Wednesday, December 31, 2008

It Must Be January

There's a way to tell that the first month of the year has arrived, and it's not the shiny new calendar on the fridge. No, the biggest clue to the cinematic new year is anything but gleaming -- it's an influx of trash.

January is a very bittersweet month. The Oscars are coming, the "Best of's" are everywhere, but the bottom-of-the-barrel, obligatory garbage of the new film year is also coming in -- a painful reminder that the period of prestige pics is winding to its end.

Here's a sampling of the new critics screenings I've been offered, which firmly reinstates my point (In all honesty, I feel giddy and priveleged whenever I receive notifications of any screenings but, this lineup, truth be told, is pretty atrocious):

- "Hotel for Dogs" (well, it does have Lisa Kudrow...)
- "Bride Wars" (possibly fun, probably crap. Will this hurt Annie's Oscar chances, a la Eddie Murphy/"Norbit?")
- "New in Town" (Because "Cruel and Unusual Punishment" was taken)
- "Push" (too easy)
- "Friday the 13th" (just in case you needed another reminder of Hollywood's lack of originality)
- "Inkheart" (another studio fantasy concotion, another family-themed Brendan Fraser vehicle, another odd placement of Helen Mirren -- another year at the movies)
- "The Unborn" (too easy)
- "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" (Why? is all I've got)
- "Chandni Chowk to China" (The sole intriguing one in the bunch. But that title!)

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

For Your Consideration: VERA FARMIGA

Just in time for the Oscar ballots (they were mailed to Academy members the day after Christmas), a look at one of Hollywood's more underappreciated performers and her work in 2008 that will go unrewarded but shouldn't go unnoticed.

Vera Farmiga is the new Tilda Swinton – that unconventionally beautiful, undeniably intelligent, scene-stealing actress with a roll-off-the-tongue name whom film buffs have adored for years but who's just out of reach of the mainstream's embrace. Swinton's Oscar win last year officially bought her a spot on the A-list (just ask her two-time 2008 co-star, Brad Pitt). Farmiga is still climbing the alphabet but, with her dependably spot-on performances and steadily burgeoning fan base, one can only assume that the Swinton-sized summit isn't far off.


Farmiga gave two notable performances in 2008. One was in Rod Lurie's journalistic thriller, “Nothing but the Truth,” which I've admittedly not yet seen amidst the current, year-end cinematic surge. Yet, I've little doubt about her much buzzed-about brilliance in the film – she plays a CIA agent who's outed by Kate Beckinsale's galvanized D.C. reporter – because she's so often so good. Take her other '08 supporting turn, as the morally conflicted mother hen of a small Nazi nest in Mark Herman's “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.”

“Pajamas” (or “Pyjamas,” for the purists), a manipulative adaptation of John Boyne's disturbing bestseller, dug its own grave of modest critical and commercial success with a particularly misleading marketing campaign (a family flick? I don't think so). Had the movie – which isn't so much about two unlikely friends but about family dynamics and human frailty – been better received, it's safe to say that Farmiga would be duking it out with Taraji P. Henson and company for a seat alongside Penelope Cruz on Oscar's Supporting Actress short list. Haunting, relatable, and seemingly effortless, her work transcends the film's mixed messages and weak packaging.

As the wife of a high-ranking Naxi officer (David Thewlis) and the mother – which is the character's only credited identification – of an adventurous nine-year-old named Bruno (ocean-eyed Asa Butterfield) who bonds with the titular Holocaust hostage (snaggle-toothed Laszlo Aron), she's the fulcrum of a see-saw between evil and innocence. Like Carmela Soprano transplanted into WWII Germany, she enjoys pretty benefits funded by ugly actions, and expresses true horror and disgust when the wool is completely removed from her eyes and the means to her privileged end hit home. Much has been made of “Pajamas” breaking new ground by offering a new view of Nazi Germany – one through the eyes of the enemy's youth. But the more interesting and novel perspective is that of Farmiga's character, which cracks open the oft-uncharted concept that many Nazi wives were, in their own tragic and somewhat self-enflicted way, yet another group that became a casualty of the war.

The way Farmiga approaches the role is what makes it most remarkable. She assumes the position of both the audience member and the compassionate bystander of the times – appalled by what she sees but helpless against it. In many scenes, she silently conveys every nuance of her character's tornado of inner turmoil using only truth-telling glances. When her teenage daughter who's consumed by Fatherland groupthink begins papering her bedroom with Nazi propaganda, what can she do? Tell her to remove it? Praise her obedience? When the old Jewish servant who brings in the groceries tends to her son's injury in her absence, what can she do? Thank him? Send him away for touching her child? Have him killed? Her emotional struggle is written all over her face and the anticipation of her reaction(s) – or lack thereof – is riveting. (What's inside eventually works its way out, and she spends a chunk of the film in a state of deep, unkempt, baggy-eyed depression.)

It's hardly a spoiler to say that, in the end, Farmiga's character pays the ultimate price for sitting by silently while atrocities unfold. Her parting shot is an anything-but-silent, desperate wail that's obligatory but, for authenticity purposes, trumps each of Angelina Jolie's flat-feeling fits in “Changeling.” (For that matter, Farmiga's harrowing lead work in 2005's “Down to the Bone” trumps everything in Jolie's filmography.) Righteous as “Pajamas”'s semi-shocking, fully unsettling ending may be, it employs the same sympathy-for-the-devil – or, at least, the devil's company – angle that's used in another drama from Winter '08's Nazi grab bag. “The Reader,” a movie that's as guilty of Hallmark-Hall-of-Fame-sentimentality as this one is of improper demographics, stars Kate Winslet as a former death camp guard who has an “educational” affair with a young boy before being handed a life sentence for war crimes. The boy grows up to become Ralph Fiennes who, in an attempt to yank out our heartstrings, keeps sending books-on-tape to his aged, imprisoned lover and opens a literacy fund in her name. Winslet's performance – the only thing in “The Reader” worth watching – is terribly fascinating but hardly sympathetic. The fate of her character is conventional and obvious and even an actor with her gifts can only do so much to make us care.


The point is, both Jolie and Winslet will almost certainly be invited to Oscar's big show, and Farmiga will not. Yet, of these three women, only Farmiga struck a strong emotional chord with this viewer – and has been for some time now. She may have caught the eye of Marty Scorsese – how delicious was she in “The Departed?” – but she still hasn't earned the Academy's attention. Maybe next year, Vera. In the meantime, perhaps you should phone Tilda Swinton's agent...

*This article was submitted to StinkyLulu's Supporting Actress Blog-A-Thon.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

2008 - The Year in Review

Brains Before Beauty

...So is the theme of my list of the Top Ten Films of 2008. Surely any movie that hopes to achieve greatness needs to possess both attributes, and every title I've chosen is indeed a pleasure to behold, but each is more notable for its thought-provoking impact than its jaw-dropping aesthetics. I've long considered myself a hopeless sucker for gorgeous, widescreen spectacles, but what moved me most this year did so not with sweeping, sun-drenched shots of the outback, but with unanticipated jolts to the psyche. Be them tales of unlikely heroes, heated debates, challenged friendships, or humanity at its best, my favorite films of 2008 cracked me up, choked me up, fired me up, cheered me up, and, above all, smartened me up.

*For more info on each of the films selected, click on the title.



THE BEST

10. HAPPY-GO-LUCKY


I would have given this aptly titled and altogether delightful movie a higher initial grade had I known how much my love for it would grow with time. Written and directed with free-flowing zest by Mike Leigh, it's light but never superficial, airy but never air-headed. As Poppy, the film's blithely irrepressible heroine, Sally Hawkins gives an unforgettable breakthrough performance that critics and audiences alike have embraced as a life model.


9. FROST/NIXON


Deftly directed by Ron Howard and adapted by Peter Morgan from his Tony Award-winning play, “Frost/Nixon,” an acute dramatization of the 1977 television interviews between David Frost and Richard Nixon, is a seat-pinning locomotive of a movie, breathlessly paced and hypnotic to watch. Frank Langella's human-yet-despicable turn as the disgraced ex-president is towering and spellbinding.


8. REPRISE


This Norwegian import, a disarming meditation on the romanticism of youth and its bittersweet departure, focuses on two young authors and best friends whose lives head in vastly different directions once their work is published. Featuring a freshly observant script and imbued with the immortal sensibilities of the French New Wave, the film, directed and co-written by Joachim Trier, is an invigorating valentine to writers everywhere and a cumulative work of art.


7. IN BRUGES


The debut feature from UK filmmaker Martin McDonagh, “In Bruges” (pronounced broozh) is a brazenly irreverent and unexpectedly warm-hearted twist on the all-too-common buddy flick, set in about as appealing a location as one could ask for. I championed this savvy, underrated gem back in March when it saw wide release and it remains the year's most rewarding discovery.


6. MAN ON WIRE


Brimming with passion, James Marsh's thrilling documentary on Phillipe Petit, a French tightrope walker who danced on a cable between New York's Twin Towers in 1974, is a poetic treasure, thoroughly devoted to its subject and seamlessly weaved together from a grab bag of mixed media. It's the most celebratory World Trade Center-themed film to be released post-9/11, making no mention of the tragic attacks and instead observing the powers of artistry and accomplishment.


5. WALL-E


The greatest triumph to date from the unparalleled wizards at Pixar is at once an intergalactic adventure, a frank commentary on our self-destructive society, a coming-of-age character study, an affectionate throwback to the comedies of the silent era, and one of the most instantly classic love stories of our time – all told with robots. And the film is so flawlessly drawn, with such astonishing photo-realism, that when the gelatinous, bone-mass deprived humans show up, you think, “what are these cartoons doing in my movie?”


4. RACHEL GETTING MARRIED


Jonathan Demme's poignant domestic drama about a dysfunctional family and its tempestuous black sheep emits such ample amounts of life, love and brutal honesty, it leaves the viewer yearning to hug someone just to share the emotional load. Elevated by Jenny Lumet's alternately heartwarming and heartbreaking script, career-defining performances by Anne Hathaway and Rosemarie DeWitt, and a liberating directorial style that invites us to join the party, this blunt examination of the human condition unfurls with a naturalness that feels organically cultivated by all involved.


3. THE DARK KNIGHT


Writer/director Christopher Nolan's all-consuming second stab at the Batman franchise exceeded the massive amount of hype surrounding it, thanks to a brilliantly detailed script, equally meticulous production design, and a shockingly strong cast highlighted by soon-to-be posthumous Oscar-winner Heath Ledger. Dark, sprawling, and psychologically complex, “The Dark Knight” isn't just one of the best movies of the year, it's the best superhero movie ever made.


2. DOUBT


A showcase of magnificent acting, John Patrick Shanley's big screen translation of his Pulitzer Prize-winning morality play boasts the year's most intensely talented ensemble, headlined by the incomparable Meryl Streep. It's also the bearer of the year's most densely layered screenplay, the ingenious ambiguities of which effectively polarize the audience and send the mind reeling. Unblemished, ungarnished, and uncompromising, this enigmatic stunner begs to be seen again...and again.


1. MILK


When it comes to complete realization of vision, hopeful and purposeful determination, socio-political relevance, and sheer emotional heft, nothing edges out “Milk,” American auteur Gus Van Sant's rousingly inspirational and deeply moving biopic of slain San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk. In the title role, Sean Penn gives the year's best male performance, digging deep and finding the gay rights activist's soul. A modern masterpiece, “Milk” is the only film of the year that brought me to tears and brought me to my feet in applause.


THE REST


RUNNERS-UP
The Wrestler, The Visitor, Slumdog Millionaire, 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, Wanted, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Burn After Reading and Pineapple Express, Planet B-Boy.

HONORABLE MENTION
Iron Man, The Fall, Mongol, Kung Fu Panda, Be Kind Rewind, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, Smart People, I.O.U.S.A., Sex and the City and The Women, A Girl Cut in Two, The Last Mistress.


THE WORST


STOP-LOSS
If this shameless patchwork of southern fried, shell-shocked soldier cliches is the best that writer/director Kimberly Pierce could come up with to address the war in Iraq, I'd hate to see what she left on the cutting room floor. When a single pre-credit, on-screen statistic regarding the title's real-world casualties is more profound than the entire film that preceded it, why even bother?

DEATH RACE
Habitual video game adapter Paul W.S. Anderson's heavy-handed retooling of Roger Corman's “Death Race 2000” caters to those who like their action fast, noisy, and brainless – and that's about it. Frenetically photographed and edited to a headache-inducing extent and laced with harsh, hackneyed dialogue, the film isn't an entertainment, it's an assault.

THE LOVE GURU
Mike Myers' pitiful attempt at a career comeback – a Frankenstein's monster of Deepak Chopra spirituality and scraps from Bollywood's garbage dump – is an offensive, infantile mess in which the once-groovy funny man serves up one gross gag after another. The saddest thing to watch is the 45-year-old's pure, aloof joy in it all, proving he's his number one (and only) fan.

PATTI SMITH: DREAM OF LIFE
I suffered through this plodding, pretentious bore of a documentary about the aging rocker when it was screened as the closing night selection at the 2008 Philadelphia Film Festival. When it finally ended, Smith appeared for a Q&A and a live performance. She entertained. Her film did not.

HAROLD AND KUMAR: ESCAPE FROM GUANTANAMO BAY
Gone is the off-the-wall quirkiness of the first installment of this bumbling ethnic duo's misadventures and in its place is dreadfully unfunny humor that ranges from misogynistic to racist to homophobic to idiotic – sometimes all at once. By the time a six foot bag of pot is personified as a sexual being, the embarrassment of simply being in the audience has long set in.

SEMI-PRO
Will Ferrell's latest and most loathsome exercise in selling out lacks a single clever moment and seems to exist solely to perpetuate the former SNL star's insistence on regurgitating the same over-expressive schtick he's been pushing since he left late-night TV. I'd tell you how this nonsensical send-up of the now-defunct American Basketball Association ends, but I walked out halfway through.


Want More? Read LAST YEAR'S LIST.

***FIN***

Supporting Actress Blog-A-Thon 2008

On January 4th, pop culture mania and actress aficionado site, StinkyLulu, will be hosting its annual Supporting Actress Blog-A-Thon, a multi-blog celebration of all the ladies in 2008 whose not-quite-marquee performances made going to the movies bigger and brighter. Yours truly will be making an as-yet-undecided contribution, along with a handful of other actress-loving cinemaniacs throughout the blogosphere.

Until that time, here's a pee-inducing trailer made by Hizzoner Nathaniel from The Film Experience. Never before have Beyonce and a helmet-habited nun gotten jiggy with it to such an entertaining extent.


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Forget Herbal Essences...

...Rosemary Clooney wants to wash her hair (and face, and hands) with SNOW!

Friday, December 19, 2008

UFCA, LVFCS, FFCC, CFCA Announce Winners

Lists, lists, and more lists!!! So many critics groups, so little time!!! Scroll down to find more love for Batman, Wall-E, and - wow, finally! - David Frost and Richard Nixon.


UTAH FILM CRITICS ASSOCIATION
Best Picture: "The Dark Knight"
Best Achievement in Directing: Andrew Stanton, "WALL-E"
Best Lead Performance by an Actor: Mickey Rourke, "The Wrestler"
Best Lead Performance by an Actress: Melissa Leo, "Frozen River"
Best Supporting Performance by an Actor: Heath Ledger, "The Dark Knight"
Best Supporting Performance by an Actress: Rosemarie DeWitt, "Rachel Getting Married"
Best Screenplay: Jenny Lumet, "Rachel Getting Married"
Best Documentary Feature: "Man on Wire"
Best Non-English Language Feature: "Let the Right One In"
Best Animated Feature: "WALL-E"

LAS VEGAS FILM CRITICS SOCIETY
Best Picture: “Frost/Nixon”
Best Actor: Frank Langella, “Frost/Nixon”
Best Actress: Kate Winslet, “Revolutionary Road,” “The Reader”
Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger, “The Dark Knight”
Best Supporting Actress: Marisa Tomei, “The Wrestler”
Best Director: Ron Howard, “Frost/Nixon”
Best Screenplay (Original or Adapted): Peter Morgan, “Frost/Nixon”
Best Cinematography: Claudio Miranda, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
Best Film Editing: Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill, “Frost/Nixon”
Best Score: James Newton Howard, “Defiance”
Best Song: “Another Way to Die,” “Quantum of Solace”
Best Family Film: “The Spiderwick Chronicles”
Best Documentary: “Man on Wire”
Best Animated Film: “Wall-E”
Best Foreign Film: “Mongol” (Russia)
Best Costume Design: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
Best Art Direction: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
Best Visual Effects: “Iron Man”
Outstanding Youth in Film: David Kross, “The Reader”

FLORIDA FILM CRITICS CIRCLE
Best Picture: Slumdog Millionaire
Best Actor: Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler
Best Actress: Melissa Leo, Frozen River
Best Supp. Actor: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
Best Supp. Actress: Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler
Best Director: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
Best Screenplay: Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire
Best Cinematography: Wally Pfister, The Dark Knight
Best Foreign Language: Let The Right One In
Best Animated Feature: Wall*E
Best Documentary: Man On Wire
Breakout: Martin McDonagh, writer/director of “In Bruges”
Golden Orange: Dick Morris/Sarasota Film Society

CHICAGO FILM CRITICS ASSOCIATION
BEST PICTURE: WALL-E
BEST DIRECTOR: Danny Boyle - Slumdog Millionaire
BEST ACTOR: Mickey Rourke - The Wrestler
BEST ACTRESS: Anne Hathaway - Rachel Getting Married
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Heath Ledger - The Dark Knight
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Kate Winslet - The Reader
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: WALL-E (Andrew Stanton & Jim Reardon)
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Slumdog Millionaire (Simon Beaufoy)
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: Let the Right One In
BEST DOCUMENTARY: Man On Wire
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE: WALL-E
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: The Dark Knight (Wally Pfister)
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE: WALL-E (Thomas Newman)
MOST PROMISING PERFORMER: Dev Patel - Slumdog Millionaire
MOST PROMISING DIRECTOR: Tomas Alfredson - Let the Right One In

Thursday, December 18, 2008

SAG Nominations Announced

Seeing as this is the first year I've posted the Oscar precursors so religulously (that was intentional), my blog is going acronym crazy. We finally come to SAG, which is a bit more identifiable than, say, the DFWFCA.

The Screen Actors Guild Nominees:

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role
RICHARD JENKINS / Walter Vale - “THE VISITOR”
FRANK LANGELLA / Richard Nixon - “FROST/NIXON”
SEAN PENN / Harvey Milk - “MILK”
BRAD PITT / Benjamin Button - “THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON”
MICKEY ROURKE / Randy - “THE WRESTLER”

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role
ANNE HATHAWAY / Kym - “RACHEL GETTING MARRIED”
ANGELINA JOLIE / Christine Collins - “CHANGELING”
MELISSA LEO / Ray Eddy - “FROZEN RIVER”
MERYL STREEP / Sister Aloysius Beauvier - “DOUBT”
KATE WINSLET / April Wheeler - “REVOLUTIONARY ROAD”

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role
JOSH BROLIN / Dan White - “MILK”
ROBERT DOWNEY, JR. / Kirk Lazarus - “TROPIC THUNDER”
PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN / Father Brendan Flynn - “DOUBT”
HEATH LEDGER / Joker - “THE DARK KNIGHT”
DEV PATEL / Older Jamal - “SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE”

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role
AMY ADAMS / Sister James - “DOUBT”
PENÉLOPE CRUZ / Maria Elena - “VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA”
VIOLA DAVIS / Mrs. Miller - “DOUBT” (Miramax Films)
TARAJI P. HENSON / Queenie - “THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON”
KATE WINSLET / Hanna Schmitz - “THE READER”

Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
DOUBT
FROST/NIXON
MILK
SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE
THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON

SAG is in talk of a strike, the primary reason for which - to my knowledge - is the meager amount of royalties actors collect when their work is streamed online. Well, they're not gonna get much sympathy from me now that they've leapt onto the bandwagon and nominated "Slumdog Millionaire" for Best Ensemble. This is ridiculous. I'm not a hater who bucks the status quo just because, and I'm actually considering adding Danny Boyle's Mumbai fantasy to my own top ten list (it is one of the year's finest movies), but one thing it's surely NOT notable for is its acting. "The Dark Knight," "Rachel Getting Married," hell, even "Burn After Reading" are all far more deserving of this spot.

Meanwhile, SAG also chose to perpetuate the Oscar chances of the year's showiest and noisiest performance: Angelina Jolie in "Changeling." If the love for Jolie is so unstoppable, give her a nod for the fierce physicality of her sultry turn in "Wanted," not this baity movie star mismatch.

Supporting Actress has a very conspicuous snub: Rosemaire DeWitt, who surely gave one of the year's finest performances as Rachel in "Rachel Getting Married." Swap her in for Taraji P. Henson, whose token mammy, Queenie, may be an audience favorite but may also be the most over-praised, over-the-top caricature since Renee Zellweger's Ruby from "Cold Mountain."

At this point, I think the Supporting Actor category could easily be repeated for Oscar. I'd say the same for Lead Actor, though I can't imagine Pitt beating out DiCaprio or Eastwood when it comes down to the big five. His work in "Button" is solid, for sure, but not particularly impressive, and any transformative kudos belong to the makeup and special effects departments. As Benjamin, Pitt is little more than a vessel with a pretty face -- a mystical, monotone figure whose impacts on those around him are far more interesting than anything going on within the man himself (you know, except for that reverse-aging thing).

CHEERS to the rest of this group, especially: Richard Jenkins, Melissa Leo, Robert Downey Jr., and the lovely & amazing Kate Winslet.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

DFWFCA, HFCS, AFCA, PFCS, TFCA Announce Winners

Scroll down for the lists, kids.


DALLAS FORTH WORTH FILM CRITICS ASSOCIATION
TOP TEN FILMS OF 2008:
1. SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE
2. MILK
3. THE DARK KNIGHT
4. THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
5. THE WRESTLER
6. THE VISITOR
7. FROST/NIXON
8. DOUBT
9. WALL-E
10. HAPPY-GO-LUCKY
***********************
Best Film: SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE
Best Director: Danny Boyle, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE
Best Actor: Sean Penn, MILK
Best Actress: Anne Hathaway, RACHEL GETTING MARRIED
Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger, THE DARK KNIGHT
Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis, DOUBT
Best Foreign Language Film: TELL NO ONE
Best Documentary: MAN ON WIRE
Best Animated Film: WALL-E
Best Screenplay: Dustin Lance Black, MILK
Best Cinematography: Wally Pfister,THE DARK KNIGHT
WENDY AND LUCY won the Russell Smith Award, named for the late Dallas Morning News film critic. The honor is given annually to the best low-budget or cutting-edge independent film.

HOUSTON FILM CRITICS SOCIETY
BEST PICTURE: THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
BEST DIRECTOR: DANNY BOYLE, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE
BEST ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE: SEAN PENN, MILK
BEST ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE: ANNE HATHAWAY, RACHEL GETTING MARRIED
BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE: HEATH LEDGER, THE DARK KNIGHT
BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE: VIOLA DAVIS, DOUBT
BEST ENSEMBLE CAST: DOUBT
BEST SCREENPLAY: SIMON BEAUFOY, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE
BEST ANIMATED FILM: WALL-E
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: CLAUDIO MIRANDA, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: MAN ON WIRE
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: MONGOL
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE: MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA BY TERENCE BLANCHARD
BEST ORIGINAL SONG: DOWN TO EARTH FROM WALL-E
OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN CINEMA: ANDREA GROVER AND THE AURORA PICTURE SHOW
OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN FILM PROGRAMMING: MARIAN LUNTZ AND THE MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS HOUSTON’S FILM DEPARTMENT

AUSTIN FILM CRITICS ASSOCIATION
TOP TEN FILS OF 2008:
1. “The Dark Knight
2. “Slumdog Millionaire”
3. “Milk”
4. “Synecdoche, New York”
5. “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
6. “The Wrestler”
7. “Wall*E”
8. “Frost/Nixon”
9. “Let the Right One In”
10. “Gran Torino”
****************
Picture: “The Dark Knight”
Director: Christopher Nolan, “The Dark Knight”
Actor: Sean Penn, “Milk”
Actress: Anne Hathaway, “Rachel Getting Married
Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger, “The Dark Knight
Supporting Actress: Taraji P. Henson, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Original Screenplay: Charlie Kaufman, “Synecdoche, New York
Adapted Screenplay: “The Dark Knight,” Jonthan Nolan & Christopher Nolan
Cinematography: “The Fall,” Colin Watkinson
Original Score: “The Dark Knight,” James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmerman
Foreign Language Film: “Let the Right One In” (”Låt den rätte komma in”) (Sweden)
Documentary Film: “Man on Wire”
Animated Feature: “Wall*E”
Breakthrough Artist Award: Danny McBride, Pineapple Express/The Foot Fist Way/Tropic Thunder
First Film: Nacho Vigalondo, “Timecrimes” (”Los Cronocrímenes”)
Austin Film: “Crawford”

PHOENIX FILM CRITICS SOCIETY
TOP TEN FILMS OF 2008:
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight, Frost/Nixon, In Bruges (wow!), Milk, The Reader, Slumdog Millionaire, The Visitor, Wall-E, The Wrestler
Best Picture: Slumdog Millionaire
Best Director: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
Best Performance by an Actor in a Lead Role: Sean Penn, Milk
Best Performance by an Actress in a Lead Role: Meryl Streep, Doubt
Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role: Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler
Best Acting Ensemble: The cast of Milk
Best screenplay written directly for the screen: In Bruges
Best screenplay adapted from another medium: Slumdog Millionaire
Best Live Action Family Film: High School Musical 3: Senior Year
Best Overlooked Film: In Bruges
Best Animated Film: Wall-E
Best Foreign Language Film: Let the Right One In
Best Documentary: Man on Wire
Best Original Song: “The Wrestler” from The Wrestler
Best Original Score: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Best Cinematography: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Best Film Editing: Slumdog Millionaire
Best Production Design: The Dark Knight
Best Costume Design: The Duchess
Best Visual Effects: The Dark Knight
Best Stunts: The Dark Knight
Breakout on Camera: Dev Patel, Slumdog Millionaire
Breakout Behind the Camera: Martin McDonagh, In Bruges
Best Performance by a Youth - Male: Ayush Mahesh Khedekar, Slumdog Millionaire
Best Performance by a Youth - Female: Dakota Fanning, Secret Life of Bees

TORONTO FILM CRITICS ASSOCIATION
BEST PICTURE: “Wendy and Lucy”
BEST PERFORMANCE, MALE: Mickey Rourke, “The Wrestler”
BEST PERFORMANCE, FEMALE: Michelle Williams, “Wendy and Lucy”
BEST SUPPORTING PERFORMANCE, MALE: Heath Ledger, “The Dark Knight”
BEST SUPPORTING PERFORMANCE, FEMALE: Rosemarie DeWitt, “Rachel Getting Married”
BEST DIRECTOR: Jonathan Demme, “Rachel Getting Married”
BEST SCREENPLAY: Jenny Lumet, “Rachel Getting Married”
BEST FIRST FEATURE: “Ballast”, directed by Lance Hammer
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE: “WALL*E”
BEST FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILM: “Let the Right One In”
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: “Man on Wire”

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

More Hugh-ge News

Let's take a break from The Road to Oscar to highlight the latest endeavor from its recently-anointed Australian host. The trailer for "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" has hit the web, just in time to remind viewers of Hugh Jackman's toughness before he prances around on Oscar's stage.

Apart from everyone's favorite adamantium-clawed protagonist, there are at least four other identifiable mutants here: Deadpool, Blob, Sabretooth (Liev Schrieber, clawed but mane-less), and Gambit, whose reveal is not very, um...subtle. Honestly, did anyone who cares about this movie need to hear "I know who you are, Gambit" in the first trailer? The playing cards would have surely sufficed or, at the very least, a sly utterance of the name "Remy." (Wink, wink, fanboys.)

SFFCC, SDFCS, SLFCA, DFCS, SEFCA Announce Noms, Winners

Scroll down for the lists. (I'm not writing another damned intro, but big ups to San Fran. for choosing "Milk" - duh - and to St. Louis for mixing things up and going for "Benjamin Button.")


SAN FRANCISCO FILM CRITICS CIRCLE
Best Picture - "Milk"
Best Director - Gus Van Sant, "Milk"
Best Screenplay, Original - Dustin Lance Black, "Milk"
Best Screenplay, Adapted - Peter Morgan, "Frost/Nixon"
Best Actor - (TIE) Sean Penn, "Milk" and Mickey Rourke, "The Wrestler"
Best Actress - Sally Hawkins, "Happy-Go-Lucky"
Best Supporting Actor - Heath Ledger, "The Dark Knight"
Best Supporting Actress - Marisa Tomei, "The Wrestler"
Best Cinematography - Wally Pfister, "The Dark Knight"
Best Documentary - "My Winnipeg"
Best Foreign Film - "Let the Right One In"

SAN DIEGO FILM CRITICS ASSOCIATION
Best Film: "Slumdog Millionaire"
Best Foreign Language Film: "Let the Right One In"
Best Documentary: "Man on Wire"
Best Animated Film: "WALL-E"
Best Director: Danny Boyle, "Slumdog Millionaire"
Best Actress: Kate Winslet, "The Reader"
Best Actor: Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler"
Best Supporting Actress: Marisa Tomei, "The Wrestler"
Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger, "The Dark Knight"
Best Original Screenplay: Tom McCarthy, "The Visitor"
Best Adapted Screenplay: Simon Beaufoy, "Slumdog Millionaire"
Best Cinematography: Anthony Dod Mantle, "Slumdog Millionaire"
Best Production Design: Donald Graham Burt, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
Best Editing: Chris Dickens, "Slumdog Millionaire"
Best Score: A.R. Rahman, "Slumdog Millionaire"
Best Ensemble Performance: "Frost/Nixon"
Body of Work for 2008: Richard Jenkins for "The Visitor," "Burn After Reading," "Step Brothers," and "The Tale of Despereaux"

ST. LOUIS FILM CRITICS ASSOCIATION
BEST PICTURE: "The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button"
BEST ACTOR: Sean Penn ("Milk")
BEST ACTRESS: Kate Winslet ("Revolutionary Road")
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Heath Ledger ("The Dark Knight")
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Viola Davis ("Doubt")
BEST DIRECTOR: Danny Boyle ("Slumdog Millionaire")
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: "Slumdog Millionaire"
BEST DOCUMENTARY: "Man On Wire"
BEST COMEDY: "Burn After Reading"
BEST ANIMATED FILM: "Wall-E"
MOST CREATIVE FILM: "The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button"
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: Mandy Walker ("Australia")
BEST SCREENPLAY (ORIGINAL OR ADAPTED): Peter Morgan ("Frost/Nixon")
BEST MUSIC (SOUNDTRACK OR SCORE, ORIGINAL OR ADAPTED): "The Visitor"
BEST SPECIAL EFFECTS: "The Dark Knight"

DETROIT FILM CRITICS SOCIETY (NOMINEES)
BEST FILM
"The Dark Knight"
"Frost/Nixon"
"Slumdog Millionaire"
"WALL-E"
"The Wrestler"

BEST DIRECTOR
Darren Aronofsky for "The Wrestler"
Danny Boyle for "Slumdog Millionaire"
Ron Howard for "Frost/Nixon"
Christopher Nolan for "The Dark Knight"
Andrew Stanton for "WALL-E"

BEST ACTOR
Josh Brolin for "W."
Leonardo DiCaprio for "Revolutionary Road"
Frank Langella for "Frost/Nixon"
Sean Penn for "Milk"
Mickey Rourke for "The Wrestler"

BEST ACTRESS
Anne Hathaway for "Rachel Getting Married"
Sally Hawkins for "Happy-Go-Lucky"
Melissa Leo for "Frozen River"
Meryl Streep for "Doubt"
Kate Winslet for "Revolutionary Road"

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Robert Downey Jr. for "Tropic Thunder"
James Franco for "Milk"
Heath Ledger for "The Dark Knight"
Eddie Marsan for "Happy-Go-Lucky"
Michael Sheen for "Frost/Nixon"

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Amy Adams for "Doubt"
Elizabeth Banks for "W."
Penelope Cruz for "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"
Rosemarie DeWitt for "Rachel Getting Married"
Marisa Tomei for "The Wrestler"

BEST ENSEMBLE
"Burn After Reading"
"Frost/Nixon"
"Rachel Getting Married"
"Revolutionary Road"
"Tropic Thunder"

BEST NEWCOMER
Rosemarie DeWitt, actress, "Rachel Getting Married"
Rebecca Hall, actress, "Frost/Nixon" and "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"
Danny McBride, actor, "Pineapple Express"
Martin McDonough, writer/director,"In Bruges"
Dev Patel, actor, "Slumdog Millionaire"
Catinca Untaru, actress, "The Fall"

SOUTHEASTERN FILM CRITICS ASSOCIATION
BEST PICTURE (in order)
1. "Milk"
2. "Slumdog Millionaire"
3. "WALL-E"
4. "The Dark Knight"
5. "The Wrestler"
6. "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
7. "The Reader"
8. "The Visitor"
9. "Frost/Nixon"
10. "Revolutionary Road"

BEST ACTOR: Sean Penn “Milk”
BEST ACTRESS: Anne Hathaway “Rachel Getting Married”
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Heath Ledger “The Dark Knight”
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Penelope Cruz “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”
BEST DIRECTOR: Danny Boyle “Slumdog Millionaire”
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Dustin Lance Black “Milk”
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Simon Beaufoy “Slumdog Millionaire”
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: “Let the Right One In” (Sweden)
BEST DOCUMENTARY: “Man on Wire”
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE: “WALL-E”

Monday, December 15, 2008

AFI, NYFCO, BSOFC, Golden Satellites Announce Winners

I am sick with "Slumdog" fatigue. The little-Fox Searchlight movie-that-could of 2008 is being showered with critics awards and has emerged as the indisputable frontrunner for the Best Picture Oscar. Fine as the film is, it isn't so high above the rest of the nomination field that its victory should be so near-complete. At this point, seeing the choice of something more deserving like "Milk" (thanks, NYFCC) almost makes one pop an eye.

Meanwhile, herein are plenty more helping hands to boost Sally Hawkins' Oscar chances, which make me giddy in ways I'd show you if I knew how to work my Skype camera thingie. However, she was passed over by the Satellites for the most showy performance of the year, "Changeling"'s Angelina Jolie, who wants her Oscar prospects back.

Sprinkled among the accolades below are a few additional points of interest, such as more reasons to practically cement the names Heath Ledger and Penelope Cruz in the supporting sections of your office Oscar pool ballot. Tie-happy Boston throws a lovely bone to Gus Van Sant for not just "Milk," but the painterly "Paranoid Park" as well (I didn't like it, but it looked phenomenal). The American Film Institute gives its obligatory less-prestigious spot to "Iron Man," while also turning up the buzz for "Frozen River" (and the buzz buzzes like this: It's the best movie you haven't seen this year). Astoundingly, AFI exculdes "Slumdog" from its Top Ten. Excuse me while I put my eye back in.

AFI
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
"The Dark Knight"
"Frost/Nixon"
"Frozen River"
"Gran Torino"
"Iron Man"
"Milk"
"Wall-E" (Which hilariously looks more like the name of a fish on their official site.)
"Wendy and Lucy"
"The Wrestler"



NEW YORK FILM CRITICS ONLINE

Best Picture: “Slumdog Millionaire”
Best Director: Danny Boyle w/ Loveleen Tandan - “Slumdog Millionaire”
Best Actor: Sean Penn - “Milk”
Best Actress: Sally Hawkins - “Happy-Go-Lucky”
Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger - “The Dark Knight”
Best Supporting Actress: Penelope Cruz - “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”
Best Cinematography: Slumdog Millionaire - Anthony Dod Mantle
Best Screenplay: “Slumdog Millionaire” - Simon Beaufoy
Best Foreign Picture: “4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days”
Best Documentary: “Man on Wire”
Best Animated Feature: “Wall-E”
Best Score: Slumdog Millionaire - “A.R. Rahman”
Best Breakout Performance: Sally Hawkins - “Happy-Go-Lucky”
Best Debut As Director: Martin McDonagh - “In Bruges”
Best Ensemble Performance: Milk”
10 Best Pictures (alphabetical):
“Che,” “A Christmas Tale,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “The Dark Knight,” “Happy-Go-Lucky,” “Milk,” “Rachel Getting Married,” “Slumdog Millionaire,” “Wall-E,” “The Wrestler”

BOSTON SOCIETY OF FILM CRITICS
Best Picture: Tie: "Slumdog Millionaire" and "WALL-E
Best Actor Tie: Sean Penn for "Milk" and Mickey Rourke for "The Wrestler"
Best Actress: Sally Hawkins for "Happy-Go-Lucky"
Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger for "The Dark Knight"
Best Supporting Actress: Penélope Cruz for "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"
Best Director: Gus Van Sant for "Milk" and "Paranoid Park"
Best Screenplay: Dustin Lance Black for "Milk"
Best Cinematography: Christopher Doyle and Rain Kathy Li for "Paranoid Park"
(I'm sorry, "Rain Kathy Lee" is just too funny to not mention. I don't think they make umbrellas for that.)
Best Documentary: "Man on Wire"
Best Foreign-Language Film: "Let the Right One In"
Best Animated Film: "WALL·E"
Best Film Editing: Chris Dickens for "Slumdog Millionaire"
Best New Filmmaker: Martin McDonagh for "In Bruges"
Best Ensemble Cast: "Tropic Thunder"

GOLDEN SATELLITE AWARD WINNERS
Best Film (Drama) - "SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE"
Best Diretor - Danny Boyle, "SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE"
Best Actress (Drama) - Angelina Jolie, "CHANGELING"
Best Actor (Drama) - Richard Jenkins, "THE VISITOR"
Best Film (Com-Mus) - "HAPPY-GO-LUCKY"
Best Actress (Com-Mus) - Sally Hawkins, "HAPPY-GO-LUCKY"
Best Actor (Com-Mus) - Ricky Gervais, "GHOST TOWN" (interesting)
Best Supporting Actor - Michael Shannon, "REVOLUTIONARY ROAD"
Best Supporting Actress - Rosemarie DeWitt, "RACHEL GETTING MARRIED" (yay!)
Best Foreign-Language Film - “GOMORRA”
Best Animated or Mixed-Media Film - “WALL-E”
Best Documentary - “ANITA O'DAY: THE LIFE OF A JAZZ SINGER” and “MAN ON WIRE”
Berst Original Screenplay - Thomas McCarthy, “THE VISITOR” (lovely choice)
Adapted Screenplay - Peter Morgan, “FROST/NIXON”
Original Score - by A.R.Rahman, “SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE”
Original Song - “Another Way to Die” from “QUANTUM OF SOLACE”
Cinematography - Mandy Walker, “AUSTRALIA”
Visual Efects - Chris Godfrey, James E. Price and Diana Giorgiutti, “AUSTRALIA”
Editing - Dan Lebental, “IRON MAN”
Sound (Editing and Mixing) - Richard King, “THE DARK KNIGHT”
Best Art Direction and Production Design - Martin, Ian Gracie, Karen Murphy and Beverly Dunn, “AUSTRALIA”
Best Costume Design - Michael O’Connor, “THE DUCHESS”

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The One That Slipped In

Just as I'm beginning to compile my Top Ten Films of the Year, I took a break to gander at director/co-writer Joachim Trier's Norwegian import, "Reprise," a disarming meditation on the romanticism of youth and its bittersweet departure. And you can bet I'm adding it to my list.


Originally released in Norway in 2006, the film made its way stateside this past summer. It tells of two young authors, both of them initially bursting with the hunger to write and to succeed, and both of their lives taking on vastly different shapes even as they remain parallel with one another. The tack-sharp and observant script delicately weaves together what is, what might have been, and what will never be for these men. The style is free-flowing and it imbues the story with a breath of life that's just as palpable as the affirmations of "Slumdog Millionaire."

I was glued to this film as I glided through it, invigorated by each turn (and, yes, Roger Ebert, even each countdown). "Reprise" is a valentine and a must-see for writers every where, especially young ones, and it's one of the few movies of the year that made me feel smarter as I watched it. It's classic and evocative - much has been made of its French New Wave sensibilities - yet blazingly and refreshingly original (Hey, Diablo Cody - and everyone else, THIS is what hip really looks and sounds like). Beautifully shot, beautifully cut, beautifully penned, and beautifully played, it's a cumulative work of art. Now, where's the awards attention?

From Oz to Oscar

It's been announced that Hugh Jackman will be the host of the 81st Annual Academy Awards.


I love this idea. Finally, a REAL actor and not just a comedian (no offense, Ellen and Jon). Anyone who saw Jackman emcee the Tonys for three consecutive years (2003, 2004, and 2005, the latter also the year he took home a statue of his own for "The Boy From Oz"), knows the Aussie can put on quite a show (you can bet he's gonna dance). Just one question: How many jokes will he crack about "Australia"'s inevitable shut-out in the major races?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Rolling Stones and Golden Globes

That damned Peter Travers. I have such a hate/love opinion of him. I detest that he insists on recycling so much of the same language in his reviews ("...creeps up and floors you," "...unmissable and unforgettable," "...waves of ravishing romance"), I loathe how he's such a lapdog to anything Oscar bait-y, and I really can't stand his embarassing insistence on pretending he's not totally GAY. And yet, he's one of the few critics whose work I regularly read. The guy has some reliably good taste in movies, which I respect. And, wouldn't you know it, the Rolling Stone reviewer's recently announced Top Ten List of 2008 looks a lot like my soon-to-be-posted lineup. Here it is, with a big ol' gay movie right at the top:

1. "Milk"
2. "Slumdog Millionaire"
3. "The Dark Knight"
4. "Frost/Nixon"
5. "WALL-E"
6. "Revolutionary Road"
7. "The Visitor"
8. "Doubt"
9. "Rachel Getting Married"
10. "Man on Wire"


Also announced this week were the nominations for the Baby Oscars, a.k.a the 66th Annual Golden Globe Awards. CHEERS to the Hollywood Foreign Press (HFPA) for mixing the bag a little bit and giving much-deserved recognition to "In Bruges," Rebecca Hall in "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," and James Franco in "Pineapple Express." BOOS to the HFPA for snubbing "Milk" out of Best Drama, "Rachel Getting Married" scribe Jenny Lumet out of Best Screenplay, and for giving Angelina Jolie a boost she doesn't deserve -- regardless of what Mr. Travers says. Below are the Golden Globe-nominated flicks in Comedy and Drama, and a link to the other nominees.

BEST PICTURE, Musical/Comedy
"Burn After Reading"
"Happy-Go-Lucky"
"In Bruges" (yay!)
"Mamma Mia!" (bleh!)
"Vick Cristina Barcelona"

BEST PICTURE, Drama
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
"Frost/Nixon"
"The Reader"
"Revolutionary Road"
"Slumdog Millionaire"

*For a complete list of nominees, CLICK HERE.

BFCA, LAFCA, WAFCA, and NYFCC Announce Noms, Winners

That's the Broadcast Film Critics Association, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, the Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association, and the New York Film Critics Circle for those of you who don't dig acronyms. Collectively, the awards and nods from these major critics' groups give major Oscar boosts to some of my favorite '08 films, namely "Milk," "Man on Wire," "Happy-Go-Lucky," Wall-E," and "Rachel Getting Married." They also reinforce Heath Ledger's and Penolpe Cruz's probable dominations in the supporting acting categories.
Stay tuned for more award noms/wins, to be posted as they're announced. It's all leading up to my Year in Review, currently under construction.

BFCA
Best Picture Nominees:
"Changeling," "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," "The Dark Knight," "Doubt," "Frost/Nixon," "Milk," "The Reader," "Slumdog Millionaire," "Wall-E," "The Wrestler."
*For a complete list of all other BFCA nominees, CLICK HERE


LAFCA
Best Picture: "WALL•E"
Best Director: Danny Boyle, "Slumdog Millionaire"
Best Actor: Sean Penn, "Milk"
Best Actress: Sally Hawkins, "Happy-Go-Lucky"
Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger, "The Dark Knight" Best Supporting Actress: Penelope Cruz, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" and "Elegy"
Best Screenplay: Mike Leigh, "Happy-Go-Lucky"
Best Foreign Language film: "Still Life"
Best Documentary: "Man on Wire"
Best Animated Feature: "Waltz With Bashir"
Best Cinematography: Yu Lik Wai, "Still Life"
Best Music/Score: A.R. Rahman, "Slumdog Millionaire"
New Generation Award: Steve McQueen, "Hunger"
Best Production Design: Mark Friedberg, "Synecdoche, New York"

WAFCA
Best Film: "Slumdog Millionaire"
Best Director: Danny Boyle, "Slumdog Millionaire"
Best Actor: Mickey Rourke, "The Wrestler"
Best Actress: Meryl Streep, "Doubt"
Best Ensemble: "Doubt"
Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger, "The Dark Knight"
Best Supporting Actress: Rosemarie DeWitt, "Rachel Getting Married"
Best Breakthrough Performance: Dev Patel, "Slumdog Millionaire"
Best Adapted Screenplay: Simon Beaufoy, "Slumdog Millionaire"
Best Original Screenplay: Jenny Lumet, "Rachel Getting Married"
Best Animated Feature: "Wall•E"
Best Foreign Language Film: "Let The Right One In"
Best Documentary: "Man On Wire"
Best Art Direction: "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"

NYFCC
BEST PICTURE: "Milk"
BEST DIRECTOR: Mike Leigh, "Happy-Go-Lucky"
BEST ACTRESS: Sally Hawkins, "Happy-Go-Lucky "
BEST ACTOR: Sean Penn, "Milk"
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Josh Brolin, "Milk"
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Penelope Cruz, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"
BEST SCREENPLAY: Jenny Lumet, "Rachel Getting Married "
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHER: Anthony Dod Mantle, "Slumdog Millionaire"
BEST ANIMATED FILM: "WALL-E"
BEST FIRST FILM: Courtney Hunt, "Frozen River"
BEST FOREIGN FILM: "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days"
BEST ACTOR: Sean Penn, "Milk"
BEST NON-FICTION FILM (DOC.): "Man on Wire"

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Is Beyonce Suddenly an Oscar Contender?

...don't bet on it. But with the pop star's schizophrenic double-disc album, "I Am...Sasha Fierce," climbing the pop charts, and her ensemble vehicle, "Cadillac Records," getting a pretty positive response from most critics, she's peaking at just the right time -- voting time.


In "Records," which chronicles the rise of revolutionary musicians like Muddy Waters in the 1940s, Knowles plays Etta James, going blonde and belting out the aged crooner's immortal ballad "At Last" with gusto. I've not yet seen it, but here's what other critics are saying of Beyonce's work:

"Beyonce...just about burns a hole in the screen with her sultry torment. As a woman who rocked the house but could get no satisfaction, Beyonce does a 'Lady Sings the Blues' in miniature."
- Owen Glieberman, Entertainment Weekly

"As the legendary James, beset by drama and drug addiction, Beyoncé delivers."
- Carrie Rickey, Philadelphia Inquirer

"It's Beyoncé Knowles as Etta James who's the movie's revelation. She's great. She has a terrific voice [and] a gifted singer's capacity for reaching deep into her own emotions with ease, so she hits every song out of the park. What's more, she's a real actress, who brings out James in all her complex shadings - the scalding anger, the pain, the self-hatred, the unwillingness to trust anybody and the helplessness to control her own turbulence."
- Mick La Salle, San Francisco Chronicle

"Knowles, who shines most when singing, captures James' emotional vulnerability and is substantially better than she was in Dreamgirls."
- Claudia Puig, USA Today


Okay, so that last one's a bit of a throw-away but, taken as a whole, that's some pretty good ink for a crossover star who hasn't exactly had the easiest time crossing over (remember "Goldmember?" Yeah, me too). Will she nab a Golden Globe nod like she did for - essentially - playing a version of herself in "Dreamgirls?" It's possible. Even my local film critic - the one who's not me - deemed her a probable Supporting Actress Oscar nominee. With so many other ladies vying for the spot, such a miracle isn't likely but, if it happens, know Your Movie Buddy called it.

Ebert, NBR Announce Their Top Movies

The National Board of Review and America's favorite Movie Answer Man, Roger Ebert, have announced their picks for the best films of 2008. On both lists (Ebert's is an uncompromising, un-ranked Top 20), many of the assumed titles appear. Ebert's, of course, is the better batch, a healthy mix of mainstream fare ("Iron Man," "The Dark Knight"), generally maligned films ("W.," "The Fall"), and lesser-recognized personal favorites ("Chop Shop," "Shotgun Stories"). Ebert remains the most balanced of film critics, unafraid to champion popular titles yet fully aware of the greatness of obscure gems. He's neither smug nor a sellout.


The NBR, on the other hand offers the closest thing one is likely to come to a Golden Globe/Academy preview this early in the game. With all-inclusive accolades for Top 10 Independent Films, Top Foreign Films, Docs, Animated Features, Rising Stars, and Honorable Mentions backing their primary Top 10 (well, 11), you could pretty much fill every category on the Oscar ballot with the whole bunch. That said, it still gives me butterflies. Here are both lists, alphabetically:

EBERT
Ballast
The Band's Visit
Che
Chop Shop
The Dark Knight
Doubt
The Fall
Frost/Nixon
Frozen River
Happy-Go-Lucky
Iron Man
Milk
Rachel Getting Married
The Reader
Revolutionary Road
Shotgun Stories
Slumdog Millionaire
Synecdoche, New York
W.
Wall-E
*Special Jury Prize: My Winnipeg

NBR
*Best Pic: Slumdog Millionaire
Burn After Reading
Changeling
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Defiance
Frost/Nixon
Gran Torino
Milk
Wall-E
The Wrestler

Monday, December 1, 2008

Blunder Down Under

Last Friday, I ventured to the multiplex to marvel at Baz Luhrmann's eight-years-in-the-making, two-years-in-the-waiting "Moulin Rouge!" follow-up, "Australia." Anyone who reads this blog knows I've been heralding the Down Under "Gone with the Wind" for months (just look here, here, here, and here). As expected, it was big and it was beautiful and it started out an enjoyable ride. But when I (FINALLY) walked out of what had been my most anticipated film of the season, I was crushed by a most tragic feeling: I don't think I ever want to see this movie again. What went wrong?


1. It's way too big for its britches.
I'm not daunted by long running times. Eight more endings and an additional hour in the extended cut of “The Return of the King?” I'm there. Six hours of HBO's grand miniseries “Angels in America?” Sign me up. But if I'm gonna devote that much time to a single piece of work, it'd better be masterpiece material or, at least, continuously entertaining. “Australia” clocks in at 2 hours and 45 minutes but trudges on for what feels like forever. I understand that Luhrmann was attempting to give equal play to three major cornerstones of his native land's history – life in the outback, Aboriginal discrimination, and the under-documented effects of the war on the nation – but, crikey, couldn't he have been a tad more selective in what he chose to show? I love sprawling flicks that have everything, but give me the goods in balance doses and, atop that, choose a flagship storyline. Not seamlessly but suffocatingly, “Australia” is an adventure tale, a gooey romance, a social commentary, a fantasy, a war film, a hackneyed comedy, a melodramatic soap opera...did I miss anything? As the movie nears its elusive end, it's anyone's guess which story thread will be used to tie things up. If Luhrmann threw any more shrimp on the barbie, the screen would go up in smoke.


2. It's cheesy.
One of the heads of “Australia”'s narrative hydra – penned by four screenwriters, including Luhrmann – involves the voodoo-mysticism of the Aborigine people, specifically that of King George (David Gulpilil, above), the teleporting grandfather of Lady Sarah Ashley's (Nicole Kidman) and Drover's (Hugh Jackman) adopted son, Nullah (Oprah favorite Zachary Taylor). The “magic” – which includes, but is not limited to, King George's uncannily omnipresent, flamingo-posed perch above each scene – works to a point, but it fast becomes yet another overindulgence. Usually, Nullah seems to be the only one who notices his grandpa's miraculous materializations. That is, except for us. We see him – a lot. The non-stop arrivals of the character flip him from intriguing to tiresome and cause the culture's incantations to go from mysterious to silly. That's about the time that the film's better half wraps up, via a dizzying and pretentious flash-forward sequence that sails across every landscape of the topographically diverse continent and a honky-dory home-sweet-home scenario that's so sappy/happy I had to make sure I wasn't stuck to my seat. And then disaster strikes.


3. It's rife with cliches.
The easiest thing to love about “Australia” is its out-and-out gorgeousness. The second easiest thing is its unabashed evocation of Hollywood classics. As mentioned, it's every bit David O. Selznick's magnum opus transported to a lower spot on the globe. Unfortunately, it's also lower on the totem pole. Its perpetual homages are charming on the outset, and even into the halfway point: the breathtaking stampede; Jackman's breathtaking, white-suited entrance; the breathtaking kiss in the rain. But the classic soon gives way to the cliche...big time. Brain-slapping stupidities start to herd together like cattle. Once Luhrmann serves up a blockbuster-friendly Japanese attack, his movie turns into every bad actioner in one lump sum. The sidekick-as-martyr bit? Check. The villain's final, futile attempt at vengeance just before death by a supporting character? Check. Off into the sunset? Check. Again, it's clear what the Aussie director is going for: a movie released today that plays like it was made 50 years ago. But, I don't think, in this post-postmodern age of cinema, that one who's serious about film can tolerate so much rampantly banal content in one place – especially not for nearly 3 hours.

“Australia” is not a terrible movie. It's a visually accomplished picture with a strong foundation, a story worth telling, technical wizardry, and fine acting. The skin on those bones is what drags it down, and my trampled expectations are what fuel this critical fire. It saddens and baffles me that a miracle maker like Luhrmann can devise something as wildly and immortally inventive as "Moulin Rouge!," disappear for nearly a decade crafting a subsequent feast, and return with something this overstuffed and trite. The prestigious talent and expansive eye candy present here slow my hand, but they can't stop me from calling “Australia” what it is: an epic disappointment.

3 stars (out of 5) -- but just barely.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Labels and Love

Posters of the Year 2008
A cross. A wire. A trampoline. A clueless president. Sometimes, all it takes is a simple image to convey the mood of a film. When it comes to movie posters, I prefer simplicity and classicism above all, and the best use their images sparingly and appropriately. The art of the film poster is a bit of a lost one these days. Below are my choices for those in 2008 that retained it best.

Honorable Mention:
SEX AND THE CITY
With a logo this iconic, what else do you need? I'll tell you what: flashing lights, plenty of pink, and one of the most unabashedly adorable taglines ever.







And the Rest:



W.
I had a hard time choosing which version to go with here, since there was also that great "misunderestimated" lot floating around that riffed on "hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil." I decided on the one above not only because it illutrates the falseness of modern politics in the media but also because it drives home the nearly unanimous notion that Bush was little more than a puppet.

FUNNY GAMES
This film's marketing campaign far exceeded the film itself. The trailer for Michael Haneke's remake of his own sadistic 1997 thriller was perhaps the year's best, and this stirring image encapsulates the helpless fear of its characters with just one tear and one knockout actress' desperate expression.

THE WRESTLER
Half the glory of this propaganda-like one-sheet was its much-anticipated reveal -- the poster itself was a big premiere. The other half consists of a blonde-topped man beaten down by life, a hope-inspiring and action-suggestive array of lights, and an eloquent endorsement of a very Oscar-friendly performance.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY
One of three illustration-only titles on this list, this pink confection is as buoyant as Sally Hawkins' turn as the sprightly Poppy. The version with the actress tossing her hair back is a joy as well, but nothing beats the lightheartedness of the work above.

THE FALL
The only one in the bunch that borders on busy, "The Fall" ranks high because it accurately communicates the fantasy film's wonder and color-filled beauty. Don't know who the heck Lee Pace is? Or Tarsem, for that matter? Who cares? Look at those reds and blues pop.

DOUBT
Few posters have the bravery to go for just black and white and a little selective color (you'll have to take my word on the line-thin inclusion of a small stained-glass window in primary hues), especially when you've got Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, and Philip Seymour Hoffman as your five-star faces. The simple image has the movie's enigmatic controversy all over it.

BURN AFTER READING
A thrilling homage to the famous work of Saul Bass from the '50s and '60s, this caper-tastic collection of precariously stacked, jagged text and eccentric spy illustrations gets a top spot simply for its classic appeal. It doesn't hurt that the names shown represent one of the year's strongest casts.

MAN ON WIRE
A great example of how critical praise can elevate a poster's impact. Floating at 4,000 feet, the word "exhilarating" (quoted from the NY Times' Stephen Holden) appears to be feeling what it means. And that big, majestic blue sky holds within it the lofty dreams of that tiny speck of a man -- dancing on a wire.

VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA
In this poster lies all the sexy style of Woody Allen's latest international outing, squeezed into a box that's surrounded by text which almost echoes the endlessly inventive storyteller's signature credit font. It doesn't get much hotter than one gorgeously cropped shot of Penelope, Scarlett, and Javier, and the strategically bisected faces are subtly - or not-so-subtly - indicative of their characters' motives. I would frame this and hang it on my wall.

Want more?
Check out LAST YEAR'S LIST

Happy Thanksgiving

...from Kurtis and April.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Meet Your Heavyweight Contender for BEST ACTOR

Variety is the first to unveil the much-anticipated trailer for "The Wrestler," Darren Aronofsky's character study of an aging professional. . .duh. Looks like some seriously meaty work by lead star Mickey Rourke, who's all but destined to make the final five at this point. This has suddenly become one of the most intriguing looking films of December (at least for me). See for yourself:


The 'Twilight' Zone

(I have to admit, I stole that headline from James Wolcott's Vanity Fair article on the blood-sucking blockbuster. But it's a rather fair game analogy, no? I couldn't resist.)

I've got nothing invested in the massively over-hyped film version of now immortal author Stephenie Meyer's massively successful undead anthology. I'll not be attending any midnight screenings, or twilight ones, for that matter (listen to me, once again, temptation not withstood). In fact, I'm thinking of boycotting this film altogether. If I see one more web site ad banner with Photoshop-ed pics of Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson (like the one below), I might just sink my teeth into my laptop's power cord.


Seriously, this bitch is everywhere. Cinema sites can't get enough, Entertainment Weekly is downright obsessed (devoting two of its covers to the flick so far), and even Men's Health has car part-sounding co-star Cam Gigandet as its cover boy. Yet, amidst all this relentless excitement, no one can seem to say anything viable about the quality of the film itself. If the best endorsement Summit Entertainment can dig up about their product is "a full-blown pop culture phenomenon" (from the LA Times), they may as well tell everyone to stay home and watch "Dancing With the Stars."

I'm sure that "Twilight" doesn't reek as bad as, say, "Queen of the Damned," but unless someone gives me a damned good reason to catch this movie (besides the fact that it's wildly popular or that Pattinson looks like a post-mortem James Dean), I'm holding tight to my garlic.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Johnny in Burtonland


A sneak peek at Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter in Tim Burton's upcoming rendition of "Alice in Wonderland." I'm not really digging the Carrot Top hairdo but the hat is bundles of fun. Ditto the rabbit, even though he looks a little terrified (and rightfully so).

Friday, November 14, 2008

'Christmas Cottage' Cheese

Here's an abomination if I ever saw one:


You read right. Thomas Kinkade, that sentimental sellout of a painter whose glowing renderings of snow-covered vistas now appear on everything from throw pillows to coffee mugs, has made a MOVIE...about HIMSELF. "Christmas Cottage," a straight-to-DVD holiday tearjerker named after one of Kinkade's most rampantly reproduced works, stars "Supernatural"'s Jared Padalecki as Kinkade in his youth and chronicles his rise to become "The Painter of Light" (a title that's even trademarked within the synopsis on the back of the DVD).

What a sinful addition to the already much-tainted holiday movie genre. What a shameful self-promotion from a man who embodies the problem of tasteless American consumerism (on that note, the flick will probably sell like mad). What an unforgivable paycheck project for Peter O'Toole (so much for those eleventh hour Oscar hopes) and Marcia Gay Harden (she can file this one away alongside "Welcome to Mooseport"). What a joke.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

OSCAR is Coming

It's November, which means there are only two months to go before Academy prez Sid Ganis and whichever semi-obscure female Oscar winner he's got on hand announce the Academy Award nominations for the year '08.

Last year, this blog went Oscar crazy, and the trend will likely continue in the coming weeks. However, I haven't talked much about 2008/09 Oscar predictions at all, just some light teasing. I've learned the hard way not to set anything in stone before the buzz has reached a fever pitch, so I dare not make any definitive calls until all 12 months have wrapped.

In the meantime, given the buzz I've gathered from watching films incessantly and keeping an ear to the street, here are the names I've been thinking about in regards to the year's second-largest election. Can I even compare the Oscar race to the U.S. presidential race?


BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Penelope Cruz, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"
Viola Davis, "Doubt"
Rosemarie DeWitt, "Rachel Getting Married"
Taraji P. Henson, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
Kate Winslet, "The Reader"

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Josh Brolin, "Milk"
Robert Downey Jr., "Tropic Thunder"
Philip Seymour Hoffman, "Doubt"
Heath Ledger, "The Dark Knight"
Eddie Marsan, "Happy-Go-Lucky"

BEST ACTRESS
Anne Hathaway, "Rachel Getting Married"
Sally Hawkins, "Happy-Go-Lucky"
Meryl Streep, "Doubt"
Kristin Scott Thomas, "I've Loved You So Long"
Kate Winslet, "Revolutionary Road"

BEST ACTOR
Leonardo DiCaprio, "Revolutionary Road"
Clint Eastwood, "Gran Turino"
Sean Penn, "Milk"
Brad Pitt, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
Mickey Rourke, "The Wrestler"

BEST DIRECTOR
Danny Boyle, "Slumdog Millionaire"
David Fincher, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
Baz Luhrmann, "Australia"
Christopher Nolan, "The Dark Knight"
Gus Van Sant, "Milk"

BEST PICTURE
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
"The Dark Knight"
"Milk"
"Slumdog Millionaire"
"Revolutionary Road"


...And, there you have it. (I'm sure I'll be switching these babies around once the precursors start rolling in. But it feels good to get a batch of predix out of my system.) Stay tuned, kids!


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Krispy Kreme

In honor of Election Day, I've provided a clip from one of my favorite political films, Mike Nichols' Clinton send-up, "Primary Colors." The scene, which shows John Travolta's Clinton doppelganger musing over politics in a Krispy Kreme just after more attacks on his character have been released, is alternately fierce (cheers, Emma Thompson), funny, and, most importantly, hopeful. Aren't we all? Enjoy.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Force of Nature

Nominated for 2007's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar but only released stateside this year, "Mongol," a sweeping and stirring account of Genghis Kahn's rise to power, is a thing of beauty. The picturesque multi-regional cinematography by Rogier Stoffers ("Quills") and Sergei Trofimov ("Night Watch," "Day Watch") rivals anything to be seen in '07 or '08.


The old-fashioned epic is also a thing of ferocity, depicting the warlord's formative years from fierce youth to steadfast conqueror, bleeding and suffering along the way. If Russian writer/director Sergei Bodrov and co-writer Arif Aliyev have presented this historic tale accurately, Genghis (formerly known simply as Temujin) endured years of immense hardships before becoming the conqueror that history remembers. Slavery, torture, loss, humiliation, and near-death all befall him -- a lesser man would have surely given up or, more likely, died.

Had Japanese actor Tadanobu Asano, who plays Temujin with a growling physicality, given less of a one-note performance and become more of a force of nature like the film itself, "Mongol" would have been a thing of perfection.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Happy Halloween!

...a day late. Boo!

To celebrate the most cinematic of holidays, I followed up my obligatory, annual viewing of John Carpenter's 1977 classic with "Fear(s) of the Dark," IFC Films' annoyingly titled-but-eye-catching compilation of scary animated shorts from six international filmmakers (call it, the "Paris Je T'aime" of your nightmares).


Blutch, Charles Burns, Marie Caillou, Pierre Disciullo, Lorenzo Mattotti, and Richard Maguire each supplies his or her own vision of terror; one political, one science-fiction-al, one primal, all rather dismal. Caillou's bit, about an Asian schoolgirl trapped in a terrible dream (above), is one of the more inventive. The best is the piece by Charles Burns, a creepy-crawly tale about humanoid bugs. There's also a nasty aristocrat walking a quartet of even nastier dogs...

"Fear(s) of the Dark" deserves kudos on the grounds that it's enriching stuff compared to, say, "Saw V." It's not very scary; on the contrary, it's usually a joy to look at. Does that mean it fails to achieve what it set out to? Nah. I've just been to one too many haunted houses to be spooked by a couple o' toons.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Dreaded Grading Scale, or: How I Felt About the Films I Saw This Year but Did Not Review

Want to know the method behind my madness? I can barely explain it myself.

Owen Gleiberman, who shares the title of chief film critic for Entertainment Weekly with Lisa Schwarzbaum, has famously said that he detests the movie letter grade scale used by the pop culture bible that employs him. I don't go by letter grades (far too many variables of + and -) but by stars -- five of them (with nearly as many variables of 1/2). Rating scales are necessry when judging things on their quality; when all is said and done, when all strengths and weaknesses have been observed, how, in one succinct number or letter, does the item hold up against the competition?


For me, week after week, one of two things occurs (sometimes at once): I see a film and a grade sticks out in my mind, or I see a film and words to be written stick out in my mind. Once I sit down and start typing, one of two other things occurs (usually not at once): what I'm writing dictates a grade, or a grade dictates what I'm writing. Sometimes, a movie warrants such a clear and specific position on the quality meter, that all one needs to do is explain why. Unfortunately, this is usually not the case.

Film, the most collaborative art form, has so many factors that affect whether or not it's a successful piece of work. Personally, I'm a sucker for gorgeous and colorful movies. That affection may save a beautiful title with a mediocre script from a low grade (ex: Wong Kar Wai's "My Blueberry Nights"). I also believe that strong acting can greatly elevate a film (ex: Julianne Moore and co. in "Savage Grace," an alluring but soul-sucking picture with little to say). Since most movies are mediocre and the great ones are few and far between, these elements within the lesser titles -- elements that hint at greatness, make the grading process that much more difficult.


Take "Pride and Glory," a needlessly circuitous, all-too-familiar cop drama that I reviewed the week of October 26 and gave the see-saw-ing 3 stars. For me, this grade can lean either way in terms of recommending the film in question. I normally won't endorse something if its given a rating lower than 3.5 stars, but many 3 star pictures posess praise-worthy parts, even if their sum is underwhelming. "Pride and Glory," as I wrote in my critique, has bursts of intensity that grab you by the throat. It also boasts a crop of solid performances from a solid cast. Is that enough to suggest seeing it? Well, no. Ultimately something we've all seen before, the flick hits the low end of the see-saw.

I saw a handful of other films this year, reviewed in complete and simply rated, that were also branded with 3 stars. Some were better than others. Some leaned to the see-saw's higher end. Either way, the 3 star grade is usually the most crowded because, sadly, most flicks are just okay. Below is a collection of grades for the films I've seen in 2008 but did not review. They run the gamut from 5 star excellence to 1 star putridity. But, there in the middle, you'll see that the 3 star titles are greatest in number...as usual.
(Bear in mind that there are still two months to go in the year and most of the "finer" films have yet to be released. Expect this list to grow considerably).

Wall-E = 5 stars
I.O.U.S.A. = 4.5 stars
Vicky Cristina Barcelona = 4.5 stars
The Visitor = 4.5 stars
A Girl Cut in Two = 4 stars
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day = 4 stars
Mongol = 4 stars
Young @ Heart = 4 stars
The Grocer's Son = 3.5 stars
In Search Of = 3.5 stars
My Blueberry Nights = 3.5 stars
Were the World Mine = 3.5 stars
Bigger, Stronger, Faster = 3 stars
The Book of Caleb = 3 stars
The Edge of Heaven = 3 stars
Fear(s) of the Dark = 3 stars
Funny Games = 3 stars
Savage Grace = 3 stars
Paranoid Park = 2.5 stars
What We Do is Secret = 2.5 stars
Mamma Mia! = 2 stars
Patti Smith: Dream of Life = 1 star