  3.  J. Edgar - Clint Eastwood (54)     2 wins, 4 nominations in this category
Aging, beloved director helming meaty biopic.  Then again...he's been very hit or miss with the Academy in recent years.
  4. The Ides of March - George Clooney (43)     0 wins, 1 nomination in this category
Whatever hat he wears, the AMPAS love them some Clooney.  Then again...they could go with a different hat this year.
  5.  A Dangerous Method - David Cronenberg (43)     never nominated
Respected director helming his baitiest project ever.  Then again...Will the film still be too bizarre for Oscar?

  6.  The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo - David Fincher (42)  0 wins, 2 nominations
Many feel he was robbed last year and is overdue in general.  Then again...this is a graphic story, the kind Fincher does...too well.
  7.  The Descendants - Alexander Payne (42)     0 wins, 1 nomination in this category
Respected director, never won, heavy family drama.  Then again...he still has a lot of time to win one, possible Clooney overload.
  8.  Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close - Stephen Daldry (29)     0 wins, 3 nominations
Clearly AMPAS respects his work and this piece is so timely.  Then again...with so many living legends in the mix, he could slip through the cracks.
  9.  Hugo - Martin Scorcese (24)     1 win, 6 nominations in this category
One of the greatest living directors certainly deserves a second statue.  Then again...this is a children's fantasy film and Scorcese is often snubbed when working outside of his gangster wheelhouse.
  10.  Young Adult - Jason Reitman (23)     0 wins, 2 nominations in this category
He and writer Diablo Cody paired well before on Juno.  Then a field this deep, they will have to at  least match their last collaboration's level of quality.
     Also with ten or more points:  Contagion (Steven Soderbergh), Drive (Andrew Winding Refn), Midnight In Paris (Woody Allen), The Artist (Michael Hazanavicius), and We Bought a Zoo (Cameron Crowe).

     Last August I had all five wrong (abysmal):
1. Inception - Christopher Nolan
2. The Tree of Life - Terence Malick
3. The Way Back - Peter Weir
4. Hereafter - Clint Eastwood
5. Another Year - Mike Leigh
     Of course, four of the five eventual nominees were in my top ten:  The Social Network (6), The Fighter (7), Black Swan (8), and True Grit (10).  Then again, the eventual winner, Tom Hooper of The King's Speech was not.  In my defense, I can only say that NO ONE expected Tom Hooper to win, and very few expected his nomination, at this time last year.  Anything can happen, and it often happens in September.
     I expect this year's August predictions to be at least a little more accurate.  Spielberg seems safe, at least for the nomination.  He's been gone for a minute, and the early War Horse promotional materials look typically strong for this longtime Academy darling.  Malick's chances, conversely seem to be fading as the year winds on.  Eastwood, as usual, will be either a slam dunk or a total non-starter.  Among the current runners-up, Daldry seems well poised to move into the top five should someone falter.  Fincher usually has better luck with the awards season when operating outside of his gritty, violent wheelhouse which he did not do this year.  Scorcese has the exact opposite problem.
     But who seems primed to be this year's Tom Hooper, at least in terms of the nomination.  My money would be on Hazanavicius, but Refn and Allen also seem like outside possibilities.
     Beyond that...let's see what happens in Venice, Toronto, Telluride, and New York.

                                                                       Watching movies till I croak,

Friday, August 19, 2011

"The Help" Review (In Theaters)

The Help                                                            
4 out of 5 stars
by Froggy

     If "The Help" is indicative of what the new Post-Princess-Movie Disney studios have to offer, then I am somewhat optimistic about the future of family-friendly cinema.  While writer/director Tate Taylor is not going to revolutionize film making with this story of race relations in a subtly Mouse-Eyed view of the Deep South in the 1960's, he does a competent job of utilizing his movie's greatest asset.  In other words, he stays out of the way and lets his magnificent ensemble cast shine.
     Octavia Spencer is one of the lesser known actresses to appear prominently in The Help, but her performance as Minnie Jackson is likely to change that.  She is often one of the film's most demonstrative and over-the-top characters. Her true comic genius is revealed, however, in silent moments, when she thinks more deafeningly than she could ever speak.  Far from mere comic relief, she shifts effortlessly and believably into her more serious moments, inspiring just as much empathy as amusement.
     Having not yet seen The Tree of Life, this is my first exposure to the work of Jessica Chastain.  I can't wait to see more.  Celia Foote, as portrayed by her, is easily the second funniest character in the film, and a total mess until Minnie comes into her life.  Her slow transition to a state of growing dignity evinces the skills of a potentially great young actress.
     As both these ladies nemesis, "Hilly Hollbrook", Bryce Dallas Howard gives her finest performance yet.  I was so caught up in disliking her character by the movie's end, that it took some time for me to realize how much I loved her in the role.
     Emma Stone blazed into the spotlight last year in teen rom-com Easy A, proving she could carry a film like a pro.  Here, as Skeeter Phalen, she proves that she can hold her own with an equally talented supporting cast.  She gives and takes focus with the other actresses like someone who's spent years seasoning her craft.  
     Sissy Spacek gives a supporting turn with more punch per second than anything this side of Judi Dench's Queen Elizabeth.  Cicely Tyson, Allison Janney, and Anna Camp are also notable and solid.  
     The true heart of the movie, however, is Viola Davis as Abileen Clark.  Her somber, dignified air sets the perfect counterpoint to her best friend Minnie's exuberance.  Co-star Stone may grab the most screen time, but it is with Davis that we enter and exit the world of "The Help".  Her character teaches her young charge the litany: "You is kind.  You is smart.  You is important."  Through her actions, she teaches this same lesson to the ladies around her, herself, and perhaps even the modern audience.  Davis's "Abi" demonstrates the greatest emotional range in the film and handles it all brilliantly, even earning one of the film's biggest laughs in a church scene near the end.
     Outside of the acting, the film is not nearly so stellar.  The script is fairly uninspired and straight forward, and is resolved a little too neatly and easily in the final scenes.  The one where Abi and Minnie bid Skeeter farewell in particular seems a bit contrived (or happyeverafterafied) and Abi walks a little too contentedly into a future that is uncertain at best.  The audience had laughed and cried so wholeheartedly with these women by then that it hardly seemed to matter.  This one's going to have word of mouth.
     Amongst the technical aspects at play, one must complement both the Art Direction by Curt Beech and Set Decoration by Rena DeAngelo.  Sharon Davis's costuming is also impressive.  Most impressive, however, is Camille Friend's work as Hair Department Head.  Could this translate into a Best Make-Up nomination?  Anything can happen in the Make-Up category, but the work is certainly deserving.
     On a final note, many have criticized the film for somehow degrading African American women in both its depiction of the maids as stereotypes and in the omission of certain lurid details of the hardships that women of their station were forced to endure.  I found Abi and Minny to be complex individuals who were, if anything, archetypes of traditional upstairs/downstairs comedic roles more than stereotypes particular to any race or culture.  Think of the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet.  Certainly, some of the more graphic elements faced by domestics in those days were glossed over or omitted.  If this were a realistic, hard hitting drama, this would be problematic, even suspect.  This movie, however, is a heartwarming picture which (aside from the scene of a dozen "shits") strives to be a family friendly way of instilling a few basic values on some social issues while making the audience laugh and cry.
Summary:  Maybe the best female ensemble cast since Steel Magnolias elevates a slightly above average script and production into a really good movie.  Disney manages to maintain the flavor of their brand without overly insulting the intelligence of a modern audience.  Commendable.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Best Picture Predictions - August Finally continued

Froggy here,
     It took me waaaaay too long to get back to this so....the top twenty candidates for best picture nomination (current buzz scores in parentheses):

  1. War Horse (98)
Spielberg helmed war film adapted from beloved book.  The stage version won the Tony.  But...War Horse is a children's book and Disney does not have the best record with live action films and the AMPAS in recent years.
  2.  The Tree of Life (92)
Terence Malick is a beloved aging director and the film won Cannes. is very divisive critically, rather abstract, and Malick is very hit or miss with the Academy.  Also, minimized role of actors could weaken the film's support in the largest voting block.
  3. The Descendants (72)
Alexander Payne directs and George Clooney stars in a heavy drama about a dysfunctional family.  But...Clooney has another horse in the race this year.
  4.  J. Edgar (70)
DiCapprio leads a cast that includes Judi Dench, Armee Hammer (both Winklevoss twins in The Social Network), and Naomi Watts.  True life story of famous recent historical figure.  But...director Clint Eastwood has been on a streak of mediocrity of late.
  5. The Ides of March (66)
Clooney directs himself, Gosling, P.S. Hoffman, Tomei, and Giamatti. it just a thriller?  And what about Clooney overload?
  6.  The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (64)
Fincher and brand portend quality and all but assure box office gold.  But...the original movie series was released domestically so recently.  Also, it is a grisly graphic story, just the sort of movie Fincher sometimes does too well for delicate aging voters to digest.
  7.  A Dangerous Method (62)
True life biopic of famous historical figures with fantastic director and cast.  But...this director and most of the cast are routinely overlooked by Oscar.
  8.  Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (55)
Tenth anniversary of 9/11 makes this film incredibly topical and director Daldry has great Oscar track record, as do stars Hanks and Bullock.  But...Hank's early year disaster Larry Crowne (paired with the other queen of rom-com) could have left a bad taste in voter's mouths
  9.  Hugo (48)
Hugely popular source material and the early trailers look great.  But...Scorcese is often overlooked by AMPAS and it's based on a children's book.  Will there be room for this AND War Horse?
  10. Midnight In Paris (47)
Woody Allen's biggest box office hit of all time (not adjusting for inflation), and his best reviewed film in years. seems to be a film that people liked more than loved and the new nomination process requires lots of first place votes to qualify.

  11. The Artist (41)
Weinstein distribution, RAVE reviews at Cannes where it nabbed Best Actor (Jean Dujardin).  But...a mostly silent, black and white foreign film is going to need box office success and great press to secure a nomination.
  12.. Young Adult (40)
In Reitman's short career, his feature films have a 67% success rate in this category.  Written by Diablo Cody and starring Charlize Theron.  But...every winning streak must end at some point.
  13. We Bought a Zoo (40)
Stars Matt Damon and Scarlet Johanssen.'s ANOTHER family film, and director Crowe has not been  producing his best work of late.
 14. The Iron Lady (40)
Streep starring in a Margaret Thatcher biopic almost guarantees at least an acting nod and certainly suggests the possibility of others.  But... Mamma Mia director Lloyd at the helm makes Best Picture seem less likely.
  15. Moneyball (39)
Aaron Sorkin scripts Brad Pitt and Phillip Seymour Hoffman.  But...Oscar isn't crazy about sports (except boxing), and the premise sounds very dry (but so did a movie about Face Book).
  16.  Contagion (35)
Soderbergh directing the kind of cast that Altman used to assemble:  Damon, Cotillard, Cranston, Winslet, Paltrow, Law, Fishburne, Hawkes, and Gould.'s an adventure/disaster
  17.  Super 8 (30)
Good box office, many good reviews, Spielberg produced.  But...not great reviews (which Sci-Fi needs to get in).  More of an homage to great movie making than a great movie.
  18.  Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (29)
Great cast, great promotional materials, brilliant director who knows how to transcend a genre.  But...this is director Alfredson's first English language production.
  19.  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (29)
Final, best received installment of a beloved franchise with HUGE box office.  But...two potentially stronger adaptations of children's books also in the race.  So far the franchise has only received love from the Academy in technical categories.
  20. Carnage (25)
Iconic director leads three Oscar Winners and one former nominee in adaptation of award winning play.  But...Polanski is poison...brilliant, brilliant poison.
  Other  movies with 10 or more buzz points:  Drive; Martha, Marcy, Mae, Marlene, My Week With Marilyn, On the Road, One Day, Take Shelter, The Adventures of Tin-Tin, The Help, The Skin I Live In, We Need To Talk About Kevin.

     So how much does this all mean.  Late August of last year the Buzzmeter for Best Picture looked like this:
  1. Inception
  2. Toy Story 3
  3. The Kids Are All Right
  4. The Tree of Life
  5. The Social Network
  6. Hereafter
  7. True Grit
  8. The Way Back
  9. The Fighter
  10. Another Year
  So, 60% remained in the top ten.  The King's Speech (14), Black Swan (15), and Winter's Bone (18) were also in the top twenty.  Before the fall festivals last year, not many people were foreseeing 127 Hours as a contender.
  Of the films that fell out of the top ten, The Tree of Life was pushed back to this year.  Hereafter was not received critically as well as could be hoped.  Another Year's buzz peaked too early and it just missed the boat.  As for The Way Back, it just sort of faded away.
  What hunches do I have about the awards trajectory of this year's batch of films?  Well, War Horse seems like a safe bet for a nomination, but it will be amazing if it can maintain frontrunner status through to the end.  The Tree of Life is very divisive, but being a love it or hate it movie could actually HELP in the securing first place votes department.  Nevertheless, I think it's buzz will fade somewhat in the coming months.  Most of these films are still unseen by anyone, certainly by me, and it's hard to find one to bet against.  Fincher could take "Tatoo" so over the top that it loses out even if it pure genius.  I think that the Weinstein Company will get either The Artist or The Iron Lady into the mix (I'm betting the former).  Harry and Super 8 seem unlikely at this point.  So does Carnage, for completely different reasons.  The Help will be in the next revised top twenty.  Beyond that...we will have to wait and see.
                                                                     Just like the swamp..Hollywood is sink or swim.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Best Picture Predictions Prologue - August

     Well, dear readers, it's August.  We're on the verge of the most influential (in terms of Awards Season) film festivals of the year.  Most of 2011's Oscar bait and/or high concept films are about to debut, whether it be in some remote location, or at a theater near you.  There will be two or three holiday slotted releases that try to hold onto their sense of mystery until the last moment (i.e. The Fighter and True Grit last year), but make no mistake:  the Season of the Academy is nigh.
     So nigh, in fact, that I feel compelled to let you in on who's got the Oscar buzz so far, and which way I predict that things may turn.  We begin our discussion, natch, with best picture.
     The AMPAS (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) changed the rules regarding the number of nominees in this category for the 82nd (2009-2010) ceremony, doubling the previous par of five films to ten.  Many feel that this move was made in response to widespread criticism (largely online) that genre films like Wall*E and The Dark Knight would always be excluded from the Best Picture race, regardless of their quality level.  Go fanboys.
      The first modern ten nominee year met with mixed results.  It did result in two science fiction films making the roster:  the !!spectacle!!-ular Avatar (which probably would have been in anyway), and the far more deserving District 9 (which definitely would not).  The widened field also allowed Pixar's worthy feature Up to snag a spot, giving a whole new demographic a pony in the show.  And then, there was the Blind Side.  I'm not saying the Blind Side was a bad film, and I love Sandra Bullock, who deserved at least the nomination that she got from it.  However, the film overall played a little too much like a made for TV movie of the week to be in the best picture race.  I'm just saying.  This movie's nomination, coupled with the fact that its toughest competition for the slot appeared to be the respectable but lackluster Invictus, led many to question whether there were really enough quality contenders in a single year to warrant ten nominees.
      One would think these doubts quashed by last year's ceremony.  The Academy actually picked ten high quality films, with several worthy films (Animal Kingdom, Another Year, and The Ghost Writer for starters) left off of the ballot.  Yet somehow, AMPAS felt it wise to change the rules again.  Starting with the upcoming ceremony this winter, the best picture field will contain anywhere from five to ten nominees depending on how many films secure 5% of the first place votes in the nomination process.
      I'm not sure how I feel about this change.  On the one hand, under the new rules the Blind Side would probably not have gotten in.  Then again, District 9, Winter's Bone, and 127 Hours might not have either and these were some of the best nominees in their respective years.  It also makes predictions a bit trickier.
     For now, I am going to work from the ten film model and save guessing the final number of slots for a little later in the year.  This post has gone on a little longer than I had expected, so I am going to save the actual predictions for the next post.  I feel like a reality show host, but we'll be back with your results...after a bit.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Welcome to the Movie Frog

Hello....This...Is...The Movie Frog....

     And I am Froggy.  I will be your (sometimes snarky) host in an exploration of films worth watching, both past and present.  This doesn't mean we won't be looking at populist movies as well. Some ARE well worth watching and some are just more fun to mock.  I hope to fill this blog with a variety of articles and features, but we are going to begin with three series of articles.

     First off, it wouldn't be much of a film blog without the obligatory movie reviews.  I will try to see movies in current theatrical release as often as possible, but writing this blog is definitely not my full time job (if only) so be patient in that arena.  Hopefully many people will like this blog and that will take care of itself.  I will do my best to review at least one new release on DVD each week in the meantime, as well as any other films I watch.  My grading scale is one to five stars:  
         *              I loathed the film                              (2010 ex:  Jonah Hex)
         *1/2         I mostly loathed the film                   (2010 ex:  Cirque de Freak: The 
                                                                                  Vampire's Assistant)
         **            I disliked the film                             (2010 ex:   Why Did I Get Married Too?)
         **1/2       Meh...indifferent or conflicted          (2010 ex:   Salt)
         ***          I liked it. Guiltypleasureville            (2010 ex:   The Crazies)
         ***1/2     I liked it more Gp'ville suburbs        (2010 ex:   RED)
         ****        I liked it a lot. Good movie.             (2010 ex:  The Fighter)
         ****1/2   I kinda loved it.  Really good film.   (2010 ex:  The King's Speech)
     Five stars of course means that I absolutely loved it, thought it was great cinema, and would recommend it even to those who are not usually fans of its genre, subject matter or stars.  Out of the nearly 200 movies with 2010 release dates that I have seen, only eleven were worthy of this rating.  I've listed them below to give you some idea of how my tastes run.
         Animal Kingdom (maybe the best non-Italian American crime family movie ever)
         Biutiful (dark as hell, but just breathtaking)
         Black Swan (All About Eve meets Rosemary's Baby, brilliant)
         Exit Through the Gift Shop (any ambiguity over its authenticity only enhances its  
         Gasland (highly educational and emotionally terrifying)
         How To Train Your Dragon (the best family film of the year)
         Inception (my favorite of the year)
         Madeo (or "Mother" in English, fantastic suspense flick, dynamic leading turn)
         Mary and Max (nobody saw it, but it was the finest animated film of 2010)
         The Social Network (powerhouse production overall, and the script...)
         Winter's Bone (I had no idea how great this was until it haunted me for weeks on 

     The second series of articles is going to be based upon a list I have assembled of 1000 movies worth watching.  I scoured numerous top 100 lists from a variety of resources including critics, bloggers, and popular opinion polls, including one list I wrote myself to come up the top 725 or so titles on this list, and then used a few other resources along with some of my personal favorites to round the list out.  It includes titles from the dawn of cinema through 2010.  I just can't decide where on the list to start sharing it with you.  I definitely want to save 901 - 1000 for the end.  Those choices are the most personal, surprising, and in some cases (I'm sure) contentious.  Starting at 1 and working back seems wrong as well, though.  I'm contemplating counting down from 500 to 1, and then from 501 - 1000.  Please, dear reader, let me know what you think.
     I will also be writing articles on the directors and stars that permeate this list as I go along. We will look at the shape of this list chronologically, the rise and fall of certain genres over time, etc...

     The third series of articles is actually the one I'm going to post on first.  These of course will deal with awards season predictions and the following of Oscar buzz.  I build my predictions on the tabulation of buzz.
     Some critic predicts a movie to get nominated, I give it buzz points.   I give buzz points for excessive publicity of an awards friendly nature, rave reviews that at least hint at awards potential, major film festival or precursor  awards acclaim, and odd x-factors like being picked up by the right distributor.  I won't bore you with too many details (unless there is some outcry for it by fellow borderline obsessive compulsives), but my calculations allowed me to guess the Oscar Nominations last year with 85% accuracy in all feature categories and 93% accuracy in the top eight (we won't discuss my accuracy with the shorts, but, hey).  I will of course, give my own forecasts of where the buzz may be heading, but these will appear after the current predictions.
     I know this initial hello has been a little dry, but things will really pick up speed tomorrow with my analysis of the current buzz on this year's Best Picture race.

                                                               Until then,

Because the pad is mightier than the sword!!!