REVIEW: The Hateful Eight

9 01 2016

Snappy dialogue and intricately planned-out scenes put Quentin Tarantino on the map as a generation-defining talent, so it sure is nice to see him once again embracing that spirit in his eighth film, “The Hateful Eight.” After the bloated, mangled mess of “Django Unchained,” operating within his usual wheelhouse of tension ratcheting conversations and raucous bloodshed feels more welcome than usual.

In many ways, however, “The Hateful Eight” is somewhat of an anomaly in Tarantino’s canon. Sure, it bears the usual stamps of expressive language, scrambled chronology and unapologetic gore, but he appears to eschew his favored postmodern pastiche in favor of a more classical vibe.

This proclivity appears most obviously in his selection of music. Apart from “Kill Bill,” Tarantino has never commissioned a composer to score his films. Repurposing aural cues from other films or cultural products has served as a thread running throughout his filmography, reinforcing Tarantino’s DJ-like position as director. He blends, appropriates and remixes to unify and synthesize disparate styles and genres into something entirely new.

Tarantino does not abandon this approach completely in “The Hateful Eight,” although the majority of the sonic landscape in the film comes from a brand new Ennio Morricone score. The very musician whose compositions Tarantino has deployed to great effect in each of his films made this millennia gets to express himself on his own terms. Morricone grants the production a heightened level of prestige and legitimacy with his participation, allowing it a certain measure of independence. “The Hateful Eight” does not rely on referencing other films to imbue the proceedings with meaning. Rather, Tarantino casts his gaze inwards toward the dark, beating heart of his own work.

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Paul Thomas Anderson’s On Cinema

20 01 2015

On October 4, 2014, I had the distinct pleasure of attending a talk where Paul Thomas Anderson elaborated on his inspirations and influences.  His knowledge and love of cinema shone brightly, leaving me quite rejuvenated in the power of the medium.  Basically, he would be the best film professor EVER.  Here are some highlights from that session.

Part 1

The program unfolded largely based on discussions following clips selected by Paul Thomas Anderson and, presumptively, moderator Kent Jones.  He began with an opening from “Police Squad,” a television show from the 1980s.  Not the first thing I associated with the director of “The Master,” I’ll be honest.

I knew the team behind “Police Squad” mostly for their inane “Scary Movie” installments, but I actually explored the older Abrahams-Zucker comedy on Netflix via “The Naked Gun” films.  Now I see where Anderson comes from when he descirbed the serious “hilarious, brilliant” and that it “doesn’t get any better.”

He rediscovered the joy of the show while watching videos on YouTube during smoke breaks, reminded how much the humor was ahead of its time.  Moreover, it made him remember that anything is possible.  That kind of energy plays out clearly in “Inherent Vice,” whether its Josh Brolin’s Bigfoot Bjornsen fellating a chocolate banana or Martin Short’s Dr. Rudy Blatnoyd doing lines of cocaine.  The gags are silly, but they are always clever.

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Oscar Moment: Final 2012 Predictions, Part 4 (Directing)

8 01 2013

TWO MORE DAYS!  I’m slowly starting to lose my mind … or at least become so consumed with thinking about the Oscar nominations that I can think of little else.

See my predictions for Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay.

See my predictions for Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress.

See my predictions for Best Actor and Best Actress.

Best Director

  1. Steven Spielberg, “Lincoln
  2. Kathryn Bigelow, “Zero Dark Thirty
  3. Ben Affleck, “Argo
  4. Tom Hooper, “Les Misérables
  5. David O. Russell, “Silver Linings Playbook

Kathryn Bigelow ZDTIn case you caught on, yes, I did intentionally structure my prediction breakdown so that I would get to publish post-Directors Guild nominations.  If you didn’t catch those this morning, they were Ben Affleck for “Argo,” Kathryn Bigelow for “Zero Dark Thirty,” Tom Hooper for “Les Misérables,” Ang Lee for “Life of Pi,” and Steven Spielberg for “Lincoln.”

It’s worth noting, though, that the DGA has perfectly matched the Academy’s nominees only twice since 2000.

Having said that, Spielberg, Affleck, and Bigelow are in.  I don’t think anyone will debate that.  Even as “Zero Dark Thirty” seems to have knocked aback with the fatuous claims of torture endorsement, Bigelow remains firmly in place.  Heck, I think any of these three could win.  Who knows, maybe we could even have … a split year!

Spielberg won Best Director in 1998 for “Saving Private Ryan” even though “Shakespeare in Love” won Best Picture.  Could a similar surprise be in store this year?

Bigelow’s direction has earned her tremendous accolades again.  She’s been the critical choice pick of the year, often times winning even when “Zero Dark Thirty” doesn’t take Best Picture.  Will she take the prize again for her follow-up to “The Hurt Locker” just three years after winning her first Oscar?

Argo Best Director

And if “Argo” surges and looks poised to win Best Picture, Ben Affleck will likely win Best Director.  I don’t think he would benefit from a split.

Beyond the three of them, it gets dicier.  If you assume there are seven “safe” Best Picture nominees, you have four men competing for two spots: Ang Lee for “Life of Pi,” David O. Russell for “Silver Linings Playbook,” Tom Hooper for “Les Misérables,” and Quentin Tarantino for “Django Unchained.”  That’s an impressive group that contains two winners and two nominees.

Some people seem to think “Les Misérables” is weak because the critics have defined people’s perceptions of the movie’s standing in the race.  This is “The King’s Speech” on steroids.  That movie beat the critical favorite, “The Social Network,” with no trouble at all.  And it didn’t need the critics groups at all; it only took one Best Picture prize.  Colin Firth was keeping the movie in discussion and taking most of the accolades, just as Anne Hathaway is doing now.

Hooper beat out David Fincher, who almost undeniably did more impressive work in “The Social Network,” in a year that perhaps more than ever screamed for a Picture-Director split.  If he can win for “The King’s Speech,” I don’t see how he doesn’t get nominated for “Les Misérables.”

Life of PiWhile many would say Ang Lee was just below the “big three,” I would say Hooper is far more secure.  I think the movie will play well with Academy voters, and I still think it could win Best Picture.  It will likely win three, if not four Golden Globes.  It could also win the ensemble award at SAG.  And if “Les Misérables” made them feel anywhere near as much as “The King’s Speech,” they know who pulled the strings of their tear ducts.  A nomination feels pretty secure to me.

“Life of Pi” support is fading.  Though I still think it will power through and get a Best Picture nomination, Fox seems to have dropped the ball on keeping the momentum going.  Lee did get nominations from HFPA and BFCA, albeit in a field of six for the latter.  And the DGA nod certainly helps.

But for all this talk of Lee getting a nomination for “Life of Pi” simply because it is incredibly ambitious or challenging do little to persuade me.  I know this is a totally different case, but that didn’t help Christopher Nolan for “Inception” in a tight year (the directing branch of the Academy loathes Nolan but likes Lee for some bizarre reason).  While he’s now in my good graces because of “Les Misérables,” artistic merit often takes a backseat to feel-good stories as shown by Hooper’s triumph in 2010 over Fincher and Aronofsky.

I can’t help but wonder if Lee will get the cold shoulder like David Fincher did last year for “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”  That film was getting love from the guilds left and right but was largely shunned by the Academy, including high-profile snubs in Best Picture, Director, and Adapted Screenplay.  Is “Life of Pi” that technical marvel that guilds will admire but Academy members won’t quite appreciate as much?

LincolnHowever, the Academy directing branch, comprised of only about 300-400 members, is notoriously snooty, arty, high-minded, or whatever adjective you want to use.  So maybe that will benefit Ang Lee.  But often times, it’s a boon to someone they respect but has received little recognition leading up to the nominations   With their out of the blue selections, they often provide some of the biggest surprises on nomination morning.

The ultimate case was in 2001 when they nominated David Lynch for “Mulholland Drive,” a movie that received no other nominations.  But more recent and reasonable examples are Terrence Malick for “The Tree of Life,” Paul Greengrass for “United 93,” and Mike Leigh for “Vera Drake.”  I think the most likely person to snab this kind of nomination would be Paul Thomas Anderson for “The Master.”  As much as I’d love to see that happen, I doubt it will.

They also like to nominate directors with vision working in foreign languages.  In the past decade, we’ve seen Best Director nominees Julian Schnabel for “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” Fernando Meirelles for “City of God,” and Pedro Almodóvar for “Talk to Her.”  For that reason, we can’t count out Michael Haneke popping up for “Amour.”  It’s certainly had the critical plaudits to be a non-shocking surprise.

David O

Maybe they really respect and admire the vision of Tarantino in “Django Unchained.”  They’ve been fans twice before, providing him nominations for 1994’s “Pulp Fiction” and 2009’s “Inglourious Basterds.”  Both of those, however, were preceded by DGA nominations.  The Weinstein Company has been floating the excuse that his passing over is due to DVD screeners not going out to DGA members.

But I think it’s telling that the Academy will stay away.  His only major nomination so far has been from the Golden Globes, and it’s clear they were high on “Django Unchained.”  I think it has proven to be much more of an audience success than a critical or guild one, though it has supporters amongst those groups.  The “Inglourious Basterds” nod was looking good from the beginning; this time around has not been so fortuitous for Tarantino.

I don’t feel that PTA or Haneke are nearly as revered as Malick and thus have the power to displace a sure-fire Best Picture nominee.  With all my reservations about Tarantino and Lee, I’m left to predict David O. Russell for “Silver Linings Playbook.”  Though overlooked by the DGA and the HFPA, he was a Critics Choice nominee and (perhaps more importantly) a nominee for Best Director for “The Fighter” in 2010.

Academy voters are creatures of habit.  If something works for them once, it often works again.  Why do you think so-called “Oscar bait” was born?  Once the studios figured out their tastes, they play right into their wheelhouse time after time.  “Silver Linings Playbook” is very similar to “The Fighter” in terms of tone and emotional payoff.  The only real difference this year is that he has directed a comedy as opposed to a drama.  (Although there is little funnier than Charlene beating up Micky’s white-trash sisters.)

So it looks like I’ll be predicting a more conservative, sure-fire Best Picture nominees slate here.  I know it’s at odds with the whole notion that the season is one of the most unpredictable ever.  But I’ve watched for the signs (to quote “Silver Linings Playbook”) and don’t get the sense that anything radically wacky is going to happen in Best Director.





Oscar Moment: Final 2012 Predictions, Part 1 (Screenplay)

5 01 2013

Well, folks, it’s over.  Kind of.

Time is up for movies to impress the Academy voters before the nominees are announced.  The race is frozen now before nominations are announced early Thursday morning, January 10.  So with nothing left to influence the nominations, I’ll be offering my final take on the race before we find out who gets to compete for the golden man, the Oscar.

Today, I’ll be discussing the writing categories, Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Best Original Screenplay

  1. Zero Dark Thirty
  2. Django Unchained
  3. The Master
  4. Moonrise Kingdom
  5. Amour

ZDTI think this is probably the biggest no-brainer race of them all for 2012.  It’s an extremely thin field, filled with several past nominees and winners.  “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Django Unchained” will vie for the win; I think it’s Mark Boal’s to lose, but Tarantino could take it if they feel Boal’s win for “The Hurt Locker” in 2009 was too short a gap.  Going through the two categories is tough to find gaps between wins, but I think Boal’s back-to-back wins would be unprecedented.

Even if “The Master” doesn’t score a Best Picture nomination, it is a sure bet to get a writing nod.  The writers’ branch has always loved Paul Thomas Anderson, nominating him for “Boogie Nights,” “Magnolia,” and “There Will Be Blood.”  I think the Academy respects him more as a writer than a director, and I’d hedge my bet that his first Oscar comes from the screenplay categories.

Though “The Master” is not unilaterally acclaimed, I think the fact that they nominated the challenging and polarizing “Magnolia” means they’ll nominate just about anything he writes.  (Except “Punch-Drunk Love,” but that was just a terrible movie.)

Wes Anderson was recognized here for his work on “The Royal Tenenbaums” back in 2001, and his “Moonrise Kingdom” is playing a lot better on the precursor circuit than that one.  Though it may miss out on a Best Picture nomination, it will at least have this prize to compete for.  I doubt it has a shot to win, but it’s another feather in Anderson’s cap for an eventual win down the road.

AmourAs for that final slot, people (including myself) seem to have finally caught onto the fact that the writers’ branch sees foreign films and isn’t afraid to nominate them.  Despite everyone declaring “A Separation” the winner for Best Foreign Film all year, very few seemed to see the Best Original Screenplay nomination coming.

“Pan’s Labyrinth” and “The Barbarian Invasions” had turned their goodwill from Best Foreign Film into writing nods.  Not to mention “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” and “City of God,” directorial triumphs recognized by the directors’ branch, were also recognized for their screenplays.  Oh, I almost forgot to mention “Amelie,” “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” and “Dirty Pretty Things.”

Looper

And I nearly omitted Pedro Almodóvar’s “Talk to Her,” which WON in 2002.  (Perhaps it’s the subtitles that remind them that they are reading a movie?)

The writers think global.  Thus, no one wants to get caught off guard, and the smart money is on Michael Haneke’s “Amour.”  While I think it’s much more of a director’s movie, I think it glides in simply on the weakness of the pool of eligible nominees.

Perhaps they will pull a “Margin Call” surprise and go with Nicholas Jarecki’s “Arbitrage,” a kindred spirit in its vilification of Wall Street big wigs.  Or maybe they take original to heart and nominate Rian Johnson’s superb “Looper,” a critical favorite that has popped up sporadically throughout the precursor circuit.  Heck, maybe John Gatins’ script for “Flight” shows up like it did on the WGA list.

But I’ll stick with “Amour,” in spite of my reservations.

Best Adapted Screenplay

  1. Lincoln
  2. Argo
  3. Silver Linings Playbook
  4. Les Misérables
  5. Beasts of the Southern Wild

Argo Screenplay“Lincoln,” “Argo,” and “Silver Linings Playbook” are locks.  Inarguable.  If they don’t get nominated … well, I won’t finish that sentence since it’s a waste of time.  IT’S NOT GOING TO HAPPEN.

The last two slots are a mystery to me.  I think it’s ultimately a decision of whether the writers go along with groupthink or go out on a limb for a script that they love.  Will they make sure the heavy-hitter Best Picture contenders have a writing nomination to add to their tally?  Or will they provide a lone nomination (or a high-profile one) for a movie not nearly as beloved?

Just as a reminder of how hard it is to predict, let’s look back at the past three years of the category since those reflect Best Picture moving to beyond 5 nominees.

Last year, it looked like “The Help” would ride the coattails of its Best Picture nomination to a screenplay nod.  And “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” which most thought would be a Best Picture nominee, looked good too.  The writers snubbed both of these, opting for the well-wrought “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” and a lone nod for George Clooney’s “The Ides of March.”  (“War Horse” and “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” were two other Best Picture nominees that were not recognized.)

LincolnIn 2010, the category was 5-for-5 with Best Picture nominees “Winter’s Bone,” “True Grit,” “Toy Story 3,” and “127 Hours” all scoring here.  The eventual winner was – obviously – Aaron Sorkin’s visionary script for “The Social Network.”

2009 saw a surprising triumph for Best Picture nominee “Precious” over fellow nominees “Up in the Air,” “District 9,” and “An Education.”  Only one other adaptation was in the Best Picture field, but it was “The Blind Side” – a nominee few saw coming.  So unsurprisingly, an outside nominee charged the field – “In the Loop,” a British political comedy that came in from out of the blue.

So since there’s no clear precedent, what to do?  Predict that the writers just go with the flow and nominated “Life of Pi” and “Les Misérables?”  Or attempt to forecast a big passion play?

I think William Nicholson’s script for “Les Misérables” is a more likely nominee, despite many naysayers who think it won’t be appreciated because it was a musical.  “Chicago,” the last stage-to-screen musical, was nominated here; you have to go so far back to see a movie musical in the Best Picture field that it isn’t worth looking for a pattern.  We really have no idea whether it’s a contender, though, since it was ineligible at the WGA Awards.  But it did miss out on a Golden Globe nomination, and that was a nod “Chicago” did pick up in 2002.

Les Mis FYC 2-page

Basically, in my prediction of “Les Misérables” for Best Adapted Screenplay, I’m counting on the movie playing really well with the Academy (which it apparently has, in spite of the critics’ attempts to destroy it).  There’s nothing but a gut feeling telling me to predict it, and a slight inkling that they love the movie enough to nominate it a lot.

There’s much more of a reason for me to predict “Life of Pi,” which has the WGA nomination to its credit.  But a lot of people have criticized David Magee’s script for being the major flaw of the movie, and that gives me hesitancy.  Could it be that it only scored a nomination because of all the ineligible movies?

Life of Pi

I had similar hang-ups about “Hugo” last year, a movie that was visually impressive but took a lot of flak for its weak writing.  Yet John Logan’s script for that was nominated for a WGA Award … and then received an Oscar nomination.  Does “Life of Pi” have the strength of “Hugo,” though, which went on to win 5 Oscars in 2011?  I don’t think it does, and Fox seems to have little confidence in it.

But if it’s not “Life of Pi,” what will it be?  Does any film have the passion necessary to score an outside nod?

There’s an outside chance “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” gets a Best Picture nomination, but I doubt it would get nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay for the same reasons “The Blind Side” missed out here.  Its success is in its feel-good nature, not because of good writing.

Though I’d say it’s written like a sitcom, there are fans of Ben Lewin’s script for “The Sessions.”  But the only heat that movie has lies with the performances of John Hawkes and Helen Hunt; love of the movie doesn’t go much beyond that.  And if it was a serious contender, why wasn’t it nominated for a WGA Award in spite of all the ineligible movies?

Perks

Heck, maybe even John Logan’s script for “Skyfall” will show up.  Some have suggested it will show up in the Best Picture field after a slightly surprising nomination for the Producers Guild’s prize.  I’d say the script, though flawed, is the smartest part of that movie – but I just don’t see it happening.  Other than “Toy Story 3,” I can’t find any franchise entry nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay.

A more likely nominee is “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” which has been nominated for the WGA Award and the Critics’ Choice Award.  It’s adapted by the writer of the novel, Stephen Chbosky, who also directed the film.  I could definitely see it being 2012’s “The Ides of March” since it’s unlikely to be recognized anywhere else, and the writing is a major strong suit of the film.

But I just have a hard time predicting the movie since it flew under the radar all season.  It didn’t do particularly well at the box office, and it doesn’t have much big name talent beyond Emma Watson.  “The Ides of March” had 4 Golden Globe nods and a PGA mention.  Likewise, “In the Loop” had popped up in a number of critics’ groups awards.  I’d be surprised if the Academy stood up for “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.”

Beasts 2

If any movie unseats “Les Misérables” or “Life of Pi,” I think it would be “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”  It has been uniquely hard to gauge love for the film because it was ineligible not only for the WGA Awards but also for the SAG Awards.  I considered it dead when it blanked at the Golden Globes, but I’m beginning to rethink my assessment after it shockingly popped up as a nominee for Best Picture for the PGA.

Had it been eligible for the guild awards, would we have seen a groundswell of support for the movie?  And lest we forget, the HFPA blanked “True Grit” in 2010 – and that went on to received 10 Oscar nominations including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay.  Some say the HFPA doesn’t like quintessential American stories, and you could make an argument that “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is just that.

I think the movie’s biggest strength is its direction, not its writing.  However, I have similar things to say about “Amour,” and it appears to be cruising towards a nomination.  The writers may really admire this unconventional movie, adapted from a play and transmuted into something wholeheartedly cinematic.

Thus, the degree of difficulty gives me the confidence to say Benh Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar’s script for “Beasts of the Southern Wild” will knock “Life of Pi” (although it could just as easily be “Les Misérables”) out of the category.  So, to answer my own questions from the beginning of the discussion, I believe the Academy will be part groupthink, part cavalier.

Check back tomorrow, January 6, for my take on the Supporting Actor/Actress categories!





REVIEW: Django Unchained

25 12 2012

Quentin Tarantino’s name is now a brand, one with hallmarks of dialogue and style widely recognized by all cinephiles.  It’s an accomplishment achieved not only by Tarantino’s incredible virtuosity but also by the scores of cheap rip-offs who have solidified his status as a major figure in film history.  Yet with “Django Unchained,” Tarantino proves that the greatest of all these impersonators is Tarantino himself.

The experience is not unlike that of watching “Jackie Brown,” the only other film of the Tarantino canon that “Django Unchained” manages to stand next to in quality.  Both films followed major artistic breakthroughs for him that scored with audiences and critics alike, “Pulp Fiction” and “Inglourious Basterds.”

But rather than use the forward momentum to lead to further exploration of his craft, Tarantino chose to take a victory lap fueled by the high of inhaling too much of the exhaust fumes of his own success.  “Django Unchained” just feels like Tarantino on autopilot, lacking the vibrancy or surprising eccentricity of his prior films.  There are plenty of laughs to be had, sure, but it just feels like far too much of the same stylized dialogue and aestheticized violence; popping in the DVD of “Reservoir Dogs” would probably yield more satisfaction.

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Oscar Moment: First 2012 Predictions

5 08 2012

It’s never too early to start guessing, right?  With Cannes yielding little to start Oscar conversation, the pressure is on for the fall to deliver in a big way.  Film festivals in Venice, Toronto, and Telluride will begin to churn out candidates and weed out pretenders in just a few weeks now.  Then a number of big-name films that forewent the festival circuit will have to face the gauntlet of critics and audiences. By the time the year-end lists start rolling off the presses, the game will be predictable and boring.  So let’s speculate now while it’s still fun and actually involves educated guessing!

UPDATE 8/6: I can’t let these picks become dated within hours of them being posted, so I’ve replaced my predictions that included “The Great Gatsby.”

Best Picture:

  1. The Master
  2. Les Miserables
  3. Lincoln
  4. Life of Pi
  5. Django Unchained
  6. Beasts of the Southern Wild
  7. Moonrise Kingdom
  8. Argo
  9. The Great Gatsby Zero Dark Thirty
  10. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

“The Master” just seems like the movie of the year to me from this distance.  Tom Cruise has seen the movie and HATES it, that’s enough for me.  If the movie is really going to take on Scientology, it could really be a pop culture centerpiece for the fall.

Starring Joaquin Phoenix returning from his bizarre performance art stunt in “I’m Still Here,” Philip Seymour Hoffman fresh off two major supporting roles in Oscar-nominated films in 2011, and three-time Best Supporting Actress bridesmaid Amy Adams, it could certainly be a force to reckon with in the acting categories.  It’s also a period piece that could register impressively in the technical categories.

Oh, and it’s written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson.  In the ’90s, his films “Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia” each scored him a Best Original Screenplay nomination.  In 2007, “There Will Be Blood” scored him nominations for writing, directing, and producing since the film was up for Best Picture.  The argument will be made – convincingly by the Weinstein Company, no less – that Anderson’s time has come.

Indeed, it has.  The narrative is in place.  It can easily score over 10 nominations and march towards victory.  The film just needs to not suck.  And according to people at the first public showing on Friday (a surprise screening after a showing of “The Shining” in Los Angeles), it doesn’t suck.  It’s awesome.

Though of course, that path won’t be uncontested.  However, three out of the last five Best Picture winners – “No Country for Old Men,” “Slumdog Millionaire,” and “The Artist” – asserted their dominance from the beginning of the season and never looked back.  So who knows?! As the triumph of “The King’s Speech” showed us in 2010, Oscar bait isn’t dead.  In fact, it’s thriving … and there is still a big portion of the Academy that succumbs to it.

In 2011, “War Horse” and “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” both cracked the Best Picture field despite facing a number of harsh critics and tepid response from other industry groups.  Nonetheless, the Academy likes what it likes and refuses to apologize for it. So I doubt they will think twice about nominating “Les Miserables” for Best Picture.  The Tony Award-winning musical has everything that could possibly ever appeal to an Academy member: drama, emotion, catharsis, noble prostitutes, solid acting, historical setting, impressive craftwork … and it’s directed by Tom Hooper, the man who made them feel so good they gave him Best Director for a movie that required very little directing.

Granted, everyone thought “Chicago” was going to usher in a new Renaissance for American film adaptations of musical theater.  While the Golden Globes seem to be relishing in all the musicals, the Academy has ignored “The Phantom of the Opera,” “The Producers,” “Dreamgirls,” “Hairspray,” “Sweeney Todd,” “Mamma Mia,” and “Nine” (all of which were Best Picture nominees in the Musical/Comedy field for HFPA).

“Dreamgirls” was even being tipped to win in 2006 and was a surprise snub on nomination morning (“Nine” could also have cracked the field in 2009).  So musicals are still iffy, but “Les Miserables” is in a league of its own.  Those other musicals are nice, but none are based on a Victor Hugo novel.  The story is made to win awards.

Also falling in the bait category is Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” starring Daniel Day-Lewis as one of America’s greatest presidents.  Spielberg’s films since “Schindler’s List” have practically all been presumptive frontrunners, yet “Saving Private Ryan” is his only film afterwards to win an Oscar.  “Munich” and “War Horse” have both slid in on residual respect, but how far does that go?  Do they still owe a man who has won Best Director twice?  Helmed eight Best Picture nominees?

The same questions can be asked of Day-Lewis, who clearly has a ton of respect as shown by his two Best Actor trophies.  However, the Academy felt no shame in shutting him out of the 2009 Best Actor race in favor of first-time nominee Jeremy Renner.  Granted, Renner’s “The Hurt Locker” was worlds better than Day-Lewis’ “Nine,” but it’s still fair to wonder if the Academy is done with him like they are done with Clint Eastwood.  Unless you are Meryl Streep or Jack Nicholson (or John Williams), two is basically the magic number.

People have been raving about Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi” since its presentation of footage at CinemaCon back in the spring, and I think the coupling of a respected, Oscar-winning director tackling 3D will be the “Hugo” of 2012.  It will also probably score no acting nominations and plenty of tech nods like Scorsese’s 5-time winner from last year.

Beyond those four heavy-hitters, it’s anyone’s guess. Perhaps I guessed the overdue writer/director incorrectly, and the Academy will choose to fete Quentin Tarantino for “Django Unchained.”  People counted out “Inglourious Basterds,” and it wound up with eight nominations.

Beasts of the Southern Wild” has certainly proven to be the art-house hit of the year, winning major prizes at Sundance and Cannes, stealing critics’ hearts, and racking up enough money to where it can’t be dismissed as totally esoteric.  There’s certainly precedent for a summer indie favorite to sneak into the Best Picture field – “Winter’s Bone” in 2010 and “The Tree of Life” in 2011.  It will need the critics groups to come out in favor for it in a big way or the pint-sized star Quvenzhané Wallis to be a unanimous and strong first-choice in the Best Actress race.

Some people think the inclusion of “Beasts” might leave out the other summer indie sleeper hit, “Moonrise Kingdom.”  To that I say, look to last year when “Midnight in Paris,” a funny crowd-pleaser, cracked the same field with “The Tree of Life.”  I think the Academy could decide the time is here to honor Wes Anderson’s peculiar gifts.  If they could accept “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Juno,” I see no reason why “Moonrise Kingdom” couldn’t be a Best Picture nominee.

“Argo” could also be a sleeper to watch in this race.  Ben Affleck’s directorial skills are definitely improving with each movie, and his last film, “The Town,” was definitely just on the outside looking in at the 2010 Best Picture field.  Could getting out of his native country of Boston put him in the race this time?  We’ll know after its Toronto premiere.

Baz Luhrmannn’s singular work “Moulin Rouge” tickled the Academy’s fancy in 2001.  His 2008 “Australia,” a more refined, baity piece, only netted a Best Costume Design nomination.  Which will his adaptation of “The Great Gatsby” be?  My gut says a hit like “Moulin Rouge” because I’m so in love with the source material, but that love could be blinding me.  This will either be a big hit or a big flop.

And who knows if the Academy field will extend to ten this year, but I’ll go ahead and predict ten.  Could lighting strike for the fourth time for Peter Jackson with “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey?”  Will “Hyde Park on Hudson” be more than just a feel-good biopic?  Can Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises” finally get the franchise the recognition it deserves?

These are big “if”s, so I’m just going to choose safe (because my wild-card predictions in years past have spawned picks of “It’s Complicated” and “Never Let Me Go”) and predict Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty.”  It could be bold, daring, and thrilling if it succeeds.  The expectations will be high since the production has been so guarded.  But if it works, it could be a major player.

And for the hell of it, why not say that the decidedly middling “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” becomes the low-brow film that makes the cut and makes me curse the Academy once more. Read the rest of this entry »





Random Factoid #436

7 10 2010

Hooray for memes!  It’s been a while since I’ve been tagged in one of these … good to be back on the circuit!  Thanks to Sebastian for tagging me.  Here’s the pitch:

The idea is that you list off the first 15 directors that come to your head that have shaped the way you look at movies. You know, the ones that will always stick with you. Don’t take too long to think about it. Just churn em’ out.

Here are my 15:

  • Woody Allen
  • Judd Apatow
  • Darren Aronofsky
  • Alfonso Cuarón
  • Clint Eastwood
  • David Fincher
  • Sam Mendes
  • Fernando Meirelles
  • Christopher Nolan
  • Sean Penn
  • Roman Polanski
  • Jason Reitman
  • Martin Scorsese
  • Steven Spielberg (no, it isn’t cliched)
  • Quentin Tarantino

In case anyone was wondering, I got to about 10 and then had a major pause.





Random Factoid #252

6 04 2010

Yesterday I talked about how annoyed I can get with bad behavior at a movie, but I should probably fess up.  I’m no angel.

I’ll share one moment with you that might have angered you had you been sitting in that same theater.  It was opening night of “Inglourious Basterds,” and my friends and I had already been to “Avatar Day.”  Needless to say, we were pretty jacked up.

Quentin Tarantino built up to a phenomenal conclusion.  I’m not going to ruin it for anyone who hasn’t seen the movie, but my friends and I got up during the climax and screamed, clapped, and just went crazy.  I think my theater forgave us because I heard other claps too.

But be honest – would you be angry at me?  Keep in mind the circumstances and the movie; it’s not like I’m screaming at “Precious.”





Oscar Moment: Predictions As The Ballots Go Out

28 12 2009

Oscar nomination ballots have now been sent out to the Academy!  Thus, I felt it was time to issue a new set of Oscar Predictions.  Since I last went on record, we have heard from a multitude of critics groups, the National Board of Review, and have received nominations from the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild.  What conclusion can we draw from them?  I draw mine here.

Best Picture

  1. Up in the Air
  2. The Hurt Locker
  3. Avatar
  4. Precious
  5. Inglourious Basterds
  6. Up
  7. An Education
  8. Invictus
  9. Nine
  10. A Serious Man

Big changes this week, though nothing changes at the top.  I still think “Up in the Air” is going to win – and not just because I love it so much.  It is slowly picking up steam at the box office, and it is a movie that pretty much everybody really likes.  It is powerful storytelling with commanding performances, the recipe for usual Oscar success.

But its two biggest threats have changed since the last set of predictions.  “The Hurt Locker” has clearly established itself as the critical favorite, the movie that scores the most with the various critics groups from New York to Oklahoma.  This can be good and bad, but the good critical favorites are usually the ones that are mixed with audience support.  With only $12 million in the bank, it is clear that “The Hurt Locker” does not have this.  If people a more populist pick for Best Picture with the expansion of the field, this would most likely send a message of adherence to pretentiousness.

The opposite message would be sent with the selection of “Avatar.”  I resisted for as long as I could, but now it is virtually undeniable.  With critics clearly behind it and box office standing at a formidable $213 million, this has a lot going for it.  Yet it has a gender prejudice going against it.  Only rarely do action movies fly with the Academy; just look at how they snubbed “The Dark Knight” last year for “The Reader.”  I think many will see it as little more than a visual spectacle and technological innovator.

“Inglourious Basterds” has really jumped on the scene, getting top nominations from the Golden Globes and the SAG.  I didn’t think this was possible in August, but I guess I was wrong.

“An Education” didn’t really fall; everything else just went up.  Same goes for “Invictus,” but I think we are looking at this year’s “Frost/Nixon” or “Good Night, and Good Luck” here.  By that, I mean the movie that gets a bunch of nominations with no real chance at winning any of them.

“Nine” actually dropped, though.  Audiences didn’t receive it well as shown by the lackluster $5.4 million it posted Christmas weekend.  Critics aren’t digging it, and its Rotten Tomatoes score is now sitting at a dreadful 37% fresh.  On the other hand, we can’t forget that it did get a SAG Best Ensemble nomination over high-flying “Up in the Air,” among others.  This is a movie that the actors seem to like, and they make up a large portion of the voting body.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see it slip off the charts completely, but don’t count it out just yet.  (“Precious” dropped too, but I offer some explanation on that in the Best Director section.)

The tenth slot continues to puzzle me.  Now, I have it going to the Coen’s “A Serious Man,” but this is another big question mark.  It failed to get a nomination for Best Picture at the Golden Globes (where “It’s Complicated” did, so “ha!” to all my detractors on that one), which is pretty big considering that “Burn After Reading” made it last year despite being met with a slightly chillier reception.  And it pains me to pick this while so many of my favorite movies sit in the cellar.

Best Director

  1. Kathryn Bigelow, “The Hurt Locker”
  2. Jason Reitman, “Up in the Air”
  3. James Cameron, “Avatar”
  4. Quentin Tarantino, “Inglourious Basterds”
  5. Clint Eastwood, “Invictus”

Bigelow has gained a lot of strength with most of the critics groups on her side, and I can now see a Best Picture-Director split between “Up in the Air” and her.  The momentum for her to become the first female director to win the Oscar may just be too big to deny.  Not to mention the fact that if “Up in the Air” takes screenplay and picture, Reitman will walk away with two statues.

James Cameron is the real star of “Avatar,” and the Academy will no doubt want to honor his work.  This is a project that he has had in his head for over 15 years, and his patience while the technology caught up with the idea should be rewarded.

Tarantino takes over the fifth spot from Rob Marshall because of the lack of love for “Nine” (which is mostly because of him).  The “Inglourious Basterds” love the critics, Golden Globes, and SAG have displayed is enough to get its director a nomination.  After all, it really is his movie.

Lee Daniels drops off the chart because of his Golden Globes snub when “Precious” was clearly well received by the group.  “Precious” has lost a ton of momentum from its release in November, mainly due to bumbling Lionsgate who refused to capitalize on the limited release success by taking it nationwide then.

People see the Academy as Clint’s cronies, which isn’t necessarily true.  Maybe they just set out to make a statement last year with their “Gran Torino” shutout, but I think that the financial success came too late to make an impact.  “Invictus” hasn’t exactly lit the box office on fire; however, I just get the sinking feeling that he is still going to get nominated here.  Call me crazy.

Best Actor

  1. George Clooney, “Up in the Air”
  2. Colin Firth, “A Single Man
  3. Morgan Freeman, “Invictus”
  4. Jeff Bridges, “Crazy Heart
  5. Jeremy Renner, “The Hurt Locker”

The only change here is Bridges falling to number 4.  He has only won awards from critics whose awards truly mean something like the Los Angeles Film Critics Circle;  Clooney and Firth have been taking all the others.  I’m getting a vibe that this a performance that is being honored for honor, not because people really love it.  I am getting the latter vibe from Clooney, who has been taking the prizes from a lot of the smaller, less renowned critics circles.

This is the standard top 5 now among almost everyone.  I can’t help but feel like there has to be some kind of shake-up here, some surprise nominee.  But who?  Maybe Daniel Day-Lewis will find his way in like always, or perhaps Matt Damon will surprise for his turn in “The Informant!”  He had a heck of a year, and the Academy could see fit to honor that with two nominations.  Just spitballing here.

Best Actress

  1. Carey Mulligan, “An Education”
  2. Meryl Streep, “Julie & Julia
  3. Gabourey Sidibe, “Precious” 
  4. Helen Mirren, “The Last Station
  5. Marion Cotillard, “Nine”

I’m sorry, but I cannot pick Sandra Bullock here.  I keep seeing all these raves for her and wonder if I saw the same movie and performance as they did.

I moved Sidibe back a spot because the critics awards seem to be hinting that this race will be a duel between Streep and Mulligan, the veteran and the fresh face.  However, I could see a possible vote split propelling the novice to victory.

With Abbie Cornish showing up nowhere and “Bright Star” seemingly forgotten, she falls off the list.  I replaced her with Marion Cotillard because the Academy loved her enough to give her an Oscar when no one knew who she was.  Even though the buzz on “Nine” is down, I have a feeling there will be plenty of love for the ladies.  Cotillard does have two emotionally wrenching numbers in the movie going for her.

And I’ll use this post to congratulate Meryl Streep on receiving her 25th Golden Globe nomination.

Best Supporting Actor

  1. Christoph Waltz, “Inglourious Basterds”
  2. Stanley Tucci, “The Lovely Bones
  3. Christopher Plummer, “The Last Station”
  4. Alfred Molina, “An Education”
  5. Matt Damon, “Invictus”

This is the category with the big shake-up this week.

Christoph Waltz is winning almost everything, so I can still place him in the number one slot.

Stanley Tucci jumps from off the list all the way to number 2.  I think its a mix of career achievement and a very good year (despite the apparent “The Lovely Bones” flop).  Christopher Plummer shares the former of these; Matt Damon, the latter.  I think the fact that Plummer is 80 years old, well-respected, and has no nominations is enough to get him into the field.

Woody Harrelson, Alfred Molina, and Matt Damon were the three men vying for my last three slots.  Despite Globes and SAG snubs for Molina, I still feel confident that he can make it.  Damon and Harrelson got the two nominations that Molina missed, so logic would probably say that they would be the two to fill the spots.  But I just get the feeling that Damon will get in because of the one-two punch of “Invictus” and “The Informant!”

Best Supporting Actress

  1. Mo’Nique, “Precious”
  2. Anna Kendrick, “Up in the Air”
  3. Julianne Moore, “A Single Man”
  4. Vera Farmiga, “Up in the Air”
  5. Penelope Cruz, “Nine”

No large change here.  Mo’Nique is becoming quite the juggernaut, and unless she goes full Eddie Murphy, there’s no chance she loses it.

If she does go full Eddie, Anna Kendrick takes it.  Her “Up in the Air” co-star, Vera Farmiga, takes over the fourth slot from Penelope Cruz.  “Nine” love isn’t very strong, but she is the scene stealer.  And she gets her picture here because she was too stunning not to feature.

Best Original Screenplay

  1. Inglourious Basterds
  2. Up
  3. The Hurt Locker
  4. A Serious Man 
  5. (500) Days of Summer

Tarantino’s dialogue has won over the Academy once before, and I think he may do it again this year.  He could be the new Woody Allen (for the Oscar voters) – just don’t tell him that I said that.

“A Serious Man” moves into the the nominees mainly because I can’t ponder hearing “Winner of One Oscar Nomination – BEST PICTURE.”  I know it will happen eventually, but I don’t think it can the first year.

If “(500) Days of Summer” doesn’t get nominated here, I will hit something.  It is too creative and brilliant to be ignored.

Best Adapted Screenplay

  1. Up in the Air
  2. An Education
  3. Precious
  4. Invictus
  5. District 9

“Up in the Air” is still king here.  Even if it doesn’t take Best Picture, I have a hard time seeing it losing this category.

“An Education” moves up despite missing out at the Golden Globes.  There is a sizable British faction of the Academy, and they will see to it that he gets his just reward for this great screenplay.  “Precious” moves down not only because of the Globes screenplay snub, but also because of a general loss of momentum.

“Invictus” gets a bump up mainly because “District 9” moves into the field as a wild-card contender.  “Avatar” has probably dashed its hopes in the Best Picture field, so the Academy could reward it here.  This was a well-scripted movie that scored with audiences and critics alike, and it deserves more than technical nominations that it is bound to lose to “Avatar.”

So, what are your thoughts?  Am I crazy to still think “Up in the Air” will win Best Picture?  Or that Jeff Bridges won’t win Best Actor?  I’m dying to know what you think, so don’t hesitate to tell me!





REVIEW: Inglourious Basterds

24 08 2009

Quentin Tarantino has made movies the way he wants for nearly two decades now, and that is precisely what has made him one of the most beloved and distinguished directors in recent memory.  His latest outing, “Inglourious Basterds,” has been a pet project for over ten years.  It is Tarantino at the top of his game: gruesomely violent, side-splittingly hilarious, and outrageous fun.  It brings the high-energy approach that Tarantino takes to his classics set in the present day and applies it to World War II.  The result is a testosterone-pumping farce with a climax that will get you up out of your seats, screaming and applauding.

The movie revolves around Lt. Aldo Raine, played to hysterical brilliance by Brad Pitt, and his team of “Basterds,” comprised of Jewish-American soldiers on a mission to brutally massacre the Nazi soldiers in France out of nothing but cold vengeance.  But Tarantino’s story consists of multiple layers that contribute to his five-part harmony.  Perhaps the most chilling is the loquacious Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), better known among the French as “The Jew Hunter.”  Landa is always one step ahead of the game, and every scene in which he appears brings you to the edge of your seat.  He radiates a very calm exterior, but on the inside, he seems to be a ticking time bomb.  This aspect lends an aura of suspense to his character as we eagerly await him to just explode with anger.

The story also follows Shoshanna Dreyfus (Mélanie Laurent), the lone survivor of the Nazis massacre of her family who then becomes motivated to avenge their deaths.  She finds the perfect opportunity when German war hero turned Nazi propaganda movie star Frederick Zoller (Daniel Brühl) becomes smitten with her.  He wants to host hundreds of high-ranking Nazis for the premiere of his movie at the theater that she owns.  Her plan is to torch the theater.  Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Shoshanna, the British are organizing a plot to blow up the theater along with the Basterds and a German movie star gone spy named Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger).  The collision of the story lines results in a final act that will not soon be forgotten.

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