Live Blogging the 2010 Oscars!

27 02 2011

4:50 P.M. Live blogging the Oscars is on again!  I just got back from a rehearsal which was originally scheduled to extend an hour into the actual show … but I got out at 4:15, so I even made it home for the Red Carpet!  Needless to say, I’m ecstatic!  I came home to find our kitchen table decorated with plastic film reels in celebration of what my mom calls “my Super Bowl” – the biggest night of the year in Hollywood.  We are having homemade sausage pizza, chocolate-covered strawberries, and chocolate chip cookies.  My will/could/should picks and predictions are coming up (just a little bit late, I know.)

5:02 P.M. Alright, here are my picks for the tech categories:

5:20 P.M. Red carpet update: Jennifer Lawrence and Mila Kunis look SMOKING hot.  Hailee Steinfeld’s tutu is a little unfortunate.  Onto some of the other non-major categories, most of which don’t even get more than a winner pick.

  • Best Animated Film – honestly, why bother to nominate a movie other than “Toy Story 3?”
  • Best Foreign Film – conventional wisdom says not to pick the Golden Globe winner or the one you might have heard of, so I’m going with Canada’s “Incendies.”
  • Best Documentary – they could be hipster and go with “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” but my money is on “Inside Job” for a much deserved win.
  • Best Short Film (Animated) – No idea how to predict the shorts.  My guess is on “Day and Night” because everyone saw it.
  • Best Short Film (Live Action) – “God of Love” sounds like a winner.
  • Best Short Film (Documentary) – “Poster Girl” sounds good.

5:27 P.M. Amy Adams and Michelle Williams, usually good looking, fell flat.  Bummer.  Here are some more major picks.

I think given the overwhelming momentum for “The King’s Speech” and the story of its screenwriter, David Seidler, this is a pretty easy victory to call.  “Inception” after winning the WGA probably comes in a close second.

As close to a no-brainer as 2010 can give us.  Aaron Sorkin will almost certainly walk away with an Oscar for the best script in recent memory and provide at least one statue for “The Social Network.”

Given the overwhelming Bale love throughout the season, he should be able to overcome Rush in a sweep scenario.  It also helps that Bale has no Oscar and Rush does.  I’ll still be biting my nails for this, but I feel confident with this pick.

  • Best Supporting Actress

The category, as it often does, provides as much suspense as the show can give us.  Honestly, anyone but Jacki Weaver could win.  Carter could ride the coattails of “The King’s Speech” to victory, and Adams could win for being the best.  Smart money is probably on Leo, who has won most of the big precursors leading up to Oscar night.  But with 10 nominations for “True Grit,” the Academy clearly has to give something to the movie.  This is an easy way for them to do that, and the Academy did this with Tilda Swinton in 2007 for “Michael Clayton.”

5:42 P.M. Here comes leading acting categories…

Firth seems like a lock.  Eisenberg could take it in an Adrien Brody/”The Pianist” scenario, but that’s a long shot at best.

If Natalie Portman doesn’t win, the Academy is going to have to work BIG TIME in the next few years to regain my respect.  This is the performance of a lifetime, and if they don’t reward it, I’m going to be furious.  Annette Bening could win on the conservative theme of the year, but I’m still confident in Natalie Portman.  I think they realize that Bening wasn’t THAT good…

6:45 P.M. Just dined and then changed into my “The Social Network” T-shirt.  For reference, I was wearing my “I Kept My Eyes Open for 127 Hours” T-shirt beforehand.  Here’s my pick for Best Director:

Another shaky category.  Sure, Tom Hooper won the DGA, but that membership is made up of mainly TV directors.  Of course they want to reward Hooper, one of their own.  The Oscars embraced Roman Polanski, a prickly director indeed, in 2002 over DGA winner Rob Marshall, whose “Chicago” went on to win Best Picture.  It doesn’t seem wise to predict a split as most Academy voters don’t think that the Best Picture directs itself.  But I have a feeling that the voters took a step back and asked what the best directed movie of the year was, and they probably knew the name of the director that undertook the job.

Then again, Hooper and Fincher could split votes, making the way for Aronofsky to win, much like in 2000 when Soderbergh eked out a victory over Ang Lee and Ridley Scott for “Traffic.”  But I’m counting on Fincher riding to victory, making “The Social Network” the third movie to win Best Editing, Best Screenplay, and Best Director without Best Picture.

6:50 P.M. Sandra Bullock has had some MAJOR work done to her face.  No other big red carpet arrivals to blow me away with the exception of Penelope Cruz.  Jennifer Lawrence is still tops.

Without further ado, here are my thoughts on Best Picture:

This is what it all comes down to.  The past vs. the present, the critics vs. the guilds, the heart vs. the head.  You’ve heard it analyzed and overanalyzed if you pay any attention the race.  But know this: 2010 marks a watershed decision for the Oscars.  These two movies have come to represent two entirely different camps of moviemaking and moviegoers, and the critics unanimously chose “The Social Network” as their Best Picture of the year.  But then the guilds fired back with their pick for Best Picture being almost unanimously “The King’s Speech.”  It’s never smart to bet against the guilds, so I have to pick “The King’s Speech” since it has their support and clearly has the momentum.  It is the most nominated movie tonight, which is also a help.  I have a hard time calling a split, but I will.  I simply can’t predict “The Social Network” to win even though I so desperately want it to prevail.

That being said, how happy would it make you if “Toy Story 3” came out of nowhere and won?  Talk about something that would simultaneously silence and please everyone.

7:00 P.M. Time to switch from E! to ABC.  Just saw Natalie Portman … all is good.

(graphic perfectly provided by Awards Daily)

7:03 P.M. Natalie Portman still looks perfect.  Even when she’s pregnant.

7:22 P.M. AHHHH 8 MINUTES!!! I’ve been where they had the red carpet and I’ve been on that stage, by the way.  It’s not a big deal.

7:37 P.M. This opening sequence is so funny I can’t even handle it.  “YOU JUST GOT INCEPTION’D.”  And the Morgan Freeman cameo is golden.

7:43 P.M. These meta-Oscars are too much for me to handle.  I feel like they are setting up a sweep for “The King’s Speech” and trying to justify their pick by comparing it to history.

7:47 P.M. There goes the momentum for “The King’s Speech!”  That art direction win for “Alice in Wonderland” was quite a shock.  But HOORAY FOR THE “INCEPTION” BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY WIN!  That makes me so happy!  And here’s to a future win for “The Dark Knight Rises!”  Ballot is 1/2 at the moment.

7:57 P.M. And the winner of Best Supporting Actress is … after much delay, sweet Kirk Douglas … Melissa Leo!  Well, there could be worse.  Called that one wrong!

8:00 P.M. Melissa Leo dropped the F-bomb!  She’ll never live that down … awkward moment for an awkward speech with a silent crowd.  And that whole moment with Kirk Douglas felt kinda staged.

8:20 P.M. Sorry for the massive delay, I had to restart my computer.  Much expected wins for “The King’s Speech” and “The Social Network” followed by incredibly charming and winning speeches by David Seidler and Aaron Sorkin.  The two juggernauts are tied at one apiece.  (And the Melissa Leo F-bomb makes for a nice recurring theme.  Better than Justin Timberlake wishing he was Banksy.  Millions of viewers at home are scratching their heads.)

8:25 P.M. Props to Anne Hathaway for whipping out the “Les Miserables.”  She just won my total approval.

8:33 P.M. And the Oscar goes to … CHRISTIAN BALE!!!  Good choice, Academy!  And a very nice speech to follow – although I think he forgot his wife’s name!  (Take that, “The King’s Speech!”  1/5!)

8:36 P.M. Side note: the trailer for “Super 8” makes me REALLY excited for 2011!  Is it too early to call a Best Picture nominee for next year?  I’ll be incredibly proud if I can look back next year and see that I got this right.

8:41 P.M. The THX sound brings back SO many bad memories from my childhood!  Ahhh, I was so scared of that thing!

8:44 P.M. Best Original Score, another category I love!  The winner is … “THE SOCIAL NETWORK!”  I’m ecstatic, that really was the best score of the year!  Ok, now I think that “The Social Network” might win Best Picture!!!!!!!  Hooray!  That deserves…

8:47 P.M. Best Sound Mixing and Editing?  “Inception” as expected!  Hooray!  That makes 3 for “Inception,” 2 for “The Fighter,” 2 for “The Social Network,” and 1 for “The King’s Speech.”

8:56 P.M. The meta-Oscars need to go for next year.

8:57 P.M. Cate Blanchett had it right when she said “that’s gross.”  The fact that we can say “the Academy Award-winning film The Wolfman” is sad.

8:59 P.M. DIE I AM LOVE!  But no “The King’s Speech” again!?!?!  That’s a shocker.  “Alice in Wonderland” has also momentarily eclipsed “The King’s Speech” in Oscar wins.

9:02 P.M. Observation only relevant for tonight: “The King’s Speech” is 1/8 so far.  That means at best, it will have 5 wins.  Most likely only 4.  Possibly only 3.  So much for Sasha Stone on Awards Daily saying that you had to predict the movie to win 6 statues.  I’m really thinking “The Social Network” will win Best Picture now.

9:04 P.M. Ok, the song from “Toy Story 3” is officially the most adorable thing in the world.  I’ll be upset now if it doesn’t win.

9:10 P.M. Wait, are the Oscars actually going to finish … on time?  Stay tuned for this exciting development.

9:14 P.M. Aaaaaand more meta-Oscars!  STOP!

9:16 P.M. “God of Love” for the win!  That’s one of my three short film guesses that panned out!

9:18 P.M. “The Social Network: The Musical” is catchy.  Can’t wait to see Justin Timberlake headline the original broadway cast!

9:22 P.M. HOORAY FOR CHARLES FERGUSON AND “INSIDE JOB!!!”  The best documentary I have ever seen just won a very deserved Academy Award!  Hopefully the politics of the speech don’t hurt him later… (And did anyone else see the Coen Brothers looking insanely bored!?)

9:28 P.M. I miss Billy Crystal hosting the Oscars!  He is so my childhood watching the Oscars!  And also, I’d like him to make a comeback in movies.

9:34 P.M. LOL to the top reference.  That makes it FOUR for “Inception!”

9:35 P.M. “The Social Network” wins AGAIN!  That’s three!  Hooray, things are looking up for team Facebook!!!

9:45 P.M. Woah, Gwyneth Paltrow is REALLY flat!  Yikes…

9:47 P.M. “Toy Story 3” wins!  That makes two and a very big smile on my face!!!  I heart Randy Newman.

9:51 P.M. I can dig the “Modern Family” Oscar charades commercial becoming an annual tradition.  “Eat Pray Chest!”

9:52 P.M. And having Celine Dion sing during the In Memoriam sequence just ruined it.  Way to go, Academy…

10:02 P.M. Entering the last half hour … with Best Director?!?  Before acting?

10:03 P.M. Booo!!!  David Fincher (or at least Darren Aronofsky) deserved it!  This awards ceremony is eerily reminiscent of the trajectory of the awards season.  Total buzzkill for “The Social Network.”

10:06 P.M. Seeing Annette Bening makes me really worried … if Natalie doesn’t win …

10:09 P.M. They can’t do this with Best Director again.  It makes the pit in my stomach last for 20 minutes as opposed to 5 minutes.  Not OK.

10:10 P.M. And there had better be some MASSIVE tribute to the Best Picture nominees coming up!  Because otherwise they got gypped!

10:16 P.M. ^^^ THIS GIRL JUST WON AN OSCAR!!!! I’M OBSESSED WITH NATALIE PORTMAN!!!!!! HOORAY FOR MAKING ONE GOOD PICK TONIGHT!

10:17 P.M. OH MY GOSH YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  I LOVE “BLACK SWAN!”

10:19 P.M. Who cares if her speech wasn’t that good, I’m so happy!!!!! Academy Award winner Natalie Portman!

10:25 P.M. And what we’ve been predicting for five months delivers.  Way to go, Colin Firth!

10:28 P.M. Only one award left…AHHH!!!

10:36 P.M. And the Academy’s Best Picture of the Year is … “The King’s Speech.”  They’ll regret this one later.  Way to send the message, “Yes!  You can make a movie that tailors to every single one of our needs!  We will give it four Oscars!”

10:38 P.M. Four for “Inception” and “The King’s Speech,” three for “The Social Network,” two for “Alice in Wonderland,” “The Fighter,” and “Toy Story 3.”

10:40 P.M. Cool group photo?  Weird ending…

11:03 P.M. Just saw some of the arrivals to the after-parties on E! while unloading the dishwasher.  Not entertaining enough to keep me from doing my homework/studying … until next awards season, my friends!

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Know Your Nominees: “The King’s Speech”

10 02 2011

The Oscars are a great cultural conversation for all to participate in, but it’s all too easy to only have surface knowledge of the nominees.  It’s all too easy to know “Black Swan” as the ballet movie, “The Fighter” as the boxing movie, and “The Social Network” as the Facebook movie.  But don’t you want to know more and stun your friends with your knowledge of the movies in the weeks leading up to the awards and ultimately during the broadcast itself?

That’s what my KNOW YOUR NOMINEES series hopes to do.  Every three days, I’ll feature ten interesting facts about the ten Best Picture nominees of 2010 that would be fascinating to pepper into any conversation.  My hope is that you will come away with an enhanced appreciation of the movies but also enjoy learning strange and interesting things about them.

So, as we proceed in alphabetical order, our next stop on the tour is “The King’s Speech.”

“The King’s Speech” should feel like a very personal movie for a number of reasons, but probably chief among them is screenwriter David Seidler.  As a boy growing up in England in the 1930s and ’40s, Seidler was a stammerer and idolized King George VI for his ability to overcome his problem.  He had to wait many years to secure the rights to write a movie about his hero, mainly due to being asked personally by the Queen Mother (played by Helena Bonham Carter in the film) to pass away.  Seidler then wrote it as a play, which director Tom Hooper saw and decided to make into a movie.

The director then added his own personal touch to the movie as well.  Hooper stated in an interview that “The King’s Speech” is really a movie about his family.  For example, the opening scene of the movie showing the preparations for the radio broadcast is an homage to his sister, a presenter for Radio 4.  But mainly the connection comes from the relationship between the British Bertie and Australian Logue as Hooper has an Australian mother and an English father. He talked greatly in interviews about the interesting relationship between the two countries and how he conveyed it in the movie.

Lionel Logue, King George’s speech therapist played in the movie by Geoffrey Rush, kept a detailed set of diaries chronicling his work (although they don’t start until the coronation of the king).  However, the diaries were not made available to the filmmakers until nine weeks before the shoot.  Hooper has said that the only changes they made were for the sake of accuracy, and nothing was drastically altered.  He also stated in an interview that some of the best lines in the movie were taken directly from the diary.  For example, after the climactic speech, Logue jokingly says, “You still stammered on the w,” to which King George replies, “Well, I had to throw in a few so they knew that it was me.”

Colin Firth looks like a sure-fire winner for Best Actor, but this easily could have been someone else.  Firth was actually the third choice to play King George VI and only received the role after first Paul Bettany and then Hugh Grant passed.  Neither have Oscars at home on their mantle, so I’m pretty sure that both are regretting this decision.

So how did Firth nail down that stammer, which he executes so immaculately in “The King’s Speech?”  What might be surprising is that Firth did not work with a speech therapist.  He did, however, use a dialogue coach who helped him make the stammer come from a very personal place while also not affecting the pacing of the movie (imagine how dreadful the movie would be if it took him 20 minutes to utter each word).  A speech therapist did come to some of the rehearsals for the movie, and Firth’s sister is also a vocal therapist, which he claims was very helpful for consulting purposes.  He also talked a lot with screenwriter David Seidler, who compared stuttering to being “underwater.”

Does stammering come with side effects?  For Colin Firth, it did.  During the shoot, he claims to have suffered from some headaches and neck tension.  But the more debilitating toll was on his arm, which became numb, went to sleep and thus hard to use.  He went to the set doctor who had little to offer due to the lack of precedent.

Helena Bonham Carter received her second Academy Award nomination for her work in “The King’s Speech,” but just as the case was with many of this year’s nominees, she almost missed the chance.  Due to her commitment on the “Harry Potter” movies, Carter turned down the role numerous times despite director Tom Hooper’s insistence.  Yet she did star in “The King’s Speech” by making what she calls an “illegal” maneuver – shooting BOTH at the same time.  Carter would go off on the weekends and shoot her scenes for Tom Hooper while never being truly “released” from the “Harry Potter” sets.

How do you get a good actor – an Academy Award winning actor, for that matter – to play a convincing mediocre actor?  Tom Hooper got Geoffrey Rush to do some unconvincing Shakespeare by shooting the scene on the first day with English actors in the room who knew that Rush had some experience with Shakespeare. To quote Rush, “I was nervous and I was bad, and he just shot it.”

What of the royal reaction to the film? Queen Elizabeth II, George’s daughter portrayed in the movie as a young girl, gave “The King’s Speech” her seal of approval.  Cynics might ask how much Harvey Weinstein paid for it; others are probably just thrilled to see the royal family showing interest in popular culture.

Cynics might also say that “The King’s Speech” is a stuffy British royal family costume drama that’s totally designed to win over the Academy.  The last part seems to be somewhat true, but it’s hardly stuffy like most other movies about royal life.  Director Tom Hooper is largely responsible for that.  He stated in an interview that he purposefully set up the opening and closing shots of Bertie/George VI so that the movie would stand apart from others in the genre.  We first meet Bertie in normal clothes, not looking all snazzy in his royal get-up.  The movie closes reaffirming King George and Lionel Logue’s friendship, not with him cured of his stammer as if by magic or medicine.

Check back on February 13 as the KNOW YOUR NOMINEES series continues with “127 Hours.”





Know Your Nominees: “The Kids Are All Right”

7 02 2011

The Oscars are a great cultural conversation for all to participate in, but it’s all too easy to only have surface knowledge of the nominees.  It’s all too easy to know “Black Swan” as the ballet movie, “The Fighter” as the boxing movie, and “The Social Network” as the Facebook movie.  But don’t you want to know more and stun your friends with your knowledge of the movies in the weeks leading up to the awards and ultimately during the broadcast itself?

That’s what my KNOW YOUR NOMINEES series hopes to do.  Every three days, I’ll feature ten interesting facts about the ten Best Picture nominees of 2010 that would be fascinating to pepper into any conversation.  My hope is that you will come away with an enhanced appreciation of the movies but also enjoy learning strange and interesting things about them.

So, as we proceed in alphabetical order, our next stop on the tour is “The Kids Are All Right.”

“The Kids Are All Right” is set in Los Angeles, fairly obviously although not entirely prominently.  But according to writer/director Lisa Choldenko, the movie was originally set in New York.  The availability of Annette Bening, however, was contingent on moving production to Los Angeles.  Cholodenko decided to rewrite the script with the setting changing coasts, and she claims that it helped bring the characters more to life.

Cholodenko also claims that the movie is slightly autobiographical, mainly at the beginning as she and her partner in real life were looking to be impregnated by a sperm donor.  In walks co-writer Stuart Blumberg, who was a sperm donor himself.  He wondered what children he brought into the world, and the two of them came up with what we now know as “The Kids Are All Right.”  In 2006, the movie was nearly greenlit for production – but Cholodenko became pregnant and shelved the project for family matters.

The revision process was also grueling.  The initial draft took a month to write, and as we know, nothing is perfect the first time.  So Cholodenko and Blumberg re-wrote every character, scene, and line at least 10 times.

Who was the first actor onto the project?  Several years before production began on “The Kids Are All Right,” Julianne Moore met Cholodenko and expressed her admiration for the director’s work.  The two kept in touch, and Cholodenko sent Moore the script for her next movie around 2004, which the high-profile actress was attached to for many years.

When Annette Bening came aboard the project later, Cholodenko has stated the she retouched the script to make the character fit Bening better.  The character Nic that we see in the movie better serves a vessel for her voice.

Mark Ruffalo received his first Academy Award nomination for his role in “The Kids Are All Right,” but it might interest you to know that he intially turned down the role.  He was cast sequentially after Moore and Bening, and he was approved from a list that Cholodenko had made for potential actors to play the character.  After his initial refusal, Moore used her personal relationship with Ruffalo, who she starred with in “Blindness,” to reel the actor in, even texting his wife.

How did the kids come aboard?  Cholodenko chose Mia Wasikowska after seeing her work in HBO’s “In Treatment.” On the other hand, her on-screen sibling didn’t have it quite so easy.  Josh Hutcherson received got the script and auditioned for the role.  I guess “Zathura” wasn’t quite convincing enough…

Indie movies are, by their nature, independently financed.  But for the quality of filmmaking you get from “The Kids Are All Right,” you’d be surprised how rushed the schedule was.  The entire movie was filmed in 23 days. And as for the budget, the movie was made on $5 million; according to Ruffalo, the stars made almost no money just like virtually any indie movie.  Oh, and they only had five days to rehearse.

Unlike “The Social Network,” which was shot word-for-word for Aaron Sorkin’s script, “The Kids Are All Right” underwent some metamorphosis during the filming process.  Two scenes were added during the shoot, and the last line of the movie that appears in the final version wasn’t written until pre-production.

Ok, and what about the movie’s politics?  Lisa Cholodenko acknowledges that the political climate in which “The Kids Are All Right” is being released in makes most people believe that it has an agenda.  But in numerous interviews, she has stated that she did not see this as a gay movie.  What she wanted to get at with the movie was something more universal.  It’s a movie about family in any way, shape, or form.  All the stars said they didn’t need to do any research on same-sex parenting because they approached it like any family movie.

Check back on February 10 as the KNOW YOUR NOMINEES series continues with “The King’s Speech.”





Know Your Nominees: “Inception”

4 02 2011

The Oscars are a great cultural conversation for all to participate in, but it’s all too easy to only have surface knowledge of the nominees.  It’s all too easy to know “Black Swan” as the ballet movie, “The Fighter” as the boxing movie, and “The Social Network” as the Facebook movie.  But don’t you want to know more and stun your friends with your knowledge of the movies in the weeks leading up to the awards and ultimately during the broadcast itself?

That’s what my KNOW YOUR NOMINEES series hopes to do.  Every three days, I’ll feature ten interesting facts about the ten Best Picture nominees of 2010 that would be fascinating to pepper into any conversation.  My hope is that you will come away with an enhanced appreciation of the movies but also enjoy learning strange and interesting things about them.

So, as we proceed in alphabetical order, our next stop on the tour is “Inception.”

So what was the inception of “Inception?”  According to director/screenwriter Christopher Nolan, the movie began as a heist film mainly as a way to provide entertainment and exposition for the complicated dream structure.  But concerned with the cold emotional detachment to the characters in a heist film, he began to add the hero’s story to get the audience to connect with the movie.

What’s real and what isn’t was a big talking point about “Inception,” but it may interest you to know what was shot on location (real) and what was shot on a soundstage or studio lot (not real).  The snow fortress was a built set, as was Saito’s castle. With a few other exceptions, most scenes were shot on location in Tokyo, Paris, Mombasa, Los Angeles, and a small town in Nolan’s home country, England.

How about that spectacular anti-gravity fight scene in the hotel hallway.  According to Christopher Nolan, Joseph Gordon-Levitt did all his own stunts for the scene, only using a double out of necessity for one scene.  The scene was done by creating a spinning set, not through CG.

Another fantastically well-executed scene of mind-blowing visual proportions was the scene at the Parisian café where the city implodes.  How did they shoot that?  According to cinematographer Wally Pfister, they used a camera that captures 1,500 frames per second (in contrast to the average camera which captures 24) to create the slow-motion effect.  In post-production, the visuals team added effects to make the objects look like they were floating.  (Everything was shot out of air cannons for the explosion effect.)

Throughout the second half of the movie, we saw plenty of the van falling off the bridge.  But what you might not know about this scene is that it took months to film and entire days were dedicated to the shot.  But it gets better: the van was shot out of an air cannon and when the van hit the water, the actors actually had to stay underwater for four to five minutes holding their breath and taking air from a tank.  How’s that for dedication?

The ensemble cast turned out perfectly, but it wasn’t always what it was.  Before shooting, Evan Rachel Wood was slated to play Ariadne but dropped out and the role went to Ellen Page.  Another big casting shift was the exit of James Franco, who was originally cast to play Arthur, due to scheduling issues; the role ultimately went to Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Fans of Marion Cotillard got a chuckle when they heard “Non, je ne regrette rien,” the closing song of the film “La Vie En Rose” which won her an Oscar for Best Actress.  The title means “No, I regret nothing” when translated literally into English.  Was it a clever nod to her previous role?  Actually, no.  Nolan and composer Hans Zimmer chose the song before Cotillard became attached to the project because of its booming rhythmic qualities, not because of its association with the actress.

Many people have seen “Inception” as a metaphor for filmmaking, and Nolan has said that these musings aren’t entirely off-base.  But the craft he was most interested in exploring was architecture.  In an interview with WiReD, he stated, “I’m very interested in the similarities or analogies between the way in which we experience a three–dimensional space that an architect has created and the way in which an audience experiences a cinematic narrative that constructs a three–dimensional -reality from a two-dimensional medium—assembled shot by shot. I think there’s a narrative component to architecture that’s kind of fascinating.”

NEWS FLASH: The kids at the end of the movie are not the same as the ones before! Adjust your explanations of “Inception” as necessary.

Don’t worry, no top theories here.  Only some insight on where the idea came from – not exactly inception.  Nolan gave a top as a gift to his wife and then rediscovered it, incorporating it into “Inception.”  The one used in the movie was symbolically designed by the prop department to represent Cobb’s universe.

Check back on February 7 as the KNOW YOUR NOMINEES series continues with “The Kids Are All Right.”





Know Your Nominees: “The Fighter”

1 02 2011

The Oscars are a great cultural conversation for all to participate in, but it’s all too easy to only have surface knowledge of the nominees.  It’s all too easy to know “Black Swan” as the ballet movie, “The Fighter” as the boxing movie, and “The Social Network” as the Facebook movie.  But don’t you want to know more and stun your friends with your knowledge of the movies in the weeks leading up to the awards and ultimately during the broadcast itself?

That’s what my KNOW YOUR NOMINEES series hopes to do.  Every three days, I’ll feature ten interesting facts about the ten Best Picture nominees of 2010 that would be fascinating to pepper into any conversation.  My hope is that you will come away with an enhanced appreciation of the movies but also enjoy learning strange and interesting things about them.

So, as we proceed in alphabetical order, the second movie on our countdown of the Academy’s best of 2010 is “The Fighter.”

You’ve probably heard “The Fighter” described as Mark Wahlberg’s passion project, and his fight for four years to get the movie made has finally hit the silver screen thanks to the personal identification the star has with the story.  Both Wahlberg and his character Ward grew up in large Massachusetts families with nine siblings.  Both had tenacious mothers who favored their older brothers – which, in Wahlberg’s case, happens to be the New Kid on the Block Donnie Wahlberg.  As Micky became the “Pride of Lowell,” Mark Wahlberg idolized the prize fighter and is now starring and producing the ultimate tribute to him.  In an interview, Wahlberg said that the only difference between the two of them is that “Micky’s a fighter and I’m an entertainer.”

A nice little under-the-radar Oscar story of 2010 has been David O. Russell’s comeback directing “The Fighter,” which is in itself a comeback story.  But it wasn’t always going to be that way.  Remember seeing in the opening credits that Darren Aronofsky was an executive producer of the movie?  Originally, he was going to direct the movie but eventually abandoned the movie to make “Black Swan.”  That makes him connected to two Best Picture nominees this year.  Also worth noting about the director’s chair – Martin Scorsese turned the project down, claiming that “Raging Bull” was enough boxing for him.

Aronofsky’s exit wasn’t the only major change that “The Fighter” underwent before production began.  Matt Damon and Brad Pitt were both attached to play Dickie Eklund, the former fighter and older brother to Mark Wahlberg’s Micky Ward that is played in the movie by Christian Bale.

And what of the documentary HBO made about Eklund?  Called “High on Crack Street: Lost Lives in Lowell,” the movie is real, not just a plot device in “The Fighter.”  Thanks to the beauty of the Internet, you don’t have to wait for it to hit the circuit on cable – you can watch it FOR FREE on SnagFilms.  (In case you didn’t catch it, I embedded the link in that bolded statement.)

Mark Wahlberg did plenty of physical preparation for “The Fighter.”  He claims that his last few movies have been carefully selected as training and preparing to play Micky Ward.  He built a boxing ring in his own home and spent four years training with boxing coaches, even bringing them with him to his other movie sets.  Wahlberg did all the fighting himself, refusing to use a fighting double.  By the time all was said and done for Wahlberg’s training, he spent more preparing than he made.

Wahlberg wasn’t the only cast member altering their body for “The Fighter.”  Christian Bale noticeably dropped 30 pounds to play Dickie, giving him the look of both an ex-fighter and a crack addict.  But more under the radar, Amy Adams also did her part to inhabit the character of Charlene.  To make her character look like she’d been in one too many bars, Adams gained about 10 pounds to get a bit of a beer gut.

How about that wild family in “The Fighter?”  Director David O. Russell said these wildly over-the-top characters were actually toned down from their real-life counterparts.  I find this hard to believe in the case of the seven sisters, which are played by a particularly interesting group of actresses.  One sister is played by Conan O’Brien’s sister, Kate.  Another actress, Jill Quigg, was recently arrested in Boston for robbery and is now in jail.  (How’s that for some authenticity?)

Did the cinematography of the fights look a little bit different than the rest of the movie?  That’s because David O. Russell brought in camera crews from HBO to shoot them in the same style they were televised in for the sake of authenticity.  I found it to be an interesting touch that definitely set the fights apart from the rest of the movie.  They also feel real because the real Micky Ward was heavily involved in their production.

Just how real is “The Fighter,” though?  According to the real life Micky Ward in an interview with Sports Illustrated, he said, “It was pretty much right on. Christian Bale did an excellent job.”  The movie’s historical accuracy was greatly aided by Wahlberg’s close relationship with the real Ward and Ecklund, who often stayed in his guest house for weeks at a time.  The veracity was also undoubtedly aided by Mickey O’Keefe, Ward’s real-life trainer who played himself in the movie.

And the big question: since Dickie Ecklund is still alive, how did he react to the movie?  Apparently he saw it for the first time without an audience and was not a fan.  Understandable for anyone to react unfavorably to a shrinking down of their life’s struggles and mistakes into two hours.  But then Wahlberg and Bale convinced him to see it a few more times with a crowd, and once he saw their reaction, Ecklund was proud of how his overcoming of crack addiction moved the audience.  How’s that for a feel-good story?

Check back on February 4 as the KNOW YOUR NOMINEES series continues with “Inception.”





Know Your Nominees: “Black Swan”

29 01 2011

The Oscars are a great cultural conversation for all to participate in, but it’s all too easy to only have surface knowledge of the nominees.  It’s all too easy to know “Black Swan” as the ballet movie, “The Fighter” as the boxing movie, and “The Social Network” as the Facebook movie.  But don’t you want to know more and stun your friends with your knowledge of the movies in the weeks leading up to the awards and ultimately during the broadcast itself?

That’s what my KNOW YOUR NOMINEES series hopes to do.  Every three days, I’ll feature ten interesting facts about the ten Best Picture nominees of 2010 that would be fascinating to pepper into any conversation.  My hope is that you will come away with an enhanced appreciation of the movies but also enjoy learning strange and interesting things about them.

So, as we proceed in alphabetical order, the logical starting place is “Black Swan.”

For all the acclaim “Black Swan” is receiving now, it seems silly that anyone WOULDN’T want to pour money into making the movie.  Yet according to director Darren Aronfosky, the movie was a surprisingly hard sell to production companies even with Natalie Portman and the rest of the cast all lined up.  When financing finally lined up, Aronofsky was forced to make the movie on $15 million, which was $10 million less than what he had hoped to have.  This meant a streamlined shooting schedule; for example, each act of the “Swan Lake” ballet shown at the end of the movie was shot in one day.

Maybe you’ve heard the mutterings that “Black Swan” was once the same movie as “The Wrestler.”  They are true. Director Darren Aronofsky brought it up once, and ever since, he’s been carefully clarifying exactly what he meant by that.  The movies originated out of the same idea: two performers whose craft drives them to physical and emotional extremes.  The end results are entirely different, but the two work together nicely as companion pieces.

A lot has been made of Nina’s sanity in the movie.  Is she ever sane?  When does she lose her mind?  Darren Aronofsky, in an interview with Cinema Blend said that “the only time she’s normal is right at the beginning of the film when she’s dancing before the demon shows up. That very first shot, she’s clear.”

We’ve all heard about Natalie Portman’s year of training to get ready for the role of Nina Sayers.  You’ve probably heard that she worked five hours a day doing swimming and ballet for eleven months and then a shocking eight hours a day in the final month.  She lost over 20 pounds practically starving herself to slim down.  But ballerinas have a long, lanky physique that’s hard to simply tone into.  So how did Portman overcome this challenge?  She had people pull on her arms and legs every day to stretch her out!

There was more to Natalie Portman’s physical commitment to “Black Swan” than her training.  While filming the movie, Portman broke a rib during a lift.  The film’s tight budget meant no on-screen doctor to help her, and the tight filming schedule didn’t exactly allow for much recovery time.  So how did they work around it?  They simply readjusted the lift.

And there’s even more commitment on Natalie Portman’s part than just physically embodying a ballerina.  She has been attached to “Black Swan” since 2000 when she met Darren Aronofsky in Times Square and said she wanted in on the project.   She claims Aronofsky had most of the movie laid out then.  Many other members of the crew have been committed to the movie for multiple years as well.

Did you see Winona Ryder in “Black Swan” and go “Woah, haven’t seen her in a while!”  According to Darren Aronofsky, Ryder was cast in the role of Beth because it echoes her career.  The “metacasting,” as he calls it, was crucial because the audience would likely feel more impacted by Beth if someone largely at the same point in their artistic life was playing her.

The movie could have been impossible to make as the acting qualifications were just as vital to the movie as the ability to dance ballet were.  Luckily, Natalie Portman took ballet from age 4 to 13, ultimately stopping to pursue only her acting career.  Thus, when she was needed to tap back into her ballet skills to prepare for “Black Swan,” the groundwork was already laid.

What was the hardest part of the movie to get right?  According to the choreographer, it was Natalie Portman’s undulating arms at the end of the movie that gave them such a hard time.

In case you haven’t heard, Portman is pregnant and engaged to Benjamin Millepied.  He was the film’s choreographer, and the two met on set.  Millepied also had a role in the film as pretty much the only male other than Vincent Cassel to speak in the movie – the lead dancer that drops Portman on opening night.  Portman referenced an ironic line he’s asked in the movie – “Would you f*** that girl?”

Check back on February 1 as the KNOW YOUR NOMINEES series continues with “The Fighter.”





Oscar Moment: The 2010 Academy Award Nominations!

25 01 2011

Well, folks, the Academy just chimed in with their best of 2010 in cinema.  It’s an exciting day for all who love to celebrate the craft that captivates countless people worldwide.

I’ll delve into my opinion after the cut, but before I go any further, let me post the nominees!

Best Picture

Best Director

Best Actor

Best Actress

Best Supporting Actor

Best Supporting Actress

Best Original Screenplay

Best Adapted Screenplay

Read on for more.

Read the rest of this entry »