Oscar Moment: “The Ghost Writer”

28 11 2010

Back in June, I wrote a polarizing piece suggesting that “Shutter Island” could be a legitimate player in the Best Picture race.  In the poll, most people thought that was a big pot of croc.  But what if the February release that we should be looking out for is Roman Polanski’s “The Ghost Writer?”

For many of the same reasons “Shutter Island” is being considered, we should consider this movie.  It has the name of high-prestige director on its masthead who has been rewarded by the Academy in the past decade (2002 for “The Pianist”).  It has critical support; both movies received identical BFCA scores of 81.  It is an audience-pleasing thriller that keeps you closely tied into the action until the conclusion.

But unlike “Shutter Island,” there is an aura of controversy surrounding “The Ghost Writer.”  Timed almost simultaneously with the movie’s stateside release was Roman Polanski’s arrest overseas for the statutory rape he fled the United States for decades ago.  The director instantly became a topic of heated conversation.  Should he face justice, or be pardoned after all these years?  No matter what you think, the debate put Polanski into a very present mainstream consciousness.  As Sasha Stone put it in her excellent piece Cinema Paranoia, “there was no room, nor any invitation, to look at ‘The Ghost Writer’ [after the hysteria].”

The Hollywood community flocked to Polanski’s side, and it will be interesting to see where this support goes in Oscar season.  The movie took an unexpected resonance in the face of the controversy, and I think it added a different dimension to the experience.  It certainly brought out a great deal of passion in certain people, and as Guy Lodge of In Contention pondered, “progressive media loyalty to Polanski may have gone into overdrive … [I] wonder whether the director’s band of supporters in the Academy might show up for the film come nomination time — despite its low profile and early release date.”

“The Ghost Writer” has already racked up several impressive feats this year that could bode well for it during the long season ahead.  Back in February, Polanski won Best Director at the Berlin Film Festival.  Over the summer, FIPRESCI, the international critics’ association, named it their best movie of 2010; their previous choices have included art-house favorites “Magnolia” and Best Picture nominee “There Will Be Blood.”  At the beginning of November, it received seven nominations for the European Film Awards, more than any other movie.

It remains to be seen whether these accomplishments or the controversy will amount to anything substantial in terms of Oscars.  What happens in Europe doesn’t necessarily reflect American tastes.  I think if the movie can get some support from critics groups, which isn’t too far-fetched given its 83% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and 77 on Metacritic, “The Ghost Writer” could gain some significant traction for one of the bottom 5 Best Picture nominations and perhaps even an out-of-nowhere Best Director nomination.  Some have even speculated that Olivia Williams, who plays the wife of the former Prime Minister, could play into the Best Supporting Actress race.  Given the volatile field there, I wouldn’t discount her if the film starts to catch on.

Worth nothing as well: a below-the-line nomination could also be in store for composer Alexandre Desplat, who was recently awarded Composer of the Year at the World Soundtrack Awards.  However, he also has scores in play for “The King’s Speech” and “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” the former of which is probably much more Academy friendly than “The Ghost Writer.”  I haven’t listened to the score from the ultra-baity English flick, but I will say that Desplat’s score was one of my favorite parts of the movie and is very deserving of a nomination.

The general consensus is that this isn’t one of Polanski’s best, but is “not his best” better than “really good” from lesser filmmakers?  We’ll find out.

BEST BETS FOR NOMINATIONS: Best Supporting Actress (Williams), Best Original Score

OTHER POSSIBLE NOMINATIONS: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay

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What To Look Forward To in … March 2010

12 02 2010

There’s more to March than just the Oscars.  Finally, March arrives and we can stop dwelling on 2009.  In my opinion, March is usually a pretty decent movie month.  This year’s crop looks especially promising with new movies from Tim Burton, Paul Greengrass (“The Bourne Ultimatum”), and Noah Baumbach (“The Squid and the Whale”).

March 5

After almost 3 months, “Avatar” will have to cede those illustrious 3-D and IMAX screens to Tim Burton’s twist on “Alice in Wonderland.”  The titular character is played by relative newcomer Mia Wasikowsa, who will look quite a bit older than the Alice you remember from Disney’s 1951 animated classic.  If that’s not a big enough draw for you, surely Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter (who will hopefully channel more of his glorious Jack Sparrow than his Jacko-esque Willy Wonka) will suffice.  No?  How about Helena Bonham Carter as the Queen of Hearts?  Or Anne Hathaway as the White Queen?  Perhaps Alan Rickman as the Caterpillar?  No doubt about it, this is one exciting cast, and I’m sure Tim Burton won’t have any problem distinguishing himself from the numerous “Alice in Wonderland” rip-offs that have sprouted over the past few years.

“Brooklyn’s Finest” is directed by Antoine Fuqua, helmer of “Training Day,” which was enough to get me interested.  However, it really looks to be little more than a mash-up of every cop movie ever made.  But hey, that may be your thing, which would make this your potpourri.

March 12

I’m excited for “Green Zone,” which looks to be a smart political thriller. See my previous post at the release of the trailer for more info.

On the indie side of things, Noah Baumbach looks to return to Oscar form after “Margot at the Wedding” underwhelmed with “Greenberg.”  The movie stars Ben Stiller as Greenberg, the grouchy misanthrope who finds a reason to be pessimistic about everything.  However, a special woman comes along and begins to melt his heart.  I’m looking forward to a double-edged performance from Stiller, one that can show off his dramatic chops but also give us plenty of hearty laughs.

Seth Rogen’s four roommates in “Knocked Up” were equally as funny as he was. Each of them have slowly gotten their “moment”: Jonah Hill in “Superbad,” Jason Segel in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” Now, it could be Jay Baruchel’s turn. “She’s Out of My League” pits him similar situation: the uncomely guy getting the smoking hot babe. Hopefully Paramount gives this the push it deserves, maybe making Baruchel a breakout comedic star of 2010.

Could “Remember Me” get Robert Pattinson the Razzie for Worst Actor? After narrowly missing the cut for his two performances as Edward Cullen, this could finally be the one to get him the kind of awards attention he deserves.

Forest Whitaker is an Academy Award winning actor. What on earth is he doing in “Our Family Wedding?” For that matter, America Ferrera has won SAG and Golden Globe awards, and Carlos Mencia was once actually funny! This looks not only insufferable but almost racist. Plus, didn’t I see this movie in 2005 when it was called “Guess Who?”

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REVIEW: The Men Who Stare At Goats

22 11 2009

Much of “The Men Who Stare At Goats” follows dumb-struck reporter Bob Wilton (Ewan MacGregor) and straight-faced former psychic spy Lyn Cassidy (George Clooney) meandering through the Iraqi desert.  Sadly, the movie follows suit, heading in several different directions at once, none of which with confidence.  It is satirical but never makes the target inherently clear.  It is farcical yet it continues to persist that what we are watching really happened.  Thankfully, the movie manages to give the audience some good belly laughs while they scratch their heads trying to figure out the direction it is heading.

The main plot arc follows Wilton and Cassidy as they traverse through Iraq on a mission to find the remnants of the New Earth Army, a battalion using New Age tactics to gain such powers as invisibility, remote viewing, and walking through walls.  Strangely, it is Wilton who tells us the history of the group informally known as the “Jedi Warriors.”  It is curious that the filmmakers chose him to narrate the story through fragments in the principal narrative, seeing as Wilton would have no idea of what happened.  These segments are the best and most uproarious parts of the movie, but they are thrown into the story so haphazardly that it becomes difficult to remember what is happening to Wilton and Cassidy.  Both were story lines crucial to a full movie, but with a little discretion and some more mapping, a more cogent and enjoyable experience could have been easily possible.

“The Men Who Stare At Goats” really shines in its moments of pure absurdity, which could be exactly what the filmmakers didn’t want since they want us to believe that much of what is portrayed actually occurred.  They aim for bizarrely plausible, but they wind up with laughably ridiculous.  It is certainly enjoyable to see George Clooney in a role where he isn’t quite so staid and upright, and one can get a hearty chuckle out of seeing him with longer locks and putting on his boogie shoes.  Ewan MacGregor, possibly cast just for added irony on all the Jedi jokes, performs almost a straight man-straight man routine with Clooney, yet somehow the combination yields a great deal of laughs.  Jeff Bridges channels a bit of “The Dude” and Kevin Spacey brings an antagonistic smugness to his role, but neither seem entirely committed.  In the end, “The Men Who Stare At Goats” provides you some of what you want but definitely not in the way that you want it.  B /





What To Look Forward To In … November 2009

7 10 2009

The holiday movie season begins to kick into high gear in the month of November, as does exciting Oscar season.  Accordingly, this post is longer than the previous monthly preview posts.  Brace yourself for movie mania coming your way in a few weeks.  Sit back, relax, and let Marshall guide you through the coming attractions.

November 6

From the mainstream movie perspective, the hot movie of this weekend will be Robert Zemeckis’ adaptation of “A Christmas Carol.”  Shot with the same motion capture technology that Zemeckis used to make “The Polar Express,” the movie will cash in on premium ticket prices from 3D and IMAX 3D screenings.  My main concern about the quality of the movie itself lies with its principal actor, Jim Carrey, who will act as Scrooge and all three ghosts.  I doubt Zemeckis will permit it, but I fear that Carrey will make a mockery of Dickens’ classic novel much in the fashion of Mike Meyers with “The Cat in the Hat.”  Regardless of what critics say, I will probably end up seeing this with the family for some good old-fashioned family fun at the movies.

“The Men Who Stare at Goats” is the first movie of the holiday season to which George Clooney lends his talents.  Here, he plays a a military man in charge of a secret unit that attempts to use psychic powers for military purpose.  One such activity is to attempt to kill goats just by staring at them.  The movie also stars Ewan MacGregor as the reporter who discovers it all; the cast also includes Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey.  The movie is directed and adapted by Grant Heslov, previously nominated for an Academy Award for his work on “Good Night, and Good Luck.”  The trailer seems to show Heslov’s approach as similar to the Coen Brothers who usually provide a fun-filled romp.  Maybe the film will be a bona-fide indie hit, and Overture Films will be able to claim their first movie to gross over $50 million.  But we’ll have to see.

I’ve already written about the Oscar favorite, “Precious,” in a previous Oscar Moment.  I’ll post the trailer here just for the sake of promoting it, but if you want to hear my thoughts, read the post.

Two thrilling movies also open this week.  First, “The Box” with Cameron Diaz and James Marsden, seems to have an intriguing premise: if you push the button on the box, you will get a million dollars, but someone you don’t know will die.  However, it looks to be more interested in cheap thrills than exploring moral issues.  The other, “The Fourth Kind,” looks downright scary.  If horror is your thing, this looks like the movie for you.  I saw the trailer at “District 9,” and even if you don’t want to see it, you have to ponder the validity of the “true story” behind the movie.

November 13

Disaster porn reaches its pinnacle this weekend.  “2012,” Roland Emmerich’s apocalyptic film, will have some of the biggest destruction and explosions the world has ever seen.  The trailer was so mind-blowing that I am willing to overlook all vices in the plot to see the world’s greatest landmarks get wiped off the earth.  My only comment is that if John Cusack somehow finds a way to stop the end of the world, I will be enraged.

The other major wide release of the week is “Pirate Radio,” a movie that Focus Features so desperately wants you to see that they changed the title from “The Boat that Rocked” just a few weeks ago to appeal to you. Are you flattered? You shouldn’t be. The movie seems like comedic Oscar Bait, but it didn’t do well Britain, the country of production. Focus scrambled to change their focus from awards movie to popular movie. So whenever this pops into a theater near you, be armed with the knowledge that “Pirate Radio” is merely a washed-up Oscars wannabe. But make the decision to see it for yourself.

New York and Los Angeles get the treat of watching Wes Anderson’s adaptation Roald Dahl’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox.”  I have the utmost respect for Anderson for not conforming to the growing trend to do all animation through computers.  Anderson’s film uses the stop motion technique, moving an object gradually to give the illusion that it is moving.  Even more exciting that Anderson’s eccentric style in an eccentric medium is the voice cast.  Clooney voices the titular character, the cunning Mr. Fox.  The cast also features Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, and Bill Murray.  What’s not to like?  (NOTE: The movie expands on November 20 and enters wide release on November 25.)

For those who like very obscure indies, “That Evening Sun” with 87-year-old Oscar bridesmaid Hal Halbrook has his latest shot at the gold.

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