Sunday, February 27, 2011

The King Will Speak at Tonight's Academy Awards

I write 2 Oscar posts. The one I am doing right now and the one I will write after the show. I personally don't see the need for any more than that because what makes the Oscars fun is the concept of the Oscars and what they represent, which is glamour and old Hollywood excess. It doesn't matter who wins. Winning an Oscar is about the equivalent of picking a name out of a hat (except foreign film). The voter need not see a single one of the nominated films to cast their ballot and they don't even need to be the one doing the voting. So, the awards are meaningless, which is why I don't dwell on them and don't get up in arms over Christopher Nolan not getting nominated or whether or not Toy Story 3 should be allowed to be nominated in Best Picture and Best Animation. Life's too short, let's just enjoy the ride and see how my ability to predict political voting is this year.

Best Foreign Film: This category is always up in the air and one I get wrong because A) I haven't seen all of the movies and B) the voters have to have seen all the movies. Regardless, I'll take my best guess and do what I did last year, going with the Golden Globe choice of Civilization because I think Susanne Bier is a brilliant filmmaker who doesn't get nearly the credit she is due in North America.

Best Animated Feature: The truly best film in this category will not win. Nothing has a shot over Toy Story 3, which made the most money in 2010 and tricked just about everyone into thinking it was a great movie due to 10 minutes at the end.
Who Should Win: The Illusionist
Who Will Win: Toy Story 3

Best Adapted Screenplay: I think this will be one of the categories where the true best will shine and may be one of the only awards, besides Original Score, that the Social Network will walk away with.
Who Should Win: The Social Network
Who Will Win: The Social Network

Best Original Screenplay: I always wonder what the Academy considers to be a good screenplay. Is it the dialogue, the structure, the characters? If it's dialogue and character than Inception doesn't have a chance. Not that it it does anyway. I actually have the insider advantage here as I covered the screenplay for The King's Speech about a year ago and indeed, it was very good. I wonder if I'll get a raise when it wins?
Who Should Win: The King's Speech
Who Will Win: The King's Speech

Best Director: The Golden Globe went to Fincher. The DGA went to Hooper. The DGA usually is the definitive word. If Hooper wins this one, and I think he will, The Social Network doesn't have a chance at best picture as King will probably also sweep the acting awards and Oscar generally doesn't argue with the DGA. Poor Aronofsky. His time will come eventually.
Who Should Win: David Fincher
Who Will Win: Tom Hooper

Best Supporting Actress: This is a tough one. I think we can strike out Jacki Weaver because Animal Kingdom doesn't have the push behind it that would lead to a win. Melissa Leo and Amy Adams could potentially split the vote and cancel each other out for The Fighter, leaving Helena Bonham Carter and Hailee Steinfeld. Oscar loves the British but Steinfeld should win for her scene alone in True Grit between herself and the crooked business man. Last year in the writing category I picked the actual best performance and was wrong so I think I'll go with the obvious this year instead.
Who Should Win: Hailee Steinfeld
Who Will Win: Helena Bonham Carter

Best Supporting Actor: It's down to Christian Bale and Geoffry Rush. Oscar likes weight loss and weight gain but King, I think, is going for a sweep and Oscar almost always votes British so I will too.
Who Should Win: John Hawkes
Who Will Win: Geoffry Rush

Best Actress: I think this one is fairly obvious although I'm not so sure Portman truly was the best, her performance being one part of Black Swan's whole. I found Nicole Kidman in Rabbit Hole to be far more engaging to Portman's "acting" in Black Swan. However, Oscar likes stars who put themselves through physical strain and Portman certainly did that, plus, Kidman gave one of those "quiet" performances that Christina Bale, at the Golden Globes, said no one really ever gets noticed for.Wouldn't it be fun if Oscar pulled a punch and let Anette Benning, who is just as deserving, have the win?
Who Should Win: Nicole Kidman or Anette Benning
Who Will Win: Natalie Portman

Best Actor: Let's continue to vote British.
Who Should Win: Jesse Eisenberg
Who Will Win: Colin Firth

Best Picture: Not much to say here. Once again, despite 10 nominees, just as it always was when there was 5, the race comes down to two. The Social Network was the best movie of the year for me, but the King's Speech is more of an Oscar movie and currently has much more momentum behind it. Plus, if Hooper and Firth win there's no chance for the Social Network to take it.
Who Should Win: The Social Network
Who Will Win: The King's Speech

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

One Minute Review: The Last Song

The Last Song is a perfectly serviceable Nicholas Sparks adaptation which is, more often than not, right around where Nicholas Sparks adaptations lay. It has the Sparks standbys: the budding romance between two unlikely lovers who start out on the wrong foot, the inevitable death of a key figure, and the trials and tribulations of maintaining a relationship between two people who's backgrounds are so wholly different. And, of course, the pretty bow-tie that everything is always wrapped up in.

The thing is that Sparks is such a middle-of-the-road writer (doing about what he has to and not much more) that his work requires a director who can cut through the melodrama and provide the proper background against which it can soar. The Notebook (still the best Sparks adaptation) found the scope and breadth to provide exactly the right note on which the audience could invest in it. The Notebook was  thus less a Nicholas Sparks adaptation and more a romance in the classic Hollywood vein of a pedigree we rarely ever see anymore. Melodrama can be big but it can't be shameless. That's often where Sparks fails as he meanders aimlessly from one heart tug to the next.

The Last Song sits right in the middle: it's nice, kind of sweet, tugs on the heartstrings a little and then fades away. Maybe it's because the story revolves around a character who is infinitely less interesting than just about everyone around here. Maybe that's partly to blame on star Miley Cyrus who can do broad children's entertainment (for what it's worth) but struggles here with the nuance of involving drama. 

Faring better is Greg Kinnear, so warm and natural, conveying emotions without even so much as trying, as Cyrus' father who is the most emotionally involving thing in the movie until he's unfortunately secured into the role of script convenience in the third act. 

And then the movie ends, leaving one no better or worse from having seen it. A collection of episodes that don't really find the emotional pull to add up to anything substantial. If you want to think of it in relative terms: It's not as good as The Notebook or A Walk to Remember and nowhere near as awful as Nights in Rodanthe.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Top 10 Movies of 2010

I'm with William Goldman who says there is is no such thing as the 10 best movies of the year, only the ten that the writer liked the best. It may be possible to argue for the best movies of the year but that would probably require that all the critics sat down and did a shot-by-shot analysis of ten of the same movies and spoke about things such as canted angles and split diopters and mise-en-scene and wide lenses and long lenses and long takes and deep focus and all those other vast technical things that make up filmic language and affect the way we see things, mostly unconsciously.

That's why I have named my list the Top 10 Movies of 2010. They aren't the best (I haven't seen every movie in 2010 so how could they be?), but rather the ones that moved me in some way the most because it is my belief that all art has the ability to move us in one of two ways: emotionally or intellectually (the best of which often does both) and that's what this list of films did.

The list however, isn't complete. I thought I could do better (which explains it's delay in arriving) but I've finally given up. As of this writing I still haven't seen The King's Speech, Somewhere, 127 Hours or Another Year. It is what it is.One of the film's is from 2009. Deal with it. It's my list. I saw it in 2010 and it deserves the recognition. Just to be fair, I've put it at number 10 if that makes the blow a little easier.

I'm also doing something a littler different this year. Instead of making a separate post for the worst films I'm just going to list them without explanation. Life's too short and it's hard coming up with ten different ways to say something sucked.

So, at long last, here is my 10 favourite films, but first, those honourable mentions that would have made the list were it not for those other 10 (some of them, of course, are from last year but were seen in 2010):

Sin Nombre, Whatever Works, Management, Shutter Island, Rudo Y Cursi, Hot Tub Time Machine, Away We Go, Summer Hours, Death at a Funeral, Everlasting Moments, Orphan, The Losers, Sugar, The Cove, The Messengers, In the Loop, Just Wright, You Don't Know Jack, Knight & Day, The Invention of Lying, Inception, Amreeka, Moon, Legend of the Guardians, Salt, The Karate Kid, 2012, Dinner for Schmucks, Flame & Citron, Bandslam, Taking Woodstock, Easy A, The Princess and the Frog, The Road, The Book of Eli, Pirate Radio, District 13: Ultimatum, Trucker, Morning Glory, Winter's Bone, Remember Me, The Trotsky, Public Speaking, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, She's Out of My League, Unstoppable, A Small Act.

10. Michael Jackson's This is It - Michael Jackson's This Is It doesn't sound like a good idea on paper. It's a collection of footage shot before the death of the pop icon, rehearsing for his upcoming comeback tour. However, despite how excellent the music is and what a true professional Jackson was, what this document truly reflects is just how few gifted contemporaries Jackson had. In a day when songs sound more like they were spit out of computers with no human involvement and performers sing in concerts to tapes and put on spectacles to mask lack of talent, Jackson actually sang, on a stage, to music that can be reproduced entirely by real instruments. And when his voice didn't have the power to reach the notes it needed, he utilized back up singers. This is It is thus a bittersweet farewell to one of pop music's last true talents.

9. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World - This film proved that if filmmaking is moving towards being nothing more than computer generated flashes of light and sound then it may as well still also be funny and entertaining and involve characters that we like and want to go on the journey with. Chalk it up to the combination of Michael Cera's ever charming screen personality and Edgar Wright's frantic imagination and ability to squeeze visual comedy out of every crevice of the film. Wright, a director of excesses who, finally after three tries, has found a platform in order to let his tendencies soar as opposed to bog down a story, goes to great painstaking detail in order to create the actual feel of a graphic novel and video game, while still allowing enough room for the characters to shine through, even if the story does dive into repetition. You wouldn't want every movie to be like this, but you're glad this one is.

8. Chloe - Mistaken and written off by many as trash, Atom Egoyan's Chloe is another dark and intelligent exploration of the lives of people who are all, in some way, emotionally connected. Like Egoyan's other works, but more straight forward this time, Chloe starts out at a distance and slowly zooms in in order to reveal relationships and connections in a light in which they didn't appear before. Taking the shape of an erotic thriller but delivering a fascinating character study of sex and need and desire, Chloe is also one of the few films that takes sex seriously and deals with it in an intelligent and mature manner.

7. True Grit - True Grit is, I guess, the only straight genre film by the Coen Brothers and shows that the madcap duo can play by the rules just as well as they can bend them. Stripped back and adhering to the conventions of the traditional western (while also finding the language and humor of the book that was lost in the earlier John Wayne adaptation of the same name) the Cohen's prove what master storytellers they are, building a film by creating one great scene after another. True Grit plays like a collection of short films that all run together. There's the scene with our young heroin haggling with a crooked business man, Rooster Cogburn's courtroom scene and so on, building up to a whole which is probably the entertainment of the year.

6. Hereafter - Another misunderstood film, this is an intelligent and compelling meditation on life and death that ends with the ultimate truth on the subject: that no one really knows. It involves three separate stories from around the world, who are connected by their encounters with death and who will all ultimately come into contact with one another. But the film, masterfully directed by Clint Eastwood, is not so much about story or plot as standing back and quietly meditating on how fragile life really is, how unexplainable the mysteries of the universe are and how little control we really have over the time we have here. The film doesn't claim it believes in a Heaven or not, but opens itself up to the possibility that there is, just maybe, something profound out there that cannot be explained. Than again, maybe not.

5. It's Kind of a Funny Story - Ryan Fleck and Anne Boden make genre films that stand outside of genre conventions and instead present real character dramas. They've made one film about a drug addicted teacher, one about a foreign baseball player and now one about a kid who checks himself into the mental ward at a hospital. Despite what a plot outline would suggest, the film avoids all opportunity to make fun of the colourful people who populate the ward and instead focuses on their hero and his journey toward discovering that maybe life isn't as bad as he thinks while he is accompanied by another young girl and another (Zack Galafinakis in a brilliant dramatic turn) mysterious fellow who has closed off his baggage from the world. The film avoids every opportunity to become cutesy or preachy and instead just follows this boy up to a realization that is both nice and utterly realistic in its open-endedness.

4. Rabbit Hole - Like Hereafter, Rabbit Hole is another meditation on death and all the mysteries of the universe from a completely different angle. This one is a quite, stripped back drama about a family coping with the loss of their young son. One of them is distant and has emotionally removed herself from the world, finding group meetings a joke and scorning her mother (Diane Wiest stealing the show) for trying to relate to her, and the other who is open and confused and resents how his wife is trying to erase their son as if he never existed. The film raises all the hard questions and delivers none of the easy answers. What begins as a simple drama slowly expands into questioning the entire nature of the universe.

3. Greenberg - There is a scene in which Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller in his best performance since Your Friends & Neighbours) steps gallantly into a swimming pool, stands at the edge, nobly prepares to swim a length and then sputters, coughs and gags his way to the ladder on the other side. That scene essentially defines Greenberg whose most noble actions end up pathetic attempts to prove nothing in particular. And as hard as it is to like this pompous man who fails at life, spends his time writing complaining letter to large corporations, has just recovered from a mental breakdown and is now taking some time off to just do nothing, Stiller kind of has you admiring the guy at the same time. Maybe that's the genius of Noah Bambauch's film: it never quite let's you know how to feel about this guy who can't quite do anything right, especially the on-again off-again romance he develops with his brother's assistant, but is still kind of admirable in his dedication to doing nothing at all. Greenberg is so fascinating because he is everything you wish you could have been and also every reason why you didn't.

2. Black Swan - Black Swan is another study in which director Darren Aronofsky follows a character unmercifully towards their own destruction as they try to reach for something that is just ever so slightly out of their human reach. This time it's a ballet dancer who has been set up with the nearly impossible task of taking the lead in a new version of Swan Lake. She's perfect for the role of the White Swan but is too meticulous and rigid for the part of the Black Swan. She is slowly driven mad in her attempt to unlock her personal hang-ups (parental, emotional, sexual) in order to unleash her inner black swan. Barbara Hershey, as her over bearing mother steals the show.

1. The Social Network - Here's a film that conveys a story that exists inside a paradox: the world's most popular social networking site was creating by a guy with next to no social skills whatsoever. The Social Network is thus a fascinating study of how one kid, so oblivious to the world around him, went on to create a phenomenon that has defined a generation and changed the way we relate to people and communicate with one another. The film is perfectly directed by David Fincher and written by Aaron Sorkin, who manages to create amazing dialogue that explains complex things in a way that is both compelling and yet can be understood by anyone watching. Like Fincher's last masterpiece Zodiac, The Social Network creates drama not through plot twists and turns but by piling mounds of information onto an exciting case. Jesse Eisenberg also deserves credit for his role as Matt Zuckerberg who gets to act the best scene in his career as Zuckerberg addresses a lawyer who he has been largely ignoring. As close to perfect as any other film this year.

The Bottom 10 Films of 2010:

Honourable Mentions: Valentine's Day, The Ugly Truth, Dead Snow, Ghosts of Girlfriend's Past, Franklyn, I Can do Bad All By Myself, Pandorum, The Final Destination, Sorority Row, Grown Ups, Couples Retreat, Did You Hear About the Morgans?, Whiteout, Armored, Nine, The Spy Next Door, Legion, Daybreakers, The Bounty Hunter, Furry Vengeance, Going the Distance, Love and Other Drugs

10. The Lovely Bones
9. Twilight: Eclipse
8. Killers
7. Year One
6. Kick-Ass
5. The Other Guys
4. When in Rome
3. The Boondock Saints: All Saints Day
2. I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell
1. Sex and the City 2