Monday, December 3, 2012

New York Film Critics Awards


Best Film: Zero Dark Thirty
Best Director: Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty
Best Actress: Rachel Weisz, Deep Blue Sea
Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Best Supporting Actress: Sally Field, Lincoln
Best Supporting Actor: Matthew McConaughey, Bernie and Magic Mike
Best Screenplay: Tony Kushner, Lincoln
Best Cinematography: Greig Fraser, Zero Dark Thirty
Best Foreign Language Film: Michael Haneke, Amour
Best First Film: David France, How To Survive a Plague
Best Nonfiction Film: Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, David McMahon, The Central Park Five
Best Animated Film: Frankenweenie

A little Surprised surprised by Zero Dark Thirty swooping in and snatching up Best Picture and Director. I still don't think it's the kind of movie that a lot of people from the academy are going to get behind but it does shake up the Oscar race (which I only considered a dark horse to begin with).

Rachel Weisz is surprising though I suppose shouldn't be if I hadn't forgotten about Deep Blue Sea such a long time ago.

Day-Lewis isn't surprising of course, especially with the love Lincoln was getting.

Field isn't that surprising, I'm still under the strong impression that Hathaway is going to be leading the pack for best supporting and already knew Fields was one of the stronger competitors. I suppose this gives her some more strength though.

McConaughey isn't that surprising and it's good to see him get some recognition (he's great in both the movies mentioned).

Also, just pretty happy to see Frankenweenie win something to start award season off. I was pretty sure Wreck-It Ralph and ParaNorman were going to be fighting it out and though I like both of those I agree with their pick that Frankenweenie is the best animated film from the year.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Early Acting Oscar Predictions

With the last two months of the year the last few Oscar contenders are ready to hit theaters so what better time to start predicting the awards?

Best Actor: A few weeks ago I would have said John Hawkes (The Sessions), without a doubt, but Lincoln has gathered a lot of acclaim and Daniel Day-Lewis is always a powerhouse. Due to the lackluster reception of War Horse I found Lincoln's strong success somewhat unexpected. Another unexpected contender is Denzel Washington (Flight) reminding us that he does real movies (Take that cheap shot, Safe House). Phoenix is really strong in The Master but I think all the acting chances of The Master are dwindling due to the films quick cool off and the material's relation to Scientology. I can see Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables) and Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook) fighting it out for the last spot and probably give the advantage to Hugh Jackman. All that said, with Day-Lewis probably now the favorite I'm still throwing my support for a John Hawkes upset. Oscars occasionally have a single shakeup and perhaps Hawkes will be lucky enough to catch that break.

Best Actress: Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook). So far I think there are few other contenders. Jessica Chastain could mix things up depending on how well Zero Dark Thirty is received but at the moment it's Lawrence's statue.

Best Supporting Actor: Kind of a hard one on which to get a good handle. Right now I'm saying Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln) is the front runner. The great reception for Lincoln and praise for his performance in particular throw him in the front amid nominee contenders like Hoffman (With The Master losing steam), Alan Arkin (Argo), Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook), Russell Crowe (Les Miserables), and maybe even Matthew McConaughey (Magic Mike). Currently Leonardo DiCaprio could swoop in however, depending on the reception of his turn in Django Unchained, so I'm still on the fence between Jones and DiCaprio.

Best Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables). Out of all the acting awards she's probably the easiest lock for a win. Sally Field (Lincoln), Amy Adams (The Master), Helen Hunt (The Sessions), and Samantha Barks (Les Miserables) are likely for the other nominees but right now it's Hathaway by a large margin.

As for other categories, maybe an update will be in order in a few weeks. I thought Argo had a good lead but with the likes of Silver Linings Playbook, Lincoln, and Les Miserables things are ready to heat up. And it wouldn't be the first time a film with a good head start wasn't able to make it to the podium, 2009's Up in the Air and 2010's The Social Network can attest to that. But those four seem like very strong contenders and Zero Dark Thirty may come in as a dark horse, though being that it could be a 2 hour and 40 minute political procedural thriller may obstruct it from catching on for awards.  The directors I think will likely be the people behind those major four nominations with 3 or 4 others fighting for the fifth spot. As for the likely winner, like Best Picture, we may have to wait to get a better idea.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Tying Up Loose Ends.

Since I never finished this list and since I've barely posted anything in ages I'll try and wrap this up quicker than usual with a few posts listing a handful of movies rather than one time, but first a short recap:

92. American Splendor (Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, 2003)
93. Morvern Callar (Lynne Ramsay, 2002)
94. Human Nature (Michel Gondry, 2001)
95. Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh, 2008)
96. Dogtooth (Giorgos Lanthimos, 2009)
97. Control (Anton Corbijn, 2007)
98. Mother (Joon-ho Bong, 2009)
99. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (Werner Herzog, 2009) 
100. Oldboy (Chan-wook Park, 2003) 

Lets get right into the next few movies.

91. A Mighty Wind (Christopher Guest, 2003)

Another hilarious ensembled mockumentary from Christopher Guest. While I may find Best in Show to be his funniest movie, A Mighty Wind I find to be his most heartfelt. Much like the way Waiting for Guffman first made me feel such empathy for the band of theater performances who one could say aren't the most talented actors, A Mighty Wind has the same effect on me with its group of folk singers trying to recreate the brief success they had in early years. I don't think Eugene Levy's ever been better and the rest of the cast is a joy to watch, as usual. One of the best comedies of the decade and surprisingly the music isn't too bad either.

90. The Informant! (Steven Soderbergh, 2009)

Not only surprisingly funny, it's one of those true story based films that sounds so absurd that it's remarkable that it's based on true events and makes you think "No one could make this up!" Well apparently that's true. Matt Damon stars as a company man who turns whistle blower about a price fixing scandal within his own company. Damon's Mark Whitacre is in over his head from the very start and things unravel from there, in hilarious and surprisingly intriguing fashion. It begins as one of the funniest movies of the year and then show its colors as something more half way through and Damon gives a career best performance. If you can't find the time to get around to all of Sodebergh's films (he does make 2 a year it seems) make The Informant! a priority, it's one of his better outings.

89. Good Night and Good Luck (George Clooney, 2005) 

George Clooney's Good Night, and Good Luck chronicles the on-air battle between seasoned television host and journalist Edward R. Murrow and senator Joseph McCarthy over McCarthy's anti-communist hearings and investigations in the 1950s. It's primary intent is to address the use of our news media and primarily television journalism as an outlet for delivering information rather than just entertainment, to use television to address important issues rather than just run cigarette ads and comedic talk shows. Clooney bookends his film with a speech from Murrow on the state of television journalism and its uses and above all its importance.

What interests me even more about the film is what the state of televised journalism has become today as well as the conflict between opinioned journalism and unbiased reporting. Though Murraw's actions blur the line between the two we can see the nobility in his actions, or at least admirable from my perspective. He and his crew saw what they viewed as injustice and took action. However, today not only has the line between opinion journalism and unbiased reporting become almost nonexistent, conflicting news outlets push political agendas almost shamelessly or attempt to create divide among political views for sake of ratings and it seems that Murrow's push for integrity in journalism and its use to inform has been misshapen and discarded. They took what was useful for personal gain and abandoned what was important in principle.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Late Rather than Never.

Since the school semester is finally coming to an end and it's been far too long since any activity I thought I'd post a months late top ten from last year. I wanted to try and post this around Oscars but I'm lucky I even saw half of what I intended to by the time Oscars rolled around. Anyway, let's get right into it.

10. A Dangerous Method (David Cronenberg)

For the most part ignored because it was deemed "uncinematic" this analytical film tackles a lot more than I would have thought to even attempt. Not only does it break the surface between Jung and Freud's approaches and theories it really develops these historic minds as more than just iconic figures in the world of psychoanalytic theory but as actual people, and their own problems are just as human as the patients they analyze. Fassbender and Mortensen both deliver great performances. Also, the whole "uncinematic" view is a bunch of hogwash. Though the material itself is rather stagey Cronenberg uses simple film techniques to say a lot. There's an early scene where Jung asks Sabrina Spielrein (Keira Knightly) a series of questions and just by simply breaking them into their own frames and by use of screen direction isolates the two figures and says quite a bit in a scene that is basically two people in a room talking.

9. Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol (Brad Bird)

Now to move on to something completely different, Brad Bird's wildly inventive Mission Impossible movie. Though its Burj Khalifa tower scaling is the scene that garnered much of the buzz around the movie the other sequences be it a prison escape in the beginning, a rotating car park garage fight sequence, or magic show at the Kremlin are all fresh and exciting in their own right. It's like Bird set out to make scenes that really would be impossible to accomplish and the MI 4 crew seems to breeze through them with ease. Plus there's a lot of humor just through self-aware jabs at the MI tropes like self-destructing messages and face masks that keeps the movie constantly carefree and fun.

8. Terri (Azazel Jacobs)

It's been quite some time since I've seen as honest an interpretation of high school life. How rough and unforgiving it can be for those unfortunate outcasts in teenage social circles. Terri, the character himself though, is impossible to dislike and Jacob Wysocki captures that awkward uneasiness perfectly. John C. Reilly perhaps steals the show, or at the very least every scene in which he appears. It's a performance that trumps every supporting nominee from last year and adds to an already great year for Reilly (including Carnage and We Need to Talk About Kevin).

7. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (Tomas Alfredson)

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy follows the deconstructionist tradition of the spy genre along the lines of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. Unraveling the mystery of a mole which is less important than breaking down the cold landscape in which these people operate and in which they ultimately must live. Oldman's performance is very different than what's usually expected from him, with aggressive and larger than life characters. Here he does a lot by seemingly doing very little, by contemplative looks and small gestures. And visually it's a hypnotic and captivating film.

6. Contagion (Steven Soderbergh)

Soderbergh's clinical approach to his film about world wide epidemic bio-catastrophe both eliminates much melodramatic sensationalism that generally bogs down these types of disaster films and makes the urgency and danger in the situation all the more real and immediate. Plus this opens the movie up to its moments of genuine humanity to have far more impact, like its low key final scene, which just goes right for the heart.

5. We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsay)

Perhaps the most devastating film from last year is not Soderbergh's disease disaster film but rather Lynne Ramsay's drama about a housewife and the shear overwhelming difficulty of motherhood. Tilda Swinton's starring performance may just be the most overlooked bit of acting from last years Oscars and probably the finest performance from the entire year.

4. The Muppets (James Bobin)

The latest Muppets film may just be the best in the series. It captures what we love about the felt covered puppets who have over the years become real life personalities. It's nothing short of sheer exuberant cinematic joy and the happiest escape into the theater from last year. Its use of self-awared humor is in top form and the (Oscar winning) music is a delight.

3. The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick)

Malick examines life and relations in a way that only he can. Like many of his films it's an acquired taste but with visuals this beautiful and questions this big it's a film that really deserves any recognition and praise that it's received. It truly is one of a kind.

2. The Descendants (Alexander Payne)

Though it's in great company I found this to be Payne's best film yet, or at least most effective. I can think of few directors that can take moments, and such dramatic moments, and bring them to the point of no return without breaking, and interject them with such genuine moments of comedy as release. Clooney gives another great performance (one I personally found was robbed of an Oscar from last year) where he's even able to break away from being the center of his scenes and is able to fall into the background while giving other actors moments to shine, in particular a great breakout performance from Shailene Woodley, best known for her TV series work.

1. Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen)

This may just be my favorite Allen film since the late 80s Crimes and Misdemeanors. Exceedingly charming, clever, and one of his most realized films from the last ten years. A really delightful movie that avoids what is generally thought of as Allen cynicism and captures a Paris that may not exist, or even have existed in the past, but merely exists in remembrance and not to live in that past but in the present.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Ordinary Life is Pretty Complex Stuff.

I know there are many of you out there who missed my pseudo egotistical movie countdown from the 2000s so I am going to try and get back into the habit of posting.

92. American Splendor (Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, 2003)

American Splendor
is based on the cult hit comic book series of the same name from Harvey Pekar. What Pekar has to say about his comic is that it's "an autobiography written as it's happening. The theme is about staying alive. Getting a job, finding a mate, having a place to live, finding a creative outlet. Life is a war of attrition. You have to stay active on all fronts. It's one thing after another. I've tried to control a chaotic universe. And it's a losing battle. But I can't let go. I've tried, but I can't." In a medium filled with spandex clad superheros Pekar's series put comic books to a different use, depicting the average struggles of an everyday life.

in 2003 documentarians Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini turned American Splendor into a hybrid comic adaptation of Pekar's book and a biographical film about Pekar himself. Starring as Pekar is Paul Giamatti in perhaps the first big role of his career, coming a year before the Oscar nominated Sideways (2004). Giamatti embodies everything one could wish for in his portrayal of Pekar. His performance comes off so naturally that it thoroughly feels as though he's the real Harvey Pekar, which is quite the feat considering Pekar himself appears in the film periodically in a few candid cameos.

Giamatti and the material itself are just two thirds of the film's main strengths. The last is Berman and Pulcini's combination of conventional narrative techniques and documentary style that not only makes American Splendor a unique film on its own but also fits the style of Pekar's comic splendidly. With the booming financial success of big superhero comic book film adaptations it's great to see their more grounded brethren reach the silver screen as well and some days just getting through a crummy job or finding someone to love could be just as daunting as saving the planet from super powered megalomaniacs.

Films from 2003 on List:

American Splendor (Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini)
Oldboy (Chan-wook Park)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

But With You By My Side I Can Do Anything.

93. Morvern Callar (2002)

Morvern Callar is Lynne Ramsay's second feature after the breakout Ratcatcher (1999). Samantha Morton stars as the movie's title character, Morvern Callar. The movie opens on Christmas day in her flat with her boyfriend. She finds him dead after committing suicide, having cut his own wrists. He has left her a music compilation and on his computer's flickering screen a completed novel. Callar, desperately desiring to break free of her dull dead-end life, working at a small supermarket in the Scottish town of Oban, publishes the novel as her own. This sparks an interesting and uncommon journey both geographical and emotional.

Morvern Callar is a movie driven by visual, auditory, and emotional aesthetic rather than plot or dialogue. As the film plays out Callar is swept up into a rapidly progressive hectic life with changing locales and a few of the usual attendees, including sex and drugs. With its presentation of Callar's passions, grief, mourning, and guilt clashing with her newly blossoming sense of individuality and personal understanding and experiencing parts of life and the world she may not have been wholly familiar, Morvern Callar is a sensual film of wild discovery.

Samantha Morton gives the best performance of her career as the enigmatic title character. How she deals with her boyfriend's suicide, is it self destructive grieving? Is it individualistic liberation? Just what boils beneath the surface of this character like the film is enticing, aided by the beautiful way it's filmed. The movie's soundtrack is another significant element. Played off the mix tape from her boyfriend the tape both works as a connection from the deceased character, still speaking to Callar, and a way of chronically her emotional journey, while pulling the viewer into her mind between those earphones.

Films from 2002 on List:

Morvern Callar (Lynne Ramsay)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Remember, When in Doubt Never Do What You Really Want to Do.

94. Human Nature (Michel Gondry, 2001)

Human Nature is the first collaboration between screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and director Michel Gondry. The film's story involves a collection of oddball characters. Patricia Arquette is a young woman with a rare hormonal condition in which her hair grows rapidly all over her body, Tim Robbins is a scientist, Dr. Nathan Bronfman, teaching and observing manners in other animals, and Rhys Ifans is a man raised in the wilderness later affectionately named Puff, lacking any level of civilized sophistication. Finding Puff in the wild Nathan takes it upon himself to civilize the wild man, studying him in the process.

Of all Kaufman's films Human Nature appears to be his most overlooked and unappreciated. Perhaps the silliness of the movie either turns people away or masks the real wit in the picture, of which there is indeed plenty. Throughout the movie Puff progresses from a sex driven animal to a more sophisticated man, though it becomes clear that mankind's apparent civilized nature is only there to obscure and cover the reality of his baser instincts. It's as though in the process to obtain what we really want we have to appear as if we don't desire it at all.

Human Nature is not just silly, but the absurdity, like Kaufman's first feature screenplay Being John Malkovich (1999), is so strong it's nearly palpable. From the film's title its theme should be plain as day, poking fun at the true human nature of mankind. One of my favorite absurd running bits of comedy in the movie is the way it shows Puff's unrealistic rapid progression through learning art, literature, and so forth becoming a man of "culture". The movie continuously references the unnatural absurdity of his educational growth as it uses it to comment on man's lack of control on their own instinctive desires, to undermine the entire facade. Though Human Nature's satirization on human manners may be blunt and to the point it is nevertheless wholly amusing.

Films from 2001 on List:

Human Nature (Michel Gondry)