Saturday, January 30, 2010
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
As someone who follows the Oscar race religiously throughout the entire year, I sometimes feel a little silly posting my own predictions shortly before the nominations are announced (for those of you out of the loop, Christmas -- I'm sorry, nomination -- morning is Feb.2). There's a sense that I'm just regurgitating the prognostications of others and reiterating the selections of dozens of precursor awards bodies. And with so many sure things this year, the point of announcing my eleventh-hour predictions seems especially moot.
Yet, in the relatively short time I've been maintaining this blog, I've consistently published my Oscar-y thoughts, predix, hopes and reactions from nominations time on through to the big show, and I'm not about to stop now. So while you may have already seen the following names and titles on a bajillion other websites, you've not yet heard Your Movie Buddy chime in and say his piece. Behold my predictions, with a few longshot hunches tossed into the mix.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air:
I've long felt this stellar actress was destined for a nod, and I'm glad she'll finally gain recognition for her smart and sexy turn as the female equivalent to George Clooney's connection-averse traveler.
Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air:
The scene-stealer of this film's dynamite trio, Kendrick ably displays all the drive, naivete and hopeful humanity of a career-hungry 20-something, while also boasting comedic instincts uncommon for someone so young.
Melanie Laurent, Inglourious Basterds:
Methinks the Academy is going to want to reward one of the gals in this talented ensemble, given the surge of attention and good fortune the movie has seen throughout awards season. Diane Kruger's work is more of the supporting nature but, in a film with no real leads, Laurent's performance is far more indelible.
No contest. There's a reason Mo'Nique has collected damn near every Supportting Actress award: Hers is the best performance of 2009. A shoo-in for the win.
Julianne Moore, A Single Man:
There's a chance for The Messenger's Samantha Morton, Crazy Heart's Maggie Gyllenhaal or one of the Nine gals to upset, but I'm thinking voters will go for another fine turn from this former Oscar favorite, a veteran actress who's due for a win, let alone another nomination.
Bailee Madison, Brothers:
The best child performance I've seen in years. Steals the show in a movie that already has a trio of fine performances.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Matt Damon, Invictus:
Though his work here isn't anything all that special (like Morgan Freeman, he's given very little to do), Academy members will want to acknowledge Damon's very good year, which also included a memorable lead performance in The Informant!.
Woody Harrelson, The Messenger:
Speaking of good years, Harrelson popped up all over the place in 2009, often adding some much-needed spark to movies like 2012. He has a faithful ability to become an asset of his films, and his work in this potent drama won't go unnoticed.
Christian McKay, Me & Orson Welles:
The buzz for McKay has faded a bit, but his performance -- a little known thesp stealing the show from the sidelines -- is the stuff Supporting Actor nominations and awards are made of (think Michael Shannon in Revolutionary Road). Plus, the portrayal of Hollywood legend Orson Welles should be hard to resist, at least for veteran voters.
Stanley Tucci, Julie & Julia:
Tucci's villainous performance in The Lovely Bones has been the one getting all the attention, but given that film's lousy reception, my guess is the actor will instead be recognized for his understated, loving turn opposite Meryl Streep, with whom he shares remarkable chemistry.
Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds:
Like Mo'Nique, a slam-dunk, and well-deserved. Tackling four languages (!!) and enlivening Quentin Tarantino's unmatched dialogue in ways both fearsome and funny, Waltz should easily add a golden boy to his heap of precursor awards. (Bless him, I'm just dreading another lame-o, overly rehearsed speech.)
Zachary Quinto, Star Trek:
Total geek sophistication. Proves the resemblance was only the beginning. Quinto nailed this character.
Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side:
As much as it pains me to say it, Bullock will surely get in for her feisty turn as real-life Southern belle Leigh Ann Touhy, and she poses the biggest threat to Meryl Streep's victory (ridiculous). Friends, I adore Sandra Bullock, but this is not an Oscar-worthy performance, and her inclusion results in some far more deserving women getting shafted. If she weren't so popular, she might have received a Globe nod at best.
With her 2006 turn in The Queen still fresh in voters' minds, Mirren seems to be experiencing a bit of the Judi Dench effect: being synonymous with quality and garnering attention for appearing in a prestigious picture. Am I discrediting the value of the performance? Absolutely not. But you know what I mean.
Carey Mulligan, An Education:
Poor Carey Mulligan. Once the indisputed frontrunner, she's now taken a back seat to the neck-in-neck race between Bullock and Streep. I know I caught some disappoinment in her eyes during one of the recent award shows. I would have liked to have seen her nab at least one trophy (maybe the BAFTA?). The beauty of her performance is we get to watch her bloom right along with her character. It's this exciting, organic process -- makes you feel like you're witnessing something extraordinary.
Gabourey Sidibe, Precious:
And speaking of which, I've been telling people for months now, if you're going to see Precious, try to catch an interview with Gabby Sidibe first, just so you can see how extreme a departure the character is from this first-time actress' actual persona. It's a truly remarkable transformation, and the knowledge of it makes the performance that much more special.
Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia:
Oh, how I hope Meryl Streep takes home the Oscar this year! She certainly has plenty of odds/details in her favor: dead-on portrayal of a real-life icon, Oscar-worthy performance in a mainstream movie that practically everybody saw, newfound box-office clout, and the little fact that she's, well, Meryl Streep. Seriously, though, I don't think there was another '09 performance that made me happier...and I'm sure I'm not alone in that regard.
Abbie Cornish, Bright Star:
As if I had to say anything. Yet, since we're on the topic, I'd also nominate Tilda Swinton in Julia, Nicole Beharie in American Violet and Charlotte Gainsbourg in Antichrist over Bullock in The Blind Side. Just sayin'.
Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart:
The favorite to win, and the most deserving if only because he's responsilbe for creating the most fully-formed charcter. There's no telling where Bridges ends and Bad Blake begins. He's also got that whole long-overdue, career-high thing going for him.
George Clooney, Up in the Air:
Colin Firth, A Single Man:
The latest actor to garner Oscar's attention for going gay. I kid, I kid (sorta). Under the direction of first-timer Tom Ford, Firth goes the heartbreaking route, and is finally given an opportunity to show audiences what he's truly capable of (don't they always say it takes one insightful director to bring out the best in an actor?).
Morgan Freeman, Invictus:
This nomination bothers me because it was set in stone before any cameras even started rolling. Of course Freeman is a phenomenal actor, but the same can't be said for this performance. Freeman fares better than Damon, but there's still disappointment in just how drama-free the whole package is. Big name actor + big name role + big name director does NOT an Oscar worthy performance necessarily make.
Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker:
Quite the opposite, here's a performance no one saw coming, but has made little-known Renner a recognizable face throughout awards season. There's a terror and a terrified vulnerability to Sgt. William James, a fine vessel to carry us through Bigelow's gripping suspense thriller.
Matt Damon, The Informant!:
Handles the dry, dense dialogue with whirling dexterity, and gained mucho weight for the role to boot (not that that really matters). Way better than his and Freeman's Invictus work combined.
Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker:
The indisputed front-runner, who has my vote for so many reasons. 1. Makes better use of the sheer, stand-alone power of images than any other filmmaker this year. 2. Would be the first female director to win the award (!) 3. That should be enough, and my head is starting to hurt...
James Cameron, Avatar:
Blows away expectations and delivers an absolutely amazing cinematic experience. Love him or hate him, mediocre script or no mediocre script, the man knows how to make big, mind-blowing movies in a way Michael Bay might only dream about.
Lee Daniels, Precious:
Another milestone-maker, if nominated, Daniels will be only the second African American to land A Best Director nod, following John Singleton for Boyz in the Hood in 1991. I'm glad to see Daniels' buzz hold out until the end -- I'll be heartbroken if Clint Eastwood nabs his much-deserved spot.
Jason Reitman, Up in the Air:
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds:
Modern movies would be sorely lacking without the presence of QT, whose wild and crazy WWII rewrite surged forward with more individuality and clarity of vision than most of what 2009 had to offer. A master of form, narrative, dialogue, style, even music, QT's return made this film buff realize just how long he'd been absent -- and how much I missed him.
Jane Campion, Bright Star:
At this point, the one to beat.
In my opinion, a default nominee, despite its glowing lead performance.
The Hurt Locker
Hot on Avatar's heels.
A critical darling that pulled through in the end. One of the year's boldest and most passionate.
Another default nominee. Like Freeman, it was presumably in the game before production began.
A front-runner since Sundance, its subject matter wows as much as its performances.
A Serious Man
Sure to get the most votes from the technical branches, it's another well-crafted piece from the Coen Bros.
Though this spot may (deservedly) go to District 9, I think the more popular sci-fi title will find itself in the running. It's extremely beloved.
Like Star Trek, Up should help affirm the Academy's hopes of being more inclusive with their 10-wide field. That, and it truly is one of the year's best.
Up in the Air
Once the front-runner, now a dark horse. Either way, Up in the Air is in play, standing as a defining film for our times and a superb film for any time. My favorite of 2009.
In the Loop:
One of the funniest, and certainly one of the most brilliantly written, comedies in years. Has you laughing so hard and scrambling to keep up with its lightning-quick dialogue, a repeat viewing is practically required. No arguments here.
*Check back next week for official nominations and my prediction scores!
Saturday, January 23, 2010
Jeff Bridges's work in Scott Cooper's impressive first feature is worthy of the buzz...and the golden boy he'll surely receive. Read my review of "Crazy Heart," now online at SouthPhillyReview.com. CLICK HERE.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
By R. Kurt Osenlund
Half the battle of writing about the best films of the decade is choosing the titles. It's one thing to whittle the movies of a given year down to a select group of 10, but it's quite another to compile a top 10 list from 10 years of cinema. So many lands visited, so many fascinating figures met, so many journeys taken. Moreover, the 2000s were seminal years for me – the years in which I grew from a guy who really liked movies into the active viewer and reviewer I am today. I feel attached to a great many films. So, while my number one pick was a no-brainer, the formation of my list came with much deliberation. And with that in mind, I offer my runners-up, in no particular order:
On to the list:
10. Amélie (2001)
Amélie is the movie I always recommend to philistines who claim, outrageously, to not like foreign films (something about the reading of subtitles being too much work). Made by the visionary Jean-Pierre Jeunet, this spirited story of a fanciful Parisian waitress (Audrey Tatou) who delights in helping others and eventually finds love for herself evokes classic French cinema, yet employs contemporary embellishments and a devilish edginess, making it accessible to those who kneel at the altars of Fight Club and The Matrix. With nimble pacing, daring camera movements and angles, playful manipulation of time and place, and colors so lavishly saturated they seem to bleed from the screen, Jeunet turns conversations and common acts of kindness into stimulating action sequences, complete with a wealth of eccentric details that never feel obnoxious or extraneous. The film is as active as the imagination of its child-like title character, the portrayal of whom made the delightful Tatou an international star.
9. Best in Show (2000)
I'm a tough sell when it comes to comedy. There are so many ways to get it wrong, as evidenced by the cavalcade of senseless, disposable comedies that infiltrated theaters throughout the last 10 years. Man, does writer/director Christopher Guest get it right with Best in Show, his Altmanesque, deliciously deadpan faux-documentary about a bunch of show-dog-owning loonies. The cast of improv wizards – Catherine O'Hara, Michael McKean, Jane Lynch, Fred Willard, Parker Posey and Guest himself among them – is uproarious, playing an eclectic group of people who make reality show oddballs look normal. I never tire of this movie, and it never fails to crack me up. Specifically, Posey's character's manic, lengthy search for her Weimaraner's “Busy Bee” is a slice of pure, unfettered comic brilliance.
8. Moulin Rouge! (2001)
One of the things American cinema of the 2000s will be remembered for is the revival of the movie musical. Rob Marshall's Chicago (2002) may have been the film to nab the Oscar glory and pave the way for other song-and-dance awards contenders like Dreamgirls and Sweeney Todd, but Moulin Rouge!, Baz Luhrmann's Bollywood-inspired masterwork of great dazzle and verve, was the first and remains the best movie musical of the decade. Rather than being an adaptation of an existing production, this whimsical, romantic capper to Luhrmann's “Red Curtain” trilogy is a sparkling paradigm of postmodern ingenuity, infusing pop standards into its original, yet classic tale of a poor bohemian playwright (Ewan McGregor) in love with a famed French courtesan (Nicole Kidman). Revealing surprisingly stellar pipes, McGregor and Kidman make a tuneful, terrific screen couple, but chief credit goes to Luhrmann and his wife, Catherine Martin, whose art direction and costume design are, like the show within the show, “Spectacular! Spectacular!”
7. City of God (2003)
If you like your exotic, ghetto-set Cinderella stories a little more tidy and jubilant, then, by all means, snuggle up with last year's colorful Best Picture winner, Slumdog Millionaire. If you prefer them with just as much style and vivacity, but also with gritty, unflinching realism, expose yourself to this tour de force from director Fernando Meirelles, one of many Latino filmmakers to break out in the 2000s. An adaptation of Paulo Lins's semi-autobiographical novel, City of God is as shattering as it is invigorating, focusing on a young boy who turns to photography as a means to escape the unfathomably perilous slums of Rio de Janeiro. Depicting artistic triumph without any of the treacly B.S., the film is intensely alive, bristling with energy from first frame to last.
6. Wall-E (2008)
Nearly as difficult as selecting the top 10 films of the decade is choosing which Disney/Pixar title to include in the mix. One could argue that no other filmmaking entity has ever had the kind of untarnished consistency boasted by this team of miracle makers. I strongly considered going with Andrew Stanton's Finding Nemo, a gorgeous and hilarious under-the-sea adventure with first-rate voice work, as well as Pete Docter's Up, a blissful ride and the studio's most mature title to date. I settled on Stanton's Wall-E because, for me, this adorable interstellar adventure about a heroic, trash-compacting robot finally cemented Pixar's eminence, and proclaimed that an impeccable animated feature could be taken just as seriously as a prestigious, live-action drama. Did I mention it sent my spirits into orbit?
5. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Yes, the finest and truest love story of the last 10 years is Ang Lee's sweeping saga about a ranch hand (Heath Ledger) and a rodeo rider (Jake Gyllenhaal) dying to get into each other's Wranglers. The most romantic romances are those that are forbidden, challenged and ultimately doomed, and though Ledger's character claims “there ain't no reins” on the pair's difficult relationship, no film romance in recent memory has been more fully, effectively or tragically bound by those restraints. There is such a heartbreaking loneliness to this film, a feeling of missed opportunity and emptiness, often visualized by the majestically captured wide open spaces of the American West (filming actually took place in the Canadian Rockies, but who can tell?). The four principals, who also include Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway, are all superb, but Gyllenhaal and the late Ledger etch their names into movie history with performances that are drastically different but perfectly matched. Robbed of the Best Picture Oscar of its year, Brokeback Mountain is one of very few recent movies to be both a cultural phenomenon and a thoughtful gem.
4. United 93 (2006)
Naysayers argued it was too soon to make a film about Sept. 11, but director Paul Greengrass, who rightfully earned an Oscar nomination for his real-time account of what most likely occurred on the only hijacked plane to miss its target, received full approval from the people whose opinions mattered most: the families of the victims. Greengrass, who's peerless when it come to utilizing you-are-there handheld cinematography, tastefully but terrifyingly places the audience on the doomed aircraft, while also conveying the sheer chaos that erupted on the ground in air traffic control centers. Greengrass's approach is hauntingly objective, showing the religious motivations and frailties of the terrorists alongside the fear and eventual heroism of the passengers. Seeing United 93 on the big screen ranks as one of the most emotional theater-going experiences of my life. In a dark room full of tearful strangers, there was an uncommon, profound sense of unity. The movie is harrowing but also healing, and it's difficult to think of a more appropriate artistic response to one of the most fateful events of our time.
3. Mulholland Drive (2001)
Exactly one year ago, I wrote about David Lynch's twisted mind-bender Mulholland Drive, devoting an entire feature to discussing and dissecting its indelible images and ingenious, labyrinthine structure. Rarely has a film taken up so much space in my head for so long, defying explanation, provoking deep and perplexing thoughts, demanding additional viewings and offering new discoveries with each one (think of how often that can be said of a movie). A Hollywood fever dream that squashes narrative conventions, it also features Naomi Watts in one of the decade's most striking performances, embodying the idealistic and miserably realistic halves of the same ingénue with such conviction, it's hard to believe both personas are played by the same actress. Hypnotic and intoxicating, Mulholland Drive is one mystery that refreshingly refuses to be solved.
2. No Country for Old Men (2007)
A remorseless killing machine (Javier Bardem) who may or may not be evil incarnate; a washed-up, old-school sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones) coming to terms with his limits; and, as the frantic pinball between them, a poor welder (Josh Brolin) who happens upon $2 million of drug money and foolishly claims it as his own: three men, each of them embroiled in a breathless chase with no foreseeable destination or direction. Yet, irrefutably clear is the staggering excellence of the direction of Joel and Ethan Coen, whose faithful adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's 2005 novel is the decade's best example of flawless filmmaking craft. The cinematography by the great Roger Deakins is a marvel of superlative composition. The editing by the Coens themselves strings the action together with the same surgical precision used by Bardem's unstoppable, unforgettable villain. The accentuated, tack-sharp sound design by Craig Berkley creates maximum suspense. In technique alone, No Country for Old Men is so riveting, many viewers don't even realize there's nary a shred of background music.
1. The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001, 2002, 2003)
I imagine some readers are rolling their eyes at the sight of such a hugely popular choice topping my list, while others are no doubt irked by my decision to lump all three Lord of the Rings movies into one. Sorry, haters, but I couldn't possibly grant the number one spot to anything other than Peter Jackson's awe-inspiring, unbelievably ambitious translation of J.R.R. Tolkien's classic fantasy opus, nor am I willing to break up the installments. The first, The Fellowship of the Ring, is a magical and intimate introduction to the land and inhabitants of Middle Earth; the second, The Two Towers, raises the stakes and enriches that magic; and the third, The Return of the King, is the single most astonishing piece of cinema I've ever seen. Each is an integral part of one mammoth artistic masterpiece, which shows as much painstaking concern for story and character as it does for exhilarating visual wonder and amazement. The obsessive detail and unprecedented scope of these films creates a layered believability, making them feel more like history than fantasy – a crucial historical period of a world that seems to truly exist. I feel privileged to have been alive when this trilogy was released, and I don't expect to see its equal in my lifetime.
*This article was published in the January 2010 issue of ICON magazine. It has been reprinted with permission.
Sunday, January 17, 2010
My guess: Unless he comes up with some Academy metaphor, it'll be something along the lines of, "QUENTIN put this incredible script in my hands; LAWRENCE and HARVEY entrusted this incredible role in my hands; BRAD, DIANE, ELI and MELANIE allowed me to nearly kill them with my incredible hands; and now, OSCAR is in my hands. Incredible."
Saturday, January 16, 2010
Sunday, January 10, 2010
Tyler Perry's I Can Do Bad All By Myself
Confession: I've never seen a single Tyler Perry film (at the risk of sounding like a total racist, I've basically accepted the fact that his movies are not made for me). But I'm gonna go out on a limb and assume that the movies themselves aren't anywhere near as artful or sophisticated as the one-sheets that precede them. The Taraji Henson one especially piques my interest...until I see the manic trailers again.
This year's "Vicky Cristina Barcelona." Simply beautiful and destined for my office wall.
Incredibly striking -- a graphic snapshot of the movie's best sequence.
Michael Jackson's This is It
I'm not exactly sure what it is about this one that turns me on so. Perhaps it's the neon colors against the gray background. Perhaps it's the gleaming, star-shaped negative space that peaks out between MJ's feet. Perhaps because it looks like an artist's legacy captured within his own instantly indentifiable silhouette. Perhaps all of the above.
Drag Me to Hell
Just in case you weren't sure about the very literal nature of the title, this fame-wreathed head-turner sets the record straight. Extra points for Alison Lohman's perfectly tousled hair and glistening necklace.
(in alphabetical order, and with apologies for the teeny-tiny size of the thumbnails above)
Gorgeous and so rare. Who wants to bet that the DVD cover will be just another gridded collection of generic head shots and critical praise?
Nearly as audacious as the movie itself. Perhaps the only movie poster to basically depict intercourse flat-out. And speaking of audacity, there's no ignoring the prominence of von Trier's name, letting you know who the star of the show really is.
A beauty of overly saturated colors and tacky melodrama -- aka, pure Almodovar.
Perfectly captures the movie's human-body-as-shell ideas, while also -- perhaps unintentionally -- playing up the bushiness of Giamatti's everyman mustache, which, oddly enough, was one of the things about this film that stayed with me.
The Girlfriend Experience
From the expression on porn star Sasha Grey's face, to the telephone reciever-like dot pattern, to the tagline ("See it with someone you f**k), this poster is totally sexy, and makes me want to see the movie immediately (alas, I still haven't). If I were doing rankings, this one would easily land at No. 1.
Funnier and more pleasant than the movie it advertises, it's goofy and great, achieving the same kind of irony as that oh-so-famous "40-Year-Old Virgin" image.
Oh, how I love this one. Nails the protagonist's isolation, mental struggles and the setting with one hypnotic shape, while also being super-stylish. The whole '60s Mod vibe is terrific.
Precious and... Precious
I'd normally choose to share the wealth and see to it that as many films/posters as possible were represented but, the truth is, "Precious" boasted two of the year's best poster designs. The first is a bleak and brilliant portrait of a character who is very much a work in progress. And, like the film, the necklace-as-title demands that you look closer to find out who this girl is. The second is a tasteful, yet slyly explicit representation of the atrocities that have befallen Precious. The image is literally shattering.
*See which posters I loved in 2008 and 2007.