Monday, February 26, 2007

The Oscar entry in which I blather on incessantly...

Take a bow, Ms. Laura Ziskin. You did the unthinkable, and I for one am eating my words. For those reading who are not aware of what I'm talking about, let me just point out that the last Oscar telecast with a producer's credit next to your name was the infamous four hour and twenty-something-minute elephant of 2002 (the year of A Beautiful Mind mini-sweepage, which just makes it so much worse.) I doubted that you could pull it off, but last night's 79th Academy Awards show - though surely not a contender for the shortest ceremony ever - was a total delight from start to finish... (aside from one woefully bad misstep, but let us start with the good first.) For one thing, Laura, it was actually and consistently entertaining. It was laid-back. Classy, but casual. And the bizarre inclusions of the sound effects chorus and Pilobolus (the Shadow Dancers who mimed icons from nominated films) were genius. Ellen DeG was spectacular as well, but there was also some very solid organizing going on behind-the-scenes (very snappy transitions, mostly concise presentations and succinct clip choices.) Great work.

But what of the awards themselves, what of them?!

- Milena Canonero for Costume Design!!! We all knew that this category was kind of up in the air before the ceremony (especially since Dreamgirls certainly wouldn't have the sweeping power that Chicago did as a Best Picture frontrunner a couple of years ago), but I was really pleased that the voters were able to look past their (idiotic) problems with the film itself and see the brilliance in Canonero's work. And I love how she referred to the Oscar statuette as a "doll" in her speech. Hah!
- Well, The Departed is my pick for the best, the gutsiest and the most inspired Best Picture choice the Academy has made in recent years; certainly nothing comes to mind for me immediately that can compare (Return of the King is special to me, but they still chose the wrong installment, and while I do adore Shakespeare in Love, but even I admit that it was rather tailor-made for Oscar love considering the showbiz wink-winks and, well, the Weinsteins.) I mean, I'm still having trouble believing that the Best Picture Oscar went to a remake of all things, and at that a remake of an action thriller from Hong Kong! I have to say, I'm quite impressed with the Academy's general weirdness this year (can anyone remember the last time a film with so few nominations - a paltry five - was able to walk off with the major one and most of the other biggies? Even Crash had more nods last year.)
- The awesome Thelma Schoonmaker is able to win a third Oscar for the Irish mobster flick, having just unexpectedly scooped up a statuette two years ago for The Aviator. I was pretty taken aback by that, I have to admit. But once that happened, I knew that things were looking quite good for The Departed to win the Best Picture prize (if Babel couldn't pull it off in that category, then where else? I'll tell you where else, Best Original Sco-- ugh, it's infuriating... more in a second.)
- I haven't seen Happy Feet yet (really want to though), which upset Cars in the Animated Feature category, but it's quite heartening to see that Pixar doesn't have a monopoly over this category.

- How on earth did Children of Men's Emmanuel Lubezki lose the Oscar for Cinematography? Even as they were showing *the* scene in the car during the clip selections, I was already drooling. I suppose others are correct in suggesting that Pan's Labyrinth was much more picturesque and therefore accessible to the voters. Lubezki's work certainly wasn't attractive to the eye, but it wasn't supposed to be, and this is going down as the most shameful upset of the night. Bad form, Academy!
- And then there's Gustavo Santaolalla, who earned a consecutive trophy for his scoring duties on Babel, which is a little bit absurd considering most of the music was recycled from other sources (I read something somewhere about how only forty-five minutes was new material, but I'm not sure about that.) Still, "Deportation", one of the most chilling and effective tracks of the film, was used in Sally Potter's Yes two years ago as "Iguazu". Of Babel's nominations, this was the last place I was expecting anything to come to fruition.
- I'm not completely disgusted by this pick as much as the aforementioned oversights, but I'm still miffed that Alan Arkin was able to win for Little Miss Sunshine. I'm not a fan of the category in general, but I largely would have preferred Eddie Murphy to take this. I guess Norbit really did hurt his chances; something must have happened between SAG and now, and I can't think of anything else. Is it true that Murphy walked out after the category was called? Can anyone confirm that?
- I may have seen The Lives of Others upset coming in the Foreign Language Film category, but that doesn't mean it was deserving. I'm not big on Pan's, but out of what I've seen (Water being the other), it was the most deserving to take home the prize. Still, you can't feel bad for del Toro; his film came only second to Marty's for overall wins.

And in the tradition of last year, here are my special prizes for certain distinguished (or not) behaviour showcased on the Oscars...

Most Shocking and Deserving Winner of the Night: Milena Canonero, Marie Antoinette

Most Shocking and Undeserving Winner of the Night: Gustavo Santaolalla, Babel

Best Speech of the Night: Forest Whitaker, and this selection surprises me more than anyone, considering he's been downright incoherent all season. But he found his inner voice on that stage, which was absolutely breathtaking to witness (I admit it, I got chills: "And [God], who's given me this moment, in this lifetime, that I will hopefully carry to the end of my lifetime into the next lifetime.") I'm still not sure what it means, but I'm not sure it even matters.

Worst Presenter of the Night: Nicole Kidman, overly fussy and unprepared. Plus, doesn't she know that leading with "And the Winner Is" is a big no-no?

Most Infuriating (read: Worst) Moment of the Night: That ill-conceived montage pieced together by Michael Mann about the greatness of America with its freedom of opportunity, etc (riiiiight...) Started off interesting and with some subversive elements, but then become a Frankenstein monstrosity of sorts with clips from all sorts of movies with all sorts of tonal registers slapped together and made to seem significant. Did this rub anyone else the wrong way? It was stupid, it was unnecessary, and a waste of time (bordering on offensive.)

Most Generous Bosom: Jennifer Hudson, who I was really afraid would pop out during that Dreamgirls song presentation. Which means I was secretly wishing it would happen.

The "Why the Hell were You Invited?" Award Part II: J Lo and hubby AGAIN. Second year in a row. Seriously, why?

The Smith family just won't stop until I've professed utter love and adoration: Am I supposed to find Jaden Christopher Syre Smith cute and lovable too now? Ugh, fine. Uncle. Now please leave me alone, all three of you.

Most Cringe-Worthy Moment of the Night: Eddie Murphy's reaction when Rachel Weisz read "Alan Arkin". Eeps.

That said, biggest sourpuss of the night: Alan Arkin. Jeez, lighten up, would you? I'm talking specifically about his statements with the press backstage.

Best Line of the Night: "Look at Abigail Breslin over here. I mean, that's crazy, right? How old are you? Eight? Ten? Nine? She's a four year old girl, and just filled with joy and hope..." - Ellen DeGeneres

Most Terrified Winner of the Night: Eugenio Caballero, winning Best Art Direction for Pan's Labyrinth. He was trembling head to toe - I would know, I was watching on HD.

Most Passionate Musical Performance of the Night: No, not Melissa Etheridge, or J. Hudson. It was Jack Black actually, totally selling us on the Hollywood comedian's woes. Bonus points for pointing out how hot Helen Mirren is.

Please stop hammering it over our heads: The whole "we're so diverse/multicultural/international this year" self-congratulatory pat on the back. It's getting really unflattering. But the Steve Carell inclusion was amusing.

Most Off-putting Hero Worship: Davis Guggenheim slobbering all over Al Gore. He was two seconds away from humping the man's leg, I tell ya.

The Tom-Hanks-in-The-Da-Vinci-Code Award for Achievement in Hairstyle: Will Ferrell and his... afro. Last year's winner? Tom Hanks.

Best Improv Performance on the Fly: Meryl Streep, immediately lapsing into character in order to terrorize presenters Anne Hathaway and Emily Blunt. Hilarious.

Best Moment of the Night Overall: Why, Marty clutching his Oscar of course. What else?

Moment where I totally lost it:

That picture sums it up pretty well. Also when the gun from The Departed shot a bullet (!). My friend Lauren and I were in giddy hysterics.

Best Follow-Up to that Moment: Ellen DeG emerges all disheveled from backstage and happily offers: "They're naked!"

FASHION COMMENTARY (and excessive Helen Mirren adoration)

Now to the fashion and celebrity worship. One of my favourite quips from last night wasn't featured on the actual show, but was uttered in the Lauren's living room early in the night during the arrivals:

Me (genuinely perplexed): "Why on earth is Helen Mirren on the red carpet waving a Union Jack?"
Lauren: "She's invading."

My wise friend speaks the truth. For me, for all the goodness that transpired last night Oscar-wise and fashion-wise, it was all about the über-sexy Helen Mirren, the Queen herself, swooping in and conquering (colonizing?) my heart and soul. I've always adored the woman as you might expect, but it was only yesterday that I made the complete conversion to Mirren-mania like the rest of the world lately. I think it had a lot to do with Barbara Walters' interview, and how refreshingly honest and candid Mirren was during her bit. We both loved her response to Barbara's typically schmoozing question - "Do you feel perhaps as a result of all this success that the best is yet to come?" Helen's cutting and truthful response: "No. No, I think this is probably the best... I can't wait to see what happens next."

Also great - "I never wear trousers... because I have an enoooormous bottom!" And her bashing of Americans who for some reason have a big thing for shorts. I love it.

Plus, say hello to the number one best-dressed celeb last night. The woman was freaking royalty - just look at her... Today she stopped in on Oprah (ugh, I feel dirty for watching) and showed off the luminous Christian Lacroix dress in full detail. It was pretty stunning. I'm just as shocked as anyone by this pick, because I've been really underwhelmed with Helen's choices throughout the season, but she really settled on the correct awards show to blow us all away with this stunner. I watched the telecast in HD, and whenever she appeared, she literally glittered. I'm not even joking. I'm in love.

The next best six (#2-#7), click to enlarge:

Last year, it was Jessica Alba who surprised me with a winning ensemble, and this time around, it's another Jessica who stood out - Ms. "Take Me Seriously as an Actress Already" Biel in fuchsia. I don't know what the girl's been doing lately, but she must have hired a stylist who knows the right ways. This is Oscar de la Renta I believe, and it was nice to see such a bold colour pick in a sea of metallics and soft hues (but it's the belt that makes it really stellar.) Bravo all around. But then again, that body would look good in anything, wouldn't it? My love Cate Blanchett looked other-worldly (as expected), particularly because of that awesome shoulder strap. Best in show for the guys was James McAvoy; as a short guy myself, I know how frustrating it is to find clothes that fit properly, but he was perfection (I need to remember this image when I buy a new suit this summer.) Somehow, I missed Maggie Gyllenhaal during the pre-show, but I was thrilled to see her present on stage. A real treat for the eyes, and the best part was the hair. And finally, I didn't really like Gwyneth upon first glance, but by the end of the night, I was convinced. It's weirdly constructed (particularly the top) and an interesting colour for skin tone, but Paltrow can pull off most things, can't she? (Except for that droopy boob/goth number in '02. Oy.)

Biggest surprise of the night? Cameron Diaz in Valentino Coutoure, who has made a great comeback after the strangeness that was the Globes (still, that dress had its plus points; I'm not a total hater, see?) She looked quite lovely last night, and I adored how cute her bum looks in that dress... but to be honest, the earrings are what sold me.

Runner-ups: Diane Keaton (who should be up there on the list, but I couldn't find a picture of her; still, how delightful to see her out of gloves and a top hat); Anika Noni Rose (plain hotness); Céline Dion (can't stand the woman, but I have to admit she looked together for once); Eva Green (utterly bizarre and yet oddly compelling; I like risks, and it paid off for the most part - btw, did anyone see her at the BAFTAs? Whooooa); Mark Wahlberg (but then again, how could he not look good in a tux?); Rachel Weisz fantastic in Vera Wang; Rinko Kikuchi (best she's looked all season IMO), Daniel Craig because he's Daniel Craig, and Jodie Foster... Yeah, I think that's it. Milena Canonero too (see above), for looking totally at ease in that super-elegant tux.

Now the ones I'm kind of mixed on...

Jennifer Hudson's Oscar de la Renta dress was okay (I far preferred her vavavoom! Jessica Rabbit sparking red number during the Dreamgirls song presentation), but what the hell was that metallic cape collar around her shoulders on the red carpet? Traumatizing. I ranted and raved for hours until her category came up, and then I was relieved to see that she had dropped it when she walked up the stairs. I love the Blunt, but her hair was way too stiff, which threw the whole outfit out of whack for me. Kate Winslet was... fine, but pale makeup-wise (and that dress colour thusly washed her out); I preferred her at the Globes, even with the badly chosen lipstick. Still, it's not fair to expect brilliance each time around, considering she was best in show the years of Iris and Eternal Sunshine. Biggest disappointment of the night for me was Penelope Cruz; the top half was fine, but the excessive ruffles at the bottom killed my appetite. Plus, that bun was pulled way too tight across her skull (was she taking styling tips from Leo DiCaprio?); made her look quite severe. Not a fan, sad to say. And while Reese Witherspoon looked perfectly fine, I'm kind of scared that she's turning into a life size Barbie. So on the mixed list she goes... And well, Streep was okay (she can never look bad, and the hair/face was aces), but I would have expected better of Ms. Miranda Priestly dress-wise in the year of Prada. It would have been decent if not for that giant pendant.

Worst dressed of the night?

Kirsten Dunst was a walking trainwreck, I'm sorry to say. What was she thinking? Sloppy, ill-fitting and an unflattering colour. She just looked like she didn't care. The vest-like top was poorly integrated, and the little poofs at the bottom were laughable. The hair looked like she had mounted it herself in the limo, and the bangs across the forehead are so Little Women '94. Grow up! Sheesh. BFFs Nicole Kidman and Naomi Watts looked... off. I don't know how else to put it. Nic should have learned from last year that giant bows situated on your shoulder do not work, even if you are tall and statuesque. Naomi was scary: Nathaniel already put it best re: ripping off Blanchett in '05 (very sharp eye!) Dishonourable mentions to Anne Hathaway, Jada Pinkett-Smith and Kelly Preston as well.

Well, that's all I have to offer. A special thanks to my friend Lauren and her fam for hosting my shenanigans this year. I hope you all had a Happy Oscars! Until next year...

Best. Oscars. Evar.

More to come tomorrow afternoon.

Friday, February 23, 2007

I call it for Ba-The Dep-No-Er-The Queen?

1. Babel (25%)
2. The Departed (25%)
3. The Queen (20%)
4. Little Miss Sunshine (20%)
5. Letters from Iwo Jima (10%)

I must confess that throughout the editing stages, every single film listed here was seated in the #1 position at some point. That should tell you something about the numerical rankings here - they're really not indicative of anything whatsoever (but have them, I must.) Letters from Iwo Jima is just as much a threat for the big prize as The Queen in this bizarre awards season we've been having. I really wish the Academy would release the voting stats after the ceremony, just this once - wouldn't it be wild to see how close the race was? I believe every film will receive sizable ballot support, and in the end, I don't think the winner will have won by an overwhelming majority. As for my analysis here, I will go through the list by the process of elimination:

Letters from Iwo Jima - In its favour, it managed to beat all odds (tiny box office, little precursor love, low buzz) and re-emerge full force during the nomination stages. Still, if the film is this year's Munich, then perhaps its greatest victory is that it even managed to get this far. And really, could it win the big prize and... nothing else aside one technical?

Little Miss Sunshine - Purportedly, the film that "everyone loves". Perhaps some of my own bias is colouring my dismissal of it, but is this really what everyone believes to be the Best Film of the Year? Yes, it has enjoyed considerable staying power throughout the last few months, and has even racked up some major guild prizes here and there (PGA, SAG & WGA). Nothing to scoff at for sure, but in a season like this, does any of that really even matter? Surely last year has taught us not to religiously embrace precedent in times of doubt. I remember a couple of years ago, many pundits had insisted that Moulin Rouge! was to be the upset of the night, citing the same strengths that the LMS supporters herald right now - "it's well loved, it has the PGA and it appeals to the actors' branch." We all know how that turned out... but again, it wouldn't shock me if the film does emerge victorious Sunday night. If Little Miss Sunshine is the movie success story of the year, perhaps voters will want to top it off with a fairy tale ending...

The Queen - British, safe and uncontroversial; perhaps those are exactly the factors that will give the Frears picture an edge in this race. In many ways, this feels very much like a Best Picture in the vein of Miramax productions during the 90s. It has been well-respected by critics from the get-go, it has a respectable box office take, and Helen Mirren's winning streak has people buzzing. The only thing working against it is the lack of a significant Best Picture prize during the season (even Crash had a smattering of citations here and there.) It may have won the BAFTA, but that organization rarely has any influence on the Oscar race (see The Pianist, etc.) Which leaves...

Babel vs. The Departed - Perhaps the Scorsese film caters to the macho, "man's man" members of the Academy as some have argued, but how did that help Goodfellas in its year? Saving Private Ryan? I don't think it's so much the "International Crash" label that has me leaning towards the Iñárritu film, specifically in regards to last year's historic upset. Mostly, it's that Scorsese has never been able to manage a Best Picture win or anything close to it (despite sizable support in other categories), and I feel that voters will feel like giving him the Director's prize will be enough. The Departed, I think, will be seen as too "genre" and perhaps not as weighty as the other nominees. My prediction for Babel also comes with personal baggage - throughout the last few months, I've been consistently underestimating the flick. Even after I saw it, I was utterly convinced that such a dark and critical film would never find favour with Academy voters. Because I've been wrong on so many different counts, perhaps this is a sign that I should get on the film's side? Either way, this race has been a blast to mull over. For once, the end of the telecast will be worth anticipating.

Will Win: Babel, with The Departed only a few votes behind (see, I'm already starting to doubt myself.)
Should Win: *The Departed

Will Win: *Martin Scorsese, The Departed
Spoiler: Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu, Babel
Should Win: Marty

Whatever happens in the Best Picture race, this award can't go to anyone else. Just like Ang Lee last year, it's time for Marty to win. Otherwise, the universe will collapse upon itself.

Will Win: *Helen Mirren, The Queen
Spoiler: Kate Winslet, Little Children... but really now, as if.
Should Win: Penelope Cruz, Volver

As tedious as it has been for the past few months, kudos to Dame Helen. It's about time the 20-ish/30-ish streak was broken (I don't want to say "babe obsession", because she undoubtedly is one.)

Will Win: *Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland
Spoiler: Peter O'Toole, Venus
Should Win: Ryan Gosling, Half Nelson

The sentimental "owed" factor for O'Toole should not be underestimated, but Whitaker has won everything that counts. He's as much a lock as Helen Mirren, methinks (he can't be far behind in terms of overall awards.) Hopefully he's been working on his speech so we don't have to cringe and wince when he accepts his trophy.

Will Win: *Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls
Spoiler: Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine
Should Win: Emily Blunt, The Dev- er.. Adriana Barraza, Babel

Unless the voters have been really bowled over with Abigail's cuteness, Hudson takes home the award that has been reserved in her name ever since the film was in the can. Moreover, if Breslin couldn't win the SAG, how much of a chance does she have in the Oscar race?

Will Win: Eddie Murphy, Dreamgirls
Spoiler: *Alan Arkin, Little Miss Sunshine
Should Win: If forced to choose, then Mark Wahlberg in The Departed

Norbit? The Mexican. That makes sense, I hope. What I mean is, Julia Roberts had that latter film release right before the big ceremony in March 2001. The rom-com got stinker reviews, but it still couldn't derail her awards sweep-age. Now, the supposed vileness of Norbit doesn't really compare to the material in The Mexican, but my point is that I doubt past/future projects have much sway over voting. If Murphy had beat the crap out of someone during voting time (like Russell Crowe in the year of A Beautiful Mind), then we'd have something to think about. Anyways, how often is it that an actor who has won GG + SAG has lost the Oscar (Lauren Bacall aside?)

Will Win: *Michael Arndt, Little Miss Sunshine
Spoiler: Peter Morgan, The Queen
Should Win: I'm not nuts about any of them, but I'd be fine with either Morgan or Yamashita, I suppose.

A three-way race between Arndt, Morgan and Guillermo Arriaga for Babel. I could see any of these men take the golden statuette, but I concede that Little Miss Sunshine needs to win something somewhere.

Will Win: *William Monahan, The Departed
Spoiler: Patrick Marber, Notes on a Scandal
Should Win: William Monahan, The Departed

I guess a Borat upset isn't out of the question either, but I think The Departed's status as a Best Picture frontrunner highly bolsters Monahan's chances here. I will tear out my hair should Marber win.

Will Win: *Pan's Labyrinth
Spoiler: Dreamgirls
Should Win: Pan's Labyrinth or The Prestige

The Good Shepherd could surprise everyone, seeing as set decorator Gretchen Rau passed away earlier this year. Dreamgirls is also a conceivable winner. Still, Pan's has the wow factor, and the fantasy sequences really leave a mark (despite the majority of the running time taking place in the "real world.")

Will Win: Emmanuel Lubezki, Children of Men
Spoiler: *Guillermo Navarro, Pan's Labyrinth
Should Win: I'd be thrilled with any winner here, but it's Lubezki's time.

The ASC doesn't always correlate with Oscar, but things look good for Lubezki on his fourth nomination. Everyone who has seen Children of Men always talks about that scene in the car, and that should definitely influence voters here.

Will Win: Sharen Davis, Dreamgirls
Spoiler: *Milena Cannonero, Marie Antoinette
Should Win: Milena Cannonero, Marie Antoinette

Gah, it's between these two gals in my estimation, but I'll be safe and go with Davis. I know that the CDGA went to Chung Man Yee for Curse of the Golden Flower, but that guild is a little... off (they looove Colleen Atwood a little too much, methinks, and they didn't even nominate Gladiator and Moulin Rouge! - eventual winners in this category.)

Will Win: Douglas Crise, Stephen Mirrione, Babel
Spoiler: Clare Douglas, Richard Pearson, Christopher Rouse, United 93
Should Win: *Thelma Schoonmaker, The Departed

Someone please remind me why Blood Diamond is included here? Sigh. The Departed's Thelma Schoonmaker would have a better chance had she not won for The Aviator two years ago. So I'm thinking that Babel dukes it out with the critical favourite United 93 here, but since the former film's construction is a lot more showy and geographically/temporally expansive than the 9/11 flick, Crise and Mirrione look likely to take the podium Sunday night.

Will Win: An easy get for *Pan's Labyrinth
Spoiler: Apocalypto
Should Win: Pan's Labyrinth

If the sloppy work on the Chronicles of Narnia could win last year, then Pan's Labyrinth totally deserves this one.

Will Win: Javier Navarrete, Pan's Labyrinth
Spoiler: Thomas Newman, The Good German
Should Win: Alexandre Desplat for The Pain- oh, er, Clint Mansell for The Foun-... oh who cares?

Ack, another really difficult race to call. I think Newman could win a career prize, but The Good German doesn't really have the momentum that Navarrete's film presently does. If Desplat had got in the for the right movie, he'd totally be my pick here...

Will Win: *"I Need to Wake Up", An Inconvenient Truth
Spoiler: "I Love You I Do", Dreamgirls
Should Win: "I Love You I Do", Dreamgirls

Acting on instinct, so no commentary here.

Will Win: *Dreamgirls
Spoiler: Apocalypto
Should Win: Dreamgirls

I was quite impressed with the work on most films nominated here, and since there is no Best Picture nominee in the running, I could see any one of them as the winner. I suppose you can't count out Kevin O'Connell and company for Apocalypto, seeing the guy's being nominated eighteen times before this and never won.

Will Win: *Letters from Iwo Jima
Spoiler: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
Should Win: Letters from Iwo Jima or Flags of Our Fathers


Will Win: *Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
Spoiler: Superman Returns
Should Win: Superman Returns

For the work on Davey Jones alone, the Pirates team has this in the bag.

Will Win: Cars
Spoiler: *Happy Feet
Should Win: Monster House

Why even bother having this category every year a new Pixar film is out?

Will Win: *An Inconvenient Truth
Spoiler: Iraq in Fragments

Guggenheim's film is a cultural phenomenon. I have not seen the other documentaries, so I will refrain from making a personal choice.

Will Win: *The Lives of Others (Germany)
Spoiler: Pan's Labyrinth (Mexico)
Should Win: Pan's Labyrinth, out of the three I've seen.

If the popular and adored Amelie had five nods and still could not pull off a win here, what makes Pan's Labyrinth a lock? Having seen The Lives of Others, I would not be surprised if voters decided to shock us with many a vote in the German film's direction.

Projected Tally
Dreamgirls - 4 (Supporting Actress, Supporting Actor, Costumes, Sound Mixing) - am INSANE for predicting this many?
Pan's Labyrinth - 3 (Art Direction, Makeup, Original Score)
Babel - 2 (Picture, Editing)
The Departed - 2 (Director, Adapted Screenplay)
An Inconvenient Truth - 2 (Documentary, Original Song)
Cars - 1 (Animated Film)
Children of Men - 1 (Cinematography)
The Last King of Scotland - 1 (Actor)
Letters from Iwo Jima - 1 (Sound Effects Editing)
Little Miss Sunshine - 1 (Original Screenplay)
The Lives of Others - 1 (Foreign Language Film)
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest - 1 (Visual Effects)
The Queen - 1 (Actress)

Score: 14/21 = 67%

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Patience? What is that?

March 6th? But I want it now!

Sunday, February 04, 2007

#8 (Male Performances in Review 2000-2004)

Ryan Gosling may be, far and away, the most deserving candidate in this year's Best Actor race for his slow-burning, swaggering take on the tired junkie character in Half Nelson, but for me, his career-best work "arrived" more than five years ago. It is in Henry Bean's highly controversial The Believer, a film loosely based on the life of Dan Burros, that features Gosling at his most unpredictable and volatile as an artist. For the purposes of the film, Burros is renamed Daniel Balint, but the puzzling details largely remain the same. In the early 60s, Burros - once a promising and devout student of Orthodox Judaism - unexpectedly turned in his outlook to align with the white-supremest American Nazi Party. He was initially successful in keeping his religious and ethnic background a secret from his comrades, but once a New York Times reporter exposed the truth in an article, Burros ended his life shortly thereafter. Bean's film attempts to piece together the stages of the young man's journey, and understand the degree of control that Balint/Burros must have possessed in order to selectively display and veil these parts of himself to others. It is a terrifying, deeply sad character study, and Bean does an able job in giving this disturbed and confused soul the right degree of sympathy (and an equal weight of aversion.) And his greatest asset is undoubtedly Gosling - the actor's transformation is nothing short of unbelievable. It is very difficult to make the connection between this violent, unstable aggressor and the affable dork Gosling portrayed on the cheesy tween series "Breaker High", or even the swoon-worthy Noah in The Notebook, the role he is best known (and loved) for. Even Half Nelson's Dan Dunne, a selfish and irresponsible teacher, is a saint in comparison.

In Gosling's hands, Daniel is one of the most unhinged, terrifying figures I've ever encountered in my years of worshiping the cinema. There is something unnerving about the way he looks ruefully out at the world; one gets the sense that if provoked, that cold unfeeling exterior will quickly give way to the raging beast within. And it does: Bean and Gosling hide nothing when the character savagely attacks with his words or fists, subjecting us to the ugliness of this man's hatred. Despite the fact that this disgust is clearly directed at himself and the inescapable reality of his core being, the cruelty is mostly visited upon the outside world and its people. He is a walking and living terror, the kind of brute you would never want to cross paths with, not even in broad daylight in a busy part of town. Consider the scene in the restaurant when the reporter casually brings up Daniel's Jewish background - the look Gosling responds with is at once so furious, helpless and self-righteous that you have expect him to murder the man in a panic. You can note both the defeat of having been "found out", and the denial of this charge that follows. "Do I look Jewish to you?", he spits indignantly; "Look at this!", he points to his own shaved head and clothes, as if they are proof enough to validate his claims. It is the defining moment when the monster is faced with his own hypocrisy and the inescapable contradiction of his values.

See the trailer here.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

2006 List

(* indicates that it perhaps may not be eligible/counted as a 2006 release by original imdb dates)

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu [Christi Puiu]
Iran: une révolution cinématographique [Nader T. Homayoun]
Marie Antoinette [Sofia Coppola]
Volver [Pedro Almodovar]

*L’Enfant [Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne]
*Iron Island [Mohammad Rasoulof]
Monster House [Gil Kenan]
*The Sun [Alexander Sokurov]
*The Wayward Cloud [Tsai Ming-liang]

49 Up [Michael Apted]
Casino Royale [Martin Campbell]
The Departed [Martin Scorcese]
The Descent [Neil Marshall]
District B13 [Pierre Morel]
Half-Nelson [Ryan Fleck]
Inside Man [Spike Lee]
*Manderlay [Lars von Trier]
The Namesake [Mira Nair]
Offside [Jafar Panahi]
The Silly Age [Pavel Giroud]
When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts [Spike Lee]
The Wind that Shakes the Barley [Ken Loach]

Art School Confidential [Terry Zwigoff]
Borat: Cultural Learnings of America To Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan [Larry Charles]
Children of Men [Alfonso Cuarón]
Confetti [Debbie Isitt]
*Drawing Restraint 9 [Matthew Barney]
*Duck Season [Fernando Eimbcke]
The Fall [Tarsem Singh]
Flags of Our Fathers [Clint Eastwood]
The Forsaken Land [Vimukthi Jayasundara]
The Fountain [Darren Aronofsky] 2x, up from C
*Free Zone [Amos Gitai]
A Grave-Keeper’s Tale [Chitra Palekar]
Infamous [Douglas McGrath]
The Lake House [Alejandro Agresti]
The Last King of Scotland [Kevin Macdonald]
Letters from Iwo Jima [Clint Eastwood]
Lights in the Dusk [Aki Kaurismäki]
Omkara [Vishal Bharadwaj]
Pan’s Labyrinth [Guillermo del Toro]
The Prestige [Christopher Nolan]
The Queen [Stephen Frears]
Quinceañera [Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland]
Rescue Dawn [Werner Herzog]
Strangers with Candy [Paul Dinello]
Syndromes and a Century [Apichatpong Weerasethakul]
Three Times [Hou Hsiao-hsien]
Umrao Jaan [J.P. Dutta]
V for Vendetta [James McTeigue]

Babel [Alejandro González Iñárritu]
The Black Dahlia [Brian De Palma]
Breaking and Entering [Anthony Minghella]
The Devil Wears Prada [David Frankel]
Factory Girl [George Hickenlooper]
Friends with Money [Nicole Holofcener]
*Glue [Alexis Dos Santos]
*A Good Woman [Mike Barker]
The Illusionist [Neil Burger]
An Inconvenient Truth [Davis Guggenheim]
Jindabyne [Ray Lawrence]
The Magic Flute [Kenneth Branagh]
*Mrs. Harris [Phillis Nagy]
The Notorious Bettie Page [Mary Harron]
The Road to Guantanamo [Michael Winterbottom]
Starter for Ten [Tom Vaughan]
Stick It [Jessica Bendinger]
Thank You For Smoking [Jason Reitman]
World Trade Center [Oliver Stone]

Adam & Steve [Craig Chester]
Big Bang Love, Juvenile A [Takashi Miike]
The Da Vinci Code [Ron Howard]
Dave Chappelle’s Block Party [Michel Gondry]
Dreamgirls [Bill Condon]
Dreamland [Jason Matzner]
Lady in the Water [M. Narcissist Shyamalan]
The Lives of Others [Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck]
A Prairie Home Companion [Robert Altman]
The Proposition [John Hillcoat]
Shortbus [John Cameron Mitchell]

Blood Diamond [Edward Zwick]
Dong [Zhang Ke Jia]
Little Children [Todd Field]
Little Miss Sunshine [Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris]
The Lives of Others [Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck]
Mission Impossible 3 [Jon Abrams]
The Painted Veil [John Curran]
Penelope [Mark Palansky]
The Pursuit of Happyness [Gabrielle Muccino]
Sherrybaby [Laurie Collyer]
She’s the Man [Andy Fickman]
Stranger Than Fiction [Marc Forster]
Superman Returns [Bryan Singer]

Bobby [Emilio Estevez]
The Break Up [Peyton Reed]
Brick [Rian Johnson]
Failure to Launch [Tom Dey]
I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone [Tsai Ming-liang]
Laghe Raho Munnabhai [Rajkumar Hirani]
Notes on a Scandal [Richard Eyre]
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest [Gore Verbinski]
Tideland [Terry Gilliam]
To Get to Heaven First You Have to Die [Djamshed Usmonov]
United 93 [Paul Greengrass]

Chup Chup Ke [Priyadarshan]
Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna [Karan Johar]
Running with Scissors [Ryan Murphy]
Scary Movie 4 [David Zucker]
When a Stranger Calls [Simon West]
X3: X-Men United [Brett Ratner]

Don: The Chase Begins Again [Farhan Akhtar]
RV [Barry Sonnenfield]
Step Up [Anne Flecther]

Climates [Nuri Bilge Ceylan]
Venus [Roger Michell]

Apocalypto [Mel Gibson]
Fanaa [Kunal Kohli]

Friday, February 02, 2007

Wrapping up loose threads.

As I look towards the continent-- err, blog index situated to the left of my screen, I see that only a few more titles remain on the "Still Pending" list before I start my top ten list countdown. Sadly, documentaries and animated films are scarce to be seen on my 2006 list and I felt guilty enough about this yesterday to visit the video store and rectify this injustice. I just finished up with An Inconvenient Truth, a cinematic adaptation of Al Gore's global warming presentation I had meant to catch months ago (whoops), and I plan to give that spooky Monster House a look in the next few minutes. The Guggenheim doc was expectedly informative and even intelligible to a science dunce like me, but I don't think the director removes himself enough from the kind of hero worship I warily anticipated from the get-go. Gore, undeniably an appealing protagonist, has invested much of his energy and dedication to bringing awareness to this hotly-debated issue, but the film is too eager to paint him as the singular, do-no-wrong champion of the cause. The opening and closing moments of the film are telling in this regard, but still, as a educational resource, I think it's one of the most important films of the year. Hopefully the Oscar win next month will draw more viewers who were initially doubtful that a movie about Gore and the weather of all things would be worthwhile. B-

I've had a good run with the movies lately, as you can see from the grades posted. Strangers with Candy - a prequel to the series I'd had little knowledge of before now - was delightful; a giddy mockery of high school movie clichés and the familiar "lessons learned". I'm even thinking of adding the maniac Amy Sedaris to my very competitive Best Actress list; her work is utterly fearless (and equally revolting.) Hysterical stuff. Another film featuring strong work by a lead actress is Quinceañera, the small film about an extended Mexican family in California's Echo Park that won the Audience Award at Sundance last year. The weaknesses are apparent (I certainly wish that the final twenty minutes didn't exist), but it does more things right than wrong. It's a very courageous take on the Virgin Mary tale, and the fact that this particular directing duo (Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, professional and private partners both) did this this lends a lot to post-screening discussion. And by the way, Emily Rios in the lead role leaves Abigail Breslin, Ivana Baquero and Keke Palmer in the dust. B's for both. I'll definitely have a lot to say about The Death of Mr. Lazarescu later on; for now, SEE IT IMMEDIATELY.

After finishing up with the haunted house movie, I think I'll have seen everything I wanted to (at least for now.) It's very hard to get a copy of Sherrybaby (really, what an unfortunate title) at the many rental places I frequent, but once I do, the top ten/fifteen + awards will be in the works. I definitely want to get started before the Oscars, because after that, everyone is exhausted and sick of this topic (I sense we've already reached that feeling in some sense.) I'm not too concerned about The Good Shepherd or Venus, but if I get the chance in the next few days, why not? (I'll definitely be watching the latter sometime in the next few weeks just because I'm an Oscar completest.) Then I have Winterbottom's Tristam Shandy, which I've had sitting on top of my DVD player forever (read: September), but still haven't had the inclination to sit through (- what's wrong with me? I love Steven Coogan and Naomie Harris!) Finally, I want to give Three Times a look after it showed up on some end-of-year lists (particularly Nick Schager's, who placed it in his #1 slot.) Everything else I can wait for - if I delayed any longer, the list would make an appearance in April like it did last year (and even then I added a title after-the-fact.)

And don't get me started on INLAND EMPIRE, okay? I understand that distributors wouldn't know what to do with it anyways and that Lynch had to release it himself, but I can't hold off until the DVD release in June. I just can't. If it's that good, then I'll write in an addendum later on.

I'm thinking of ways to host my awards on the blog; it will be difficult to have the entire list of categories on one page. Perhaps I'll split them into groups as others have done (Majors, Acting, Writing, etc) - it would look a lot neater.

The next few picks of Male Actors' Performances should be up this weekend.