Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Edgar, the Mysterious Tyrant

In this installment of DVD (and sometimes Netflix Instant Play) reviews we cover an amazing directorial debut, a Portuguese melodrama, and a biopic about one of the most controversial public figures of the twentieth century from a director who lived through almost all of it (I know, I have penance to do for that one, sorry Mr. Eastwood).  Let the games begin:

Tyrannosaur - It seems like almost all of my favorite movies from 2011 made no money at the box office.  I swear, it's not a personal bias.  In 2010, films like Inception, Black Swan, and How To Train Your Dragon were at or near the top of my list.  Even Exit Through the Gift Shop was a serious success story as far as docs go.  But that was 2010...
     I LOVED Tyrannosaur.  Actor turned writer/director Paddy Considine should be immensely proud of his freshman effort.  In it, he tells the story of a broken man who meets a good Christian woman whose world falls apart.  It's about how easily man (or woman) can become like a beast and how treacherous the climb back out of that state can be.  It is brutal and hard to watch in places.  Everything means something, yet nothing about the film preaches at you or interrupts the believability of the story for the sake of symbolism.
     Speaking of the believability of the story:  You would be hard pressed to find two more natural performances or fully realized characters on the screen than this film's two leads. There was a movement among critics last year to try and get more attention paid to Olivia Colman in the awards races.  If I had seen this film at that point I would have been rooting for both her and co-star Peter Mullan, who I found to be every bit as good.
     This is a simple film, that tells an interesting story, with brilliant performances and it just works.  Check it out.  Available on DVD, coming soon to Netflix Instant Play.  5 of 5*

Mysteries of Lisbon - One of the late director Raoul Ruiz's final projects before his death last year, this film tells a story that Dickens would have told had he been Portuguese.  It is full of twists, turns, accidents of birth, and unforeseen connections between people, time, and events.  It is a mystery that we enter in the middle and discover largely in flashbacks covering over a decade of history.  It covers this at its own relaxed pace, the film is six and a half hours long.  I think that an hour or so could have been trimmed, but nowhere near enough to make it into a normal length movie.  There is just too much story here.  Treat it like a mini-series and you should be fine.
     I will say that the acting was a little melodramatic for my tastes, even if the story is a bit of a melodrama. There were a few too many teethmarks in the (beautiful) scenery that didn't belong there.  Otherwise, I would likely have scored the film higher, as the plot is fantastic.  Available on DVD and Netflix Instant Play.  4 of 5*

J. Edgar - This film is the Leo show in much the same way that I pegged The Iron Lady as the Streep show.  Most of what there is to recommend in this film is DiCaprio's performance.  It is not his best work, but it is still beyond what most actors could have done with the role and served to elevate the quality of the movie overall.  Which is not to say that this is a BAD film, it's just a little old-fashioned and has some annoying make-up work.  In THAT respect, The Streep Show was actually stronger.
     Eastwood's style as a director is beginning to appear something of a throwback.  It was an interesting experiment to try and pair him with a writer like Dustin Lance Black, a writer very much of the NOW, and see if this could make him edgier or more current.  The problem is that their styles never really meshed, and you wound up with a movie that is not quite one thing, and not quite another.
     Aside from DiCaprio, Judy Dench gets best in show as J. Edgar's mother, although it is a fairly limited role.  Watts was respectable in another small part, and Armee Hammer is pretty uneven in a much larger one.  All in all, sort of mixed bag.  Available on DVD.  3 1/2 of 5*

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Martha's Certified Method

In this installment of DVD reviews we cover a multi-lingual relationship drama, a costume psycho-sexual drama and perhaps the year's best freshman directorial effort.  Let's jump in:

Martha Marcy Mae Marlene - Martha, etc. is another true indie drama like Bellflower that I discussed in my last post from another first time writer/director:  Drake Doremus.  Here, however, the craft is much more refined.  There is still a rawness to it, but the edits are more natural, the acting more engaging.  The basic premise is that a young woman escapes from a violent quasi-polygamist cult and has difficulty overcoming her brainwashing to mix back into society, all the while looking over her shoulder for signs of her former "family".  I did think that the script left a few too many pieces for the audience to fill in, particularly at the end, but it is an incredibly promising effort that leaves me anxiously awaiting Doremus's next project.
     You can't talk about this film without addressing the cast, primarily Elizabeth Olsen and John Hawkes.  Newcomer Elizabeth Olsen is the younger sister of Celebrity Apprentice 2014 fodder (just a smart next career move suggestion) the Olsen twins so you know she started training with an acting coach before she started toilet training.  However, so did her sisters, and the lessons didn't have nearly the same results.  Olsen was on the edge of the best actress race this year and she deserved to be:  a stunning debut.  John Hawkes, on the other hand, is rapidly becoming one of my favorite actors.  I've appreciated his work since HBO's Deadwood, but with Winter's Bone, this film, and this year's Sundance darling The Surrogate it seems like there is now a "John Hawkes kind of movie" on the indie circuit.  His performances are understated, his characters are complex, and he elevates the quality of everything he's involved with.  Marcy is no different.
     Although Marcy was not a great film, it was a very good one that I would definitely recommend.  If for no other reason, see it so that you can say that you remember Doremus, Olsen, and Hawkes when.  Available on DVD  4 of 5*

Certified Copy - Writer/director Abbas Kiorastami is becoming one of the most celebrated international film makers and watching Certified Copy it is easy to see why.  It is a very simple film in many ways, consisting largely of conversation between the two main characters.  It is so cleverly executed, though, from the twist in the middle (which you do NOT see coming, at least I didn't), to the exploration of relationships and how they change over time, to the deeper themes of what makes something genuine, original, or valuable.  Of course, it never hurts to have a captivating and beautiful screen presence like Juliette Binoche who is her usual, charming, talented self:  a true original.  Co-star William Shimell is also excellent.  Together they create a captivating, believable little world set against the gorgeous backdrop of rural Italy.  It is also notable that this film follows the recent trend of many international films in that it is multi-lingual.  Both French and English speaking viewers will find themselves watching part of the film in their native tongue and part of it in subtitles (with a little Italian thrown in as well), making it more palatable to a larger audience.  I can't say a lot more without risking spoilers, but the film is well worth the time investment required to watch it.  Coming soon to DVD, available now on Netflix Instant Play.  4 1/2 of 5*

A Dangerous Method - I just expected something a little weirder.  This film is a biopic about the iconic psychoanalyst Carl Jung.  His life contains sexual scandal, insanity, sado-masochism, and a fascination with the paranormal.  It is directed by David Cronenberg the twisted genius behind such oddly inspired bits of originality as The Fly, The Naked Lunch, and A History of Violence.  So I expected it to be a little weirder.  I know the movie is an adaptation of the stage play "The Talking Cure" and therefor was expected to honour the source material in tone to an extent, but surely there was some middle ground that could have been reached.
     Instead, the picture is a "serious drama" costume piece, that is actually quite subdued.  The script suffers from too many unrealized subplots.  Jung's relationships with his wife and mentor Freud, the role of Jews in pre-World War European culture, Jung's own instability, and even the basic tenets of psychology are all subjects that are touched upon briefly, without much in-depth development. 
     The acting is quite good for the most part.  Keira Knightley is a little over the top in the film's most demonstrative role as Jung's patient turned mistress, but it could just seem that way set in contrast against the overall low key tone of the film.  Michael Fassbender is subtle but effective as Jung, and Vincent Cassell is quite good for the short time he is on screen.  The stand out, however, is Viggo Mortensen as Dr. Sigmund Freud.  He really disappears into the character, becoming almost unrecognizable and gives a very pleasantly wry delivery.
     A Dangerous Method is a pretty good movie with some very solid performances that you will probably enjoy if the subject matter piques your interest.  I just hoped it would be a little weirder.  Available on DVD.  3 1/2 of 5*

                                                                                           Watch out for diving turtles,

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Belle Had A Killer Weekend...

      Today's reviews include a niche romantic master work, an inventive and violent first effort, and a pretty standard action flick. 

 Bellflower -Bellflower is a small, quirky indie drama in the tradition of small, quirky nineties indie dramas, quite a different breed of movie from the "independent" films of an age where The Artist sweeps the Independent Spirit Awards backed by Harvey Weinstein.   It is the first feature length film for writer/director/star/editor Evan Glodell as well as the other two principal lead actors and I would be lying to say it didn't show a little.  The film is raw. Some of the acting (especially Glodell's, who might benefit from being directed by someone else before he tries to direct himself again) is a little stilted, the inflections a little repetitive.  It is an admirable first effort, however, with some very impressive moments, that shows a lot of promise for this young filmmaker's future.  It is essentially the story of two best friends, obsessed with explosions, fire, and cinema of the post-apocalyptic variety who meet two girls and explore most of mankind's less pleasant tendencies and emotions.  It is violent, sexually twisted and one of the earliest examples of the cinematic voice of a generation younger than myself (making me feel as if I'm not cool enough to judge it).  The script is probably the film's strongest element, and I can well imagine that people who saw Beavis and Butthead as small children (rather than as already decadent and irreverent college student like myself) might actually turn out a lot like the guys in this movie.
      Bellflower is a good, but not great picture that nevertheless demonstrates auteur Glodell's potential and should secure him the opportunity to explore it with greater resources.  Available on DVD  3 1/2 of 5 stars

  Killer Elite - Let me start out by saying that if I were judging this movie strictly against other action flicks by the standards that are usually prioritized in that genre it would do pretty well.  If you just want to see gunfights, explosions, and chase scenes (with bees!) then this film has plenty of those things and they are rendered in a fairly believable manner.  You will like it.  Stop reading.  You'll decide I'm a little bit of a film snob and I'm trying to keep it under wraps.
     I was a little let down.  I keep wanting Jason Statham to remind us that he is not just an action hero but a good actor.  I want him to pick scripts that allow him to do that.  I want the great Robert DeNiro to quit texting it in (the next generation of phoning it in), and I want him to pick scripts that inspire him to do so.  This was not that script.  Saorse Ronan's Hannah was a more compelling action hero and she's a wispy teen-age girl.
     Basically, this pic could have benefited from following the advice of its background villains the "Feather Men" and applied a lighter touch.  I can't say that I recommend this film unless you are just a big fan of most action flicks.  If that IS the case, you could do a lot worse.  Available on DVD  2 of 5*

  Weekend - Maybe my extremely positive opinion of this movie is influenced by how relevant it is to me personally because I'm gay and it is a gay quasi-romance.  However, sticking this film with that genre label and leaving it at that is an extreme disservice to sophomore writer/director Andrew Haigh's fine work.  This film tells the story of two men who meet and have an intense affair over the course of one Autumn weekend.  In this short course of time, the conversations and experiences that they have illuminate issues of personal identity, tolerance versus acceptance, and how straight society teaches gay people (specifically men) to see themselves.  The sex definitely goes beyond kissing (although full frontal nudity is limited to partial glimpses)
and may well be enough to make some straight viewers a little uncomfortable, but this reaction is a big part of the movie thematically and these elements are in no way gratuitous.  Rookie stars Tom Cullen and Chris New are both amazing in this film.  If you are gay, this film will show you elements of your own life and experiences in a way that is much more realistic than you usually see in a feature film.  If you are straight but have gay friends, this movie will help you to understand things about their lives and experiences in a way that will justify calling them such.  Like the two men's weekend, the film is greatly enriching and ends too soon.
  Still no US DVD release date, but available on Netflix instant play  5 of 5*

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Feeding the Public Hunger...

     Franchises built upon popular books aimed at children and/or young adults have become HUGE business in Hollywood over the last decade.  Now that the two biggest success stories of this type have ended or are ending shortly, how do you top what has come before?  Let's see...What if you had a story ten times darker than most of the Potter series?  What if it also had ten million times the subtext of Twilight?  Sounds good so far, right?  Now, what if it had a talented and accomplished cast of adults, led by one of Hollywood's most talented young actresses who's already got one Best Actress Oscar nom under her belt?  What would you have then?  Well...then you'd have The Hunger Games.  Lucky you.
     If you don't already know, this film tells the story of a future in which two youths from each district within a country that is just barely not America are sent each year to a televised survivalist battle to the death in the wilderness.  Like the story of Theseus from Greek mythology, except that the children are killed not by a minotaur, but each other with the sacrifice being given to the public's need for entertainment and drama.
      Director/writer Gary Ross came back from an extended hiatus as a filmmaker for this one.  He had not actually directed a film since the somewhat sappy Seabisquit back in 2003, but this film seems more like his earlier (in my opinion, far superior) work Pleasantville from 1998.  He does excellent work here with a difficult challenge.  Although the script suffers from the same ailment as the Potter movies:  rabid fans who expect EVERYTHING to be covered lead to screenplays that feel slightly rushed and skimmy, Ross (along with co-writers Suzanne Collins and Billy Ray) does a very good job of covering a lot between the lines.  I had not read the books but had no trouble following the storyline even if it was at times obvious how many pages of novel were being compacted into how few minutes.
     If I have one real complaint (let's just get it out of the way, I have LOTS of nice things to say), it is with the art directions and costume design.  I understand that District 12, where the story starts off, is supposed to be the poorest part of the Hunger Games world and that they probably have to make their own clothes from whatever materials they can find, but why are the only dress patterns that they can find leftover samples from the set of Little House on the Prairie?  I know fashion is cyclical, but I had trouble buying it.  Then, when you see the elite members of society in the capital city, they look like all the extras from Rocky Horror Picture Show on their way to the easter parade.  It was a little too campy for the horrifying story that was unfolding.  Perhaps the contrasting tonal elements were puposefull in some way that escaped me, but it was a little like John Waters' production team putting together a remake of Psycho.
     Fortunately, the strength of the story and performances were able to overcome this handicap most of the time and draw me back in.  The preparations for the games were full of intrigue and apt insight into mass psychology.  The games themselves were horrific, suspensefull, and (except for one tumble down a hill that had me muttering "" under my breath) completely captivating.
      One thing that really sets this film above similar franchises is the strength of the cast, especially Jennifer Lawrence as Catness.  In my opinion, Miss Lawrence is quickly proving herself to be a very capable artist, but Hunger Games is going to make her a star as well.  Every facial shift or change in vocal tone in her performances is so well chosen, yet so natural.  She possesses a quiet strength that most women twice her age have not mastered, and watching her on screen is like getting an eery glimpse of a singularly old soul.  In her hands, we see Catness learn and develop in a way that the script doesn't have the luxury of time to address on its own.  If you have not seen this young actress in Winter's Bone, go do it.  It will give you an even greater appreciation for her performance in this film to see what sort of dramatic range this girl has.
     The supporting cast is also very good.  Josh Hutcherson definately shows that his performance in The Kids Are All Right was not a fluke and his adult acting career should be one to watch.  Stanley Tucci and Woody Harrelson also turn in great performances, but it is Elizabeth Banks who is the stand out amongst the adult cast.  She alone is able to wear her hideously gaudy clothes more than they wear her.
     The most interesting thing about this film, though, is what it says in allegory about our modern society.  I must apologize to my viewing companion at this film for partially plagiarizing his commentary but the competition of the Hunger Games is like Real World/Road Rules Challenge Extreme.  It is reality TV to the nth iteration and not that far fetched considering modern trends in entertainment.  It comes complete with falsified true life drama and romance, quasi-celebrity status for the competitors, and the promise that even the most common man can become captivating when gifted with pageantry, an audience and adversity.  The major difference between Greek and Roman theater was that the Romans relied more on special effects and spectacle than storyline and character.   Today's 3D blockbusters compare similarly to the film noire classics of old.  Entertainment in Rome eventually progressed to gladiatorial combat and feeding Christians to lions, not so different from the world of The Hunger Games.
      Class conflict is also explored in this movie.  Donald Sutherland's character gives a speech about underdogs that seems frighteningly like the disdain that the wealthy in our society seem to feel towards the ninety-nine percent on the other side of the rapidly widening prosperity gap.  The masses, meanwhile, seem constantly on the verge of outrage, but are beaten down by adversity and a propaganda filled media that uses fear to keep them towing the company line.  Ironically, it is this same adversity that has made Catness into the strong, resilient young woman who is able to rise above it all.
      All in all, The Hunger Games is not a masterpiece, but it is a very respectable effort that is both entertaining and thought provoking.  If the film has peaked your interest, I feel it would be worth giving a look.  4 out of 5*

Friday, April 6, 2012

Beautiful Melancholy Conspirator

     In today's reviews we cover the OTHER teen sniper drama of 2011, a slightly sleepy historical courtroom drama and an extremely original apocalyptic drama that coulda been a contender if its director could handle himself in a press conference.  Not an upbeat film to be found here, but some real treasure nonetheless.

Melancholia - If you haven't heard the story already, Melancholia was one of the big critical hits at Cannes last year.  Then director Lars von Trier had to go and make comments (probably in jest, but...) that made him sound like a Nazi sympathizer and Melancholia's rewards trajectory went in the toilet.  Let me tell you, it's a shame because this was one of the best written, performed, and shot movies of the year.  The opening sequence reminded me a little of The Tree of Life, but this movie actually followed it up with a real plot line!
The first few minutes are like the entire story in miniature, except rendered abstractly enough that you spend the rest of the film figuring out what all the little hints meant at the beginning.  The entire cast is very strong.  Keiffer Sutherland gives his best film performance since...The Lost Boys?...ever?  The real standout, however, is Dunst, who was able to take home an acting award at Cannes even after her director's snafu, but was unable to disperse the dark cloud it left over the movie enough to break into the big year end award races.  It's a shame, because she gives a fully realized, mature, and nuanced performance that gives you plenty to think about once the movie is over (as does the film overall).  The cinematography cannot be praised enough.  All in all, this offbeat apocalyptic drama stimulates the mind and the emotions in a unique and intelligent way and should reward repeat viewings richly.  I highly recommend!!!  Available on DVD and coming soon to Nf Instant Play  5 of 5 stars

Beautiful Boy - I am completely unfamiliar with director Shawn Ku's previous work (The American Mall, Pretty Dead Girl) but this film, while not perfect, shows a great deal of promise.  The picture was largely ignored last year due to the fact that its subject (a teen who goes on a killing spree at his college before taking his own life, and how his parents deal with the fall out) is almost identical to the higher profile film We Need To Talk About Kevin.  I have not seen Kevin yet, and perhaps this allowed me to appreciate Boy without drawing comparisons.  The parents in Boy are already struggling with a crumbling marriage before this happens, and Maria Bello and Michael Sheen do an excellent job portraying all of the uncertainty, confusion, and hopelessness you would realistically expect of people in their situation.  Kyle Gallner (who's been creeping me out since the TV show Veronica Mars), as the son, also makes the most of a very small amount of screen time.  The script and pacing lag a little in the middle of the picture, but it is well worth hanging in there for the conclusion.  Available on DVD.  4 of 5 stars.

The Conspirator - A historical drama starring James McAvoy, Robin Wright, Kevin Klein, Evan Rachel Wood, and Tom Wilkinson sounds like it should be a slam dunk on paper, and The Conspirator is certainly a well acted film.  There is a sense, however, that the script and direction here are a little old fashioned.  Overall, it plays more like an unusually well cast made for network TV movie than a major motion picture.  Also, the casting of Justin Long sort of spoils the illusion, because every time he spoke I felt like I had left the nineteenth century and landed in a modern day set romcom.  Honestly, I kept waiting for him to call someone "Dude".  I don't mean to take anything away from director Robert Redford's legacy or contribution to the American cinema.  However, it is beginning to seem that, like Clint Eastwood, he has reached an age where he has lost the pulse enough that his films no longer seem fresh or current anymore.  Available on DVD.  3 of 5 stars.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

2012 Preview Postscript - Predictions

     Yeah, I swore to myself I wasn't going to do this.  Oscar predictions in April are A.) Just ridiculous and B.) doomed to be mostly wrong.  Still true.  However, there is something freeing about making stabs in the dark without the weight of informed buzz from other sources flying around your head.  So, let's not call them predictions.  Let's call them an educated wish list and take it for what it is.  Things COULD go down like this:

Best Picture
1.  The Dark Knight Rises
2.  Les Miserables
3.  The Master
4.  Django Unchained
5.  Lincoln
6. The Great Gatsby
7. Zero Dark Thirty
8. The Paperboy
9. Brave
10. either Beasts of the Southern Wild or The Surrogate

11. whichever of the Sundance darlings doesn't snag #10
12. Prometheus (I would love to put it in the ten, but both it and The Dark Knight getting in seems unlikely)
13. Gravity (see Prometheus)
14. Life of Pi (if it works, it will probably make it...if)
15. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (I think this will get tech nods and part two might break in here)
16. Moonrise Kingdom (so tough for comedies, but Anderson's films are too smart not to get in sometime)
17. The Place Beyond the Pines (Action flick may widen Cianfrance's audience, but will that help here?)
18. Argo (will this be the one that does more for Affleck than almost making it?)
19. Silver Linings Playbook (I PREFER Russell's original work to the Fighter, but the Academy doesn't seem to agree)
20. Hunger Games (well reviewed and a huge box office hit, can't be ruled out)

Director:  pretty much just like above except that Nolan might well get left off for Dark Knight just because they like to leave him off, maybe in favor of Bigelow, to show us again that they don't REALLY hate women directors.

1.  Bill Murray - Hyde Park on Hudson
2. Daniel Day Lewis - Lincoln
3. Jamie Foxx - Django Unchained
4. Phillip Seymour Hoffman - The Master
5. John Hawkes - The Surrogate

6. Ryan Gosling - The Place Beyond the Pines (because he is Near Miss Boy)
7. Leonardo DiCaprio - The Great Gatsby (ditto, plus he plays more against type in Django, making it seem more likely for Leo to show in supporting)
8. Hugh Jackman - Les Miserables (may be overshadowed by showier supporting fare)
9. Christian Bale - The Dark Knight Rises (because sometimes they just get it right, no matter how unlikely)
10. Robert Pattinson - Cosmopolis (if he knocks it out of the park like Cronenberg is saying he will, how can they resist the exceeding expectations factor, but that's a big if)

1. Carey Mulligan - The Great Gatsby
2. Sandra Bullock - Gravity
3. Helen Hunt - The Surrogate
4. Viola Davis - Won't Back Down
5. Laura Linney - Hyde Park on Hudson

6. Keira Knightley - Anna Karenina (could easily replace one of the five)
7. Jennifer Lawrence - The Hunger Games (not Oscar-y, but so many raves)
8. Jennifer Lawrence - The Silver Linings Playbook (a more Oscar-y alternative)
9. Noomi Rapace - Prometheus (a lot of folks thought she was snubbed for Dragon Tattoo)
10. Quvenzhane Wallis - Beasts of the Southern Wild (kids usually get supporting but she is sooo the lead)
11. Meryl Streep - Great Hope Springs (I would stop at ten, and surely they will give it a rest, but it is Streep)

Supporting Actor:
1. Leonardo DiCaprio - Django Unchained
2. Russell Crowe - Les Miserables
3. Joseph Gordon Levitt - Lincoln
4. Sasha Baron Cohen - Les Miserables
5. John Goodman - Argo

6. Jude Law - Anna Karenina (been a long time)
7. Guy Pearce - Lawless (with Weinstein behind it, there must be a nom somewhere they will push)
8. James Gandolfini - Cogan's Trade (like Goodman, it seems like his time)
9. Tobey McGuire - Great Gatsby (has chops, never been nominated, meaty supporting role)
10. Tom Hardy - Dark Knight Rises (or best looking Supporting Actor)

Supporting Actress:
1. Helena Bonham Carter - Great Expectations
2. Samantha Barks - Les Miserables 3. Jessica Chastain - Zero Dark Thirty
4. Kerry Washington - Django Unchained
5. Sally Field - Lincoln

6. Maggie Smith - Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (Dench has already had some late in life Oscar lovin)
7. Helena Bonham Carter - Les Miserables (in the top five if Great Expectations fails to meet well... expectations)
8. Olivia Williams - Hyde Park on Hudson (because she's always fantastic)
9. Anne Hathaway - Les Miserables (most people are predicting her over Barks, but Barks will have more screentime, and a more complex role, if they stay close to the theatrical production)
10. Anne Hathaway - Dark Knight Rises (can't wait to see her and Nolan's take on Catwoman)

Original Screenplay:
1. The Master
2. Django Unchained
3. Zero Dark Thirty
4. The Surrogate
5. Moonrise Kingdom

6. Brave
7. Beasts of the Southern Wild
8. Seven Psychopaths
9. Gravity
10. The Place Beyond the Pines

Adapted Screenplay
1.  The Great Gatsby
2. The Paperboy
3. Les Miserables
4. Lincoln
5. Argo

6. The Dark Knight Rises (really should be in top five, but we all know that's gonna be an uphill proposition)
7. The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey (if it gets in for pic, there's a good chance, but I still think above the line noms will wait for the conclusion)
8.  Anna Karenina (see below)
9. Great Expectations (will have to be a special take on a story told this often)
10. The Silver Linings Playbook (Russell has never broken in here, but now that he's had a directing nod...?)

Animated Feature:
1. Brave
2. Frankenweenie
3. Secret World of Arriety
4. Paranorman
5. Hotel Transylvania

6. Rise of the Guardians (it has more buzz than a couple of my choices above, but the first one was just okay)
7. Dorothy of Oz (practically no buzz, but I have to think this has a shot)
8. Lorax (depends on the strength of the field)

1. Dark Knight Rises
2. Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
3. Beasts of the Southern Wild
4. Les Miserables
5. Django Unchained

1. Dark Knight
2. Les Miserables
3. Master
4. Django Unchained
5. Zero Dark Thirty

Art Direction:
1. Les Miserables
2. Great Gatsby
3. Anna Karenina
4. Dark Knight Rises
5. Dark Shadows

Visual Effects:
1. Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
2. Dark Knight Rises
3. Prometheus
4. Avengers
5. Dark Shadows

1. Great Gatsby
2. Anna Karenina
3. Great Expectations
4. Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey
5. Dark Knight Rises

1. Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
2. Dark Knight Rises
3. Great Expectations

Sound Editing:
1. Dark Knight Rises
2. Zero Dark Thirty
3. Brave
4. Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
5. Django Unchained

Sound Mixing:
1. Dark Knight Rises
2. Les Miserables
3. Zero Dark Thirty
4. Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
5. Django Unchained

Music (Score):
1. Dark Knight Rises
2. Brave
3. Lincoln
4. Master
5. Django Unchained

Music (Song):
  Always a big unknown at this point, but Brave, Hunger Games, Les Miserables, and Sparkle all seem like decent possibilities.  Won't Back Down also seems like the sort of film to have an inspirational original song play over the end credits, so we'll throw that in as well.

Documentary Feature
  Yeah, I know that the Doc branch always fails to shortlist half of the most obvious and/or most worthy contenders, but, what the hell?
1. The House I Live In
2. Bully
3. The Island President
4. Searching For Sugar Man
5. Detropia

I'm not even gonna try Foreign Film or shorts at this point in the game, I'd just be wasting your time (even moreso).  After Cannes we'll have a SLIGHTLY clearer picture, we'll play this game again then.

                                                                                                   Got them flicks like Jagger,

P.S.:  I would have anxiously included Only God Forgives and Inside Llewelyn Davis in many of the categories above and the "Hop of Faith" list from my previous post. However, they are both currently slated for release in early 2013.  IF that changes, they both will premiere impressively in my next set of predictions.

Monday, April 2, 2012

2012 Preview Concluded - My "Hops of Faith"

     In my previous two posts, I gave brief previews of the twenty films that currently have the greatest awards buzz at this early stage of the game.  Today, I'm going to preview ten more films that are flying under the radar at the moment but could have the potential to make a splash or at least just be really worth watching.
A couple of these will probably only contend in the tech categories, and a couple of them are probably going to be too small and early out of the gate, but you never know.  At any rate, these are my top ten most anticipated films that did not make the early buzz list:

10.  WON'T BACK DOWN - opens September 28th
         directed by:  Daniel Barnz
         written by:  Brin Hill, Daniel Barnz
         starring:  Viola Davis, Holly Hunter, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Ving Rhames, Oscar Isaac, Lance Reddick,  
  Rosie Perez
     Director Daniel Barnz's previous two feature films (Beastly, Phoebe in Wonderland) were not exactly critical darlings, and his new production's concept (a parent who fights alongside educators to save their community's school system) certainly sounds potentially schmaltzy.  So why on earth, you are asking yourselves, does this film make the list?  Two words:  Viola Davis.  Aside from the fact that she is always excellent and can elevate the level of material she is given (she is and can), there was strong support for her to win Best Actress last year for The Help and it is largely believed that she almost did.  This puts her strongly in the Academy's "make it up to her" category, which is a powerful thing if she gets a campaign.  The rest of the cast is also pretty strong and Maggie Gyllenhaal in particular has a lot of fans in the AMPAS.  I'm sure Won't Back Down will be a little overly sentimental, but at best it could be this year's The Help.  At worst?  Viola's Blind Side.

9.  COSMOPOLIS - opens ????
       directed by: David Cronenberg
       written by:  David Cronenberg
       starring:  Robert Pattinson, Samantha Morton, Jay Baruchel, Paul Giamatti, Juliette Binoche
     Cronenberg's films are almost always interesting and he is such a wild card as a director that you never quite know what to expect.  For instance, no one expected him to cast Twilight star Pattinson as the lead in this story of a young billionairre whose day gets increasingly complicated.  Cronenberg, in his typical style, has addressed this issue head on, going on record saying that this film will lay to rest any doubts about the young actor's abilities.  This I have to see.  So should you.

8.  DARK SHADOWS - opens May 11th
       directed by:  Tim Burton
       written by:  Seth Grahame-Smith, John August
       starring:  Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Eva Green, Cloe Grace Moretz, Helena Bonham Carter, Johnny Lee Miller, Gulliver McGrath, Jackie Earle Haley, Christopher Lee
     Granted, Alice In Wonderland was a huge, garish, and boorish (although wildly profitable) disaster made all the worse by having sooooo much wasted potential but I'm not ready to give up on the Burton/Depp dynamic...yet.  Sweeney Todd and Corpse Bride were not so long ago.  Dark Shadows, an adaptation of a 1960's supernatural soap opera that was a campy classic, seems like the sort of blend of zany and spooky that this team has done so well with in the past.  As the vampiric patriarch of a dysfunctional family, Depp must be sauve and seductive with a smooth and sensual vocal tone.  This is perfect, because it is a proven fact that the quality of a Burton/Depp collaboration is always inversely proportionate to the frequency of Johnny flying into falsetto.  (What do The Mad Hatter, Willy Wonka, and Ichibod Crane have in common?  A tendancy to squeal like little girls.)  So many others in the cast seem perfect for this project as well, particularly Pfeiffer, Carter, Moretz, and Lee.  I was a big fan of Eli Stone, so I am anxious to see what Miller contributes as well.  Even if this is a big disappointment, it could easily see lots of awards love from the Academy's craft branches, particularly Art Direction, Costume, Make-Up and Visual Effects.

       directed by:  John Madden
       written by:  Ol Parker
       starring:  Judy Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, Dev Patel
     The story of a gaggle of British retirees who try to conserve money by moving to a renovated hotel in India that turns out to be a little less posh than they expected, The Best Exotic Marigold hotel has received luke-positive early reviews and is opening pretty early in the season.  It is also of note that director John Madden has been out of the awards game for a while.  However, this cast has too dame much...oops, I mean, damn, no, dame much talent in it for me to resist.  How many more times will we have the honor to see Dench and Smith together on film?  This film COULD actually break into the acting races, depending on how things go with the rest of the field.  I don't care.  Some things actually do just improve with age.

6.  THE AVENGERS  -  May 4th
       directed by:  Joss Whedon
       written by: Joss Whedon, Zak Penn
       starring:  Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans, Scarlet Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Jeremy Renner, Mark Ruffalo, Samuel L Jackson, Cobie Smulders, Gwyneth Paltrow, Stellan Skarsgard, Tom Hiddleston
     What other hero can rival Batman in popularity at the box office this summer?  There probably isn't one, but maybe a whole team of them can give it a shot.  This is it, the film that all those other Marvel Studios films starting with Iron Man have been leading up to.  On paper, it shows great potential.  Hemsworth, Evans, and Downey have all proven that they have a good handle on how to play their characters.  Buffy creator Joss Whedon seems like a strong choice to pull all these individual worlds together, and you know they are going to go all out for the thrills, chills, and special effects possibly leading to some awards attention in the technical categories.  As long as Zak Penn's script plays more like X-Men 2 than Elektra, we might have to make room for two perfectly respectable super hero flicks during the tentpole days of summer.

5.  GREAT EXPECTATIONS  -  opens ???
       directed by:  Mike Newell
       written by:  David Nicholls
       starring:  Jeremy Irvine, Helena Bonham Carter, Ralph Fiennes, Jason Flemyng, Robbie Coltrane, Holiday Grainger, Sally Hawkins, Ewan Bremner
     Okay, so there is something that sounds a little tired and Oscar baity about yet another Dickens adaptation (I've found nearly ten big screen versions of just this story, plus numerous TV projects based on it).  While this production does have a strong cast overall and a director who solidly hits the mark at least some of the time (although he's never quite lived up to Mrs. Brown or Shakespeare in Love over the course of the last decade), my excitement comes mainly from one source:  Helena Bonham Carter as the tragic and spooky Mrs. Havisham.  It is perfect casting, and should be enough to make this movie worth the price of admission.  For anyone who was homeschooled by people who hate the British, Great Expectations is the story of a poor orphan named Pip who is elevated into high society under mysterious circumstances.  It IS one of Dickens' best stories and Mike Newell's best works have been period pieces set in the UK, so I'm going to be cautiously optimistic.  Of course, it goes without saying that Costume and Art Direction nominations could be in the film's future regardless of how it performs otherwise.

4.  SAVAGES - opens July 6th
       directed by:  Oliver Stone
       written by:  Don Winslow, Shane Salerno
       starring:  Aaron Johnson, Taylor Kitsch, Blake Lively, John Travolta, Salma Hayek, Uma Thurman, Emile Hirsch, Benicio del Toro, Demian Bichir
     It has been over a decade and a half since Oscar courted Oliver last, but after two best director wins in five years (and a screenplay win several years earlier than that), he had sort of gotten his due for awhile.  He's still plugging away though, and he's still often quite impressive.  In Savages, he will tell the story of two pot dealers as they try to resque a girl they both have romantic ties to from a Mexican drug cartel.  Sounds very Natural Born Killers (one of Stone's most criminally under appreciated efforts) and that sounds great to me.  This film may slip under the awards radar entirely, but I'm in.  The younger stars are somewhat untested, but there is a lot of proven talent in the supporting roles.

       directed by:  Derek Cianfrance
       written by:  Derek Cianfrance, Ben Coccio, Darius Mardur
       starring:  Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Rose Byrne, Eva Mendes, Ray Liotta, Bruce Greenwood
     Cianfrance follows up the depressing but excellent Blue Valentine with an action crime drama about a man who considers turning to crime to support his family.  He repartners with Blue star Gosling who seems to have become the go to actor for thinking man's action roles since Drive.  Perfectly understandable. My only reservation is that Gosling's role here seems so similar to his role in Drive:  a stunt driver (albeit on motorcycles this time) who gets involved with criminals.  Hopefully Cianfrance will present this versatile actor with something fresh to allow him to continue to grow.

2.  THE PAPERBOY - opens November 23rd
       directed by:  Lee Daniels
       written by:  ???
       starring:  Zac Efron, John Cusack, Matthew McConaughey, Nicole Kidman, Scott Glenn
     Director Lee Daniels follow up to the multiple Oscar nominated (and winning) Precious, The Paperboy is a thriller about a reporter investigating the case of a death row inmate upon his return to his hometown in Florida.  I loved Precious, and this is such a different kind of a story.  I can't wait to see just how versatile a director Daniels actually is.  I also can't wait to see what he is able to do with Efron, and how the young actor will stack up next to the likes of Kidman and Cusack.  McConaughey has also been making something of a comeback recently, and this could well be the next step on that path.

1.  PROMETHEUS - opens June 8th
       directed by:  Ridley Scott
       written by:  Jon Spaihts, Damon Lindelof
       starring:  Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Guy Pearce, Patrick Wilson
     Yeah, this is a horror/sci-fi/action flick and that's like a three strikes you're out with the Academy.  Usually.  But with a cast like this and three time Best Director nominee Scott at the helm, anything could happen. Scott's nominations in the past have all been for different genres, so his versatility is well established.  Also, blends of this film's three genres have worked well for the director in the past (Alien and Blade Runner anyone?) so this could be the surprise critical hit of the year.  Besides, I can't be the only one who is madly anxious to see what kind of range Rapace has outside of Lisbeth Salander in the original Dragon Tattoo movies.  If she can pull this off, and make it different from what we've seen her do in the past, she might just establish herself as the greatest international female action hero ever (not that there is a lot of competition in that arena, but still...).

     And that is the list.  Of course, as we all know, SOMETHING is likely to come along at Cannes in May and flip everything we think we know about this year in movies on its head.  These thirty films, however, are a great start to get you excited about what 2012 has to offer.  At least, they are for this amphibian.