Oscar Moment: January 7, 2011 Awards Round-Up

7 01 2011

It’s been 3 weeks since I last ran this column (thanks to Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, and a general lack of events in the awards sphere), and I sure have missed writing.  In a ways, a lot of things have happened since then.  Yet, at the same time, not a whole lot has happened.

So, without further ado, here are some developments in the Oscar race worth nothing:

The Producers Guild nominates. A group representing the interests of Hollywood producers, the Producers Guild is generally a pretty good indicator of how the Academy will ultimately shape their field.  They ultimately solidified that we have eight almost sure-fire nominees, leaving the two remaining spots up for grabs by a few movies.  In case you don’t know which eight movies I’m referring to, here they are in a convenient bulleted list (in alphabetical order):

Some might argue that “The Kids Are All Right” isn’t a lock since it missed a BFCA nomination and wasn’t a big audience favorite; others might say that “True Grit” isn’t certain because it was totally snubbed at the Golden Globes.  I think that both will ultimately get nominated, but “True Grit” is safer because of its robust box office numbers.

But for their last two nominees, they chose Danny Boyle’s “127 Hours” and Ben Affleck’s “The Town.”  Both were BFCA nominees for Best Picture that missed Golden Globe nominations for the same award.  Neither were big hits with the SAG, only garnering one nomination.

The big story is that Debra Granik’s “Winter’s Bone” was left out in the cold after garnering a BFCA nod for Best Picture and two SAG nominations.  It’s been basically narrowed down to “Winter’s Bone,” “127 Hours,” and “The Town” to fight for those last two spots, and missing out on the PGA nomination really hurt here.  It’s not a big movie for producers being the tiny budget indie that it is.

I’d also say that the indie portion of Best Picture has been covered without “Winter’s Bone.” Three nominees for the Best Independent Film at the Independent Spirit Awards, “127 Hours,” “The Kids Are All Right,” and “Black Swan,” will likely be represented in the Academy’s field.  These three movies had better box office than “Winter’s Bone,” which only made $6 million this summer.  So, in other words, “The Town” has leap-frogged “Winter’s Bone” in my predictions.

For historical reference, the PGA chose 8 of the Academy’s 10 selections, choosing “Invictus” and “Star Trek” over “The Blind Side” and “A Serious Man.”

The Writers Guild nominates. Before listing the nominees, it’s worth noting that there were many high profile ineligibilities this year.  In original screenplay, “Another Year,” “Blue Valentine,” and “The King’s Speech” were among the most notable; in adapted screenplay, they excluded “Toy Story 3” and “Winter’s Bone.”

In original screenplay, the surprise nominee was “Please Give,” which will compete against probable Best Picture nominees “Black Swan,” “The Fighter,” “Inception,” and “The Kids Are All Right.”  I envision this race as a battle between the latter two movies; the winner will then have to go head-to-head with “The King’s Speech” at the Oscars.  (All three were nominated at the Golden Globes but will probably lose to “The Social Network.”)  As for “The Fighter,” it will probably be fighting “Another Year” for the final slot in the category – and will most likely be snubbed due to the Academy’s worshipping of Mike Leigh.

In adapted screenplay, they threw a total curveball by throwing “I Love You Phillip Morris” into a field that included “127 Hours,” “The Social Network,” “The Town,” and “True Grit.”  Aaron Sorkin is going to run away with this category, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see “The Town” and “True Grit” make way for “Toy Story 3” and “Winter’s Bone” at the Oscars.

The USC Scripter finalists announced. An award for film adaptations of literature, the USC Scripter award is a nice award for screenwriters to pick up on the way to Best Adapted Screenplay.  (In case you couldn’t deduce it, “Toy Story 3” was ineligible.)

The surprise nominee was “The Ghost Writer” among potential Oscar nominees “127 Hours,” “The Social Network,” “True Grit,” and “Winter’s Bone.”  It’s a nice boost for Roman Polanski’s movie, and it certainly gives it a blip on the awards radar.  But given how unofficial the award is, it’s probably unwise to look to much into it.

Besides, as I already said, it’s the year of Aaron Sorkin.  However, many people believe it to be practically an original screenplay as Sorkin finished his screenplay before Ben Mezrich finished his book, “The Accidental Billionaires.”  Mezrich sent Sorkin his notes and research while he was writing the book, and “The Social Network” is based on those – NOT the final book.  So perhaps as an adaptation, it’s not the kind of movie that could win this.

BAFTA longlists announced. The real nominations for the BAFTAs (the British version of the Oscars) aren’t announced until January 18, but for some strange reason, they choose to announce a field of 15 in each category that they will ultimately select their nominees from.

The result is ultimately a bunch of clutter not worth looking too much into.  “The King’s Speech” and “Black Swan” led the long list with 15 mentions each.  Obviously the former, being such a prominent British title, stands a pretty good chance of taking the most nominations when the real ones are announced.

They did star the top five vote-getters in the preliminary rounds which do provide some interesting insight into their ultimate nominees.  So with that in mind, here are some highlights from the list so you don’t have to look at it yourself:

  • “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” made their Best Picture longlist.  (They didn’t star any nominees in the category.)
  • Danny Boyle was one of the starred directors.  This is a good sign for Boyle, who seems to be slipping with his movie in the Best Director race.  If the British contingent is behind him, he could outmuscle the Coen Brothers for the final slot.
  • Aaron Eckhart was longlisted for “Rabbit Hole” (personal favorite, sorry) as were both Leonardo DiCaprio performancesi in 2010.  Starred were the usual suspects Eisenberg, Firth, and Franco as well as Jeff Bridges and surprisingly Javier Bardem, who could use a boost right now other than an endorsement of “Biutiful” by Julia Roberts.
  • Among likely Best Actress nominees Annette Bening, Natalie Portman, and Michelle Williams, starred selections included Carey Mulligan for “Never Let Me Go” and Julianne Moore for “The Kids Are All Right.”  This is big for the latter, who seems to be bullied out of the Best Actress category by her co-star Bening.
  • Justin Timberlake was longlisted for “The Social Network,” but co-star Andrew Garfield was starred, along with favorites Bale, Rush, and Ruffalo.  Also starred was Bob Hoskins in the British movie “Made in Dagenham.”
  • All three of the supporting females in “Black Swan” were on the longlist, including Winona Ryder.  Surprisingly, it was Barbara Hershey and not Mila Kunis who was starred.  (Fingers crossed Hershey could score an Oscar nod!)
  • Melissa Leo, the apparent frontrunner in Best Supporting Actress for her role in “The Fighter,” was not starred.  Her co-star Amy Adams was starred, as was Miranda Richardson was starred for “Made in Dagenham.”
  • Category fraud was seemingly corrected by placing Hailee Steinfeld in leading actress for “True Grit” and Lesley Manville in supporting actress for “Another Year.”
  • Don’t trust them too much – “Alice in Wonderland” was listed as a potential Best Director and Best Actor nominee.

See the full longlists HERE at In Contention.

Technical guilds chime in. The Cinema Audio Society announced its five picks for Best Sound Mixing, which included “Black Swan,” “Inception,” “Shutter Island,” “The Social Network,” and “True Grit.”  Perhaps the most surprising nominee is “The Social Network,” which isn’t perceived as a big technical movie.  Yet if it continues to pick up nominations, it will prove how widely appealing the movie is – and make it that much more likely to win Best Picture.  The more nominations it can pick up, the better.

The Art Directors Guild recognized excellence in three categories as follows:

Period Film
Get Low
“The King’s Speech”
Robin Hood
Shutter Island
“True Grit”

Fantasy Film
Alice in Wonderland
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I
“Inception”
TRON Legacy

Contemporary Film
“Black Swan”
“The Fighter”
“127 Hours”
“The Social Network”
“The Town”

Again, it’s good for “The Social Network” that it picked up a mention.  But perhaps the movie most in need of technical guild support is “Inception,” which came up blank at the SAG Awards.  To take home Best Picture, it’s going to need to make a strong showing with these guilds.

“Shutter Island” showed up on both guild lists, setting it up as a dark horse Best Picture nominee.  I doubt it happens, but now it can’t be totally unforeseen.

Critics groups all but wrap up. In case you didn’t hear, “The Social Network” swept pretty much all of the critics groups in 2010.  It earned its status as “critical darling,” taking home Best Picture from just about everyone.  Here are those that dared to be different:

  • Austin – “Black Swan”
  • Central Ohio – “Inception”
  • Dublin – “A Prophet”
  • Phoenix – “The King’s Speech”
  • San Diego – “Winter’s Bone”
  • Utah – “127 Hours” (tied with “The Social Network”)

So as you can see, there was no clear second place movie for critics to “The Social Network.”  But someone with the time to calculate the results wrote that “Black Swan” took the second-most honors from critics groups.

The first phase of the Oscar race in 2010 is over, and “The Social Network” has clearly won.  But can it keep the lead?  Or will another movie come and steal awards from the BFCA, Golden Globes, or SAG?  Check back next week as phase two begins.

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10 for ’10: Best Movies (The Challenge)

31 12 2010

Catch up with the idea behind this series here.

By the time the clock runs down on 2010, I will have seen over 90 movies.  Most of them were average, nothing special but nothing horrible.  An alarming number were downright terrible.  But, as always, there are enough gems that shine above the coal to fill out a top 10 list.  It wasn’t quite as agonizing a process this year, but that’s beside the point.  I want to leave 2010 smiling because, for the most part, it was a good year for the movies – provided you were willing to look off the beaten path.

What I found in common with these 10 special movies released in 2010 was a challenge.  Each movie, in an entirely different way, issued a challenge to the moviegoer.  These movies weren’t complacent just providing two hours of escapism; they went so far as to engage our minds, hearts, and souls in the moviegoing experience.  They provided something that stuck with me, the movie watcher and reviewer, long after they ended and will continue to stick with me well into 2011.

So, here’s to the challenge, here’s to 2010, and here’s to movies!

#10

Easy A
(A Challenge to High School)
Directed by Will Gluck
Written by Bert V. Royal
Starring Emma Stone, Penn Badgley, and Amanda Bynes

It was about time that a movie like “Easy A” came along and perfectly encapsulated what it’s like to be a high school student in the era of texting and Facebook.  I was scared that my generation wasn’t going to get a Hollywood spotlight until twenty years later, and that would make us look like some kind of hokey antiques like the kids in “Grease.”  What makes “Easy A” so brilliant is how it incorporates the modern with the past, be it as distant as the Puritans or as recent as the Breakfast Club, to show how fundamentally different the high school experience has changed even since 2004’s “Mean Girls.”

For me, very few moments were so beautifully authentic this year as the movie’s high-speed mapping of the rumor mill, which now moves at the speed of light (or a 3G connection).  Propaganda posters after World War II suggested that loose lips cost lives, but in 2010, “Easy A” shows how it can cost reputations, something much more precious in high school.  Technology may have evolved, but high school hasn’t.  Society may have improved thanks to these innovations, so why haven’t we?

#9

Rabbit Hole
(A Challenge to Coping)
Directed by John Cameron Mitchell
Written by David Lindsey-Abaire
Starring Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, and Dianne Weist

Grief is either overdone or understated.  In “Rabbit Hole,” it’s presented in a manner so raw that it manages to be both at the same time, making for one of the most moving experiences of the year.  A story about a husband and wife, played to brilliance by Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart, grieving their lost child, the movie shows many ways to cope.  Kidman’s Becca wants to move on, Eckhart’s Howie wants to live with it, and in the middle of it all is Becca’s mother, played by Dianne Weist, offering her advice on how to get to the peaceful state in which she resides.  There’s no answer to the question of who handles it best or which way is best; in fact, there’s not even an attempt to answer it.  But there’s something beautiful about an unanswered question, and maybe that’s why the grace of “Rabbit Hole” has stuck with me for so long.

#8

Get Him to the Greek
(A Challenge to Remain Silent)
Written and Directed by Nicholas Stoller
Starring Jonah Hill, Russell Brand, and Sean Combs

Okay, you can forget the challenge here.  It’s not coming from “Get Him to the Greek,” it’s coming from me – I dare you not to laugh at this movie.  Between the dynamite comedic pairing of Jonah Hill and Russell Brand, the scene-stealing farce that is Sean Combs’ foul-mouthed music exec Sergio, the ridiculous and totally awesome music of Infant Sorrow, and the hilarious situations that drive the movie, “Get Him to the Greek” was my favorite comedy of 2010.  It’s filled with endless quotables and capable of many repeat viewings without any diminishing laughter.

#7

Fair Game
(A Challenge to Patriotism)
Directed by Doug Liman
Written by Jez and John-Henry Butterworth
Starring Naomi Watts and Sean Penn

Rather than fall into the pile of scathing movies about America’s involvement in Iraq, “Fair Game” takes its anger in a fresh and different direction and funnels it into something constructive.  The story of Valerie Plame Wilson, a scapegoat for the federal government in the wake of their exposure, is meant to rouse us, not to dismay us.  We are proud that there are still people in this country who believe in the Constitution and the principles on which we were founded, and staying silent is simply not an option.  While it hits you with rage, the knockout punch is of pride in Valerie and her courage to stand up for herself.  “Fair Game” stands out as an exuberant flag-waving fan while all other movies of the same vein just mope in dreary cynicism.

#6

Inside Job
(A Challenge to Care)
Written and Directed by Charles Ferguson
Narrated by Matt Damon

Who is responsible for the financial collapse of 2008?  Charles Ferguson lets us know who he thinks in the activist epilogue, which you can more or less disregard if you choose to do so, but in the hour and 40 minutes prior, he points the finger at just about everyone possible.  Including us.  Sure, there were many factors leading to a worldwide meltdown of the economy that were out of our control, but a little bit of oversight, we could have seen it coming.  By his systematic explanation of everything you need to know to understand what went down (call it “Global Meltdown for Dummies” if you must), he is challenging us to be the oversight that was lacking two years ago.  And judging by how things have developed since then, we are going to need a whole lot of it.

#5

Inception
(A Challenge to Imagination)
Written and Directed by Christopher Nolan
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Marion Cotillard

For as much as I love the four movies I’m ranking ahead of “Inception,” none had such a monumental impact on the way movies are perceived and made quite like it.  Christopher Nolan successfully redefined what imagination means for millions of moviegoers, many of whom had to see the movie multiple times to figure out what was going on in his labyrinthian dreamscape.  With a massive spending allowance, he brought the spectacle to life and managed not treat the audience like children, which proved to be one of the most thrilling and psychologically satisfying experiences ever.  If a movie like this can’t change the fabric of filmmaking, maybe we are headed for the dark ages like Roger Ebert cries.

#4

The Social Network
(A Challenge to Modernity)
Directed by David Fincher
Written by Aaron Sorkin
Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, and Justin Timberlake

As an old adage goes, “Every time history repeats itself, the price goes up.”  David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin’s “The Social Network” may appear to be a movie planted in the digital era, but as has been said many times, it’s a movie about age-old themes like power, greed, and betrayal.  In essence, we’ve seen it before.  Yet retold as the story of the site we visit every day, it’s fascinating.  And it’s sublime thanks to brilliantly sculpted characters who never fit traditional hero/villain roles driving the narrative.  However, this is not just a rehash; it’s a brilliant cautionary tale for our times about individuality, innovation, and solitude.  “The Social Network,” along with its cryptic leading man Mark Zuckerberg, is the best movie of 2010 for serious conversation that’s relevant away from the screen and out of the theater.

#3

Toy Story 3
(A Challenge to Feel)
Directed by Lee Unkrich
Written by Michael Arndt
Voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, and Joan Cusack

So maybe the whole prison escape plot wasn’t the most original thing in the world.  But “Toy Story 3” has a heart so big that nothing else matters.  I have no shame in admitting that I cried like the child that the movie made me feel like.  For the last 20 minutes of the movie, I felt the most beautiful mix of nostalgia, sadness, and joy that may just be the most powerful potion Pixar has brewed.  To be my age and watch this movie is like an ultimate realization that childhood can’t last forever.  But the tears aren’t just mourning, they are happy as the torch is passed to a new generation.  I pray, for their sake, that no technology can ever replace the comfort that a toy and a little bit of imagination can bring to any child.

#2

127 Hours
(A Challenge to Live)
Directed by Danny Boyle
Written by Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy
Starring James Franco

Life-affirming isn’t a word I get to use to describe movies very often, and that’s precisely what makes “127 Hours” one of the most special experiences of 2010.  The perfect combination of Danny Boyle’s superhuman directing with James Franco’s rawly human acting makes for a movie experience defying the odds.  Who would have thought that a movie about a man losing his arm would be the movie that made me most glad to be alive?  The movie that made me most appreciative for the relationships in my life?  The movie that took me on the most gut-wrenching yet blissfully rewarding roller-coaster ride?  I don’t know if I’ll be able to watch “127 Hours” again, but I’m so glad I watched at least once because it truly was a movie I’ll never forget.

#1

Black Swan
(A Challenge to EVERYTHING)
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Written by Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz, and John MacLaughlin
Starring Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, and Vincent Cassel

It’s such a fantastic irony that “Black Swan” is a movie about the inability of humans to achieve perfection, yet Darren Aronofsky’s movie is the closest thing to cinematic perfection in 2010.  Behind Natalie Portman, who delivers one of the finest, if not the finest, performances I’ve ever seen from any actress, the movie soars to heights that I had previously thought unfathomable.  It challenges just about every cinematic boundary that still exists and then proceeds to demolish them.  But “Black Swan” doesn’t just destroy these boundaries for fun; it’s a purposeful and intelligent movie that gives a reason to change the boundaries of cinema for better and for good.  Fearless director Darren Aronofsky choreographs a master ballet of a movie that weaves together horror, beauty, and psychological breakdown with such poise that you’ll wonder why every movie can’t be as thrilling as his.  “Black Swan” is a glorious exaltation of cinema and a monumental achievement that will go down in history.





10 for ’10: Criticism

29 12 2010

Catch up with the idea behind this series here.

If someone classified this blog (good luck trying to do that, anyone that might attempt to) as one thing, I bet they’d be likely to say it’s a movie review site.  While I do much more, and I urge you to check out all the other things I do, it’s probably true that I am most prominently a movie critic.

So how can I look back on a year of blogging without retrospectively looking at my own writing?  So here are excerpts from 10 of what I believe were my best reviews this year – 5 good movies, 5 bad movies – that I believe best demonstrate my love of writing, language, and some good wordplay.

(NOTE: I’m only putting excerpts because I want you to go read the whole review!  So don’t be afraid to click the links!)

The Good

Black Swan

There’s really no one else but Aronofsky who could pull off a big, brassy movie like this.  He’s simply the best visual filmmaker out there.  As if his first two movies, “Pi” and “Requiem for a Dream,” weren’t powerful enough, “Black Swan” is Aronofsky in full bloom, showing absolute command of all cinematic vocabulary.  There is no boundary too sacred or stiff for him to toy with, and he doesn’t so much push them as he does eradicate them.  Thus, “Black Swan” isn’t just a victory for Aronofsky and the rest of the crew; it’s a victory for the craft of filmmaking as we know it.

127 Hours

But overall, it’s the humanity that Danny Boyle brings to the screen that makes this a cinematic achievement unlike any other.  He manages to engage our senses on frightening levels.  The pain we feel as we watch the boulder crush Ralston’s arm.  The disgust we feel when Ralston is left with no alternative but to drink his own urine.  The fear we feel as Ralston slowly loses his mind and begins to have delusions.  The gut-clenching agony we feel as Ralston amputates his own arm – and the catharsis we feel when he at last emerges from the canyon and finds refuge.  Ultimately, Franco and Boyle’s commitment do more than engage our senses.  They engage our souls.

Inception

Nolan pulls out all the stops to make sure that this world comes to vibrant life, beginning with his own script that never fails to captivate us.  It’s heavy on the hard-hitting drama, and he always makes sure to remind us that no matter what’s going on around these people, they are still humans with emotions as complex as the world around them.  These characters are fully realized, with rivalries, passions, and hatreds.  Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what’s going on when a movie exists in four different layers of reality, but we manage to stay grounded through these characters and Nolan’s impeccable sense of direction.

The Town

Over the course of two well written hours, “The Town” explores and analyzes this question all the while providing fantastic drama and thrilling chases, robberies, and shoot-outs.  It has Affleck written all over it, and not just because of the location.  He makes Charlestown a character in itself, and we get to know it just as well as any of the people populating the set.  Very few directors have the dexterity to capture a city in all of its glory and sordidness, and it’s a credit to Affleck’s prowess that he can make it feel so authentic.  He also gets the best out of an extraordinary cast, and everything working together towards Affleck’s vision provides one dynamite moviewatching experience.

Toy Story 3

As the movie chugged towards an ending, I realized that I hadn’t just grown up with the toys.  I’ve grown up with Andy, too.  I was too young to remember seeing the first movie, but I was around Andy’s age at the release of the second installment.  And as Andy prepares to move away from home and go to college in “Toy Story 3,” I am only one year behind, getting ready to make the decisions that will push me farther away from home and the innocence of my childhood.  The movie is especially resonant for the generation of children that grew up with the “Toy Story” movies, allowing us to reminisce about the times where we didn’t need laptops or iPods to entertain us.  Once, it only took a few toys and an unbounded imagination to make us happy, and “Toy Story 3″ gives us a window back into the simpler times of our youth.  It’s a feeling both joyous and sad, but overall, it’s beautiful.

The Bad

The Bounty Hunter

The movie is an action comedy – well, if you count Butler punching a few people as action and a few pity sneer as comedy.  We’ve never quite seen a plot like this, where exes fight with stakes as high as prison, but it never feels the slightest bit original.  In fact, it just feels like an old trip down Memory Lane, mimicking every sort of used gimmick with ex-lovers.  But boy, Memory Lane has never looked so run-down or shabby.  It’s time for some renovation.

The Crazies

Sound familiar?  It’s not just a remake of the 1973 George A. Romero original; it’s a rehash of every horror movie since.  Eventually, enough is enough, and cheap jumps and thrills only spell out boredom.  The movie gets harder and harder to enjoy as it drags on … and on … and on.  We know exactly what’s going to happen just from hearing the premise.  Maybe the perceived lack of originality speaks to how influential the first movie was.  But I missed the memo that the original was some kind of cultural watershed, so I’m just going to interpret this rendition of “The Crazies” as the latest dull entry into the woefully overflowing “been there, done that” category.

Dinner for Schmucks

At “Dinner for Schmucks,” the real schmuck is you, the unsuspecting moviegoer who is lured in by the wattage of comedic stars Steve Carell and Paul Rudd.  With your money, you’ve financed a dinner for sadists, the executives who will make a profit off of your pain.  Perhaps a more fitting title is “Movie for Morons” because that’s exactly what you’ll be if you see this movie.

Edge of Darkness

“Edge of Darkness” is more of an epitaph than a movie. Gather here to mourn these fallen talents, it seems to cry. Perhaps Monahan needs Scorsese’s vision to succeed; perhaps Campbell needs the stakes of a hero like James Bond to make a movie work; perhaps Mel Gibson just needs some help.

MacGruber

There are movies that beg you not to be taken seriously, and then there are those that beg you not to take the craft of cinema seriously.  ”MacGruber” is the latter of the two, trying to fly on the flimsy premise that a sketch that can barely sustain two minutes on TV could make an entertaining movie that’s 45 times bigger.  Perhaps Lorne Michaels will come up with a more clever way to make money off this movie in the future: take “MacGruber” off the case and slap on the title “The Worst of Will Forte.”





REVIEW: The Town

3 11 2010

Crime dramas are nothing new in Hollywood.  We see them year after year, mostly from some unproven director trying to be Martin Scorsese.  In “The Town,” Ben Affleck manages to distinguish himself from this crowd.  While he’s still no Scorsese, his second directorial feature is entertaining and effective because his message is clear from the beginning, and he executes it with precision and bravura.

With an impressive ensemble armed with Bostonian accents, the saga of family and criminality adapted from Chuck Hogan’s “Prince of Thieves” lights up the screen.  The movie opens with a bank robbery so marvelously orchestrated it could be symphonic that sets up the movie’s two storylines: the hunters and the hunted.

Don Draper – pardon me, Jon Hamm – leads the FBI’s investigation into the robbery.  Looking to make an example out of the expert criminals, they specifically focus on Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall), the manager taken hostage and subsequently released by the group on their exit.

Evading capture, Doug MacRay (Affleck) is the leader of a band of Charlestown robbers-for-hire forever at the mercy of Fergie the florist (Pete Postlethwaite), the neighborhood’s kingpin of crime.  He and his brother Jem (Jeremy Renner) have known nothing other than this life, unable to escape the legacy of their now-imprisoned father (Chris Cooper).  Doug is looking for the much sought-after “last job,” the one heist that can successfully put at end to his criminal career.

Read the rest of this entry »





“The Town” Poll Results

15 09 2010

Maybe you all are on to something and my skepticism was misplaced.

“The Town” will almost assuredly be certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes as it currently sits at an 84% with this general consensus: “Tense, smartly written, and wonderfully cast, The Town proves that Ben Affleck has rediscovered his muse — and that he’s a director to be reckoned with.”

Sounds like something I’d want to see.  But the question I asked was if we were looking at a contender – or just another early fall release that could never gain any traction.

You all seemed to think the former, which may actually be the case.  8 out of 13 people polled said that “The Town” will be a contender.

5 of you sided with the skepticism I showed in my Oscar Moment on the movie about a month ago.  Hopefully my readers are smarter than I am, but I’ll hopefully find out this weekend at the movie theater.

…well, actually, I’ll find out if it’s a good movie this weekend.  Awards are political and have little to do with the art.





Shameless Advertisement #18 – September 2010

1 09 2010

Well, folks, summer is officially come and gone.  It’s fall, for better or for worse.  At first, it will bring us frustration with Hollywood’s garbage, but later, we will get some good Oscar material.  Who knows, maybe we will even get some this month!

This might not be a terrible September.  The poll indicated that there are a variety of movies of interest scattered throughout the month.  This weekend’s “The American” and “Machete” each received a vote, as did the September 24th opener “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.”  I’m not sure if the two votes for “Legend of the Guardians” were in jest as I ripped the movie apart, but nonetheless, I still have to mention its popularity.  It tied for first place with “The Town,” which I will declare the winner because that’s the kind of authority that I have as the author.  Here’s what I wrote in the September preview post:

I have absolutely no idea what to make of the trailer for “The Town.”  But with a cast including the likes of Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, and Ben Affleck for the former, which opens in wide release this weekend, I’m definitely in.

I was intentionally vague because I featured the movie in an Oscar Moment only three days later.  Here’s what I had to say there:

…the trailer is a muddled mess and just watching it did not sell me on this being one of the ten best movies of the year.  We are resting on the laurels of the people involved to call it an awards prospect.  Would I be writing this if the movie were directed by Antoine Fuqua and starred Matthew Morrison from “Glee?”

Here are my reservations about calling this a contender for the big prize.  We’ve seen studios roll out Oscar hopefuls in September, seeing if they gain enough footing in the awards race.  They reserve the big guns for November and December, and any movie that disappoints in those release slots dooms the studio.  So these mixed-bag candidates often find a home in early fall.  Usually, the movies are either action or drama with the starpower on (and perhaps off) the screen to generate buzz provided that the movie is any good.

I’m definitely excited for this just as an attraction for a pretty slow month.  Here’s the trailer another time because that’s the territory that comes along with the shameless advertisement.

And onward to what you can expect from “Marshall and the Movies” in September!

Fincherfest! What better way to celebrate the week leading up to the hotly anticipated release of “The Social Network” than by revisiting director David Fincher’s previous films?  I’ll cover each and every one of the versatile filmmaker’s movies the last week of September.

Oscar Moment Week! After the dust settles from the Toronto and Venice Film Festivals, I am dedicating the entire week of September 20-24 (at the very least) to covering the hottest products emerging from the festivals.  I’ll for sure cover the big names premiering at the festivals like “Black Swan” and “127 Hours,” but hopefully there will be some discoveries worth writing about as well.

Classics Corner!  Seriously! Things got pretty hectic at the end of the month, so I didn’t get to write my monthly column in the timely fashion that I had laid out.  But I promise it will be back once, if not twice, in September.  Boo yeah!

Podcast!  Maybe? I make no promises here as I don’t have any sort of definite recording schedule set up for the podcast.  But if not this month, then at least by October.  If they do happen, look for it at the end of the month.

Save Yourself! I’m back with a Best Picture nominee you absolutely need to avoid – and it’s going to stir up some intense conversation.  Prepare yourself because that post is headed your way in the next few days.

And all this is just on top of the weekly “F.I.L.M. of the Week” column, reviews and Oscar Moments that pop every so often, and, of course, the random factoids.  All features are subject to change, and I may wind up adding some features later too.  But I’m sure going to try hard to stay on my schedule here.

Have a great September at the movies!  (P.S. – It’s weird to think that the second shameless advertisement ever was September 2009.  A year … woah.)





Oscar Moment: “The Town”

18 08 2010

Since posting my September preview, comments have poured in speculating about Ben Affleck’s latest directorial venture, “The Town.”  Most people have compared it to his first film, “Gone Baby Gone.”  But is that a good thing?

“Gone Baby Gone” has a 94% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but the only traction it gained during awards season was for Amy Ryan’s powerful supporting performance.  There are a few assorted nods to Ben Affleck’s skill on his first film, but nothing distinguishing him in a category with every other movie.  It’s worth noting that while Ryan was a critics’ association favorite, she didn’t win the Globe, SAG, or Oscar.

So are we just looking at one impressive performance from “The Town” to keep it in contention?  It has a nice cast including Golden Globe winner Jon Hamm, Golden Globe nominee Rebecca Hall, Oscar nominees Jeremy Renner and Pete Postlethwhaite, Oscar winner Chris Cooper, and Affleck himself (oh, and Blake Lively for looks).

I’d say if there were a potentially nomination-worthy performance from the bunch, it would probably be from either Hamm for crossing over from the small screen well or Renner for another good work.  If the Academy really loves him and wants to make him a marquee name, another nomination would surely help.  Nominations in consecutive years aren’t uncommon and really telling of Academy tastes.  Over the past decade, the only people to have pulled it off are Penelope Cruz, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Judi Dench, Renee Zellweger, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Johnny Depp.  Only the latter doesn’t have a nice golden statue resting on their mantle.

But I think the biggest question about “The Town” is the one no one can answer as of yet because no one has seen it.  Is it a bona fide Best Picture contender?

Really, the trailer is a muddled mess and just watching it did not sell me on this being one of the ten best movies of the year.  We are resting on the laurels of the people involved to call it an awards prospect.  Would I be writing this if the movie were directed by Antoine Fuqua and starred Matthew Morrison from “Glee?”

Here are my reservations about calling this a contender for the big prize.  We’ve seen studios roll out Oscar hopefuls in September, seeing if they gain enough footing in the awards race.  They reserve the big guns for November and December, and any movie that disappoints in those release slots dooms the studio.  So these mixed-bag candidates often find a home in early fall.  Usually, the movies are either action or drama with the starpower on (and perhaps off) the screen to generate buzz provided that the movie is any good.

These movies generally don’t fare well.  Here are those movies, listed for your convenience by year:

2009

  • Steven Soderbergh’s “The Informant” with Matt Damon received fairly warm reviews.  It only musters two Golden Globe nominations. (released by Warner Bros.)

2008

  • Ridley Scott’s “Body of Lies” starring Oscar winner Russell Crowe and nominee Leonardo DiCaprio receives middling reviews, clearly disappointing the high expectations associated with such names. (released by Warner Bros.)
  • “Flash of Genius” starring Greg Kinnear makes virtually no money, receives average reviews, and can’t even get a campaign push. (released by Universal)
  • Spike Lee’s “Miracle at St. Anna” receives terrible reviews and no awards come its way.  Maybe it was the 160 minute runtime… (released by Touchstone)

2007

  • “American Gangster,” released at the very beginning of November, has huge expectations with Ridley Scott as director and Oscar winners Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe pitted against each other.  Box office was great, reviews were pretty good, but the buzz just didn’t sustain.  Despite receiving nominations for Best Picture and Best Actor and the Golden Globes, the only attention it received after that was for Ruby Dee, who won the SAG and was nominated for an Oscar. (released by Universal)
  • “Rendition,” an ensemble drama about the Middle East starring Oscar winners Meryl Streep, Alan Arkin, and Reese Witherspoon as well as nominee Jake Gylenhaal, can’t even clear $10 million at the box office.  And with mixed reviews, that kind of cash doesn’t fly. (released by New Line)
  • “We Own the Night” with Mark Wahlberg and Oscar nominee Joaquin Phoenix doesn’t ignite the box office or excite the critics.  It did not have an awards season. (released by Sony)
  • “The Kingdom,” a thriller with Jamie Foxx and Jennifer Garner set in Saudi Arabia, didn’t perform well with either critics or audiences.  No awards followed.  (released by Universal)
  • “3:10 to Yuma,” a remake of a popular 1950s Western with Oscar winner Russell Crowe and Christian Bale, does very well with critics and average with audiences.  It received a surprise Best Ensemble nod from the SAG and was discussed as a potential surprise Best Picture nominee.  Ultimately, it only wound up with two technical nominations. (released by Lionsgate)

In tone, “The Town” appears to resemble “Body of Lies,” “The Kingdom,” and “American Gangster” more than any others listed above.  Only the latter of those had any success in awards season.  Affleck’s latest and “The American,” George Clooney’s latest that I’ll discuss in next week’s column, are the two September wild cards.

“The Departed,” a cop drama like “The Town,” won Best Picture in 2006, and Warner Bros. wants to remind us of that.  With a name like Martin Scorsese behind the movie, though, all buzz is instantly legitimate.  There is no speculation like there is for a Ben Affleck movie.

So, folks, are we looking at a fall flop?  Or a contender?

BEST BETS FOR NOMINATIONS: Best Supporting Actor (Jeremy Renner)

OTHER POSSIBLE NOMINATIONS: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Jon Hamm), Best Adapted Screenplay