Friday, September 28, 2012

Bernie! On a Ledge of Misfits

     This go around of the reviews pertaining to the movies (fairly) recently distributed on DVD includes:  a cute but slight Aardman 'toon, a big name broad comedic actor's first shot at more subtle dramedy, and a fairly unoriginal yet entertaining suspense thriller.  Enjoy...

  Bernie - I have never been the biggest fan of Jack Black, mostly because I'm not much into the types of films he usually makes.  It's not that I've ever thought he was a BAD comedic actor, in fact, he's better than most of his contemporaries in his sub-genre.  It's just that I prefer high brow comedies, dramedies, and "witty dialogue" type comedies to body odor jokes and stock characters that seemed a bit moldy when they were used in Italian "Commedia dell'arte" theater during the Renaissance.  If you are going for juvenile it had better be brilliantly and creatively juvenile along the lines of South Park or Airplane.  I'm just wired that way.  I know.  It's crazy.
     Oddly enough, he is the entire reason that I saw this film.  A few scattered voices on the web have been giving Mr. Black Best Actor buzz for Bernie, because he displays acting chops that are not exactly dramatic, but definitely less buffoonish than usual.  I can't really take the buzz that seriously.  Don't get me wrong, he does a good job, and it IS a little bit different than anything that we've seen him do before.  It is not, however, some huge stretch of his acting range that shows us much that we didn't already assume he COULD do, if he ever got a role in which pies in the face were not briefly considered at some point in the script.
     Matthew McConaughey continues to impress this year, with his recent growth as an actor, both in maturity and diversity.  Shirley MacLaine, unfortunately, is used as sparingly as possible for a character who is such a major part of the storyline, and she seems to be struggling with what she is given.  I'm going to hell for that.  I still consider her "The Great" Shirley MacLaine.  The real stand out of this film, however, is the ensemble cast of townspeople.  I actually had to check to make sure that director Richard Linklater hadn't used this true story's ACTUAL townsfolk, because they were so convincing in the documentary style interviews.  He did not (although that would have been a brilliant idea for a cross between reality inspired narrative fiction and documentary film making), but if I had told you that he did, and you saw the film, you would be unlikely to doubt me.  Highly believable.
     As for the film as a whole, the script is a little disappointing.  It could have been funnier, and the story (while amusing) didn't really shoot for much in the way of subtext or thematic development.  The picture is a little better than most of director Richard Linklater's recent efforts, but still can't hold a candle to his early works.  Available on DVD.  3 1/2 of 5 stars.

  Pirates!  Band of Misfits - I selected this film because my "Best of" list for animated features in 2011 was so skimpy and difficult to fill even though the slots were limited to five.   So I thought, Aardman Films produced it.  I often love their films (Chicken Run, Arthur Christmas, and all the Wallace and Gromit shorts), so I decided to give it a shot.
     Unfortunately, I was not overly impressed.  This is the company's follow up to last year's Arthur Christmas?  I'm afraid that it suffers by comparison.  Much more predictable story.  Far fewer half hidden witticisms obviously tossed in for the benefit of adults in the audience.
     Although sporting an impressive cast of voice talent (Hugh Grant, Martin Freeman, David Tennant, Jeremy Piven, Salma Hayek, Anton Yeltsin, Brendan Gleeson) the actors are not really given the quality of material needed to shine.  The one exception is Imelda Staunton, whose voice work as Queen Victoria rises above the throng a bit through sheer power and enthusiasm (and general nastiness).
     It's not that the film was bad, it was just a fairly good kiddy cartoon and Aardman Studios is often far better than that.  The stop motion animation was, as always, pretty amazing.  Available on DVD.  3 of 5*

  Man On a Ledge - A friend picked this out to watch the other night and I went in with few expectations as it had not been something that I really planned on watching.  The title is completely indicative of the sort of self-aware, but uncaring obviousness that permeates the whole film.  There are few elements of this picture that are really novel or surprising.  It is rife with cliches of its genre and filled with stock characters we've seen the likes of many times before.  It actually has several rather groan worthy (OH, THEY WENT THERE) sort of moments, especially the last three minutes of the movie.  And yet...
     It sort of worked in its unapologetic approach.  It was almost...campy.  It helped to have a great cast, and it did (even if Sam Rockwell's accent was terribly inconsistent). Jamie Bell and Genesis Rodriguez have particularly good chemistry, in supporting roles.  The editing and pacing were also excellent, which helped to heighten the suspense even when the framework of the particular scene was unabashedly derivative.
     Man On a Ledge is far from a great film, but it isn't trying to be one.  If you can let go and just enjoy it without judgement, it can be a fun ride.  I am very rarely able to do that with films.  For some reason, this time I could.  That's got to say SOMETHING.  Available on DVD.  3 of 5*

     That's it for now.  Kind of meh set of films, but I've already seen a very good film that will be in my next set of DVD reviews, so things are looking up.  Until then...

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Sept Oscar Buzz and Predictions - Supporting Performances

     The categories of Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress are a little harder to predict than their leading counterparts. Films with large impressive casts make it difficult to say who will stand out from the crowd until the films are actually seen.   There are still some HUGE films with multiple possibilities for supporting nominations that no one has seen yet.  Les Miserables, Django Unchained, Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty, The Promised Land, even possibly The Hobbit (you never know).  Bearing that in mind, set aside a grain or two of salt, and consider...

Best Supporting Actress
     It would seem that at least a couple of these slots have already been claimed but it's still very early.  There are still a host of possibilities.  As always, previous rankings are listed in parenthesis.
  1.(1) Amy Adams - The Master
  2.(2) Anne Hathaway - Les Miserables
  3.(3) Sally Field - Lincoln
  4. Helen Hunt - The Sessions
  5.(8) Kerry Washington - Django Unchained

  6.(4) Olivia Williams - Hyde Park On Hudson
  7.(7) Vanessa Redgrave - Song For Marion
  8.(5) Samantha Barks - Les Miserables
  9. Judi Dench - The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
  10. Maggie Smith - The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
  Leaving the Rankings: Jessica Chastain - Zero Dark Thirty, Helena Bonham Carter - Les Miserables, Jessica Chastain - Lawless
     I'd lay odds more like this...
  1. Amy Adams - The Master...It's hard to argue with the buzz on this one.  The picture has premiered to extraordinarily positive reviews that suggest it could be the critics' darling of the year.  Ms. Adams may not be getting QUITE the press that her two male co-stars are, but Harvey Weinstein can probably get the AMPAS to make room for a third acting bid.  Of course, Ms. Adams is very young, and already has three nominations under her belt.  Some might think that she's had her due for now.  On the other hand, if it begins to becomes about the win, the previous nods might work in her favor.
  2. Helen Hunt - The Sessions...This is a little film that could easily be missed, no matter how good it is.  I don't think that it will, however, because I think that John Hawkes's universally praised performance stands an excellent chance of recognition.  If he gets in, then Ms. Hunt will most likely follow suit.  She has one win for one nomination.
  3. Anne Hathaway - Les Miserables...No, the film has not debuted but just the footage of her in the first trailer has me believing until proven wrong. It also seems like the right time for her second nomination.  Positive response to her role in The Dark Knight Rises earlier in the year can't hurt.
  4. Samantha Barks - Les Miserables...Maybe the newcomer out of left field slots will be filled by the duo from "Beasts", but I can't help thinking that this seasoned young stage actress's film debut is going to be one to remember. Eponine is the most tragic character in one of the most tragic musicals of all time and she played the role so well at the Queen's Theatre that she was snatched up for the movie adaptation.  Unless this film tanks...
  5. Sally Field - Lincon...She has second billing in the film after Daniel Day Lewis and I think that she is the film's second most likely nomination, sight unseen.  The Academy likes her...they REALLY like her, and they haven't given the two time nominee and winner a nod in almost thirty years.  Hot off her Emmy winning (and thrice nominated) stint on Brothers and Sister, this would make a triumphant return to film for this outstanding actress.

  6. Helena Bonham Carter - Les Miserables...I know this is the third actress I have listed from the same film, but she is soooo well suited to play Madame Thenardier, has a showstopping number, and Great Expectations' lackluster reception in Toronto has forced me to abandon my hopes that she gets in for Miss Haversham...*sigh*.  She's been nominated twice before, once for collaborating with "Mis" director Tom Hooper.
  7. Jessica Chastain - Zero Dark Thirty...Her buzz has fallen off a bit, but no one has seen the film yet.  I think this one time nominee can spin gold out of shit, frankly.  Maybe platinum.  She is the great sleeping giant in this category.
  8. Maggie Smith - The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel...She is the "It" senior citizen of the moment, experiencing the most dramatic "post Potter" career bump.  Downtown Abbey has made her hot with the public, and if she fails to make a leading bid for Quartet, this could be an excellent opportunity for the AMPAS to recognize this hugely popular movie as a whole.  On the other hand, she DOES already have two Oscars, having been nominated a whopping six times.
  9. Kerry Washington - Django Unchained...Everything is so up in the air for Django, at least in my mind.  Can the Weinsteins possibly have three MAJOR players in the deck this year?  Ms. Washington is extremely talented and has never been nominated, so I'm keeping her in the wings.
  10.  Jackie Weaver - Silver Linings Playbook...I kind of feel like she was robbed when she didn't win for Animal Kingdom, and I WANT her to blow me away like that again in this film, but most early reviews are failing to single her performance out, so I'm becoming doubtful.
     But I also think these ladies still stand a very real shot:  Vanessa Redgrave - Song For Marion (never count her out, reliably brilliant), Viola Davis - Won't Back Down (she could end up here, rather than in lead), Frances McDormand - The Promised Land (this film is a huge question mark).

Best Supporting Actor
     This one may be even more wide open.  The Buzz surrounds...
  1.(1) Leonardo DiCaprio - Django Unchained
  2. Phillip Seymour Hoffman - The Master
  3.(2) Russell Crowe - Les Miserables
  4.(5) William H Macy - The Sessions
  5.(7) Robert DeNiro - The Silver Linings Playbook

  6. Alan Arkin - Argo
  7. Dwight Henry - Beasts of the Southern Wild
  8. Matthew McConaughey - Magic Mike
  9.(6) Bryan Cranston - Argo
  10.(8) David Straitharn - Lincoln
     There are so many unknown factors in this race, that I just don't know what to think, but my best guesses at present are...
  1. Phillip Seymour Hoffman - The Master...He and co-star Phoenix shared the Best Actor prize at Venice, and his performance has been almost unanimously praised by critics.  Some category confusion could occur here, but that's about the biggest threat to his nomination.  He already has one win and three nods, but I think he's respected enough for that to be inconsequential:  he deserves more.
  2. Robert DeNiro - The Silver Linings Playbook...He's a legend (2 wins out of 6 nominations) pulling out of a slump (20 years since his last nod).  Isn't that enough?
  3. Leonardo DiCaprio - Django Unchained...After three nods and numerous snubs, I'm as ready to see him win the Academy Award he should have had for Gilbert Grape as anyone, and this seems enough against type that it could make an impression.  I've been burned betting on Leo before, but I never learn.
  4. Alan Arkin - Argo...He has one win from three nominations already, but Arkin's performance is the most consistently singled from this film's entire cast and Weinstein is distributing.  The film is almost a surefire Picture contender, so I say Arkin is in.
  5. William H Macy - The Sessions...This one time nominee's profile has been raised lately by his cable show Shameless, and he's got good press from the festival circuit.  If the Academy really embraces the film, he's got an excellent shot.

  6. Russell Crowe - Les Miserables...Javert is arguably the second meatiest role in the movie, so the chances for this one time winner and three time nominee may actually be BETTER than I'm giving him credit for.
  7. Dwight Henry - Beasts of the Southern Wild...The film's buzz has waned a bit in recent weeks, but expect a resurgence once the critic's awards begin.  Whether Mr. Henry can ride this wave to his first nomination remains to be seen.
  8. Hal Holbrook - The Promised Land...This late entry into the race is a big question mark, but Mr. Holbrook is pushing 90 and has never won.  Heck, he's only been nominated once.  Now could be his time.
  9. Ezra Miller - Perks of Being a Wallflower...Many (myself included), thought he should have been nominated for We Need To Talk About Kevin last year, and early raves from Toronto suggest that he could stand an excellent shot this year if campaigned.  Teen angst flicks rarely produce Oscar glory, but this one is pretty high profile, so who knows.
  10. Matthew McConaughey - Magic Mike...As the summer ends, his buzz seems to be fading, even if reviews were strong.  He's having a good year, but it may all be set up for his real push NEXT year for Mud.
  But there are SO many other real possibilities here:  The Lincoln Three (David Straithern, Tommy Lee Jones, Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Jude Law - Anna Karenina, Christoph Waltz - Django Unchained, James Gandolfini - Killing Them Softly (you know Harvey's planning on pushing the film SOMEWHERE), Sacha Baron Cohen - Les Miserables (the casting is perfect), Woody Harrelson - Seven Psychopaths (especially after snubbing Rampart last year), Billy Connelly - Quartet (you know Harvey's pushing the film SOMEWHERE), practically the whole cast of Zero Dark Thirty.

     And that's the way it is pulling into Autumn.  I'll try and be back tomorrow to cover Best Actor and Best Actress.

Related Posts:  Sept Oscar Buzz and Predictions - The Techs: Part One and Part TwoThe Genres, and ScreenplaysJune Oscar Buzz and Predictions - Supporting ContendersThe Dark Knight RisesBest That The Summer Wields? (Beasts of the Southern Wild review), We Need To Interrupt Miss Bala (We Need To Talk About Kevin review), Pariahs Were Here On the Rampart (Rampart review)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Underworld House of War

     Today we will be discussing a Chinese war movie with a famous American star, a pretty standard action flick, and the exponentially diminishing returns of a fantasy/horror franchise that has played itself out.  Not the most stellar collection of films I've ever reviewed.  If that disappoints you, think how I felt sitting through all of these in a row.

Underworld:  Awakening - I don't really know where to start with this one.  Let's discuss the plot, although that sounds like there was plotting involved, beyond plotting how to pull a few more dollars out of hardcore fans of the first two movies who weren't chased completely away by the third.  After humans gain widespread knowledge of the existence of vampires and lychens,  Seline and Michael (only seen in this installment in cameo) are captured and placed in suspended animation.  Seline awakens to discover that she now has a psychic connection with a young woman, the daughter she was unaware she was pregnant with.  How a child gestated in undead flesh I have no idea, maybe half undead sperm had something to do with it.
      Poor, poor Kate Beckinsale.  She had such a promising early career in films like Much Ado About Nothing, Cold Comfort Farm, and the Aviator.  Even in the early Underworld films she was a captivating presence that could easily be said to elevate the material by her participation.  I would like to say that she did the same for this film, but she seems tired of the character and unable to take the increasingly silly story line seriously.  I hope she can someday overcome this typecast.
     Usually with a film like this, I could at least give it a little credit for some good action sequences, but there was nothing here that was exciting enough to enable me to forget how little I was enjoying the story.  The special effects were obvious and outdated looking CGI that did nothing to enhance the experience whatsoever.
      I really like supernaturally themed movies when they are done well, but perhaps it is time for the ghouls in the Underworld to finally rest in peace.  Available on DVD.  1 out of 5*

Safe House - I don't really have a lot to say about this film.  It was a fairly uninspired, fairly blase action flick, that was elevated slightly by the lead performance of Denzel Washington (much like many a so-so action flick before it).  Ryan Reynolds pretty much mugs away much of said elevation. If mindless car chases and explosions are your thing, you might while away a little time with this one.  It wasn't awful, and the production values are decent.  Not my thing, though, I honestly had trouble staying awake.  Available on DVD.  2 1/2 of 5*

Flowers of War - This picture suffered from what I'm beginning to think of as "War Horse Syndrome" where the first half of the film seems like it was part of a much better movie than the second half.  This film was China's submission for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscar's this past February, and it must have barely qualified to compete considering the amount of English used in the film.  This was due mostly to the surprise casting of Christian Bale in the film's leading role.  It is a bit of a stunt, but one that pays off as it is largely Bale's performance (as well as that of co-star Ni Ni), that secure this film the backhanded compliment of being my favorite movie reviewed in this post.
     The plot is interesting and the film starts well.  During the Japanese invasion of Nanjing, China in 1937, an altar boy, several young female students, an American mortician, and a gaggle of giggling courtesans all take refuge in the local Catholic church while the city falls around them.  There are several interesting subplots established early on, but the second half of the picture quickly devolves into cinematic cliches and sentimentality.
     It is possible that I am being slightly too hard on the picture due to inescapable comparisons to the far superior film City of Life and Death.  It is also about the 1937 invasion, and I just saw it a few months ago.
I usually enjoy director Yimou Zhang's work (Hero, House of Flying Daggers, Curse of the Golden Flower) a little more than this.  Nominally positive response.  Available on DVD.  3 of 5*

     Hopefully I'll have a more enthusiastic reaction to something I see soon.  You'll be the first to know.

Related articles:  Muppet Impossible: Life and Death Protocol (City of Life and Death review)

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sept Oscar Buzz and Predictions - Screenplays

Adapted Screenplay
     This category is usually populated almost entirely by Best Picture contenders, and I'm sure that this year will be no exception.  As always, previous rankings appear in parenthesis.  Buzz surrounds...
  1.(1) Lincoln
  2.(3) Argo
  3. Beasts of the Southern Wild
  4.(4) Anna Karenina
  5.(6) Life of Pi

  6.(2) Les Miserables
  7.(7) The Silver Linings Playbook
  8.(5) The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey
  9. Quartet
  10.(8) On The Road
  Leaving the Rankings:  The Great Gatsby, Gangster Squad
     Although I'm seeing a script more like...
  1. The Silver Linings Playbook - David O Russell is already respected by the Academy (even though he has no previous nominations in the writing categories), and the positive buzz out of Toronto has been deafening.  Oh...and the Weinsteins are distributing with no other strong horse in this race.
  2. Beasts of the Southern Wild - Behn Zeitlen and Lucy Alibar have not one previous Academy Award nomination between them, but they do have one of the critical hits of the year, one that already scored multiple wins at both Sundance and Cannes.  Oh, and it's this wonderfully creative little allegory, too.
  3. Argo - Also seems very close to a lock at this point, even if writer Chris Terrio is another Oscar virgin.  Buzz is huge, and reviews coming out of Toronto are almost unanimously positive.
  4. Life of Pi - David Magee does have 1 previous nomination from the AMPAS under his belt (for Finding Neverland), and the novel was widely considered impossible to adapt to film.  If he pulls it off impressively, I say he's in.
  5. Promised Land - It's making a late entry into the awards season for some good reason, I assure you.  Matt Damon and John Krasinski wrote the screenplay and starred in the film.  That often tickles Oscar's fancy, as it did the year that Damon won for Good Will Hunting.  It would also be fun to see Ben and Matt up against each other's films in multiple categories.  A little like Brad and George last year, but less focused on one category.

  6. Cloud Atlas - I'm still holding on to hope here.  I know the festival response has been mixed, but I still think this might be more of a contender than anyone expected.  The Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer all collaborated on the script.  None of them have ever been nominated.
  7. The Sessions - This film has had buzz in several categories ever since Sundance, and Ben Levin's script is supposed to be quite good, so who knows?
  8. Les Miserables - William Nicholson has two previous nominations, and I'm still expecting the film to be big, but musicals do tend to lose out sometimes in screenplay.
  9. Anna Karenina - Oscar winner and two time nominee Tom Stoppard (Shakespeare in Love, Brazil) handles the screenplay duties, but early response has been so mixed that I'm not feeling as confident as I once was.
  10. Lincoln - I know, it's almost ridiculously cynical the way I'm treating this film. One time nominee Tony Kushner (Munich) wrote this one, and it might well be fantastic, but I'm remaining officially skeptical...for now.

Original Screenplay
     It's a little bit weird this year that all the big name writers and here rather than in Adapted, but that's certainly the way it seems at the moment. The buzz bestows...
  1.(2) The Master
  2.(6) Moonrise Kingdom
  3.(1) Django Unchained
  4. Amour
  5.(3) Zero Dark Thirty

  6.(10) Seven Psychopaths
  7.(7) Brave
  8. Hyde Park On Hudson
  9.(9) Inside Llewyn Davis
  10. Magic Mike
  Leaving the Rankings:  The Sessions, Beasts of the Southern Wild, To Rome With Love
     It's pretty tough to argue with most of the conventional wisdom here, but I read it more like...
  1. The Master - Paul Thomas Anderson has been nominated three times in the screenplay categories (Boogie Nights, Magnolia, and There Will Be Blood) and never won. There is definitely some perception of an overdue factor at play here and the film is already well on its way to being on of the top reviewed pictures of the season. If it opens with any kind of box office success, it may well be completely unstoppable.
  2. Moonrise Kingdom - This is the sort of film that could easily get a screenplay nod even if it doesn't get one for Best Picture.  It is written by Roman Coppola and director Wes Anderson who has one previous nomination for The Royal Tennenbaums.  Another of the best reviewed films of the year so far.
  3. Amour - Auteur Michael Haneke has never been nominated (well, The White Ribbon was up for Foreign Language Film a few years ago, but technically that was a nomination for Austria), but he has a lot of admirers out there, and in the Academy.  This film is currently the toast of the international film community in a way that suggests it could easily break out of the Foreign Language category and this would be the easiest place for it to do so.
  4. Django Unchained - It's Tarantino, and Weinstein is obviously confident that it will be awards friendly Tarantino to at least some extent.  Quentin already has an Oscar win in this category (for Pulp Fiction) and another nomination under his belt (for Inglourious Basterds), so why bet against one of America's best writer/directors, still in his prime?
  5. Inside Llewyn Davis - With five nominations for Screenplay, it's not wise to doubt the Coen brothers.  They may have won twice, but it appears increasingly as if the Academy has dubbed them the twenty first century's answer to Woody Allen.

  6. Zero Dark Thirty - Yes, Mark Boal won last time out for The Hurt Locker, but he is still relatively inexperienced and it's the rare screen writer that goes two for two, especially so early on in their careers.
  7. Seven Psychopaths - Martin McDonough has been nominated once before for In Bruges and the early word is very encouraging.  If some little indie picture outside of the top races slides in this year, this one seems most likely.
  8. Magic Mike - What seemed a very unlikely contender exceeded all expectations.  Reid Carolin has no previous nods, but if this film breaks into Best Supporting Actor, it could score here as well.
  9. Ruby Sparks - The Academy loves actors turned writer or director, and that could work in Zoe Kazan's favor.
  10. Flight - John Gatins's dramatic work may prove too sentimental, or it could surprise us all.  He has no previous nominations.

       Which breaks us into the top eight categories.  Up next weekend?  The acting categories.  Now I must tabulate new buzz...

Related posts:  September Oscar Buzz and Predictions - The Genres, The Techs: Part OnePart 2Awards Season Hits the Next LegBest That the Summer Wields (Beasts of the Southern Wild review), June Oscar Buzz and Predictions - The Screenplays

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Sept Oscar Buzz and Predictions - The Genres

      Welcome back to September Oscar Buzz and Predictions.  Today we cover what I like to call the genre categories, those awards given to the best film overall of a specific type.  The shorts (Animated, Live Action, and Documentary) I'm going to pretty much skip entirely, as I know nothing more than I did in June.  Well, that's not entirely true, as the animated short Paperman has risen as a likely contender.  Otherwise, nothing new.  That still leaves Foreign Language Film, Animated Feature, and Documentary Feature, which we'll start

Documentary Feature
     This branch of the Academy is notoriously nutty with its nominations, so don't expect more than two or three of the films we talk about today to make the final cut.  Chance are good that at least one or two of the eventual nominees have hardly made a splash yet, and will emerge at the last possible second. As always, numbers in parenthesis indicate previous rankings. With that in mind, the buzz has spoken thusly:
  1.(1)  Bully
  2.(3) The Invisible War
  3. Jiro Dreams of Sushi
  4.(2) The House I Live In
  5. Ethel

  6.(8) This Is Not A Film
  7.(6) The Island President
  8.(10) West of Memphis
  9. Queen of Versailles
  10. Under African Skies
  Leaving the Rankings:  The World Before Her, Searching For Sugarman, Detroipia, The Law In These Parts
     I would go on record more like...
  1. Bully - Okay, so it's hard to argue with this one.  It is far from the best reviewed doc of the year but it got  relatively lots of publicity, did decent box office, and is backed by Harvey Weinstein.  Last year, the Weinsteins backed a documentary called Undefeated.  No one was even talking about it this time last year, and it ended up winning the damn Oscar.
  2. This Is Not A Film - This IS one of the best reviewed docs of the year.  Director Panahi is highly respected and admired world wide and this film, constructed of bits of footage he sent out of his captivity in pieces, is the sort of unique creation that might catch the Academy's eye.  It also performed VERY well on the international film festival circuit.
  3. The Central Park 5 - I think that the documentary branch will be too burnt out on the subject matter (already covered in the Paradise Lost trilogy) to award West of Memphis with a nomination this year.  However, if they are still into docs about penal injustices being brought to light, this piece is currently blowing  minds at the Toronto film festival.  The behind the scenes story here is a passing of the torch from twice nominated documentarian (Ken Burns) to his daughter Sarah.
  4. The Queen of Versailles - This did well at the box office, director Lauren Greenfield won the top documentary directing prize at Sundance earlier this year, and the reviews have been enthusiastic.  Plus, its one of those happy accident, truth is stranger than fiction sort of stories.
  5. The House I Live In - This Grand Jury Prize winner from Sundance, is by Eugene Jarecki, one of the most celebrated working documentarians to never be nominated, and covers the War On Drugs, which is an increasingly more timely issue.

  6. Ai Wei Wei - Never Sorry - Ai Wei Wei is a prominent artist and social activist in China, and this film's promotionals make his life story look fascinating.  This film has performed well on both the Festival Circuit and the critical gauntlet.  If Jarecki did not feel overdue, I would have given this movie "House"'s slot in the top five.
  7. The Gatekeepers - If this film, wowing critics currently in Toronto, qualifies this year, it might be unstoppable.  Unprecedented access to Israel's most prominent military strategists to be found within.
  8,. The Invisible War - Luke warm critical reception has me more leery of this doc than the buzz would dictate.  However, the subject of rape (and its cover up) in the U.S. military sounds like it might carry the emotional impact to overcome that handicap.
  9. Jiro Dreams of Sushi - Although this film is well liked and known among the general public and it is on MY must watch list for the year, the relatively light subject matter may hurt its chances.
  10. Searching For Sugarman - This one looks great to me, but bio docs of entertainers rarely break in even if they are one of the year's best.  Just ask Joan Rivers.

Animated Feature
     So, it looks right now like there will definitely be enough qualifying films this year to produce five nominees (the minimum is sixteen eligible movies).  With Brave meeting positive but not exuberant reception, the field is completely wide open as well.  This might be a good scrap for once.  Buzz has it...
  1.(1) Brave
  2.(2) Paranorman
  3.(3) Rise of the Guardians
  4.(6) Wreck-It Ralph
  5.(4) Frankenweenie

  6.(5) Lorax
  7.(9) From Up On Poppy Hill
  8. Le Tableau
  9.(8) Hotel Transylvania
  10.(7) The Rabbi's Cat
  Leaving the Rankings:  Pirates!  Band of Misfits
     I, however, would draw things out like this...
  1. Rise of the Guardians - The Hollywood Awards (which, granted, mean very little, except publicity) have chosen to honor IT, instead of Brave, indicating that we might not be looking at a Pixar sweeping season, at the very least.  It also has a highly impressive voice cast (Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin, Hugh Jackman, Isla Fisher, Jude Law), a score by Alexandre Desplat, and Dreamworks has gotta be overdue for a win.
  2. Frankenweenie - It seems to me that this film and Paranorman might be too similar to both get in, but one of them almost surely will.  Especially considering "Norman's" lukewarm critical reception, I'm gonna lay my bets with Tim Burton.  His live action flicks may have fallen off a bit in quality in recent years, but everything animated that he's ever had his hands in has been exceptional.
  3. Brave - So, yeah, the nomination is almost a gimme.  I mean, even Brave's most virulent critics haven't treated it like it was Cars 3 or anything.  The general consensus is:  it's good just not (Toy Story 1,2, or 3, WALL-E, or Up) good.  So, it's not a guaranteed win, probably won't be.  Still...almost a gimme.
  4. From Up On Poppy Hill - Immensely popular and highly respected Japanese animated film maker Hayao Miyazaki wrote the script, and many will surely be disappointed that his other screenplay The Secret World of Arriety (still the best reviewed animated US release this year) will be ineligible due to an issue with its Japanese release date.  This could be a way to still get their Miyazaki fix.  It's also being distributed by G-Kids, who have had tremendous success scoring nominations for little known foreign films in the Animated category the last couple of years.  I expect 1-2 of their films to pounce on any weaknesses in the bigger movies armor.  Of the four G-KID releases, this is easily the highest profile movie.
  5. A Liar's Autobiography:  The Untrue Story of Monty Python's Graham Chapman - One last shining moment of brilliance from one of the most brilliant sketch comedy troupes in film and television history?  If I don't believe, then John Cleese dressed as Tinkerbell will be unable to fly.

  6. Wreck-It Ralph - It's not that I'm not interested in the film, or that I don't consider Disney proper a contender.  Their year is coming, and this could be it.  However, might their eleventh hour entry Arjun: The Warrior Prince signal that Wreck-It Ralph is not their top horse in this race?  Or is Arjun a throwaway meant to fluff up the number of nominations to help Ralph?
  7. The Rabbi's Cat - This seemingly offbeat French film is, to my mind, the second most likely G-KIDS possibility.  There could be two, there were last year.  Of course, Pixar tanked last year, so....
  8. Paranorman - I love these kinds of films, and I'm sure I'll enjoy this one, but I just don't see it AND Frankenweenie getting in. A ghost story, and a reanimated monster flick in the same year?  If they had both killed critically and at the box office, maybe, but "Norman" is already catching some critical flack.
  9, Le Tableau - This somewhat obscure French production about the inhabitants of an incomplete painting is another G-KIDS production, and they have secured nominations for films even further off the radar in the past.  I, for one, had never even heard of The Secret of Kells until nomination day.
  10. Arjun: The Warrior Prince - Everything I said in my commentary for number six applies.  Also, I would like to add that there is the third possibility that Disney feels confident enough in both films that they think they can get them both into the race.

Foreign Language Film
     In between the time that I began writing this article yesterday and getting to this category, the number of confirmed submissions has already changed by three.  The category is too in flux right now.   Just this once, I'm going to split it off into its own post, a little later in the series, maybe at the end.  My number two pick right now could be summarily eliminated by the time I get this posted, if France makes a poor choice for their official submission.

       Coming soon:  The Screenplays

Related articles:  Sept. Oscar Buzz and Predictions - The Techs: Part 1Part 2Awards Season Hits the Next LegJune Oscar Buzz and Predictions - The Genres

Friday, September 14, 2012

Being Margaret's Mirror

     This installment of DVD reviews features a drama that just missed masterpiece status, a father/son dramedy that got nowhere near, and a fairy tale told twice upon a year.  Might as well jump in...

Being Flynn - Writer/director Paul Weitz is probably best known for launching the American Pie franchise.  I won't say that I think Being Flynn has the potential to become that sort of cultural phenomenon, but it is definitely a step in the right direction from his last two films (Little Fockers and Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant).  This story of an estranged father and son has a lot of charming bits and moments, although it ultimately fell a little short of forming a cohesive and impressive whole.
     Paul Dano is almost always a mixed bag for me as an actor.  He stars here as Flynn the younger.  Some of his scenes are so naturalistic.  In others he seems to almost be winking at the camera every other line.  He definitely has talent, but there is an element of self awareness that need to be eliminated from his performances before he truly achieves greatness.  Hopefully his upcoming star turn in Ruby Sparks will live up to the early promise of the promotionals.
     Julianne Moore is sort of wasted playing his mother in flashbacks.  She is fine in the role (as usual), but is not really given enough chance to shine to warrant taking up the time of one of our most talented actresses who could have been working on something else.
     The real stand-out of this film is Robert DeNiro, who is actually given a character with enough depth to show his talent off for once.  It's been a tough few years for Bobby the Great, but hopefully this return to near form is a harbinger of what we can expect from him in Silver Linings Playbook later this year.  If so, the Academy might recognize him in the Supporting Actor category come February, but not for Being Flynn. As Flynn the elder, though, we do see shades of the actor we all knew and loved reawakening.
     I can't say that I heavily recommend this movie, but I certainly didn't hate it.  For DeNiro fans it is definitely worth checking out.  Available on DVD.  3 of 5*

Margaret - Oh, Margaret..I knew that this film was going to be the one to invalidate my Best of 2011 lists and if I had seen it in time it would definitely have figured into Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, and especially Actress.  This is auteur Kenneth Logerman's sophomore directorial effort (his first being the much lauded You Can Count on Me from all the way back in 2000), although he has written several other films including 2002's Gangs of New York.  This film actually completed shooting several years ago and spent years in post-production limbo before it finally was released late last year.  I am so glad it did.  This picture has an excellent script, well developed characters, great acting and fell just short of a masterpiece.  The first fifteen minutes form one of the best opening sequences that I have seen in quite some time.
     The best thing about Margaret, though, is Anna Paquin.  She plays Lisa, a slightly self possessed young woman whose involvement in a horrible tragedy haunts her and slowly brings out the very worst in her personality.  The entirety of Margaret was shot before she ever played her first scene as Sookie, and it is amazing to see an actress so young able to say so much about issues of guilt and self worth in such a complicated and nuanced way.  She is truly a gem and I can't wait to see what she does when she returns to film full time.
     She is backed up by a highly talented supporting cast including such familiar faces as Matt Damon, Mark Ruffalo, Matthew Broderick, and Allison Janney.  The real stand out, though, is J. Smith Cameron as Lisa's mother Joan, who might have made my Best Supporting Actress list for 2011 if I had seen it in time.  Watching Joan, you can totally understand how Lisa became who she is.
     The only fault I find with the film is some of the editorial choices made, particularly in the last half hour of the film.  From early on, the pacing makes use of rough, time displacing cuts that speed the story along.  I have to believe that these are intentional flourishes enacted as a device to keep the viewer jarred and confused, echoing Lisa's own state of mind.  They work quite effectively in the early part of the film, even if it does take a few minutes after each jump to figure out how much time has passed and what occurred in the interim.  Near the end, however, these harsh scene changes and chronological leaps become more pronounce in a way that looks almost unintentionally sloppy.  Other than this one criticism (which cost the movie its five star rating), Margaret is a near perfect film.  I highly recommend it, and for Paquin fans it is a must see.  Available on DVD.  4 1/2 of 5*

Mirror Mirror - I always thought it was very strange that two movies based on Snow White but focusing on the Queen were both being released in the same year.  I REALLY hope that this is the lesser offering, so I don't have an even worse experience watching "Huntsmen" when it comes out on DVD.
     This is not the first time I have gone on record stating that director Tarsem Singh's efforts are all style with very little substance (that would be when I reviewed worst of 2011 ranked Immortals), but this film certainly did nothing to curb that impression.  It is lush to look at.  Even though I found them to be a little overblown, Mirror's costumes might well find recognition in this year's awards season.  That, however, is about the best thing I can say regarding the picture.  It seems to be attempting to offer a more family friendly alternative to "Huntsman", but it just comes off as childish.
     Poor, miscast, Julia Roberts is dreadful as the queen.  I'm not sure why the choice was made to have everyone speak in faux British accents, but she cannot even maintain hers from one sentence to the next.  Worse, her natural southern twang leaks out between the cracks in a way that it hasn't in years.  She is a little more convincing in the secondary role of magic mirror, but this flick is a long way from a career high.  Nathan Lane is even worse as her buffoonish sycophant.
      If there is one stand-out performer (in a good way), I suppose it is Armee Hammer, who is handsome and charming as the prince.  Since the role requires little else, he fills the shoes pretty effectively.
      There is one good scene in the film:  a fight in the forest involving giant wooden puppets, that is actually rather entertaining.  Aside from this one bright spot (which earned the film an extra half star in my ranking), there is little to recommend here.  I'd rather have spent the time rewatching a couple of Once Upon a Time episodes.  2 of 5*.

     That's it for this time.

Related Articles:  Best of 2011 - Best Picture (concluded)Writers and DirectorsThe Performances: Part 2Immortal Skin, Forgotten Dreams (Immortals review), Sept Oscar Buzz and Predictions - The Techs: Part 2

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Best That the Summer Wields?

     Usually, I finish a review with any appropriate chatter about the film's awards prospects, but today we are discussing Beasts of the Southern Wild, deservedly being called the biggest awards contender released during the first eight months of the year.  It has been a modest success in limited release, and many of you may not even be aware that it exists, but everyone will have heard of it by February.  At this point, I would say that the film is practically guaranteed Picture and Actress nominations at the Oscars.  Adapted Screenplay, Director, Score, Cinematography, Supporting Actor, and Editing also seem entirely possible, in roughly that order of likelihood.
     The film is the debut feature from director Behn Zeitlen, who also co-wrote the script and co-composed the score.  He cast it with first time actors native to the region of Louisiana in which the film takes place.  I usually avoid synopses, but the film is so low on the public's radar right now, that I feel it is appropriate in this case.  "Beasts" tells the story of Hushpuppy, a five year old girl being raised by her father in The Bathtub, a small, barely afloat island located on the wet side of the levees.  But then, her father falls deathly ill, and Hushpuppy must set out on a desperate search for a cure, her absent mother, and acceptance.  Meanwhile, fierce beasts from the ancient past called Aurochs are being released from their frozen tombs.  It sounds all over the place, but nothing could be more intricately woven together.
     Young Quvenzhane Wallis, who plays Hushpuppy, is about to become the youngest Best Actress nominee (maybe winner?) in history.  Her performance is one of the greatest I have ever seen from a child actor (especially one SO young).  This film rests so heavily on her shoulders and she carries it like it was nothing.  Maybe she was too young and inexperienced to be afraid, but she is fearless.  Hushpuppy's emotional journey and transformation is so complex that most girls her age would find it impossible to comprehend, let alone convey.
     The supporting cast is also nearly flawless, especially Dwight Henry who plays Hushpuppy's ailing father Wink.  Though not nearly as prominent a presence in the film as Wallis, he is still given plenty of scenery to chew playing a loving man, but one who is proud, and rough around the edges, dealing with his impending demise and the slow demise of his way of life. A man who is running out of time in which to prepare his daughter to live through both.  All of that drama, and yet Henry never abandons his naturalistic, imminently believable style of delivery.
     Technically, the film is very well put together, especially considering its shoe string budget.  The overall look and atmosphere are a sort of lush squalor.  All of the production elements fit together so well that even someone as accustomed to picking movies apart as I am, barely took notice of them on first viewing.  I was too caught up in the story and the acting.  I will have to reassess when the film is released on DVD.
     I have read a lot of opinions about the thematic focus of "Beasts".  The most common of these focus on Katrina or Global Warming and it is about those things in a way.   Hushpuppy sums it all up early in the film when she says that if one thing is broken then nothing can be right until that original thing that was wrong is fixed.  This idea is revisited in microcosm throughout the film, but it is also the whole key to Hushpuppy's world.
     The community of the bathtub lives as communally with the natural world as possible.  Wink has raised Hushpuppy to see herself as an animal, never forgetting that it is only our strength and intelligence that keep the natural world at bay.  Wink looks at the dry world on the other side of the levy, and asks, "Isn't it ugly?".
  What is broken is man's connection to his animal nature, his awareness that he is a part of the natural order of things.  This leads to the icecaps melting.  This frees the Aurochs from the ice caps.  This makes the storms rise higher and higher.  This is what makes Hushpuppy doubt herself and fail to face her fears as she realizes how sick her daddy is.  By the film's end, she has remembered her lessons and taken her place as "the king of the bath tub".
     Beasts of the Southern Wild is a creative and captivating piece of smart indie film making from a director that no one ever saw coming.  It won Sundance, it charmed Cannes, and it is now seriously rivalling The Dark Knight Rises for my favorite film of the year designation.  If you don't catch it quickly while it is still in theaters, you will wish you had when you see it on DVD.  It's an experience best engulfed by.  5 of 5*

Related articles: September Oscar Buzz and Predictions: The Techs Part 1, and Part TwoAwards Season Hits the Next LegThe Dark Knight Transcends

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Sept Oscar Buzz & Predictions - The Techs Part 2

    Let's get this underway....
Best Make-Up and Hair
     Former buzz rankings appear in parenthesis after the current ones...
  1.(1)  The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey
  2.(2) Lincoln
  3.(5) Les Miserables

  4. Cloud Atlas
  5. Prometheus
  6.(4) The Dark Knight Rises
  Leaving the rankings - Dark Shadows, The Great Gatsby
      I'm thinking Make-Up can be applied this way...
  1. Lincoln - I may not be advocating this film as heavily as most but you can't argue with the fact that Day-Lewis looks just like Abe in the promotional materials.  It's quite reminiscent of the way Streep was turned into Thatcher in last year's winner The Iron Lady.
  2. The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey - If you can't figure out why this one will be a contender yourself, then I don't think I can help you.
  3. Cloud Atlas - This spans so many times and places and features the main characters in so many incarnations that there is a lot of OPPORTUNITY to shine in this category.

  4. Les Miserables - I hold a little less hope for this nomination than the buzz because you can only make people look dirty and squalid in so many ways.
  5. Great Expectations - Just the work on turning Bonham-Carter into Miss Havisham should be worth considering.
  6. Zero Dark Thirty - If they can make actor         look JUST like Bin Laden then we'll have a serious contender on our hands.

Best Costume Design
     Period pieces and fantasy usually rule the day, and the buzz this time certainly seems to be leaning in those directions...
  1.(4) Anna Karenina
  2.(2) Les Miserables
  3.(7) Mirror Mirror
  4.(3) Lincoln
  5.(10) Snow White and the Huntsman

  6.(5) The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey
  7.(6) Argo
  8.(9) Dark Shadows
  9.(8) Django Unchained
  10. Hyde Park On Hudson
  Leaving the rankings - The Great Gatsby
     I would dress it up more like this...
  1.Les Miserables - Yes Paco Delgado would be a first time nominee, but it's a musical set a couple of centuries ago that I'm expecting to be one of this year's top power contenders across the board.  Duh...
  2. Anna Karenina - THE costume drama of the year, unless it tanks.  What was this category's name again?  Besides, costumer Jaqueling Durran has been nominated twice before when working with director Joe Wright.
  3. Cloud Atlas - Fantasy and multiple time periods.  This is another film I can kind of feel coming.  I am made slightly nervous that the work was done by two costumers with no previous nominations, but...
  4. Django Unchained - Have you SEEN Leo's suits in the promotionals?  Design by twice nominated Sharon Davis (Dreamgirls, Ray)
  5. Snow White and the Huntsman - I refuse to predict both Snow movies and having seen of the costuming in Mirror Mirror, I'm going to lean for now towards the work of five time Oscar winner (and nine time nominee) Colleen Atwood.

  6. Mirror Mirror - But former winner Eiko Ishioka (Dracula) does have a lot of buzz for the work on this film.
  7. The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey - Richard Taylor has already won five Oscars, split among Costuming, Make-Up, and Visual Effects, and four of them were for work done on The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  Pedigree or overkill?  I'm not sure.
  8. Great Expectations - No one else is predicting this, and I can't seem to find a costume design credit for this one yet, but it's Dickens, set in period.
  9. Lincoln - I know I'm probably underestimating this film spectacularly, I hope they prove me wrong.
  10. The Master - The time period is a little closer to our own than this Branch of the Academy usually ventures, but design is by last year's winner (for The Artist) Mark Bridges, so who can say?

Production Design
     This is the new, probably more appropriately named version of the longstanding Art Direction category.  And the buzz is saying...
  1.(2) Les Miserables
  2.(6) Anna Karenina
  3.(3) The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
  4. Prometheus
  5.(4) Lincoln

  6.(9) Hyde Park On Hudson
  7.(5) The Dark Knight Rises
  8.(8) Argo
  9.(10) The Master
  10. Django Unchained
  Leaving the Rankings:  The Great Gatsby, Dark Shadows
     I would decorate my list more like this...
  1 Les Miserables - The promos look really fantastic and in for a penny...
  2. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - I don't know why, I just feel like this might be one of the bones thrown to the first installment of this new trilogy.  It will almost certainly be deserving.
  3. Cloud Atlas - When you choose to go out on a limb, go big.
  4. Anna Karenina - If this does turn out to be THE costume drama of the year then it will undoubtedly end up in the mix here as well.
  5. The Master - Expect the Weinstein company to get either this and/or Django Unchained a nod in this category.  This one is already previewing to raves, so we'll go with it for now.

  6. Great Expectations - I feel that this film could be a sleeping giant just waiting for a distribution deal and this would be one of the EASIEST categories for it to break into.
  7. Django Unchained - Like I said before...
  8. Lincoln - I was so underwhelmed by War Horse that I can't let it go yet.
  9. Argo - I think this film's setting may be a little too close to the present day to catch this branch's eye, no matter how well the film seems likely to be thought of, but it's possible.
  10. The Dark Knight Rises - I give this film the final slot on the list because it will almost surely deserve serious consideration, but I have a bad feeling that this is one nomination that will be lost in the Academy's attempt to distance itself from the film.

Visual Effects
     And the buzz appeared from nowhere...
  1.(3) The Avengers
  2.(1) The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
  3.(2) The Dark Knight Rises
  4.(4) Prometheus
  5.(7) Life of Pi

  6. Cloud Atlas
  7.(6) The Amazing Spider-Man
  8.(5) John Carter
  9. Snow White and the Huntsman
  10.(8) Battleship
  Leaving the rankings - The Hunger Games, World War Z
     I stuck really close to the buzz, but there were two films on this list that I just couldn't buy into...
  1. The Avengers - It's hard to imagine the top earning super hero movie of all time failing to earn a nod here, especially when it looked so slick.
  2. The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey -  This seems almost as obvious and inescapable as my number one selection.
  3. Life of Pi - There is almost always one nominee that is not as much of a genre picture in the mix, something more "high brow".  My money's on this one.
  4. The Dark Knight Rises - I'm kind of iffy here, but for now I'm still predicting the nomination.
  5. Cloud Atlas - The promos make this look like a real blow out project for VE work.
  6. Prometheus - Could easily replace number 4 or 5 here.
  7. The Amazing Spider-Man - Seems the least likely of three possible super hero flicks in contention, but you never know.
  8. Snow White and the Huntsman - I'm waiting for DVD, but the promotionals looked great and I don't remember any reviewers attacking the effects, so who knows?
  9. The Cabin in the Woods - Buzz is non-existent, but the last thirty minutes of the film were a real showcase.
  10. The Impossible - It would have to blow the tsunami seen in Hereafter out of know.

     Editing is one of the most important technical categories not only because it is a pivotal part of making film, but also because Best Picture is almost always won by a film with a corresponding nomination here.  Let's cut to the buzz...
  1.(1) Zero Dark Thirty
  2.(2) Lincoln
  3.(6) The Master
  4.(3) The Dark Knight Rises
  5.(4) Argo

  6.(5) Les Miserables
  7.(7) Life of Pi
  8. Moonrise Kingdom
  9. Beasts of the Southern Wild
  10.(9) Django Unchained
  Leaving the rankings - The Great Gatsby, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
     I only differ significantly in a couple of ways...
   1. The Master - You had better believe that Harvey Weinstien is going to get the lead horse in his stable one of these slots.  Of course, it is possible that we are being misled, and that horse is Django.  It is edited by two time nominee William Goldenberg and one time nominee Dylan Tichenor.
  2. Argo - This film is also edited by Goldenberg and is looking more and more like a serious Best Picture contender.
  3. Les Miserables - I just think this one will be on of the films duking it out to win the big prize, and the fact that it was edited by Chris Dickens, former winner for Slumdog Millionaire doesn't hurt.
  4. Zero Dark Thirty - The year of Goldenberg continues here as he partners with Dylan Tichenor in this military thriller with probable high artistic sensibilities.
  5. The Dark Knight Rises - Two time nominee and Nolan compound mainstay Lee Smith could still slide in here, even if the film only gets a few nods.

  6. Life of Pi - Editor Tim Squyres has been up once before for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and I think Life of Pi COULD end up being one of the big boys.
  7. Beasts of the Southern Wild - This film is a virtual shoo-in in many categories, but this one is still very much in question.
  8. Inside Llewyn Davis - NEVER underestimate the Coen brothers.
  9. Django Unchained - Weinstein + Tarantino + never nominated Fred Baskin (Kill Bill, Boogie Nights)????
  10. Lincoln - Editor Michael Kahn has been nominated seven times and won three.  All the wins and six of the nominations were for films directed by Spielberg.  It's an impressive record, one that begs the question:  Can they top themselves again?

     In framing the buzz...
  1.(9) Life of Pi
  2.(3) Beasts of the Southern Wild
  3.(1) Lincoln
  4.(2) The Dark Knight Rises
  5.(8) The Master

  6.(10) To The Wonder
  7.(6) Les Miserables
  8.(7) The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
  9. Anna Karenina
  10. Zero Dark Thirty
  Leaving the rankings - Django Unchained, The Great Gatsby
     I think it will look like this when the lights go up...
  1. The Master - The word from early screenings has highly praised this film's visual elements to such an extent that I will be surprised if Mihai Malaimare Jr. does not secure his first nomination for it.
  2. Beasts of the Southern Wild - It seems strange to have two newbies to the Oscar race sitting atop this important category, but Ben Richardson already won the Cinematography award at Sundance and will probably get a nod from the Academy as well.
  3. To The Wonder - Emmanuel Lubezki has been nominated five times (twice teamed with Malick), but never won.  Even if the film is shut out in every other category, it could still find love here.
  4. Life of Pi - Claudio Miranda has only one previous nomination but the early images are GORGEOUS here.
  5. Les Miserables - Cinematographer Danny Coen is another one time nominee, the last time he teamed up with director Tom Hooper on The King's Speech.  The trailer alone shows great promise.

  6. The Dark Knight Rises - It seems strange to predict that this becomes the only installment in the franchise not to earn four time nominee Wally Pfister a nod, but he did just win for Inception, so...?
  7. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - Andrew Lesnie won the Oscar for Fellowship of the Ring and then wasn't nominated for either of the subsequent installments in that trilogy.  Will history repeat itself?  Or will the AMPAS continue to feel that they have given this man ample recognition for his work on this franchise?
  8. Cloud Atlas - Frequent Twyker collaborator Frank Griebe has never been nominated, but his partner on this film John Till has three times, two of which he won.  All I know is that if working together they produce something that looks like a cross between Run Lola Run and The Thin Red Line, they could be unstoppable.
  9. Lincoln - Janusz Kaminski has already had five nods in this category and won two, usually when working with Spielberg, but I'm still remaining skeptical of this film for a minute.
  10. Flight - This film seems set to break into the awards race somewhere.  Might it be here with one time nominee Dan Burgess.

      And that was the techs as of early September.  I'll continue this series in a few days with the Genres after I've updated the Buzzometer. 

Related posts:  Sept Oscar Buzz and Predictions - The Techs: Part One, Awards Season Hits Next Leg, The Dark Knight Transcends, Merchandisers Assemble (Avengers review), June Oscar Buzz and Predictions - The Techs, The Cabin With The Goods, John's Woman in Wrath (John Carter review)

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Sept. Oscar Buzz and Predictions - The Techs Part 1

     All right, I used up all the cool things I had to say about these categories in June, so let's dive right in:

Original Song
     So, they have just changed the rules in this category once again.  Now it will return to a preset number of five nominations.  So far, the buzzing bears...
  1. Les Miserable - "Suddenly"
  2. Brave - "Learn Me Right"
  3. Sparkle- "Celebrate"
  4. Hunger Games - "Safe and Sound"
  5. Brave  - "Touch the Sky"

  6. Brave - "Into the Open Air"
  7. Skyfall - Untitled Adele Song
  8. Lawless - "Midnight Run"
  9. Paul Williams is Still Alive - "Still Alive"
  10. The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey - ?
     My own view is a bit more like this...
  1. Les Miserables - "Suddenly"
While not the boldest of predictions, it is the only logical front runner.  If composer Schonberg manages to imbue this new number with half of the power he produced in most of the songs in the original version, I don't think it can lose.
  2. Skyfall - Untitled Adele Song
Of course, you should never count out the power of a good Bond anthem, especially one written by a ten time Oscar nominee who has yet to take one home, such as Thomas Newman.  Having it sung by Adele, who is not only brilliantly talented, but whose voice and stylings are a total throwback to the golden age of 007, is gravy.
  3. Lawless - "Midnight Run"
Another Oscar nominated songwriter who has never won, you might know of him, Willy Nelson?  Oh, and the Weinsteins are handling distribution on the film and have already announced that the song IS getting a campaign.
  4. Brave - "Learn Me Right"
I have not yet seen this year's Pixar offering but even the naysayers seem to think that it is much better than Cars 2.  That might not be enough to win it an Oscar, but I'm still expecting it to get at least one nod in this category, if not two.
  5. Frankenweenie - "Strange Love"
Composer Danny Elfman has been nominated four times for Original Score, why not an Original Song nod.  It could also be used as a consolation to the Burton compound for not giving Dark Shadows any love.

  6. Brave - "Touch The Sky"
I am certainly aware that Brave could get two nods here, depending on how tough the competition turns out to be.
  7. Sparkle - "Celebrate"
Yes, the song is sung by Whitney Houston, who tragically passed away some months before the film was released, but she didn't write it, the movie is supposed to be awful, and she's not a major icon of FILM anyway.  For what?  The Bodyguard?  Still, sentimentality is as sentimentality does sometimes, so...
  8. Hunger Games - "Safe and Sound"
This might be a way for the Academy to throw the film a bone.  It was well done and very popular.
  9. The Hobbit - ?
Never count out the Jackson compound.  It will have to be something that sounds ORIGINAL, though.
  10. Ted - "Everybody Needs a Best Friend"

Best Score
     Former buzz rankings are listed in parenthesis following the current ones...
  1.(2) Lincoln
  2.(8) Argo
  3.(7) Life of Pi
  4. Beasts of the Southern Wild
  5.(9) The Master

  6.(6) Moonrise Kingdom
  7.(1) Brave
  8.(3) The Dark Knight Rises
  9.(4) Anna Karenina
  10.(5) The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey
  Leaving the rankings - Lawless
     I'm thinking more like...
  1. Argo - Four time nominee Alexandre Desplat is one of the most highly respected composers working in film today and the film has gotten a HUGE boost out of Telluride, much of it focused on the score.
  2. Beasts of the Southern Wild - Has been previewed, been released, been reviewed, and remains the most viable major player released during the first eight months of the year.  Director Ben Zeitlen co-composed with Dan Romer and seems to be set to be perhaps Oscar's first triple nominee in Adapted Screenplay, Director and Score for the same film.
  3. The Master - Another film experiencing a huge crest of positive early reviews, the composition is by Johnny Greenwood who has been nominated by BAFTA, but never the Academy.  This time Harvey Weinstein is backing him.
  4. Rise of the Guardians - Desplat wouldn't be the first person in history to be double nominated in this category, and with Brave seeming less likely to go beyond Animated Feature and Song this year, this recent Hollywood Film Award recipient elect seems like a good bet to step into the place everyone was expecting the former film to hold here.
   5. Life of Pi - Composer Mychael Danna is a relative unknown, but the music in the trailer is promising, and I just have a feeling that this film is going to be one of the big ones this year.

  6.  Moonrise Kingdom - Oh yeah, and Desplat has another film that has garnered a lot of buzz this year.
  7. The Dark Knight Rises - Composer Hans Zimmer has been nominated eight times and hasn't won since The Lion King back in 1995.  His work is excellent here, but I fear this may be one of the categories where the Academy decides to distance itself from the unfortunate circumstances of the film's premiere.
  8. The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey - Howard Shore has already collected three Oscar wins for his efforts in Middle Earth, so this will have to be something really special and different, especially since he just got a nod last year for Hugo.
  9. Lincoln - John Williams is the Meryl Streep of the aural techs.  He's been nominated over forty times and won FIVE.  He doesn't need another Oscar, and I'm not predicting Streep this year either.
  10. Flight - As the fields begins to thin, this film seems to be getting a push to fill in some of the cracks.  With two time Oscar nominee Alan Silvestri handling music, this category could be one place that it lands (sorry).

Sound Editing
     Basically the creation and selection of sound effects.  Buzz surrounds...
  1.(6) The Avengers
  2.(1) The Dark Knight Rises
  3.(2) Zero Dark Thirty
  4.(10) Prometheus
  5.(3) The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey

  6. Life of Pi
  7.(4) Brave
  8. Lincoln
  9.(8) Django Unchained
  10.(5) Les Miserables
  Leaving the rankings - World War Z
    My inner voices are telling me...
  1. Avengers - A best picture push for this film seems silly, but it WAS pretty good, and it IS one of the highest grossing films EVER, and this seems like one of the sure places that the AMPAS will recognize that fact.
  2. The Dark Knight Rises -   It's buzz may have slipped a hair here, but it should still make the cut for a nomination easily.
  3. Prometheus - I know, I'm not straying far from the buzzometer readings, but mixed reviews for the film have not slowed down its buzz in this category.  In fact, it has increased exponentially since the film's release.
  4. Life of Pi - I'm not sure why, but it seems like a good possibility, and I've obviously got a feeling about this one.
  5. Zero Dark Thirty - With all the borderline combat films we have coming out this year, one will surely be featured here.  Either this or Argo.

  6. Cloud Atlas - Big sci-fi extravaganzas are right up this branch's alley, and I have high hopes for this film.
  7. The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey - Never count this franchise out.
  8. Argo - Nuff said.
  9. Rise of the Guardians - I'm not really expecting an animated nominee here this year, but this film seems poised to shoot for the gold, so...
  10. Django Unchained - It's a violent western from the brilliantly fractured mind of Quentin Tarantino.  Quite possible.

Sound Mixing
     Exactly what it sounds like, putting all the pieces together.  Buzz read...
  1.(1) The Dark Knight Rises
  2.(3) Les Miserables
  3.(2) Zero Dark Thirty
  4.(4) Avengers
  5.(8) Prometheus

  6.(6) The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
  7. Life of Pi
  8.(7) Brave
  9.(5) Lincoln
  10.(10) Django Unchained
  Leaving the rankings - The Amazing Spider-Man
     My take on things is VERY similar this time...
  1. The Dark Knight Rises - This could be the one consolation prize that the Academy sees fit to bestow upon Christopher Nolan's triumphant finale.
  2. Les Miserables - I'm betting strongly on this film, and musicals with multiple nods usually gain one in this category.
  3. The Avengers - Slightly less likely than in Sound Editing, but not by much.
  4. Life of Pi - Did I mention I have a feeling about this film?
  5. Zero Dark Thirty - Pretty much what I said in the last category.

  6. Prometheus - The genre is slightly more inclined toward Sound Editing, but this nomination could definitely happen as well.
  7. Argo - Especially if Zero fails here.
  8. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - Always a threat below the line.
  9. Django Unchained - The Tarantino compound is formidable and well rounded.
  10. Cloud Atlas - A lot of complex elements would seem to be at play here, but it's such a question mark at this point.

And that completes the aural technical categories.  Hopefully I'll get the visuals up sometime tomorrow.  I'm going to sleep now in the interests of that goal.

Related posts:  Awards Season Hits Next LegThe Dark Knight TranscendsMerchandisers Assemble (Avengers review), June Oscar Buzz and Predictions - The TechsFeeding the Public Hunger (Hunger Games review)

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Awards Season Hits the Next Leg

     I'm a little late on this changing of the season post as the Telluride and Venice film festivals are already wrapping up.  We've left summer tent pole season behind and entered the time of fall film festivals and early Oscar movies.  So what have we learned since I last posted on the awards race?  Well...
     The first eight months of the year are unlikely to produce as many Oscar contenders as the early months of the last two years did.  The only really great bet to release during this time period was Behn Zeitlan's Beasts of the Southern Wild, which is almost a shoo-in for Best Picture and Best Actress and a serious contender in at least a half a dozen other categories.
      Moonrise Kingdom has also done very well, although its Best Picture prospects seem less certain.  I think Original Screenplay seems pretty likely, though, and that could lead to a few other nods, maybe even Picture depending on how the question marks resolve themselves.
     The Dark Knight Rises will probably make a lot of top ten lists when the year is said and done.  As for the AMPAS, they may very well shy away from above the line love for this film in the wake of the Aurora tragedy.  When you add that into the Academy's built in aversion to both super heroes and action flicks and the chances look even slimmer.  Its a shame, but that's how it is.
     The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is still a long shot for a Best Picture nod, despite its impressive box office, but it could happen.  More likely would be recognition for one member of its great ensemble cast, but which one?
      No other released film seems like even an outside shot for Best Picture, but Brave and possibly The Lorax should be strong possibilities in Animated.  Avengers should be a shoo-in for tech recognition with Snow White and the Huntsman, Amazing Spider-Man, and Prometheus also good below the line possibilities.  Bernie could give Jack Black an outside Best Actor shot, while Magic Mike has a shot in Supporting Actor (McConaughey) and Original Screenplay.  Safety Not Guaranteed also has a shot at screenplay and Lawless is going to be pushed heavily in Original Song with an outside shot at Best Supporting Actress (Chastain).

      That is pretty much it for January through August.  Of course, several films have already screened at festivals....
     Although still a dark horse for Best Picture (although you never know), The Sessions (formerly Six Sessions, formerly The Surrogate) seems to still hold excellent acting nomination prospects for Helen Hunt, William H Macy, and especially John Hawkes.  Adapted Screenplay also seems highly possible.
     Argo has had deafening buzz since its Telluride premiere, and The Master has similar love coming out of Venice.  Look for both to be major contenders in multiple categories.
     Terrence Malick's To The Wonder met with a mixed reception (as expected).  Malick's built in fan base could still land this film in the Picture race, but it is unlikely to attract enough new fans to win.
     Hyde Park on Hudson is looking very iffy after its luke warm reception in Telluride, but Murray could still wind up in the Best Actor race pretty easily.
     Amour continues to dominate the Foreign Language film conversation while both it and Rust and Bone are considered likely to break out of that category for consideration in other categories.
     The Impossible could nab some tech nods and a Best Actress bid for Naomi Watts.  The Iceman has an OUTSIDE shot at landing Michael Shannon some notice, and Killing Them Softly COULD put Pitt back in the Best Actor conversation.

     Still to come:  Les Miserables, Lincoln, Hobbit, Promised Land, Flight, Anna Karenina, Great Expectations, Inside Llewyn Davis, Place Beyond the Pines, and a host of other films.  Awards season is still wide open, although things continue to narrow as films like Great Gatsby, Gangster Squad, Mud, etc. get pushed back to 2013 release.  Join us back here at The Movie Frog shortly for updates on buzz (and my predictions) in each category individually, starting with the Techs.
                                                                            Is that Oscar buzzing, or just dinner?

Related Posts:  The Dark Knight RisesAt the Changing of the SeasonJune Oscar Buzz and Prediction - The TechsJune Oscar Buzz and Prediction - The GenresJune Oscar Buzz and Predictions - Supporting ContendersJune Oscar Buzz and Predictions - Leading ContendersJune Oscar Buzz and Predictions - The Big Two

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Haywire Gods Blessed La Havre

     Today's post will be covering the year's first obligatory girl power action thriller, a dark comedy all the more disturbing because its a fantasy we've all had from time to time (usually in line behind the lady who brought forty items with her to the fifteen items or less check out lane), and a Finnish film that is something of a charming, dated fairy tale, yet manages to be originally delightful in a way all its own.  If we don't get this hopping, who will?

Haywire - This is a film that just really should have worked.  It had Steven Soderburgh (Sex, Lies and Videotape, Traffic, Ocean's Eleven) as a director.  It had a terrific supporting cast including Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Antonio Banderas, Channing Tatum, Michael Douglas and Bill Paxton.  It had some interesting moments and scenes, but somehow they never formed a whole that was any greater than the sum of its sparse moments of "really good"ness.
     I hate to single out performers, but it's hard to review this movie without placing some of the blame at the feet of American Gladiator turned actress Gina Carano.  It's not that she was bad, she wasn't, she was mostly believable and effective in the role of Mallory Kane.  However, this was the Lisbeth Salander role, the Hannah role, the Ripley role, for goodness sake.  She just wasn't captivating in this role like Rapace/Mara, Ronan, or Weaver were.  For a bad ass secret agent action film to work, its leading player must be a much larger than life screen presence.  When it's a woman beating the crap out of men twice her size, this blend of power and charisma is even more imperative to the film as a whole.
     The script was also unoriginal at best in its entirety, although there were a few bright moments.  Most of the supporting players were good but somewhat uninspired.  If anyone transcended the material, I would have to say that it was Bill Paxton, who managed to impress in a relatively small amount of screen time.  I would give Haywire very faint recommendation, but don't go into it expecting more than that implies.  Available on DVD.  3 of 5*

Le Havre - I sort of didn't want to like Le Havre while I was watching it.  It was a little too simple, a little too "Old Time Hollywood" convenient in the way that the story unfolded, to not make me almost cringe.  The thing is, "almost" was as far as the feeling went.  It rode the edge of what was too cheesy for me to take so skillfully that I completely fell for it.  By the end of the film, I had to admit that I had really enjoyed myself, and really liked the film despite my own worst prejudicial leanings.
     Part of the simplicity of Le Havre comes from the fact that it is about simple people in a simple port town.  There is an innocence to all the goings on in Le Havre that it is hard for most of us to imagine living within.  It tells the story of a child like man who befriends a young refugee and keeps him hidden until his relatives can be contacted.  The three male leads (Andre Wilms, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, and Blondin Miguel) are all believable caricature's that will charm you eventually whether you want them to or not.  The leading lady, Kati Outinen, played a part that was more of a plot device than a character, so she can be forgiven for impressing a little less.
     Basically, Le Havre was a surprising little Finnish novelty that I actually found quite refreshing.  More modern fable than anything else, it rewarded my eventual suspension of disbelief richly.  Available on DVD. 4 of 5*

God Bless America - I really thought, while I was watching this movie, that it was the debut of writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait (yes, that one, the guy with the irritating voice in most of the Police Academy movies), but it turns out that this is the fourth time he has held those credits on a feature film.  I will have to be forgiven for forgetting the 1991 classic Shakes the Clown.  However, it appears that his films have been steadily improving with time, and this was actually quite funny, and clever, and even a an apt social satire. 
     This film is the story of a middle aged man and a young girl who go on a killing spree across America.  Their sole motivation?  To winnow the ranks of the tacky, the rude, the spoiled, and the petty.  Reality TV stars, wannabe reality TV stars, people who use their cell phones during a movie:  all potential (or actual) targets.
     God Bless America is a LITTLE derivative of Natural Born Killers and all of its imitators but it is funnier than any of them.  Seriously though, thing that sets this film apart is that you don't feel nearly as guilty rooting for Frank and Roxy.  America IS full of willful ignorance.  The media DOES sensationalize classlessness.     
     Before I spend the whole review praising Mr. Bobcat's (apologies) impressive script, I should really say a word or two about the pair of actors that brought it to life.  Tara Lynne Barr makes Roxy into an unlikely but delightful blend of perkiness, cynicism, and wisdom beyond her years.  Joel Murray's Frank, conversely, is reserved and unassuming, sort of a Walter Middy cum Dirty Harry. 
     If you couldn't tell, this was my favorite film in this set.  Unless your personal threshold for violence and DARK comedy dictate otherwise, I would highly recommend checking it out.  Available on DVD and Netflix Instant Play.  4 of 5*

     And that's it for today.  I must get back to tabulating Oscar Buzz.  September means it's time for an update and a new set of predictions before we get too far into the Fall film festival season.  Look for it soon.......  Froggy.

Related posts:  Best of 2011 - The Genres, Killing the Dream Contagion