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Archive for January, 2011

My First Oscar Blog Post of the Season! The nominations were just recently announced and I thought I should give some insight here on my blog. First, let me start off by saying how the Academy wrongly snubbed the following: Christopher Nolan for Directing (Inception), Lee Smith for Editing (Inception), and Andrew Garfield for Best Supporting Actor (The Social Network). I could go on because I strongly disagree with some of the choices that they picked, but I won’t because the Academy Award nominations turned out fairly close to how I expected to turn out. Sure, Carlos got snubbed everywhere, but then again, Carlos was not popular in the USA as much as it is overseas. However, the Academy did surprise me with some excellent choices such as the brilliant pick of Exit through the Gift Shop for Best Documentary (my personal #2 of 2010). Among other excellent surprises, this set of nominees is a lot better than last year’s. We have 10 films in the Best Picture race that I would say are, at the very least, above average in quality. So, without further ado, I will now make my official predictions as to the winners of the 2010 Academy Awards and explanations for the respective predictions. (P.S. I’m also grateful to the Academy for not nominating The Town for Best Picture. I did not want to sit through that very bland looking movie. I’m proud to say that I had already seen every Best Picture nominee before the announcement.)

Bolded are my predicted winners.

Oscar Nominations 2011

Best Picture

‘Black Swan’

‘The Fighter’

‘Inception’

‘The Kids Are All Right’

‘The King’s Speech’

‘127 Hours’

‘The Social Network’

‘Toy Story 3’

‘True Grit’

‘Winter’s Bone’

I believe The Social Network haves this one in the bag. It’s a critic and audience favorite and has won most of the awards from the circuits for Picture by now. The only big threat to is The King’s Speech which is leading the number of nominations for a film this year. It is clearly liked, but I doubt the crossover appeal for it is equal to the wide audience range that The Social Network has.

Best Director

Darren Aronofsky, ‘Black Swan’

David O. Russell, ‘The Fighter’

Tom Hooper, ‘The King’s Speech’

David Fincher, ‘The Social Network’

Joel and Ethan Coen, ‘True Grit’

Even if The King’s Speech ultimately wins Best Picture, David Fincher is not losing this. He’s a industry favorite and he’s finally hit his stride with his excellent direction of The Social Network.

Best Actress

Annette Bening, ‘The Kids Are All Right’

Nicole Kidman, ‘Rabbit Hole’

Jennifer Lawrence, ‘Winter’s Bone’

Natalie Portman, ‘Black Swan’

Michelle Williams, ‘Blue Valentine’

Oh, Lord. What a beyond difficult choice to make. Well, we can already count out Jennifer Lawrence. She’s the discovery of the year (ala Carey Mulligan in last year’s An Education) and and her film is so indie that it’s a award for just being nominated. Michelle Williams is out too – she’s the lone nomination for her film and while she gives a high caliber performance that is far better than the two leading frontrunners of this category, its just too subtle for it to win. Nicole Kidman is not one of those frontrunners because she gives a equally astonishing performance that’s so effortless it left me in awe as I walked out of the theatre. I’d kill for her to upset and receive her second Oscar, but its not her year. No, this year belongs to Bening and Portman, two actresses who have been duking it out at awards shows for the past few months. To be perfectly honest, Portman edges out Bening for me to win. Why? Because her performance is just better, period. Not only that, but the film is a lot more interesting than the bland one Bening stars in. For talent alone, Portman will probably win this. But Bening does have overdue card (she lost twice to Swank in 1999 and 2004). It could be internally argued at the Academy that it is Bening’s time to receive her Oscar for all of her sublime performances that were not awarded over the years. For now though, I’m going with Portman. Her performance makes her movie while Bening’s does not.

Best Actor

Javier Bardem, ‘Biutiful’

Jeff Bridges, ‘True Grit’

Jesse Eisenberg, ‘The Social Network’

Colin Firth, ‘The King’s Speech’

James Franco, ‘127 Hours’

Oh what I would give to see Eisenberg get up on that stage! Alas, it’s not happening. This is Firth’s Oscar, partly because he should of won last year and partly because he gives a excellent, transformative performance.

Best Supporting Actress

Amy Adams, ‘The Fighter’

Helena Bonham Carter, ‘The King’s Speech’

Melissa Leo, ‘The Fighter’

Hailee Steinfeld, ‘True Grit’

Jacki Weaver, ‘Animal Kingdom’

This category is pretty unpredictable. A case to win could be made for any of these fine actresses. But I’m here to predict. Okay, so the reason why Jacki Weaver won’t get awarded is because A). Animal Kingdom is a underseen film and B). her nomination is the film’s only one. So, she’s out. Helena Bonham Carter could win if The King’s Speech swept, but I’m highly doubting it will. Plus, her character is not as showy as  the others. Another one bites the dust. I feel that Hailee Steinfeld could pose a major threat with all the nominees her film, True Grit, got and the fact that she’s the film’s real protagonist (can somebody say category fraud?). However, she’s also very young and only on rare occurrences have actresses her age actually won the Oscar before. She has plenty of tries ahead of her. And then there were two. Here’s the major dilemma: Amy Adams is clearly a Academy favorite (she got nominated for itty bitty indie film no one for ten minutes of screen time AND she was nominated for her rather terrible performance in Doubt), while Melissa Leo is clearly the Awards circuit favorite. I could see either one win, honestly. I hope that Amy Adams does, but I can see her losing out because Melissa Leo clearly has the more showy role. It’s a conundrum. I’m predicting Melissa for now, but I’m going to reserve the right to change this one category in the future if I please.

Best Supporting Actor

Christian Bale, ‘The Fighter’

John Hawkes, ‘Winter’s Bone’

Jeremy Renner, ‘The Town’

Mark Ruffalo, ‘The Kids Are All Right’

Geoffrey Rush, ‘The King’s Speech’

Not even a question. Christian Bale will win this for sure. Not only has he won the awards circuit, he also truly deserves the Oscar for his brilliant performance.

Best Film Editing

‘Black Swan’, Andrew Weisblum

‘The Fighter’, Pamela Martin

‘The King’s Speech’, Tariq Anwar

‘127 Hours’, Jon Harris

‘The Social Network’, Angus Wall & Kirk Baxter

If Inception was nominated, it would have taken this category easily. Since it was bizarrely snubbed, The Social Network will most likely take its place since its a expertly edited film.

Best Animated Feature Film

‘How to Train Your Dragon’

‘Illusionist’

‘Toy Story 3’

Ugh, the Pixar monopoly on this category continues. I still have hope that they will award Sylvain Chomet for my #1 of 2010, The Illusionist, but chances are slim.

Best Visual Effects

‘Alice in Wonderland’, Ken Ralston, David Schaub, Carey Villegas & Sean Phillips

‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1’, Tim Burke, John Richardson, Christian Manz & Nicolas Aithadi

‘Hereafter’, Michael Owens, Bryan Grill, Stephan Trojanski & Joe Farrell

‘Inception’, Paul Franklin, Chris Corbould, Andrew Lockley & Peter Bebb

‘Iron Man 2’, Janek Sirrs, Ben Snow, Ged Wright & Daniel Sudick

I see Inception winning this, however, I can see a possible upset in Alice in Wonderland. Alice is reminiscent of Avatar last year in which a TON of motion capture was used while Inception is relatively light on it.

Best Original Song

‘Coming Home’ from ‘Country Strong’, Music and Lyric by Tom Douglas, Troy Verges and Hillary Lindsey

‘I See the Light’ from ‘Tangled’, Music by Alan Menken Lyric by Glenn Slater

‘If I Rise’ from ‘127 Hours’, Music by A.R. Rahman Lyric by Dido and Rollo Armstrong

‘We Belong Together’ from ‘Toy Story 3’, Music and Lyric by Randy Newman

Another somewhat unpredictable category. I rule out Country Strong because country music for the Academy was so yesteryear. I doubt Randy Newman will win because his song isn’t that great and the Academy is already awarding Toy Story 3 for animated. I See the Light is my personal favorite of the bunch and is created by Academy loved Alan Menken, but I think 127 Hours will win here since the song is about the only award the Best Picture nominated film can win. But I do hope I See the Light surprises.

Best Original Score

‘How to Train Your Dragon’, John Powell

‘Inception’, Hans Zimmer

‘The King’s Speech’, Alexandre Desplat

‘127 Hours’, A.R. Rahman

‘The Social Network’, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

Can I just start out by telling you how excited I am that How to Train Your Dragon got nominated for Score?! It’s a brilliant work and I have been gunning for it all year to win until The Social Network’s score came and blew me away. I especially didn’t think the latter would be nominated, but it did and I’m fairly certain it will win. Of course, Inception could upset since the Academy has snubbed Zimmer before on previous work with Christopher Nolan, but as it stands I don’t see it happening because Inception’s score just isn’t as good as the two previously mentioned. Therefore, I’m going to say that The Social Network wins the Academy Award. It’s kind of risky, given the nature of the heavily electronica based score, but I think with the awards circuit momentum the score and the movie has had, it is inevitable that it will win.

Best Cinematography

‘Black Swan’, Matthew Libatique

‘Inception’, Wally Pfister

‘The King’s Speech’, Danny Cohen

‘The Social Network’, Jeff Cronenweth

‘True Grit’, Roger Deakins

The first two and the fourth are incredibly deserving of this award. Alas, True Grit will lose out on all categories except this one for the primary reason that Roger Deakins has been around the industry for 20+ years, has countless Academy Award nominations, and hasn’t won a single Oscar. It is his time and this category is just weak enough for him to take it. There is a potential upset in The Social Network and The King’s Speech if either sweeps heavily, but I doubt that they will.

Best Sound Mixing

‘Inception’, Lora Hirschberg, Gary A. Rizzo & Ed Novick

‘The King’s Speech’, Paul Hamblin, Martin Jensen & John Midgley

‘Salt’, Jeffrey J. Haboush, Greg P. Russell, Scott Millan & William Sarokin

‘The Social Network’, Ren Klyce, David Parker, Michael Semanick & Mark Weingarten

‘True Grit’, Skip Lievsay, Craig Berkey, Greg Orloff & Peter F. Kurland

The Social Network and True Grit could possibly upset Inception, but I personally don’t see it happening.

Best Sound Editing

‘Inception’, Richard King

‘Toy Story 3’, Tom Myers & Michael Silvers

‘Tron: Legacy’, Gwendolyn Yates Whittle & Addison Teague

‘True Grit’, Skip Lievsay & Craig Berkey

‘Unstoppable’, Mark P. Stoeckinger

Has Pixar ever won this award? They could upset if they haven’t because they have been nominated A LOT in this category. Again, True Grit could also upset, but I personally see Inception winning this.

Best Costume Design

‘Alice in Wonderland’, Colleen Atwood

‘I Am Love’, Antonella Cannarozzi

‘The King’s Speech’, Jenny Beavan

‘The Tempest’, Sandy Powell

‘True Grit’, Mary Zophres

In it’s mini sweep, The King’s Speech will pick up this award.

Best Art Direction

‘Alice in Wonderland’, Production Design: Robert Stromberg; Set Decoration: Karen O’Hara

‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I’, Production Design: Stuart Craig; Set Decoration: Stephenie McMillan

‘Inception’, Production Design: Guy Hendrix Dyas; Set Decoration: Larry Dias and Doug Mowat

‘The King’s Speech’, Production Design: Eve Stewart; Set Decoration: Judy Farr

‘True Grit’, Production Design: Jess Gonchor; Set Decoration: Nancy Haigh

WHAT?! I’m going with Alice in Wonderland. Why? Well, because it fits in with the trend of beautiful and odd films winning this certain award, no matter how much of the setting is created with special effects. Like Avatar last year. In the last ten years the films that have won this award do not have sets as dull and boring as The King’s Speech, as minimalist and uninspired as Deathly Hallows Part I, or as sterile as Inception. The previous winners have lavish, beautiful sets that are vibrant with color and personality. Alice in Wonderland has everything a winner in this category requires. It will win. But since Inception has won a lot of awards specifically in this category throughout awards season, I’ll admit that it is a potential threat to this category. It’s just highly unlikely.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy, ‘127 Hours’

Aaron Sorkin, ‘The Social Network’

John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton & Lee Unkrich, ‘Toy Story 3’

Joel Coen & Ethan Coen, ‘True Grit’

Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini, ‘Winter’s Bone’

The sky is blue. The grass is green. The Social Network is winning Best Adapted Screenplay.

Best Original Screenplay

Mike Leigh, ‘Another Year’

Scott Silver and Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson, ‘The Fighter’

Christopher Nolan, ‘Inception’

Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg, ‘The Kids Are All Right’

David Seidler, ‘The King’s Speech’

David Seidler, the writer of The King’s Speech, is 80 (?) years old and has been around Hollywood for a long time. He hasn’t ever been recognized by the Academy before. His screenplay for The King’s Speech is by far his most critically acclaimed work. I think all of these things are factors for his win. HOWEVER, any one of the nominees has a chance to upset him. Christopher Nolan could win because he lost with Memento. Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg could win because they have on their hands the quirky indie comedy of 2010. The Fighter could win because it has a damn good screenplay. Another Year could win because Mike Leigh is way over due and he’s at his 5th (?) nomination and hasn’t won a Oscar yet. Then again, The King’s Speech is the frontrunner with the most nominations. Out of the four that could upset it, The Kids Are All Right is the strongest contender.

Best Makeup

‘Barney’s Version’, Adrien Morot

‘The Way Back’, Edouard F. Henriques, Gregory Funk & Yolanda Toussieng

‘The Wolfman’, Rick Baker & Dave Elsey

What a strange set of nominees. I say The Wolfman wins this with a possible upset by The Way Back.

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And there you have it folks! What do you think? Am I right? Am I dreadfully wrong? Do tell!!!

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Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the best film directors working today. Period. By his thirtieth birthday, he had already made three feature films, two of which are emotionally and intellectually deep ensemble films. In the last ten years, he has taken his time to complete two of the best films of the last decade. There is little that can be said about Paul Thomas Anderson that hasn’t been said. All I hope is that he remains a film director as long as I live. There are few directors who make films with such vibrant enthusiasm as this man does. He is a hero and a ongoing inspiration in my life. Lets begin this edition Director Profile.

Hard Eight, also known as Sydney, is Paul Thomas Anderson’s first feature. Unlike the next two films he would direct, Hard Eight is a character drama that focuses, for the most part, on Philip Baker Hall’s character, Sydney, as he takes on John (subtly played by John C. Reilly) as a apprentice in his Casino swindling ways. The film’s script is pretty simple. The shifts from act to act are incredibly noticeable. This simplicity allowed PTA to be quite adventurous with his direction. He pulls off a few lengthy tracking shots, something that would become a staple in his work, along with getting some fine performances from his actors, especially Hall. Philip Baker Hall gives a wonderful, career defining lead performance as the film’s most complicated character. There’s just so much charisma put on display and it makes him incredibly cool. Gwyneth Paltrow shows some range as a hotel waitress who is being forced into prostitution by her managers. Samuel L. Jackson, while solid, gives a pretty cliched performance that he does in other films much better (most notably Tarantino’s Jackie Brown). All in all, Hard Eight is a solid debut feature even if its simplicity makes it rather shallow. B+

Boogie Nights! I had to type something that would catch your attention to start this critique to reflect exactly how the film begins. The very first shot is one of the most impressive I have seen committed to film ever. It A). grabs your attention immediately, B). captures it’s setting perfectly, and 3). introduces and establishes the main characters subtly. It is, without a doubt, the best thing about the film, but the next 2 1/2 hours are great too! Boogie Nights follows Eddie Thomas who is inducted into probably the most dysfunctional family of all time when he catches the eye of Porn producer Jack Horner. He later changes his name to Dirk Diggler when Jack tells him he can go far as a pornographic actor.  The first half of the film is set in the last days of the seventies, a blissful period where all the characters are succeeding and there’s always a party. But then 1980 begins with a bang (literally) and the party ends. The group splits up and each character begins to fail and some of the characters descend even further into their own respective black holes. However, a dramatic upswing occurs at the end of the film following a crazy (and somewhat forced) circumstance where our main character, Dirk Diggler, comes face to face with how fragile life is. The film, even in it’s darker scenes, is some of the most fun I’ve had watching a movie in a long time. PTA effortlessly catches the feel of the 70s in every shot. The performances are thoroughly incredible. Mark Wahlberg carries the film well, grabbing hold of his breakthrough role vigorously. Heather Graham gives a complex performance as a vapid, yet fragile fellow pornstar. Julianne Moore creates a deeply sympathetic and dark character as a drug addicted porn star who’s been around the block too many times for comfort. Philip Seymour Hoffman creates a equally hilarious and heartbreaking character as Scotty J, a closeted (?) gay character who crushes on Dirk. Finally, there’s Burt Reynolds who gives a subtle sharp performance as the father figure to Wahlberg’s Dirk. Boogie Nights, whether its about a highly dysfunctional family going through crisis or about the porn industry in the 70s, succeeds in both with remarkable ease. A excellent breakthrough into the film world. B+

Magnolia is a crazy film. It has a gigantic cast. And a very strange plot with a uber bizarre plot twist. A lot of people find this film annoying – to be honest, I’m kind of the middle between calling Magnolia a master work and calling it depressing mess of pretentiousness. Every character within the film has some sort of personal tragedy happening to them. Each character has some sort of break down scene – lots of crying in this story. It’s three hours long. And yet, there’s a certain charm to the entire thing. Each of the many characters are connected somehow, some stronger than others. To elaborate on the plot would take a lot of paragraphs, so I’m just going to tell you you have to see it, if only for the plot. There are some redeeming technical and performing aspects to the film though. For instance, PTA hired Aimee Mann to compose the entire score and soundtrack. The result is some of her best work of her career. Roger Elswit, PTA’s cinematographer, pulls off some pretty subtle shots compared to the last two films he did with Anderson. And the film’s editing is brilliant: it creates the films atmosphere hauntingly beautiful in its own, somewhat unpredictable nature. As far as cast standouts go, Melora Walters plays a mentally unstable coke addict with a lot of personal demons with unequaled vigor. Tom Cruise gives a complex performance as a a misogynist motivational speaker for men who want to learn how to “seduce and destroy” women, but also has some personal trauma. Julianne Moore plays the wife of a dying man and displays her (you guessed it) emotional baggage in a number of scenes that range from yelling to crying. John C. Reilly and William H. Macy are solid as well. At times, the frantic script’s emotional melodramatic roller coaster gets tiring – but stick through the film and you’ll find a emotionally satisfying ending that avoids the schmaltz that most Hollywood produced dramas boil down to. Perhaps I’ll be eternally undecided on this one, but for now I’m giving Magnolia, a B+

Punch Drunk Love is even crazier than Magnolia! As the first non-ensemble film since Hard Eight, Punch Drunk Love follows Barry, a small business owner, who gets mixed up with a phone sex line, some Mormon gangsters, and a mysterious woman whom he falls for. The problem is is the fact that Barry (who knew Adam Sandler had THIS kind of performance in him?) has something akin to a bipolar disorder. He suffers from strong emotional breaks where he angrily berates the person on whoever is receiving. His disorder translates to the screen, making us feel what he’s feeling by making us experience it with him. Punch Drunk Love attaches itself to you by creating a unique atmosphere that reflects the general psyche of the character. Paul Thomas Anderson uses certain directorial techniques like using a constantly disorienting score and breaks into swirls of color accompanied with the score. There are scenes of violence that occur throughout the film seemingly randomly that creates a even more disorienting tone. The one thing I love more than anything else in the movie is the wildly unpredictable script: I never could have predicted what happened next – scene after scene, line after line. Punch Drunk Love is a constantly awarding experience because it keeps setting up scenarios that should lead into a normal outcome, but every time something different than from what you expect occurs. This technique pulled me into the film and eventually swallowed me whole. Simply put, Punch Drunk Love is a absolutely genius film and the crowning masterpiece (so far) of Paul Thomas Anderson’s work. A+

There Will Be Blood is probably the most famous and top grossing of Paul Thomas Anderson’s work and it’s not difficult to see why. Daniel Day-Lewis gives a staggeringly iconic performance as Daniel Plainview – a performance that rivals all of the greats like Orson Welles and Laurence Olivier. You simply cannot praise the man enough. Beyond the performance lies a excellent, if flawed, portrayal of a particular oil prospector in early 1900s California. At the front and center of the film is a intense struggle, a rivalry, between Plainview and Eli Sunday, the town’s priest. Personalities clash hard after Plainview swindles Sunday’s father’s land from him and begins to drill for oil immediately. Eli struggles for some kind of control over Daniel to which Daniel replies wordlessly with more rebellion. At Plainview’s side is his adopted son, H.W. In one of the film’s most expertly edited scenes, H.W. loses his hearing after the oil drill catches on fire. This causes a rift in their relationship as Plainview sends H.W. to school out in the city and continues his work to drill the land, becoming more and more troubled as he trudges along, alone. Once again, Paul Thomas Anderson creates a incredibly believable setting. The art direction in this film is incredible, as is the Kubrick influenced cinematography. It’s no wonder that the film is so loved by critics; it’s a cinephile wet dream. But the problem with the film lies within it’s scope: it’s messy. At times, it feels all over the place and never quite focused. The Eli Sunday character specifically, while portrayed wonderfully by Paul Dano, doesn’t transcend the one dimensionality of a over-the-top priest as well as Plainview does. Similarly, near the end, the film takes a gigantic time leap that loses much of the character development of H.W. that is evident to have happened in his final scene with Daniel. I can’t fault the film too much though because the combination of one of the best written characters of the last decade played by (most likely) best actor living today directed by one of the best directors currently working is a magical event to behold. In that right, There Will Be Blood is a masterpiece, if a bit of a messy one. And yes, mark my words, the title delivers its promise. A-

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I hope you enjoyed this edition of director profile! Thanks for reading!!!

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(White Material, Tron: Legacy, Blue Valentine, The Third Man, The Passion of Joan of Arc)

Blog readers! My apologies! I’ve been busy with math/work/math/girlfriend/math/life/did I mention math? I’m taking winter intersession. I probably shouldn’t be blogging! But I am! Eek! Anyway, I have seen a lot of movies since we left off and even more that I didn’t get to before I went off to attend to life. So, lets play catch up shall we? Globes are today and I’m excited! I will be blogging about the Academy Award nominations with a post that will review every single BP nominated film. So, look forward to that. And there will be more! I’m excluding two PTA films that I saw in this post because I’ll be doing a special blog post about the director.

Anyway, without further ado, here are some relatively short reviews of what films I have been watching:

White Material (Claire Denis, 2010)

After seeing her masterful 35 Shots of Rum last year (#4 favorite film of 2010), White Material quickly became one of my most anticipated films to see in 2010. The ultimate result of watching it was pretty disappointing though. Don’t get me wrong, Denis is a expert director, but the script is very hard to become attached to. The film is about white French plantation owners in Africa who won’t leave the country even though it’s descending into chaos in civil war. There were multiple times I felt like shouting at the television in anger of her character not giving up her land to save her family’s lives. Her stubborness even when the land is turning to turmoil is absolutely aggravating. Luckily, the film is very well made with some excellent cinematography and a number of shockingly effective scenes. There’s a lot of suspense in this film and a scene late in it where soldiers sneak through a room silently to kill a bunch of sleeping soldier children (this is Africa, folks) is perfectly defines how subtly disturbing the entire film is. Cast standout is Nicolas Duvauchelle, who gives a startling performance as a teenager who’s sanity begins to unwrap as he realizes how fragile life in Africa really is. B+

For Your Consideration:

  • Best Picture
  • Best Director – Claire Denis
  • Best Supporting Actor – Nicolas Duvauchelle
  • Best Cinematography
  • Best Film Editing

Tron: Legacy (Joseph Kosinki, 2010)

I hope the decision Disney made to buy Marvel was mainly influenced by their recent releasing of such mediocre to lame live action movies, because I don’t know how much more I can take of this drivel. Tron: Legacy was better than their other 2010 output (Prince of Persia, yuck), but it also had it’s share of problems. Whether it’s the Hayden Christiansenn school of acting graduate Garret Hedlund or the increasingly over-the-top cheese filled script, Tron: Legacy is a total bore. The story follows Flynn’s son as he stumbles upon the grid and becomes the center of a war between his Dad (played very Lebowski-ish, albeit PG rated Lebowski-ish) and his Dad’s user aka Clu, who looks exactly like Jeff Bridges circa 1980. There’s variety in the struggles and themes (genocide, revolution, fatherhood), but the overall plot is just so uninspired, eye rollingly over-the-top, and lame. It’s completely predictable right down to the surprise return of the titular character (seriously, the film’s name is TRON, not FLYNN, and we only get mere seconds with the real Tron?!). As aggravating as Tron: Legacy is (the less said about Michael Sheen, the better), it does have some redeeming qualties. As far as special effects go, the film is gorgeous (though, as the film went on, the special effects for Clu’s face got more noticeable) with its dazzling fight scenes along with intense light cycle scenes. And the film’s score, by the immensely talented Daft Punk, is deliciously fun. Even with bravado aesthetics, a film is only as good as its story and Tron: Legacy has a trite one. D

For Your Consideration

  • Best Original Score
  • Best Sound Editing
  • Best Sound Mixing
  • Best Visual Effects

Blue Valentine (Derek Cianfrance, 2010)

Perhaps films have jaded me, but I don’t get as depressed or sad with material that’s been heralded as such like this film. Blue Valentine is a romantic film about falling in love and breaking up. The director/writer only shows us these two parts of the relationship which left much to be desired once I left the theatre. Some will call it artistic to leave out what would essentially be the second act of the film, but I find it misguided. Every writer knows that the second act is the most important part to a screenplay. To leave it would make the audience assume a lot of things and while that can lead to great acting as shown vividly between the two film’s leads, it also leaves too much interpretation to the events that occurred to lead the break up of the two. The difference between the two different stories is staggering. One story is all about their love and the beginning of a major sacrifice of one of the characters and the other is a story of two depressed people who just can’t love each other anymore. Each story shows a lot of range for the actors – both Gosling and Williams give career defining performances, although I liked Michelle Williams better. Her character becomes easier and easier to dislike, but underneath her cold exterior lies a broken girl that never really matured into womanhood. The low key aesthetics and firework score (Grizzly Bear!) set the mood expertly well. The film shares quite a few similarities to last year’s (500) Days of Summer in its fragmented temporal order and their explorations of relationship dynamics. B+

For Your Consideration:

  • Best Actor – Ryan Gosling
  • Best Actress – Michelle Williams

The Third Man (Carol Reed, 1949)

Have you ever seen a film that you thought was merely okay and then one scene came along and it blew you so out of water that it elevated the entire experience for you? Well, this 1949 film classic did that for me. I kicked off the new year with a film that I’ve always felt ashamed in not seeing. The Third Man tells the story of a writer, Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) who goes on a trip to see his friend in Vienna, but as soon as he arrives, he finds out that he was killed. But something is fishy about the crime, and Holly Martins is determined to find out what it is. The Third Man is a iconic film for cinematography. The majority of the shots are slanted, giving a creepy, unsettling feeling to the film. Not only that, but there is so much shadow play in the film that it feels almost overstylized for the film noir genre ala what Nicholas Ray did for Johnny Guitar. The editing matches the cinematography, giving one of the more thrilling films I’ve ever seen from this era in filmmaking. And there’s a simplistic guitar theme to the film that’s incredibly catchy as it is haunting in context of the film. My favorite part, the part I was most anticipating of when thinking of writing this film, is the scene in the ferris wheel between Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten. If I had to pick any scene from Orson Welles career to convince people that he was the best film actor who ever lived, this would be the scene. The guy is firecrackers in how he explodes from one line to another. He comes off as jolly in one second to ferociously threatening the next. I’d have to be hard pressed to find a better scene of acting on film. He composes a entire character in a single scene that’s stronger than any other character in the film. I loved The Third Man, if only for Orson Welles’ movie stealing scene. A-

The Passion of Joan of Arc (Carl Th. Dreyer, 1928)

Oh my. What a tragic tale of Saint Joan of Arc. Filmed by Carl Th. Dreyer, The Passion of Joan of Arc is a silent film that reaches deep into the realms of your subconscious, delivering an emotional tour de force of one French woman’s struggle against the tyrannical close minded British who deem her satanic for believing that God is on her side in a war that was waged against them. There are many interpretations of Joan of Arc (notably the Shakespeare version that deemed her as a butch witch), but I find Carl Th. Dreyer’s to be probably the most realistic since it’s based on the records of the trial and it gives sympathy towards Joan without ever fully confirming her beliefs. She’s made out to be a martyr and in this critic’s humble opinion, she was one. Maria Falconetti gives one of the best performances ever filmed, if not the best performance I have ever seen. When she’s onscreen, Dreyer never allows the camera to not have her in the center and usually, he’s at close up range. The full depth of her emotional range is so staggering that you will find yourself in tears at the end when she’s brought to her ultimate demise. It is her that gives the film all of its weight. When the camera is not on her, it is constantly moving and the film is constantly cutting. The difference in the way the film views Joan and the rest is striking – Dreyer clearly wants us to feel as intimate as possible with Joan and as disconnected as possible with the rest of the world. The effect comes off effortless and pulls you into the film unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The Passion of Joan of Arc is the definitive silent film masterpiece. A+

That’s all for now, folks!

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Have a seat. I’d like to talk about a very special film to me. The film is Sylvain Chomet’s The Illusionist, the director’s follow-up to the beloved 2003 The Triplets of Belleville. His previous film felt a bit stiff, a bit forced, and a little over-the-top in the aesthetic department. Alternatively, The Illusionist is stripped down to its bare essentials, providing a story about a professional magician who is becoming down and out due to the oncoming depletion of interest towards talented traveling performers. The film chronicles the increasing decline of these folk with a reflection of the performer in the character of a young teenage girl who joins the performer after he shows her kindness through his magic. They have plenty of fun, episode misadventures, sometimes with the Illusionist’s snappy pet rabbit. He struggles to buy her new things and support their unlikely familial relationship with a late night job that ends simultaneously comedic and sad. However, the years go by, the pair becomes more and more separated. He can’t provide for her nor can he get a venue for his act, thus he feels shame in his interactions with her.

The film has a certain melancholy perspective to life – it’s ultimately a coming of age tale for the Illusionist and the girl, who, in turn, play father and daughter to each other. The aesthetic approach to the film is neat and beautiful. Every locale is gorgeous and remarkably period. The ensemble that surrounds the main characters are lusciously absurd in the way that they are designed. Every character is visceral in their behavior in how they look. The animation harks back to the wondrously absurd animated works of Salvador Dali. The two mains are relatively simple in reflection to the other characters that inhabit this film world and yet, they are more expressive than any other character that appears onscreen. There’s a dry wit to how the Illusionist works, while there’s a preciousness in the looks that the girl gives.

The film’s ending is bleak, yet hopeful and reflective. The two are separated and the thing that united them – squashed. However, looking back, it’s the man, the magician who has lost himself in reflecting how his magician life fell apart. For a magician, the nature of a magic trick is never to be over analyzed because the trick isn’t for the one performing, but rather the audience. Yet The titular character begins to believe that his magic is outdated as the world turns more towards pop stars and movies than live talented entertainment.  The Illusionist is a tragedy, a beautiful tragedy about the life and death of relationship and what makes a relationship. Yet even through the ordeal that the girl goes through in losing her hero, a part of me still wants to believe that she believes in him. Chomet ends the film quite abruptly, but it’s completely natural. We see the two characters leaving each other without ever saying a proper goodbye. We say goodbye to the city where their familial relationship began. As easily as we were whisked into the gorgeously colorful European world, we are pulled out. 80 minutes is short for a film and yet this film says more about life than most films did this year with longer durations. Simply put, The Illusionist is a masterpiece. Go see it as soon as you can.

For Your Consideration:

  • Best Picture
  • Best Director – Sylvain Chomet
  • Best Screenplay – Sylvain Chomet and Jacques Tati
  • Best Art Direction
  • Best Animated Film

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I’m playing catch up with some choice random films that I have watched in the past week. First up, Bicycle Thieves:

Underneath the basic plot of a man looking for his only means of transportation to and for his work, lies a story about a boy coming to age on the poor streets of Italy. His main attachment is his father, the man who loses the bike while working his job posting posters. Together, they go on a journey to track down the stolen vehicle. Neo-Realism is a punch in the gut and Bicycle Thieves offers little happiness. These people are desparate, poor, and most importantly, relatable. De Sica’s camera never loses sight of the plight of these unfortunate souls. I felt like looking away, but by the halfway mark, I was hooked on finding the end of this tale. The film constantly switches perspectives between the two protagonists. At times, it’s difficult to tell whose world we are in, but towards the end that switches become much more visible. It starts out as a tale about the father, but as the climatic shots show us, this film is truly about the boy and his first steps into gaining a perspective on the world. There is so much this film says and it doesn’t do much at all. It’s very much like a silent film. One of my favorite things about the film is the final shot: the father, looking at the camera, turns around and disappears into a flock of people. Bicycle Thieves is a honest story about individual who most people in society just writes off as another person in the lower class.

Spielberg and Day-Lewis have a lot to live up to. This isn’t a full on biopic, but for what it is, it’s practically perfect. Overly sentimental and unabashedly patriotic, Young Mr. Lincoln is a treat to anyone who loves watching films about historical figures. It may not be 100% true, but Henry Fonda’s portrayal of the young would be President is full of depth – here he plays a struggling defense attorney who takes a case that has seemingly supported evidence to prove the accused guilty. Ford introduces the icon in the most relaxed, unexpected way (shown in picture above). If you’re an American, you instantly know who Fonda is playing immediately – Ford nails every last detail of Lincoln’s famed appearance. Later, we see Lincoln delivering a rousing idealistic speech to a angry mob who demand the lynch of the two boys he will later defend in court. The speech is easily the highlight of the film, simultaneously condemning the mob while upholding the truths of American idealism to back up this condemnation. The slow drawl that Fonda creates for the Lincoln character captures him perfectly. We see Lincoln not as a superhero, but as a man of the people, the land, and the Bible. We know the history. Young Mr. Lincoln tells us the story of what made the man who made history. The truth is marching on.

I generally like Luc Besson’s work. Not love, like. I liked Leon: The Professional. It’s not a incredible story – it’s somewhat cliched and pretty ridiculous. However, the acting and direction supports the thin, seen-it-before plot very well. The story is about Mathilda, who’s foster family is brutally slaughtered by a bunch of ruthlessly corrupt DEA agents. She doesn’t care about the majority of them, though, only her four year old brother who’s killed off screen. She admits this to her new somewhat “foster” parent, Leon, who moonlights as a cleaner aka assassin. The film is vibrantly directed, eclectically shot, and quickly paced. It moves along quite well, but nothing about the story is extraordinary. Natalie Portman, in her first role, throws a lot of energy and emotion into the role, resulting in a memorably powerful, if a bit uneven, performance as Mathilda. Gary Oldman cracks his neck as the insane antagonist. Whenever he arrives on scene, Besson gets a little over stylistic with his signature pill popping lunatic. Finally, there is Jean Reno who gives a reserved performance as the incredibly private titular assassin who becomes increasingly paternal towards his adopted apprentice. With these three excellent performances and Besson’s signature eccentric film making, The Professional rises above its doldrums as a weak plotted film and becomes one of the best exciting revenge subgenre film experiences.

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