Tuesday, January 25, 2011

2011 Oscars: Predictions, Thoughts, and Gripes

I don't think I have to preface it anymore by saying I'm a giant nerd, but the Academy Awards are my Superbowl, nomination day is like Christmas morning, and Oscar Season is my favorite time of year. Well that time of the year has come and after watching the early morning announcement today, I couldn't be happier with the nominations and only have a few complaints.

Best Picture
In a field of 10 films again, 9 stand out as great films (sorry Inception). I was pleased to see a few films nominated which I had not expected such as Winter's Bone, 127 Hours, The Kids are All Right, and True Grit. There were some films such as The Town, Shutter Island, and Ghost Writer that I wish could have gotten nods, but when the majority of films in the field are great, there isn't much room to complain. As far as the race goes, I do agree that like last year this is a two picture race between The King's Speech and The Social Network. I like the Social Network's chances. It is a relevant, excellent film that has been well promoted for awards. The King's Speech is excellent as well and a little warmer and its chances are helped by the fact that it won the Producers Guild Award which is usually a good indicator. Still I think I am going to go with The Social Network
Will Win: The Social Network
Should Win: The King's Speech

Best Director
I was extremely pleased with this category except for the fact that David O. Russell was nominated in a spot which I would have given to Danny Boyle who made a compelling movie out of one that  shouldn't have been quite so. I loved how the Coens were given the slot that was probably reserved for Christopher Nolan. Also, Darren Arronofsky got his overdue nomination. As far as predictions, this is David Fincher's year and deservedly so. He is a masterfully visual director and The Social Network was great.
Will Win: David Fincher, The Social Network
Should Win: David Fincher, The Social Network
Best Actor
A typically strong category again doesn't disappoint. Everyone seemed to know who four of the nominees were and were wondering whom that fifth slot would go to. Surprisingly, the Academy gave it to Javier Bardem for the foreign film Biutiful which I (and many others so far) have not yet seen. Ryan Gosling seems to be the most notable actor to be overlooked for his great work in Blue Valentine but Bardem is a fine actor and I'm sure he'll prove his nod deserved. Of the other nominees, they are stellar. I think its interesting that James Franco is up and also cohosting. Jeff Bridges, last year's winner, deservedly got a nod. Jesse Eisenberg was so great as the motormouth and somewhat aloof Mark Zuckerberg yet the award will go to Colin Firth, for his incredible performance as George VI in The King's Speech. It is the performance of the year.
Will Win: Colin Firth, The King's Speech
Should Win: Colin Firth, The King's Speech

Best Actress
Don't take this the wrong way but this category often seems week, with undeserving ingénues getting nominated. This year is an exception, and the category is the strongest I've seen it. To start, veterans like Nicole Kidman and Annette Bening earn their spot with stellar work but it is a pleasure to see the younger actresses, Natalie Portman, Jennifer Lawrence, and Michelle Williams--all exceptional in heartbreaking roles--get nominated. I think it was wise to not nominate Julianne Moore (it will help Bening's chances) and I would have made a push in the supporting actress category (it is too bad she didn't get a nod at all though). So the race will come down to Bening and Portman. Portman's role was grueling and she was great but I'd like to see Bening win. She was excellent as the gay mother trying to keep her family together and deserves recognition after a long career.
Will Win: Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Should Win: Annette Bening, The Kids are All Right

Best Supporting Actor
My favorite category continues to not disappoint. Five actors, five fine performances. I was most pleased with the nomination of Deadwood alum John Hawkes for his work in Winter's Bone. Hawkes has been a fine character actor in film and television, but his performance was virtually unnoticed until this morning. Jeremy Renner was great as the needy drug-addled psychopath in The Town and Mark Ruffalo was fun (and more) as the laid back donor in The Kids are All Right. The race does come down two commanding performances: Christian Bale in The Fighter and Geoffrey Rush in The King's Speech. The performances are so fine, Christian Bale acting outside of himself and Rush at the top of his game as usual, that I'm going to call it a draw for my preference.
Will Win: Christian Bale, The Fighter
Should Win: tie: Christian Bale, The Fighter and Geoffrey Rush, The King's Speech

Best Supporting Actress
In what is usually another fun category, this year it is surprisingly weak. Melissa Leo is the favorite (I think that'll change) but her performance as Mark Wahlberg's mom in The Fighter didn't strike me as award worthy. Amy Adam's work as the love interest in that film was good and she may just as well walk away with the statue. Hailee Steinfeld's work in True Grit was great considering the difficulty of the dialogue. I'm just a little hesitant about nominating kids for awards. Jacki Weaver chewed the scenery, hammed it up and should not have been nominated for Animal Kingdom (I'm surprised such an Australian film got a nod). Finally, there is Helena Bonham Carter for The King's Speech and this is the only really great performance in the category as she showed range in a small roll as the supportive Queen Mother and wife of George VI.
Will Win: Amy Adams, The Fighter
Should Win: Helena Bonham Carter, The King's Speech

So there you have it. The show is February 27th @ 7PM EST with hosts Anne Hathaway and James Franco. Click here for a complete list of nominees. Stay tuned for my Oscar contest which I should post within the week.

Monday, January 24, 2011


Sofia Coppola is a fine filmmaker who deserves to be judged on her own merits and not her father's last name. With Somewhere, again working from a minimalist script, she makes the material interesting and occasionally compelling through wise directorial choices. The story revolves around Johnny, a movie star living out of an L.A. hotel who seems pretty uninterested in the hedonistic lifestyle he leads: he gazes uninterested as two exotic dancers pole dance in front of his bed, he falls asleep in a compromising position with a woman during sex, and he fuels himself with pills, booze, and cigarettes. One night he is watching a program on Mahatma Gandhi, perhaps a longing for a meaningful life. Then his chance comes-his daughter's mother calls and says she needs personal time and also needs him to watch their 11 year old daughter. Now we have seen this plot before, but it seems fresh thanks to the fine performances of Stephen Dorff and Elle Fanning, and again the wonderful direction of Sofia Coppola.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Rabbit Hole

A marriage is more then likely to dissolve when a child is lost. In Rabbit Hole, we witness a married couple dealing with the loss of their son and trying too keep everything together. It has been 8 months since their boy chased the dog into the street and was struck by a car and the couple is still grieving and not willing to let go: they still watch videos of their son, keep his room the same way. They still even have his car seat buckled in the back of their ride. As they struggle with their grief, they acknowledge their love for each other and try to keep their marriage intact. Though you may not get it from my synopsis, the movie handled the material too light heartedly, a stylistic choice that runs counter to the material. The film earns its recommendation based on the strength of the lead actors. Nicole Kidman, who is so great in so many different roles, finds the right notes as a mother grieving in what may be perceived as an abnormal way of grieving. Aaron Eckhart, who surprisingly and unfortunately has received virtually no recognition for his performance, is exceptional. Rabbit Hole definitely held my attention. I guess that if it were in my hands, I would have handled the material a little differently.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Blue Valentine

Blue Valentine shows a relationship from two different stages: one as it is just starting out and one several years down the road. The early view shows an innocence and contains strong passion. The latter view shows a weathered relationship where the flame is gone. Starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams in brave performances and through unique dialogue, we get the sense of a seemingly complete relationship. This is a film that is able to see the grey area. The film meanders along, but I use the term meander in a good way. Scenes are stretched out, and dialogue and situations are allowed to play out. Though it seems for awhile the film is going astray, the threads come together and story finds its way in sort of a beautiful manner. This is an honest and emotionally draining portrait of a relationship--something that can't always be said about like films.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

All Good Things

Reviews and synopses have been too revealing with what this story is about. Without giving away too much we follow a young couple in the late 1970s as their relationship peaks and then deteriorates at the same time the man is on trial for a crime in the early 2000s. As I type that vague description and think of what I left out, I can understand while others have been more revealing, but like all films, I feel the less said the better. All Good Things contains a twisted performance from Ryan Gosling in the lead, as he disappears into the role of the entitled and tortured David Marks. Kirsten Dunst is at the top of her game as Marks' naive wife. Frank Langella offers welcomed supporting work as Marks's disapproving father. Although this "trashy" material could have been relegated to the Lifetime Network and is elevated by the performances and the direction by Andrew Jarecki, there is still not enough substance to sustain the entire picture.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Best of 2010

Throughout the year, I have been keeping track of my favorite films and compiling them into a top 10 list for the end of the year. However, as the year progressed and the list grew, I began crossing out some films I really liked. So, instead I’ve decided to submit a list of my favorite films of 2010, in alphabetical order:
127 Hours Great performance from James Franco and superb direction from Danny Boyle elevate a tricky film to film

The American Wonderfully shot story of an assassin with a solid Clooney performance
Black Swan Aronofsky's nightmarish tale of ballerina's descent contains great Natalie Portman performance
Cyrus Hysterically funny, under the radar story of a man being thwarted by his girlfriend's grown son
The Ghost Writer Great and tense political Polanski thriller
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo Badass Swedish movie about title character teaming up with a reporter 
to solve 40 year old mystery
The Kids are All Right Funny and touching story of an alternate family in modern day L.A. (Annette Bening is great in it)
The King’s Speech My pick for the year's best, an actor's showcase depicting both ends of London's pre-war social classes
Leaves of Grass Tim Blake Nelson's film did not receive a release in NE Ohio, but nonetheless contains a wacky plot and that brilliant Edward Norton double role
Looking for Eric Closing film for the Cleveland International Film Festival also did not receive a release, is Ken Loach's hysterical account of a soccer fanatic
Never Let Me Go Devastating account of human clones raised to be organ donors

The Red Riding Trilogy Engossing and challenging 3 part series about the Yorkshire Ripper and police corruption in London in the late 1970s

Restrepo Heart rendering first person account of life on the front lines in the most dangerous sector of Afghanistan
Shutter Island Polarizing critics and audiences alike, I thought Scorsese's film was a marvel of mood and atmosphere
The Social Network David Fincher's superb account of the founding of the online website
The Town Ben Affleck returns with a riveting story of Boston bank robbers. Jeremy Renner shines again.
Toy Story 3 Pixar strikes again with the third installment in the series with a film that really grabs the viewer (no thanks to the 3D)
True Grit An old fashioned western (something unexpected from the Coens) and great performances all around
Winter’s Bone Film about a girl's search for her father beautifully captures time and place

The Fighter

1/29/11 review So maybe I forgot to take my Vitamin D that day, but I was exhausted the first time I saw The Fighter and may not have given it a fair shake (although I initially did recommended it). So I decided to revisit it and I realized that I was right about being wrong, and it is a much superior film than I had first said. I don't want to rehash points made in the first review (listed below), so here are thoughts I had during the second round. Christian Bale's performance stands out as amongst the strongest of the year as Bale acts outside of his perceived persona. Amy Adams and Melissa Leo are wonderful in performances I had earlier called overrated as they play hard-head women who both hold Mark Wahlberg's character's interests at heart. Wahlberg's performance is also stronger than originally perceived. Finally, I had questioned David O. Russell's Academy Award nomination, but now realize that his direction was commanding. The Fighter is a fine motion picture that may not appear so on first glance, and is surely not a run of the mill sports movie.

1/4/11 review The Fighter is a sports movie that is surprising on several levels. It tells the story of boxer Micky Ward who is on his last trip to a title and is living in the shadow of his brother Dicky-a former champ who knocked out Sugar Ray Leonard who currently has a film crew following him around documenting his crack-cocaine addiction. As I mentioned, the film is surprising in that it takes a story that we expect to be a downer and delivers a winner-totally different than most sports movie fare. It is also surprising in Christian Bale's phenomenal turn as Dicky. Mark Wahlberg, though bland, brings credibility to the lead role and Amy Adams is strong (as usual) in a supporting role.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The King's Speech

March 2011 Lamplighter review As a young man in grade school, I participated in sports and theater and before a sporting event or a live performance I would naturally get butterflies in my stomach. However, my stomach never turned in knots quite as much as it did before I was to present my speech at the annual oratory contest held each year. The King’s Speech, the wonderful and acclaimed film out of England, is essentially about this fear of public speaking that most of us hold. Only the protagonist is the King of England who holds a debilitating stammer and his audience is the entire British Empire.
            The film opens with Albert (Colin Firth) addressing a crowd at the behest of his father the King. As he stutters and stammers his way through, eventually giving up, his loving wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) looks on with sorrow. Wanting to help him and sick of quack doctors, she sees an ad for a speech therapist and decides to seek him out. Travelling by herself to the basement of a commoner’s flat, she finds the wonderfully named Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) whom she hires to treat her husband with his unconventional matters. The bond formed by the two men, though strained at first, provides the heart of the movie and some of its best and most touching scenes.
            Of all its accolades, I think the foremost one to address is the acting. Colin Firth is astonishing in what seems to be an impossible part, and seeming pulls it off naturally. Helena Bonham Carter, often thought of as playing crude characters, superbly plays the understated role of what many of us today know as the recently passed Queen Mother. Geoffrey Rush is pitch perfect as the unorthodox Lionel, who approaches Albert as an equal and finds himself sympathizing and befriending him. Michael Gambon and Guy Pearce are fine as well in bit parts, as Albert’s father George V and his older brother King Edward who abdicated the throne.
            The direction by Tom Hooper is highly original and the cinematography wonderfully captures what are mostly interiors (although there is a magnificently filmed scene where Firth and Rush stroll through the park). The use of close-up is effective as well, particularly in one scene where Albert discusses the pains of growing up with a stammer. The title speech at the end of the film is wonderful as well. The King’s Speech is that rare kind of film where you find your brain spewing out all sorts of positive adjectives. After I was leaving the theater, I had to force myself to stop.

1/31/11 review I saw The King's Speech again today and maintain that it is the film of the year. This time around, in addition focusing on the great performances of Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush, I was able to better appreciate the supporting performances of Helena Bonham Carter and Guy Pearce. Also, something I may not have touched upon before is the wonderful cinematography that beautifully captures that colorful palettes in both deep focus and close-up. Director Tom Hooper does a wonderful job and I encourage people to seek this film out. It is a rich film with something in it for everyone.

1/3/11 review The King's Speech is one of those superior entertainments where. as you watch, you find your brain spewing out positive adjectives. It tells the story of England's George VI on the verge of becoming King after his brother's abdication of the throne. There is one small problem although: The soon-to-be monarch speaks with a debilitating stammer which makes public speaking unbearable. His wife, sick of dealing with the usual quacks in treating her husband, seeks the help of an unorthodox Australian whose methods seem to help but at the same time distance George. Starring Colin Firth as the King, Geoffrey Rush as Lionel the Speech Therapist, and Helena Bonham-Carter as George's wife this is an actor's showcase, wonderfully directed by Tom Hooper, and surely one of the year's best.