Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Best of 2007: Supporting Actor

Did anybody, besides John McCain, have a good day yesterday? Lots of winter doldrums and midterm grumpiness in my neck of the woods, which is part of why this tantalizing glimpse of spring did my spirit so much good, and why I also seized the chance, at the price of staying up later than I wanted to, of relishing these five performances. Even running through all the runners-up, any of whom would have been proud additions to my final five, reminded me of how much inspired thesping was made available on movie screens in 2007; for even more evidence, notice how much trouble Mainly Movies had leaving off these honorable mentions when he whittled down his own performance hall of fame for the year. Two of his finalists are two of my runners-up, and one of my other runners-up gets a P.S. mention in Tim's rundown, though he thinks this fellow is a lead (and I can see why that might be right). Also, I only have one of Oscar's anointed five as a near-miss from my own list, and Tim has none. So, three rosters totaling about 30 performances, with only four overlaps? How delicious to have so much excellence from which to choose.

Labels:

Sunday, January 27, 2008

A Weekend at the Races

Quick SAG Awards reactions. Bardem and Christie look all locked up. Day-Lewis is 90% of the way there. Okay, 95%, but he wasn't competing against Johnny Depp here, and the sentimental hook to give Depp an Oscar outweighs any need to give him an Actor (one of which he already owns, anyway). Things look great for No Country for Old Men, too, which also picked up the DGA Prize this weekend, but Juno wasn't the force among SAG nominators that it apparently is among the Oscar crowd. Then there's the Ruby Dee thing: yep, she's the one "surprise" winner of the night, but Lauren Bacall won here, too, and Gloria Stuart tied. Sentiment hasn't carried the day at the Oscars quite so much, and I just don't think voters will see this as an "Oscar" performance. Still, I think anyone in that category who isn't Saoirse Ronan could win. Will be fun to watch.

Shifting from the essentially trivial to the profoundly important, after much hemming and hawing, a fair amount of reading around, and continued tracking of the primary trail, I'm officially casting my lot with South Carolina victor Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination for President. I don't think Hillary Clinton is the Machiavellian demoness that she's sometimes (read: often) made out to be, but I have been extremely unimpressed with her rhetoric and her mystifying decision to afford her husband such a prominent (and increasingly aggressive) role in her own campaign. Beyond the distastefulness of their behavior this week, I just don't like the omens of insecurity, recklessness, and swift reflexes toward antagonism that these choices embody. (I'm also talking about that cynical and retroactive "Let's count those Michigan delegates after all" announcement that she made last week.)

What these behaviors say to me is, she's panicked about whether she's going to be elected, and therefore highly provoked... while, for all of Hillary's "Day One" allusions to preparedness and pragmatism, Barack is the one who (to me) speaks, debates, and operates as though he's thinking about holding the office as much as obtaining it. I appreciated that Guardian article that ModFab linked to as yet another index of why neither Hillary nor Barack wins the Flawless Liberal Award, and his voting record should be scrutinized as thoroughly as hers or anybody else's. But as much as I still believe that Hillary is for change and Barack is experienced, and as hard as I'm working to avoid succumbing to mass-media pitches, I trust more in his longer view than in hers, and my old doubts about the Clintons as tacticians and as judges of character have resurfaced. Hearing Frank Rich spell out with galvanizing force and precision what a lot of us have worried about for weeks or months was also a big kickstart in finally getting me to commit.

What I think about John Edwards holding on is still less clear to me. Frankly, I don't understand the protocols of a Democratic Nominating Convention without a pre-given anointee well enough to grasp the mechanics of "leverage" or "king-making" that Edwards might be affording himself if he can actually recruit enough delegates in the remaining primaries to be any kind of a force. But meanwhile, I'm so convinced that, given the choice, Edwards voters would flock to Obama over Clinton that I kind of wish he'd bow out while he can still accomplish something big for the rival he clearly prefers. A thought that considerably exceeds my own credibility or wisdom, but if I'm not going to speak off the cuff here, where am I going to do it?

Labels: ,

Saturday, January 26, 2008

A Decade Under the Influence, aka Song of Myself

In which Nick's Flick Picks disappears up his own wazoo, but it's only due to the excitement of a personal milestone, not a case of total, lethal narcissism. Though it does seem like exactly that. Apologies.



Betcha didn't know—in fact, why would you?—but this weekend marks the tenth birthday of Nick's Flick Picks, the site that encompasses but often lives in the shadow of this blog. Finally, and quite unexpectedly, I have some sense of what it feels like to be a Proud Papa, and though my website doesn't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world, etc., it's nice to feel like if I threw this website a party, i-i-invited everyone I knew-ew, you would see the biggest gift'd be from me, but the card attached would say... that some other people out there like it, too. For those handful, and for any newcomers who've been enticed by the ongoing Best of 2007 countdown, here is a quick timeline of events in the short, happy life of my pre-teen bundle of joy:

January 1998 Stranded between finishing my fall-semester exams and papers during my junior year of college and beginning the spring semester on the following Monday, and frustrated that my film reviews for the university newspaper were necessarily restricted in topic and length, I took the advice of my friend Kathy that I should build a website, using the automatic bandwidth allotment that Harvard afforded to all of its undergraduates. She taught me basic html writing in the space of about an hour and a half. I still love Kathy. I am still in touch with my Crimson editors, film writer and content editor Nic Rapold (of Film Comment, Stop Smiling, and Reverse Shot) and Lylee (of Lylee's Blog and the recently retired Cinemarati), both of whom I continue to admire and to credit for a lot of what I learned about good film writing. But, ever after, this website became the major repository for what I thought, learned, and was willing to fight about in relation to film.

Trivia: my first grade posted was an A– for The Winter Guest, which I haven't seen since; my first feature was my Top Ten of 1997, which I retroactively drafted along with comparable rankings and comprehensive lists of what I'd seen from 1995 and 1996. My first full review that wasn't written for the Crimson first was for Primary Colors, which I still think is an okay piece, followed by now-embarrassing glosses on Boogie Nights and Titanic. I think my first review of a classic film was for The Passion of Joan of Arc. The original name of the website was "Nick Davis' Movie Archives," and the address was http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~ndavis/movarchs.html. Bear in mind that when I had started college in the fall of 1995, virtually none of my friends and fellow students, including me, knew how to use the internet or even what it was. Very, very few of my friends who hadn't taken the intro course to Computer Science knew html or had a website. Which is to say, it was a weird hobby, and a series of shots in the dark. Or at least it felt that way.

Spring 1999 My fantastic Medieval Literature professor Rebecca Krug, now at the University of Minnesota, was the only professor in the English department willing to sponsor an independent-study course for me during my senior spring, which allowed me to write more reviews, read more film critics of the past (Stanley Kauffman, Pauline Kael, Siegfried Kracauer, Rudolf Arnheim), and expand the website for credit. She was an absolute hero to do this for me, and that's why there are still so many more reviews on average for movies from 1998 and early 1999 than in almost any other year. I was also gobbling up whatever film history and film analysis courses Harvard offered, which weren't many in those days. The best and most educational for me were a German Studies small-sized lecture on "Weimar Cinema" taught by Eric Rentschler and two large lecture courses called "American Cinema" and "Five Directors" (Bresson, Cassavetes, Antonioni, Akerman, and Kiarostami) taught by Charles Warren. Both of these professors, as well as my graduate teaching assistant for the latter course, Sabrina Zanella-Foresi, were huge helps and inspirations, not least by taking my fledgling site seriously. I also thank my undergraduate advisor and personal mentor Elaine Scarry for encouraging me to advertise my internet writing on my graduate school applications rather than treating it as a hobby. And of course, the amazing movie theaters of Boston, particularly the Landmark Kendall Square, the Brattle, the Coolidge Corner theater, the Harvard Film Archive, the Sony Harvard Square, and the colossal but now vanished Sony Chéri downtown (where I saw Boogie Nights, The Thin Red Line, and Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace on their opening days) were an education in themselves.

Trivia: Within one week, I got two e-mails about my unenthusiastic response to Billy Wilder's The Apartment. One was from The Flick Filosopher, still a friend even though we don't correspond much, who agreed with everything I said and became a huge supporter later, in introducing me to the Cinemarati crowd (including, in order, Brilliant at Breakfast, ModFab, and Nathaniel) and talking me through the steps of buying and registering my own domain. A generous soul, that one, and a model of self-confidence, reputation-building, and prolific output for web writers everywhere, especially when (again) there were waaaaaaay fewer film sites out there than there are now, a mere decade later. The other e-mail was from a total skeptic of my review and my abilities, who asked, "Do you even know anything about film? Has it occurred to you that movies are more than illustrated stories? Did you think about Wilder's genius in using the widescreen frame for a corporate office setting, or his use of editing, sound, cinematography?" Both the encouragement and the disparagement were equally and enormously helpful in making me go deeper, think harder, write more regularly, and learn more.

Fall 1999 I started my Ph.D. in English and Film & Video Studies, and switched the website over to http://www.people.cornell.edu/pages/nkd4. Then as now, a huge percentage of my site hits came from people who followed links from the IMDb. From these earliest years, the most reliable generators of mail are the vicious, disappointed pans of The Matrix, Sophie's Choice, and Life Is Beautiful. A list of names I have been called in reference to these reviews is too long to get into here. Other consistent flashpoints on the site: Antonia's Line (which, honestly, I owe another, more mature viewing), Braveheart, Diary of a Mad Housewife, Donnie Darko, Eyes Wide Shut, Far from Heaven, FearDotCom (why, I've never been able to figure out), Gangs of New York, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, The Green Mile, Hannah and Her Sisters, Hello, Dolly!, Holiday, Julia, The Legend of Bagger Vance, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Mission, Moulin Rouge '52, Moulin Rouge! '01, Same Time, Next Year, 7th Heaven, Shakespeare in Love, Taste of Cherry, Top Gun (plus this illustrated amendment), The Travelling Players, Velvet Goldmine, The Village, Wake Island, and The Well. As always, my comparative faith in these reviews goes all over the map; reading your own writing is almost as soul-sickening as hearing your own recorded voice, right? The site has always been as fun for me as an archive of what I (apparently) used to think as in its reflection of what I actually do still think.

January 2001 Having exceeded the free bandwidth provided by Cornell, I took the plunge and bought my own domain. If you've ever wondered about the name: www.NickDavis.com, www.Nick-Davis.com, www.NickOnFilm.com, www.NicksReviews.com, www.NicksFlicks.com, and any number of other, less tongue-twisty alternatives were already taken. Some of them no longer are (although, to the continued chagrin of my ftp non-Beta Blogger account, http://nicksflickpicks.blogspot.com is). My partner suggested the name on a train ride in Switzerland, still the most exotic thing we have ever done. I apologize, perpetually, that the name is hard to say, and harder to spell.

Fall 2002 Just as I was starting to feel like I should nix the website to focus only on academic writing, I was invited to join Cinemarati and met a whole host of other film enthusiasts, almost none of them paid for their film writing, and all of them keeping their projects going out of love, commitment, and some extra teaspoon of crazy. My people, beyond question. Induction into Cinemarati also meant an invitation onto Rotten Tomatoes, where I still only agree with the TomatoMeter 66% of the time.

Spring 2003 A totally fortuitous turn of events involving a mutual friend led to meeting Nathaniel in person and, the very next day, taking a 5-hour road trip with him, and then, the day after that, meeting ModFab and MaryAnn. Delicious, and wholly unexpected, to build a circle of far-flung friends via an internet compulsion and a personal passion. Within a little over a year, Goatdog and MainlyMovies sent out-of-the-blue e-mails that turned into warm, eventually in-person, and (I anticipate) lifelong friendships. The best possible side-effect of nattering on in a public space about the things that are important to you.

Summer 2004 Speaking of out of the blue: for the first and, so far, only time, one of my reviews was formally licensed to appear on a mass-market DVD, right next to Roger Ebert's and Peter Travers'. In Bridget-speak: was v.v.exciting, like eating real Belgian chocolate for first time, or shagging Colin Firth, or similar.

December 2004 My first formal interview for a full-time professorship omits a single question about my Ph.D. dissertation, which was then nearing completion ("Do they hate it?" I wondered) but includes a full ten minutes about my internet writing, what it means to me, what kinds of people I tend to hear from, and from where in the world they write. If you listen closely, you can hear the last nail going into the coffin of that old saw, Professionalize Yourself By Hiding All Of Your Personal Interests and Passionate Hobbies and Pretending To Be a Serious Thinker™.

January 2005 By adding this blog as a component and, for many new readers, a first gateway to the website, I instantly start falling behind on my dissertation dramatically increase attendance, catch up with a new(ish) internet platform, and participate in public film discourse through more genres than long, chunky reviews.

February 2007 After nine years of ruining people's eyes with white text on a black background, and making them cast their gaze all the way from the marginless left side of the screen to the marginless right side, I get my act together and do an extreme makeover on the principal pages of the site (though the full archive of reviews and old features are, of course, taking time to update).

I know it's silly and self-absorbed to outline a personal history of my own project, especially when my audience has never been large and my web mojo is still hilariously outdated: I still write my entire site on WordPad, scripting all of the html myself, and then uploading it onto my domain through an FTP software program I got from Cornell in 1999. I have never opened Dreamweaver or PhotoShop in my life. I won't even tell you how I make my graphics. All I'm saying is: I was never good at keeping up with a diary or a journal, I have been struggling to make time for this website almost since the moment I started it, I spend about $1000 per year on movie tickets and don't get any screeners or make as much as a dime from this site, and I didn't think for a moment (and probably couldn't have imagined) all the ways in which this lark of mine would change and enrich my life, so I'm as surprised as I could possibly be that I've stayed committed to this project and kept it running... and even if everyone stops reading or I stop writing tomorrow (hint: I won't), I am so thankful that I've stuck with it.

As the year goes on, I'll be marking this tenth anniversary by revisiting Top 10 lists that are more than a decade old (they'd look a lot different now, and the availability of films I could never have seen in 1995 or 1996 has obviously skyrocketed), and by completing that Favorite Films project that's been stalled at #34 for well over a year. Meanwhile, THANK YOU to anybody who has ever read, linked, e-mailed, asked a question about, said a kind word about, or said a constructively nasty word about this website; I'm even feeling soft today on the full-on haters (well, some of them). By now, I should be well beyond the clichéd and perpetually violated promise to write more reviews, post fewer unexplained grades, etc., but hitting a milestone like this does give me a boost of extra incentive in an insanely busy month of real-job work to keep turning this mutha out.

And of course, the inspiration provided by the great films, including the 10 movies illustrated above that have been my #1 picks from 1997 through 2006, is its own sublime incentive. The #1 of 2007 and the rest of the ranked Top 10 will be announced as soon as my selections in 10 other categories have been posted... so it's back to work for me, and a "Stay Tuned" for you!

Labels:

Aural Stimulation

Five salutes to the movies that sounded best to me in 2007—and again, aside from No Country for Old Men, none of the other four films were greeted by the crowds of bad-taste aficionados, New Wave enthusiasts, arthouse thrill-seekers, or crime-genre devotees that they respectively deserved. Queue 'em up, if you missed 'em in theaters, and if you didn't, queue 'em up again and take a good listen. (For my own part, to break a bad but longstanding habit of Nick's Flick Picks, I'm including the names of the sound designers, mixers, and effects supervisors. I've ignored them for a long time while I learned the differences among these job titles, and because learning four or even two names seemed so much more cumbersome than learning who Roger Deakins or Sandy Powell was. Embarrassing, but true. In any event, this website now officially and fully enters the Sound Era, a mere 80 years after it began.)

Labels:

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Best of 2007: Original Screenplay

It's impossible to follow a commemorative post, written in the aftermath of such a premature and uncanny death, and not feel complicit in some enormous cultural process of turning around and moving on. But, with final respects to those who actually knew Heath Ledger, and with due acknowledgment that my onlooker's sorrow isn't anything like their intimate grief, I of course am moving on: moving on, at least, to keep celebrating the same art form that he sustained and celebrated, which is, after all, the root and reason for the unexpectedly emotional claim that yesterday's news had on me, and on so many of us.

So: I don't agree with the perennial axiom that a great movie starts with a great script. Not all great movies have great scripts; most scripts are rewritten and retro-fitted during filming; it's impossible for a filmgoer to parse the screenwriter's labor from spontaneous improvisation, or from the re-architecture of editing, or the other happy accidents of filming. I'm more likely to love a movie for its cinematography or its editing than for its script—but I do, of course, still thrill to the artistry of a great screenplay. And from the best of what I can tell, even in relation to one nominee that doesn't even have a credited script, the arc, the words, the sequencing, and the structure of these five films fully warrant our warmest admiration.

Labels:

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

R.I.P. Heath Ledger

Committed, brave, ready to take the leap, forthcoming about his errors, poised to reach a new plane, maybe a little reckless, hard to know (at least on screen), grimly gifted at grueling implosions, closed off by love (Brokeback Mountain), doomed by self-recognition (Monster's Ball), but alluringly goofy even when he was Grimm. A promised slash of color in The Dark Knight, overexposed, ironic, blurry, splotches and shadows where a face should be, only just beginning to come into focus. He was suddenly, recently, out of a "nowhere" of interchangeable actors and out of a "nowhere" of movies he publicly wouldn't or couldn't love, he was suddenly, abruptly good. He was here, to the delight and with the support of so many, and now, with no good explanation, he's not there.

Labels:

More Oscar Thoughts (Let Me Have My Thoughts!)

As a commenter on Nathaniel's site noticed at lightning speed, no film save Michael Clayton received more than one acting nomination. Beyond being an Academy first, this is actually astonishing. Coattails just didn't exist this year. I hope it means that the voting actors actually watched lots of movies and weighed all the different performances, even if the truth veers somewhere closer to the notion that the hype of awards season managed to accrue around various performers in lots of different films. Either way, Academy types could have ignored all that hype and jotted down all the names they remembered from the one or two movies they liked, as they often do. But this time they didn't. Applause is due.

Composer James Newton Howard receives his seventh nomination, and has probably got to win at some point (though more famed composers than he have gone to the grave trophyless). He happens to be tapped for Michael Clayton, a movie that the Academy obviously loved and which is unlikely to win anywhere else, which should help; the Score category is often used to bouquet a movie that's shut out everywhere else (see: Il Postino, Babel, etc.). Still, he'll probably lose to Dario Marianelli for going TAP TAP TAP TAP TAP TAP amidst his admittedly nice melodies. Oh, well.

A bigger threat to break a bigger losing streak: sound designer Kevin O'Connell, who, let's remember, has lost 19 times, including in two years when he made up 40% of the nominees in his category. Now, in his 20th go-round, he's up for a loud Michael Bay movie that was an enormous hit. That would give him a significant boost in any year, but unless Oscar suddenly feels more sensitive than usual in this category to dramatic effects (No Country, There Will Be Blood) rather than loud spectacle, O'Connell shouldn't have too much trouble hurdling over Bourne and 3:10 to Yuma, especially with his well-publicized series of losses working as an extra voting hook. Could it be his year?

Also: I have seating ideas. I would like Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman to sit next to each other, and experience the whole ceremony in character as the Savages. I would like Ruby Dee to sit next to an empty seat, to commemorate Ossie Davis; I'm thrilled for Ruby (and for Hal Holbrook, I might add), but it makes me sad that neither Ruby nor Ossie was ever nominated in time for them to share this event together. I would like George Clooney and Viggo Mortensen to attend as each other's dates, as they did to the Globes. (Hush. You don't really know what happened, either.)

I would like Sarah Polley to sit next to Julie Christie. What a feat they pulled off. I would like for Sally Kirkland to sit behind the two of them. Sally (pictured left) has this to say: "I was IN Away from Her! I was demented, in the background!! You must have seen me! You probably forgot me! You probably have Alzheimer's! See you at the ceremony!!!"

Waking Up with Oscar

Why even front? You don't want any small talk.

BEST PICTURE (4/5 correct)
Atonement, Juno, Michael Clayton, No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood
I'M HAPPY that sticking with Atonement was worth it, and that Juno is a movie I savor more than Diving Bell, which I thought would be here in its stead.

BEST DIRECTOR (3/5 correct)
Anderson, Coens, Gilroy, Reitman, Schnabel
I'M GIGGLING at my certainty that this would be Auteur Year when Gilroy and Reitman are here instead for movies that Hollywood just liked more than I guess they did Zodiac or Eastern Promises or (holy freezing temperatures, Batman!) Into the Wild. I'm sure Reitman will get a lot of flak for being here when his visual and technical ideas are pretty minimal, but he choreographed his ensemble better than any of his peers in this category.

BEST ACTRESS (3/5 correct)
Blanchett, Christie, Cotillard, Linney, Page
I'M A LITTLE SAD that I can't be happier for my new bosom buddy, Laura Linney, though I am quite happy for her, because I really wish Cate had budged for her instead of Angelina. Someone this morning reminded me that Zhang Ziyi was on all the same precursor lists that Cate was and still didn't rate with Oscar, which was very spirit-lifting. And whatever, Cate Blanchett is a great actress who does whatever anyone could with her movie; she's hardly The Green Mile. But: poor Angie, mostly because so many fewer people will see A Mighty Heart, now or later, than otherwise would have.

BEST ACTOR (4/5 correct)
Clooney, Day-Lewis, Depp, Jones, Mortensen
I'M THRILLED that people stopped d*cking around with Ryan Gosling and Emile Hirsch and nominated Tommy Lee Jones' implosive but fully articulated performance, one of the year's best, in Elah, which I was just complaining everyone had forgotten about. His inclusion makes this by far the strongest of any of the Best Actor lists we've seen through awards season, which is as it should be.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS (5/5 correct)
Blanchett, Dee, Ronan, Ryan, Swinton
I'M ECSTATIC TILDA!!!! And a Todd Haynes movie! And Ruby Dee is an Oscar nominee! And my only perfectly predicted category!

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR (4/5 correct)
Affleck, Bardem, Hoffman, Holbrook, Wilkinson
I'M NEUTRAL because this category has been stable, give or take Hoffman vs. Jones, for so long now that I don't have anything to respond to. Though the clip of Michael Clayton they showed on Good Morning America reminded me that I really don't get Tom Wilkinson in that movie.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY (4/5 correct)
Juno, Lars, Michael, Ratatouille, Savages
I'M SELF-CRITICAL for changing at the last minute from what turned out to be the correct line-up to American Gangster in place of The Savages. I read in EW (you probably did, too) that this is the first-ever screenplay category with three solo women in the field? Crazy. I'm wondering if the full-on anti-homeskillet backlash will set in to a sufficient degree for Diablo Cody to lose this to Ratatouille or Michael Clayton.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY (4/5 correct)
Atonement, Away, Diving, No Country, TWBBlood
I'M PLEASED for Sarah Polley and prediction-proud about keeping Atonement, even though this list officially has nothing to do with my own list that I published this morning.

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM (4/5 correct)
"12," Beaufort, Counterfeiters, Katyn, Mongol
I'M INTRIGUED at the possibility of getting to see these movies, especially "12" and Katyn and Mongol, but really, all of them sound kind of tantalizing in a way that Foreign Film nominees rarely do (and the Canadian, Italian, and Brazilian semifinalists sure didn't). Perhaps they will be released in the spring? Maybe around 4 months from now? 4 months and 3 weeks and ... ?

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE (1/5 correct)
No End in Sight, Operation Homecoming, Sicko, Taxi to the Dark Side, War/Dance
I'M SKEPTICAL because Sicko wasn't nearly the movie that Lake of Fire was, and I've heard nothing but raves about Body of War and Nanking, but No End in Sight and Taxi to the Dark Side are both superb (and Sicko is better than The Price of Sugar, which was the other short-lister I saw), so no need to be too miffed. I thought War/Dance was supposed to pass through Chicago in the fall; maybe it did, and I missed it?

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE (2/3 correct)
Persepolis, Ratatouille, Surf's Up
I'M IN THE SAME BOAT as everyone else who's going, "Surf's Up over The Simpsons Movie?" But I've also heard from somebody (you, Ann?) that Surf's isn't half-bad, and since I wasn't as bowled over by Ratatouille or Persepolis in the way the reviews implied I should be, maybe it's worth a look.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY (4/5 correct)
Assassination, Atonement, Diving, No Country, TWBBlood
I'M MOSTLY HAPPY that this is a very strong race, even if I didn't like Atonement's morbid overexposures as much as a lot of people, and even if Into the Wild's omission seems actually churlish here, where it seems more like a matter of taste in other categories. (Yes, I understand that it's always a matter of taste.) No Country sure has support across the board, doesn't it? Will Deakins beat himself for the win or split his own vote and lose to Kaminski, or Elswit, or even McGarvey? They're probably all in the race.

BEST FILM EDITING (4/5 correct)
Bourne, Diving Bell, Into the Wild, No Country, TWBBlood
I'M VERY HAPPY about this being one of the year's sturdiest line-ups, and about the Bourne franchise finally having some Oscar noms to its credit, and about Into the Wild placing here, which I considered its strongest suit outside of the Song category. I assumed No Country had this sewn up (like Jean-Dominique Bauby's eyeball, yo!), but now looking at the list, I wonder if Bourne can spoil. Oh, and I deserve to have one race that I predicated better than Nathaniel did, right?

BEST ART DIRECTION (3/5 correct)
A.Gangster, Atonement, Golden Compass, Sweeney, TWBBlood
I'M FRUSTRATED that I didn't get my act together to see The Golden Compass, but I heard it was just so horrible. I also didn't see anyone predicting American Gangster for this category, but in retrospect it makes pretty good sense. Elated for Jack Fisk. I wonder if Sissy will wear a slim-tailored black suit with a white shirt that has a high collar?

BEST COSTUME DESIGN (3/5 correct)
Across the Universe, Atonement, Elizabeth: Full Throttle, Sweeney, La Vie en Rose
I'M BAFFLED as to why I didn't put La Vie en rose in my predictions instead of Love in the Time of Cholera, a less-admired movie by the same, recently deceased designer, Marit Allen. And more baffled by Across the Universe. Do we need to make Evan Rachel Wood look young? Let's give her A HEADBAND! Need to age her a little. How about...a TURTLENECK. Snooze-o-rama. I don't really understand costume designers. I love them, but I do not understand them. (Where is all the Western stuff?)

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE (2/5 correct)
3:10 to Yuma, Atonement, Kite Runner, Michael Clayton, Ratatouille
I'M PISSED that I have to go see The Kite Runner tonight. Dammit. That its inclusion comes at the exclusion (in my mind) of Alexandre Desplat's gorgeous work on Lust, Caution will only make me more sour about this experience. Who's going to be surprised if I don't like the movie? I'm so obviously neutral. (Wonderful pick with Beltrami for 3:10 to Yuma, though. Maybe the only nominee who made it onto my personal list but wasn't on my predictions.)

BEST ORIGINAL SONG (1/5 correct)
"Falling Slowly," "Happy Working Song," "Raise It Up," "So Close," "That's How You Know"
I'M THROWING UP to even be reminded of August Rush, and to see THREE Enchanted songs here, given that they were all pretty subpar. If "Falling Slowly" can't win this—I just went straight back to Neneh Cherry and Soul II Soul losing that Best New Artist Grammy to Milli Vanilli, which was an outrage well before The Revelation. I'm going to drop leaflets over Beverly Hills. This is an emergency. As with most elections, Americans obviously can't be trusted to choose correctly.

BEST SOUND (3/5 correct)
3:10, Bourne, No Country, Ratatouille, Transformers
I'M PETTY because this is the only category where I out-predicted Nathaniel and In Contention, even though none of us did so very well. Thank God No Country for Old Men is here, which restores my faith that the sound designers can still hear things beneath the decibel-threshold of a glass-factory explosion.

BEST SOUND EFFECTS (4/5 correct)
All of the above, minus 3:10, plus There Will Be Blood
I'M AGAIN WONDERING why the Sound Branch insists on separate categories, which makes terrific sense in principle, when in actual point of fact they barely do anything different with their choices. I clearly applaud Blood's inclusion here, but one still feels the redundancy.

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS (2/3 correct)
Golden, Pirates, Transformers
I'M FLUMMOXED that, for the first time since 2000, when The Grinch and 102 Dalmatians were both up for Costume Design, I'm confronted with a category where I didn't see two of the nominees. And when there are only three to begin with, that sucks. And I saw 140 movies this year! And why did everybody hate 300 so much? Did it remind them of Into the Wild?

BEST MAKEUP (1/3 correct)
Norbit, Pirates, La Vie
I'M AT PEACE with having a second category where I've only seen nominee, and a second category where I only made one correct prognostication, because you would have had to spot my ticket to get me to see Pirates 3, and you would have had to kidnap my brother to get me to see Norbit. And we are talking about voters who have been breathing spray-on cosmetics and rubbing alcohol their entire professional lives.

TOTAL 64/91 correct = 70%
I'M SO TIRED I love you, Angelina! Call me, Sean! Hugs and congrats, Tilda and Jack (Fisk)! I want to go to bed... yet I can't help noticing that it's time to go to work.
BUT I'M A LITTLE LESS TIRED NOW (9:25am) and I'm realizing, 8 noms apiece for No Country and There Will Be Blood, and 7 apiece for Atonement and Michael Clayton: that's some tough Best Picture competition (and Juno is hardly out of it, since 4 is already the upper reaches of what it was ever going to get, with no technical artistry to distinguish it). I'm also thinking: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, according to the voters, has some of the year's best directing, writing, editing, and cinematography, but it's not one of the Best Pictures? I guess the actors weren't sufficiently impressed.

Labels:

In Tribute to the Striking Writers...

You thought I was kidding about that all-night party/vigil on the eve of the Oscar nominations, didn't you? Actually, I'm just up late with piles of work, but while I'm sitting here, I thought I'd swipe this last moment before the hurricane of post-nominations debate to salute some of the writers and to remind myself (and hopefully some others) of why the writers, especially at the peak of their powers, deserve the money and the recognition that they're seeking. Check 'em out...

Labels:

Monday, January 21, 2008

Alarm Call

Yep, I keep working the Björk angle. As Variety is reporting (I, of course, heard via Nathaniel), Jonny Greenwood's There Will Be Blood score has been disqualified for Oscar contention because, according to AMPAS, it incorporates too much music by other composers, and also too many of Greenwood's pre-existing compositions. Keep reading the Variety article, and you learn that Into the Wild has also been barred for having such a song-driven score. I guess we're not meant to worry about that bogus Babel win last year, or David Hirschfelder's nomination for Shine (just a wee bit of non-Hirschfelderiana in that score...), or the Godfather paradox that even Variety can't help but mention. What this really means is, I get a free pass to change my predix, which I wanted to change anyway, because Oscar probably wouldn't have gone for Greenwood's avant-gardism anyway. So:

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
ALL NEON LIKE The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Cave & Ellis); Atonement (Marianelli); Eastern Promises (Shore); The Kite Runner (Iglesias); Lust, Caution (Desplat)
UNRAVEL (aka IT'S NOT UP TO YOU, aka FROSTI, aka disqualified scores) Enchanted (Menken); Into the Wild (Brook, King, and Vedder); There Will Be Blood (Greenwood)
POSSIBLY MAYBE Grace Is Gone (Eastwood); Michael Clayton (Howard)
IT'S OH SO QUIET Beowulf (Silvestri); Ratatouille (Giacchino)

While I'm at it, since I totally, completely can't help it, here's one more change that I've just got to make, since ModFab's predictions reminded me that I forgot about American Gangster's screenplay as a possibility. So:

BEST ORIGINAL
SCREENPLAY

ALL NEON LIKE American Gangster (Zaillian); Juno (Cody); Lars and the Real Girl (Oliver); Michael Clayton (Gilroy); Ratatouille (Bird, Capobianco, Pinkava)
POSSIBLY MAYBE The Savages (Jenkins); Eastern Promises (Knight); Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (Masterson); 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (Mungiu)
IT'S OH SO QUIET Knocked Up (Apatow); Waitress (Shelley); Once (Carney); I'm Not There (Haynes)

I've emended both of these categories in the long prediction post and updated the explanatory logic as necessary. Surely, this is it? Will more rules be broken or categories thrown into disrepute? Will it turn out at midnight tonight that Cate Blanchett or Tilda Swinton really is genderless, and thus must be disqualified from all acting categories? Is Marion Cotillard really Edith Piaf? She did "die" suspiciously young...

Did Christopher Rouse (you say "Rouse," I hear "ruse"!) employ too many of the same editing techniques in The Bourne Ultimatum as he did in The Bourne Supremacy, thus disbarring himself from contention? You never know with the Academy till the last frigging minute. And even then, you still don't know.

Labels:

Another Category, Another Buddy

I couldn't help it: having shouted out Tim and Nathaniel in the categories I drafted last night, I couldn't have the world thinking that I had forgotten ModFab, who'd also have a Willy Wonka golden ticket to the stay-up-all-night sleepover I wish I could throw on the night before the nominations. ModFab's theater productions are always such arresting sights to behold, and he's always so attuned to production design in his film reviews, that the Art Direction category always makes me think of him. So, there went my lunch hour, but here you go. Tough choices this year, and a lot of swapping in and out right until the end, but I think I'm at peace with these as my final five.

By the way, as we've now hit the one-third mark of these Honorees, with 7 out of 21 categories announced, the multiple nominees thus far are Lust, Caution and There Will Be Blood with three apiece (and at least one honorable mention in each case), and The Aerial, Grindhouse (a four-time honorable mention, which means it's been in striking distance for every category except Costume Design), and Lady Chatterley. Since I'd argue that none of these movies, save There Will Be Blood, got anywhere close to their due while they were in theaters, I hope that somehow, somewhere, somebody's Netflix queue is newly a-churning.

Labels: ,

The Great Work Continues...


Here are two more categories in my Best of 2007 feature that I here deliver as targeted treats to two of my favorite Oscar buddies: Tim, who actually remembers extended melodies and motifs from a film's score on the way out of the theater (which I have managed to do about five times in my life), and Nathaniel, who loves costume designers so much that they get their own shrine on The Film Experience, and their own page in his Oscar nomination predictions. Enjoy these picks, guys—I think you'll be sympathetic to both groups of choices, based on your own picks—and enjoy them, too, everyone else! (I really enjoy hearing from some of you lurkers in response to these announcements...) (And yes, "enjoy" is apparently the word of the day...)

Labels: ,

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Great Work Has Begun!





As embarrassing as it is that I never completed the last lap on last year's Honorees, such that I never actually announced my Best Picture lineup (though my top ten list was a really good tipoff), it's already well past time to start announcing my Best of the Year selections and write-ups for 2007. I finally saw Persepolis this weekend, which was the last title I was waiting for before finalizing my lists in most of my categories. I still haven't sealed the deal on a few DVDs and dubious-looking holiday releases, but after 140 theatrical releases, enough is enough. Let's agree that Golden Door is probably exquisite-looking, even on disc, and that The Golden Compass was probably frightful anyway, and move on with our lives.

So, without further ado, and while you're still smacking your lips over the first major phase of the Film Bitch Awards and saving room on your plate for Tuesday morning's announcement of the Oscar nominations, here are four palette-cleansing courses for the parallel feast of my own Best of Year feature. Click here (or on any of the graphics in this post) for my favorites in the categories of Song Score, Sound Effects, Visual Effects, and Makeup. And PLEASE don't be shy: if I'm going to finish all of this, I'd love to feel that people are actually reading!

Labels:

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Predictions on This Blog May Be Dumber Than They Appear (Final! Really, This Time!)

Or smarter than they appear. I suppose there's no reason to be pessimistic. Unless you count the fact that I've grown steadily worse at this as the years go by, possibly because I cannot bear to read almost any of the writers who are paid to obsess about this all year 'round. (If it ain't Nathaniel, who incidentally ain't paid, I ain't interested.) Or if you count the fact that even the Uncanny Seers among us don't seem to know what's going on with this year's contests, all of which seem to have two or even three hugely contested spots. Still, what I learned from Daniel Plainview—and what is he, if not a role model?—is that you don't get anywhere by doubting yourself. There's a whole OCEAN of OSCAR under our feet! Here's what I think is rising to the surface.

(For no particular reason, I'm naming all my categories after Björk songs. Consider it a silent invitation for anyone—Marion Cotillard, Tilda Swinton, Hal Holbrook—to show up "dressed" in a stuffed fowl.)

BEST PICTURE
ALL NEON LIKE Atonement; The Diving Bell and the Butterfly; Michael Clayton; No Country for Old Men; There Will Be Blood
POSSIBLY MAYBE Juno; Into the Wild
IT'S OH SO QUIET Sweeney Todd; American Gangster

I like to kick off with shooting myself in the foot as soon as possible, so I'm predicting against Juno, even though I like it better than all of the films I'm actually predicting, save (I think) There Will Be Blood. No Country is the one movie with no worries for this category, Atonement has shown enough strength with precursors that matter (like BAFTA and the Globes), Diving Bell peaked at the right moment (and is more highbrow than Juno), There Will Be Blood is a giant buzz-monster (and is more highbrow than Juno), and Michael Clayton is a solid inside-the-park home run for studio filmmaking (and is more highbrow than Juno). I'm guessing Into the Wild broke too early and that Sweeney Todd and American Gangster just didn't finally excite enough people, compared to the ardent camps that have built up around the other seven titles.

BEST DIRECTOR
ALL NEON LIKE Anderson, There Will Be Blood; Coens, No Country for Old Men; Fincher, Zodiac; Schnabel, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly; Wright, Atonement
POSSIBLY MAYBE Penn, Into the Wild; Mungiu, 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days; Cronenberg, Eastern Promises; Polley, Away from Her
YOU'VE BEEN FLIRTING AGAIN Gilroy, Michael Clayton; Greengrass, The Bourne Ultimatum; Lumet, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead; Reitman, Juno
IT'S OH SO QUIET Bird, Ratatouille; Burton, Sweeney Todd; Scott, American Gangster

Into the Wild, for me, is the biggest riddle in this year's race: I can't tell if it's headed for a total shut-out or a raft of nominations or anything in between. Given the ardor of its biggest fans, and the stylistic ambitions that lead to its florid emotionalism, I can see where Penn has a better shot here than a workman like Gilroy. But given recent history, and given the wealth of directorial risks that paid off big-time this year, I think one of the director picks will really surprise, City of God- or Vera Drake- or United 93-style. Mungiu might be my wildest hope here, but he's been working the circuit, and Cronenberg and Polley represent Canadian filmcraft at its most established and most promising. (We know everyone is watching Away from Her, and if Polley were older, I think she'd make it.) In a field this crowded, it's probably smarter to stick with the season's habitual shortlistees, but I can't help but think that a year of excited reviews and fawning press—plus a breakthrough in DV artistry, decades of industry dues, a loyal and fervent cult following, and a horde of actors who seem eager to work with him—will make a difference for Fincher. Have you written me off as a nutjob yet?

BEST ACTRESS
ALL NEON LIKE Adams, Enchanted; Christie, Away from Her; Cotillard, La Vie en rose; Jolie, A Mighty Heart; Page, Juno
POSSIBLY MAYBE Blanchett, Elizabeth: The Golden Age; Linney, The Savages; Knightley, Atonement
IT'S OH SO QUIET Blonsky, Hairspray

The three front-runners are a given. I've been worried about Jolie, partially because I'm so defensive about how good A Mighty Heart is and how poorly it fared with the public that I'm nervous about getting my hopes up for her. I can see where she could fall to BAFTA nominees Blanchett (a boring nominee in a smelly movie) or Knightley (a glam girl wearing the best outfit in a period romance). Still, I'm banking on Jolie to pull this off, and to be joined for the ride by Amy Adams, who turned a dicey proposition into a huge kiddie hit that lots of voters will have taken their kids to (or their grandkids to), and we know how badly the studios need a new princess. Even Blonsky, who seems like the kind of candidate with no future past the Globes, did star in a well-liked word-of-mouth hit that's been playing on DVD for over a month. She's not unthinkable.

BEST ACTOR
ALL NEON LIKE Brolin, No Country for Old Men; Clooney, Michael Clayton; Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood; Depp, Sweeney Todd; Mortensen, Eastern Promises
POSSIBLY MAYBE Washington, American Gangster; McAvoy, Atonement; Hirsch, Into the Wild; Gosling, Lars and the Real Girl
IT'S OH SO QUIET Damon, The Bourne Ultimatum; Langella, Starting Out in the Evening; Jones, In the Valley of Elah; Amalric, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Okay, by now you think I am trying to get my predictions wrong. Not with Clooney, Day-Lewis, Depp, or (slightly shakier) Mortensen. But the Brolin thing: again, I think No Country for Old Men is the only movie we can assume everyone is seeing, and mostly admiring, whereas so many of his competitors' films (Lars, Into the Wild) seem divisive, as are their performances, and Langella's campaign never really got going. I'm thinking the fifth slot goes to a coattail lead from a Best Picture contender... though I'd prefer to see the No Country hype break more obliquely in Tommy Lee Jones' direction. His Elah performance, despite the patchiness of the film, is the great Once Was a Shoo-In, Now Everyone's Forgotten performance of the year.

BEST SUPPORTING
ACTRESS

ALL NEON LIKE Blanchett, I'm Not There; Dee, American Gangster; Ronan, Atonement; Ryan, Gone Baby Gone; Swinton, Michael Clayton
POSSIBLY MAYBE Keener, Into the Wild; Macdonald, No Country for Old Men; Garner, Juno; Redgrave, Atonement

As with lead actress, you don't get any points for guessing the three front-runners... although can I just mention the cold sweats I have gotten (metaphorically, so far) about Tilda turning into the Baz Luhrmann, Dennis Quaid, Peter Sarsgaard, Paul Giamatti figure who shows up so predictably on every single list until the Oscar list? Maybe I know too many people who don't feel Tilda. (I know what you're thinking: I probably work in one of those Away from Her or Savages Alzheimer's clinics. How else to explain? But, weirdly, it isn't true.) Anyway: let's assume that Cate, Amy, and TILDA are safe. Oscar has been refreshingly unwilling in recent years to laurel the old folks just for being old, but in a vague field, Ruby Dee may still be able to work that angle, and I for one wouldn't begrudge her. As for the fifth spot, I can't decide if the No Country phenom will be big enough to hoist Kelly Macdonald, or if AMPAS will get as excited about Vanessa Redgrave's epilogue in Atonement as they did about her prologue in Howards End or if they really do want to marry Catherine Keener or if they'll all remember playing the kind of part that Jennifer Garner takes in Juno but not being nearly as ingenious and dexterous with it as she was. All of these scenarios feel plausible to me, but for now, I'm guessing that even though the Academy just invited another little girl to the same sockhop last year, they'll hand Saoirse Ronan a typewritten invite to this year's ceremony... thus allowing her to lie to all of her friends back home about who she saw there, doing what to whom. Nasty! Nasty!

BEST SUPPORTING
ACTOR

ALL NEON LIKE Affleck, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford; Bardem, No Country for Old Men; Holbrook, Into the Wild; Jones, No Country for Old Men; Wilkinson, Michael Clayton
POSSIBLY MAYBE Hoffman, Charlie Wilson's War; Von Sydow, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
IT'S OH SO QUIET Dano, There Will Be Blood; Travolta, Hairspray

Look, ma – even I know when to xerox the SAG list! One of my favorite things about Movie Year 2007 is how many vivid performances arrived in the Supporting Actor field, where I usually start to snore. Another way of saying this is, I love that enough strong work emerged in Oscar-friendly movies that John Travolta probably won't get a nomination for a momentarily fetching but undeniably odd turn in Hairspray (looking unbecomingly like a one-man preview for Kung Fu Panda). Anyone out there who thought Assassination of Jesse James... was too long might have wished that Anton Chigurh had been on Brad's trail instead of Robert Ford: at that point, we'd have been talking about a Live Action Short. If Diving Bell hits as big as I'm expecting it to, Max Von Sydow might finally make good on some of that buzz that's been struggling to coalesce behind him, but I just don't see where the room is in this lineup. I suppose Jones has the narrowest hold, but after 14 years, isn't it time he were back in this crowd?

Why none of the Juno men was ever even a factor here—not Bateman, not Cera, not Simmons—remains a complete riddle, but it testifies to how that film's awards marketing has somehow been gobsmackingly brilliant and weirdly inconsistent at the same time. Also, if you're looking for an otherwise-surefire nominee who is only missing because of his film's release date, look no further than Chris Cooper in Breach. Arguably, even probably a co-lead, I realize, but you know this is where the studio would have slotted him if the studio had even tried, ever, even remotely, to do anything for him.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
ALL NEON LIKE The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Deakins); Atonement (McGarvey); The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Kaminski); Into the Wild (Gautier); There Will Be Blood (Elswit)
POSSIBLY MAYBE No Country for Old Men (Deakins)
IT'S OH SO QUIET Wood, The Bourne Ultimatum (Wood); American Gangster (Savides)

Basically, the American Society of Cinematographers' list, save for the hair's-breadth substitution of Into the Wild for No Country for Old Men. Gautier is one of my favorite unnominated d.p.'s, which is either a point in his favor (overdue) or not (they don't get him, or like him, or know him). And it's not clear whether the embarrassment of never nominating him outweighs the embarrassment of Deakins never having won, and therefore wanting to double his chances. For all the splendid cinematography on view in this year's movies, I'll still be surprised if the final five deviate from my top six, and hugely surprised if anyone but Wood or Savides picks up the surprise slack.

BEST FILM EDITING
ALL NEON LIKE American Gangster (Scalia); The Bourne Ultimatum (Rouse); Into the Wild (Cassidy); No Country for Old Men ("Jaynes"); There Will Be Blood (Tichenor)
POSSIBLY MAYBE Sweeney Todd (Lebenzon); Michael Clayton (Gilroy); The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Welfling); Atonement (Tothill)
IT'S OH SO QUIET 3:10 to Yuma (McCusker)

The American Cinema Editors preferred Michael Clayton over American Gangster, and it's exactly the kind of category where well-oiled Best Picture also-rans like MC tend to rack up a nod, but Scalia is a huge name and AG seems destined to make itself known in the tech categories. I'd love to see Juliette Welfling, the genius behind all those nervy Jacques Audiard pictures, pick up a nomination if Diving Bell really did cross over to a sizable audience, and I actually wonder if the frequently undervalued Tichenor is as secure here as many people probably expect. Still, I think this will be our year to observe what "Roderick Jaynes" actually looks like, and whether he brings "Peter Andrews" or "Alan Smithee" as his date to the ceremony. (All pseudonyms are gay. Everyone in Hollywood knows this.)

BEST SOUND
ALL NEON LIKE 3:10 to Yuma; American Gangster; The Bourne Ultimatum; Sweeney Todd; Transformers
POSSIBLY MAYBE Hairspray; There Will Be Blood; No Country for Old Men; Into the Wild
IT'S OH SO QUIET Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End; 300; Beowulf; Ratatouille

Somewhere, even more obviously than usual, I am making a mistake... except I can't seem to imagine this category without any of my top six choices missing. No Country for Old Men obviously (to me, anyway) deserves this award any way you cut it, but since the Oscars often opt for loud and expensive over nervy and resonant, I'm worried about No Country. There Will Be Blood and Into the Wild also seem like exactly the sorts of top-drawer contenders that would be friendly additions to this race, but with so many popular commercial titles like 3:10 to Yuma, AG, and Bourne in the way, I don't know how to predict the Sound branch's priorities. (For the record, the guild nominees were 300, Bourne, Into the Wild, No Country, and Transformers, which is a pretty solid list, if you ask me.)

STARLET WHO WILL BE
TAPPED TO PRESENT
THE SCIENTIFIC &
TECHNICAL AWARDS

BIG TIME SENSUALITY Jessica Alba; Keira Knightley; Katherine Heigl; Amy Adams; Anne Hathaway
THE MODERN THINGS Jessica Biel; Michelle Monaghan; Natalie Portman; Eva Mendes; Julia Stiles; Isla Fisher
UNRAVEL (aka CRYING, aka EARTH INTRUDERS) Lindsay Lohan; Natasha Lyonne; Amy Winehouse
IT'S OH SO QUIET Rachael Leigh Cook; Bridget Moynahan; Erika Christensen; Shiri Appleby; Shannon Elizabeth; Sacheen Littlefeather; Sally Kirkland; Linda Riss

Well, it has to be someone. (The last five doyennes: Gyllenhaal, Johansson, McAdams, Garner, Hudson.) Probably, this news has already been announced. But this still counts as testing my mettle.


BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
ALL NEON LIKE The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Cave & Ellis); Atonement (Marianelli); Eastern Promises (Shore); The Kite Runner (Iglesias); Lust, Caution (Desplat)
UNRAVEL (aka IT'S NOT UP TO YOU, aka FROSTI, aka disqualified scores) Enchanted (Menken); Into the Wild (Brook, King, and Vedder); There Will Be Blood (Greenwood)
POSSIBLY MAYBE Grace Is Gone (Eastwood); Michael Clayton (Howard)
IT'S OH SO QUIET Beowulf (Silvestri); Ratatouille (Giacchino)

Is Jonny Greenwood's music for There Will Be Blood too schizzy and crazy and unconventional to score a nomination? Probably. Is it actually too contemporary and stand-alone to always serve the movie? Quite possibly. (Oops! Disqualified anyway. See this post.) Is anything beside the Atonement score going to win this derby anyway? Unlikely. Is Atonement the Babel of 2007—i.e., easy to watch but inadequate to the slightest pressure of thought, and full of structural gimmicks that have nothing to say, even if it's still bound to win something, which is probably Original Score? Um, yep. So will James Newton Howard just keep scoring everything he can until he finally wins something? Probably. Will his streak of six losses finally end this year? Probably not.

BEST ANIMATED
FEATURE

ALL NEON LIKE Persepolis; Ratatouille; The Simpsons Movie
POSSIBLY MAYBE Bee Movie
IT'S OH SO QUIET Shrek the Third; Meet the Robinsons; Beowulf

Am I predicting these three titles because they have been so inveterate to every other list all season? Not really. Bee Movie was a Globe nominee and Shrek the Third has a shot at a BAFTA (both in Persepolis' stead). Am I predicting these three titles because they are the only animated features I saw this year? Very likely, unless it's the other way around.

BEST DOCUMENTARY
FEATURE

ALL NEON LIKE Autism: The Musical; Body of War; Nanking; No End in Sight; White Light/Black Rain
POSSIBLY MAYBE Please Vote for Me; Sicko; Lake of Fire; Taxi to the Dark Side; The Rape of Europa; For the Bible Tells Me So; The Price of Sugar; War/Dance
IT'S OH SO QUIET Operation Homecoming; A Promise to the Dead

Okay, so it's insane to me that Deep Water isn't here, and more predictable if still insane that The King of Kong also failed to make the semifinalist cut. At least that boring and utterly un-groundbreaking In the Shadow of the Moon got the cold shoulder, too. Among the qualifiers, most of the buzz seems to lie with the titles I haven't seen. I found Lake of Fire totally galvanizing, but I'm guessing that its structure is finally too loose and its territory too raw, even for the Documentary branch, and The Price of Sugar just doesn't delve far enough into the world it purports to evoke. Still No End in Sight's race to lose, but I hear great things about Body of War, Nanking, and the Okazaki film, White Light/Black Rain.

BEST FOREIGN
LANGUAGE FILM

ALL NEON LIKE "12" (Russia); Beaufort (Israel); The Counterfeiters (Austria); Mongol (Kazakhstan); The Year My Parents Went on Vacation (Brazil)
POSSIBLY MAYBE Days of Darkness (Canada); Katyn (Poland); The Trap (Serbia)
IT'S OH SO QUIET The Unknown (Italy)

While we're on the subject of disappointing semifinalist lists, I will never understand how Cannes champ and tense, blazing, gutsy masterwork 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days failed to make the cut for this category. (I personally am at peace with the omission of Persepolis, the other high-profile absentee.) Having vented that churlish gripe, I have to admit this is a more auspicious-looking field than I first gave it credit for: Beaufort won the Silver Lion at Berlin, Katyn is by legendary Polish director and recent Honorary Oscaree Andrzej Wajda, Mongol is an exciting-looking epic directed by previous nominee Sergei Bodrov (Prisoner of the Mountains), "12" has great reviews and stars another former winner in this category (Burnt by the Sun writer-director Nikita Mikhalkov), and The Counterfeiters has also amassed some great notices as it's made its way around the world. And even though I'm less sanguine about the prospects of The Unknown and Days of Darkness (if you think Juno is self-obsessed and overwritten, check out a Denys Arcand movie...), they're also directed by past winners, who brought us Cinema Paradiso and The Barbarian Invasions. So, OK. Oscar may have a point, or at least a consistent thread in his tastes. Maybe I'm just rankled because it seems like 4 Months is the only East European film that didn't make the cut. Then again, that's not true—the other one I was pulling for, Macedonia's Shadows, from the director of the terrific 1994 nominee Before the Rain, also isn't here. Nor is the Hungarian splattergutfest Taxidermia, which would have made for a hilarious shockeroo surprise. So am I resolved to this field or not? I can't even decide for myself, though The Unknown is the only title I have a hard time seeing in the winner's circle. Which means it'll probably be nominated.

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
ALL NEON LIKE 300; The Golden Compass; Transformers
POSSIBLY MAYBE Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End; I Am Legend
IT'S OH SO QUIET Evan Almighty; The Bourne Ultimatum

Let's stick with the categories that have pre-announced semifinalists, shall we? I'm a bit at a loss here, and I wonder—as I do in Makeup, especially, and somewhat in Sound Effects—whether we might wind up with a two-horse race as we sometimes do when these branches just can't get excited. Transformers feels like the shoo-in. Somehow, I'm gravitating to 300 because it made a pile of money and The Golden Compass despite the fact that lost a pile of money, which doesn't seem to make a lot of sense. But Pirates feels a little old-tricornered-hat, surely, the third time around, and no Bourne film has ever made the cut here. (In fact, no Bourne film has ever been nominated for anything, but I can't even talk about that.) I Am Legend is probably here because of the artful depopulating and over-weeding of NYC, but those unimpressive zombie slash vampire slash rabies-victim creatures aren't going to help. Evan Almighty could be a spoiler, because there's always a Click or a Time Machine on the roster, so that people can pout, "That movie is 'an Academy Award Nominee'?!"

BEST MAKEUP
ALL NEON LIKE 300; Sweeney Todd; La Vie en rose
POSSIBLY MAYBE Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End; Norbit; The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
IT'S OH SO QUIET Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Again, every film seems to have more liabilities than advantages: late-cycle sequels (Pirates, Harry), pancaked biopics (La Vie en rose), and Rick Baker fatsuit minstrelsy overkill extravaganzas of latex (Norbit) haven't gotten the free ride lately that they once did. Nor have prestige entries (Sweeney, Diving Bell) in this often dubious derby. That leaves 300 with nothing really against it, except the insultingly overdone Queeny Persian King and Hunchbacked Disabled Mongoloid, and all the PAM with Butter® used to simulate hardbodied Spartan perspiration. (Where is the line between Makeup, F/X, and Pierre et Gilles?) I can't figure it out. But I'm guessing Leonidas, Sweeney, and Edith on the medal stand, the latter of whom is indisputably the best singer-shouter in this crew. Maybe the three of them can get together and sing a Diane Warren medley, in case the writer's strike is still sapping the telecast of good material. Which reminds me of...

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
ALL NEON LIKE "Despedida" (Love in the Time of Cholera); "Falling Slowly" (Once); "Guaranteed" (Into the Wild); "Rise" (Into the Wild); "That's How You Know" (Enchanted)
POSSIBLY MAYBE "Come So Far (Got So Far To Go)" (Hairspray); "Walk Hard" (Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story)
IT'S OH SO QUIET "If You Want Me" (Once); "Grace Is Gone" (Grace Is Gone); "A Dream" (Freedom Writers)

When I first saw Once with Nathaniel, I remember turning to him after and saying, "Well, at least they'll get to perform that song (read: "Falling Slowly") on the Oscars, right? Won't that be great?" And he looked at me so fondly but also pityingly, like I had just said, "Doesn't the best person always win the presidential election?" or "Isn't Renée Zellweger really making the most of her giant talent and miraculous good fortune?" I saw where he was coming from, but Once has remained enough of an audience favorite and this field has remained wispy enough that I still feel "Falling Slowly" is a threat to win, though there's a lot of coffee-shop rock to compete with here, which may give other styles like bubblegum pop ("Come So Far") cheesy parody ("Walk Hard"), and cheesy is-it-parody? ("That's How You Know") a comparative advantage. The Into the Wild double-dip that I foresee here is a vote for the film and not so much to Eddie Vedder, who doesn't seem completely ready for his Academy moment, even though I loved what he did for the movie.

BEST SOUND EFFECTS
ALL NEON LIKE The Bourne Ultimatum; Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End; Ratatouille; Spider-Man 3; Transformers
POSSIBLY MAYBE No Country for Old Men; The Golden Compass; I Am Legend; The Kingdom
IT'S OH SO QUIET Beowulf; 300; Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix; Evening; Starting Out in the Evening

Just kidding, of course, but this category tends to bore me, because the Sound branch more and more rarely capitalizes on the difference between the overall sound mix (i.e., Best Sound) and the incorporation and editing of specific noises and foley effects (i.e., Best Sound Effects). Remember back in '96 when there was no crossover between these categories? Last year, I'm pretty sure, four of the five were the same. A good rule is to think of which five films spring most instantaneously to mind when you hear the phrase "WHIZZZZzzzz BANG!" Give or take a slot for Pixar. So I'm going with that. But still, really, truly, don't rule out Evening. All those lapping waves. All those barely audible hormonal surges. All that Cape Cod or Martha's Vineyard or Whatever paint drying. All those exasperated sighs of flagrantly typecast actors. Your nightmare, perhaps, but a foley artist's dream.

BEST ART DIRECTION
ALL NEON LIKE Across the Universe (Friedberg); Atonement (Greenwood); Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Craig); Sweeney Todd (Ferretti); There Will Be Blood (Fisk)
POSSIBLY MAYBE Hairspray (Gropman); Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (Heinrichs); The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Norris); The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Eric, Ott)
IT'S OH SO QUIET Elizabeth: The Golden Age (Dyas); The Golden Compass (Gassner); Michael Clayton (Thompson)

I always find Art Direction, i.e. Production Design, to be the hardest race to prognosticate, because it's so unclear whether the voters want outlandish spectacle or tasteful period or loopy whimsy or franchise stability or safe mimicry or props with dust on them (i.e., The Cider House Rules). It's clear that they don't want effects-enhanced stylization or animation, which is why things like 300 and Ratatouille are out, even though they probably deserve to be here, or at least very very close runners-up. I'm feeling pretty good about Atonement, Harry Potter, and Sweeney Todd, and although Across the Universe split a lot of audiences (and Titus didn't pan out in this category), I think Julie Taymor still has enough enthusiasts to qualify. That leaves one spot, I hope, for Jack Fisk's baroque-canvas blend of empty space and detailed realism in There Will Be Blood. After missing in this category for Mulholland Drive (short-sighted) and The New World (genuinely unforgivable), Mr. Sissy Spacek deserves his moment in the sun.

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
ALL NEON LIKE The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Norris); Atonement (Durran); Elizabeth: The Golden Age (Byrne); Love in the Time of Cholera (Allen); Sweeney Todd (Atwood)
POSSIBLY MAYBE Hairspray (Ryack); There Will Be Blood (Bridges); 3:10 to Yuma (Phillips); Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (Rose, Dann); Lust, Caution (Pan)
IT'S OH SO QUIET The Golden Compass (Myers); 300 (Wilkinson); Across the Universe

The Costume Designers occasionally lose their minds, viz. 102 Dalmatians, and they're not immune to the "charms" of kitsch like Troy, which is why I've got 300 as a dark horse here. Yes, you're allowed to leave your cast nearly naked and win a Costume Design nomination, as Sandy Powell proved with Mrs. Henderson Presents, and deservedly so—which is also why Lust, Caution has a shot. Still, I think the front-runners are fairly clear, give or take the confusion of how much (or which) Old West one category can take. And though I've said it before, Ian McEwan describes Keira Knightley's green dress to within a stitch of its life, which makes Jacqueline Durran's inevitable nod something like laureling the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone team for doing exactly what J.K. Rowling told them to do. Still, Durran did such lovely work for Joe Wright's Pride & Prejudice that it's hard for me to begrudge her. There's also no percentage in it.

BEST ADAPTED
SCREENPLAY

ALL NEON LIKE Atonement (Hampton); Away from Her (Polley); The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Harwood); Into the Wild (Penn); No Country for Old Men (Coens)
POSSIBLY MAYBE Charlie Wilson's War (Sorkin); There Will Be Blood (Anderson)
IT'S OH SO QUIET Zodiac (Vanderbilt); Gone Baby Gone (Affleck, Stockard); The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Dominik)

The top seven contenders make this quite a competitive race, especially given that Assassination, Gone Baby Gone, and Zodiac would all feel like semi-comfortable nominations in many other years. Inevitably, the Screenplay categories yield at least one genuinely surprising omission, and I'm betting on There Will Be Blood: misgivings about that film tend to focus on the writing more than any other element, and I'm wondering if the branch that has historically been kind to P.T. Anderson will suddenly turn on him just as the directors start catching up. More than that, I just can't think of why the other five would miss, including my "surprise" pick, Away from Her, an almost universally admired movie that is "sensitive" and "literary" in just the way that often plays to these voters. Even Atonement strikes me as a little shakier, though it will probably qualify.

BEST ORIGINAL
SCREENPLAY

ALL NEON LIKE American Gangster (Zaillian); Juno (Cody); Lars and the Real Girl (Oliver); Michael Clayton (Gilroy); Ratatouille (Bird, Capobianco, Pinkava)
POSSIBLY MAYBE The Savages (Jenkins); Eastern Promises (Knight); Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (Masterson); 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (Mungiu)
IT'S OH SO QUIET Knocked Up (Apatow); Waitress (Shelley); Once (Carney); I'm Not There (Haynes)

It ends with a chair. I'm not as optimistic as some about Juno's overall nomination haul, but surely this is where it can't miss, and Lars and the Real Girl and Michael Clayton have been mainstays through awards season. Tradition offers a good boost to Ratatouille, and even though The Savages was a critical darling, it never quite crossed over to the other branches (or the public) in the way that I expected, so I'm handing its spot to the big studio baby, American Gangster, by past winner, frequent nominee, and Hollywood fixture Steven Zaillian. (After All the King's Men, the guy could sure use a boost.) Even beyond The Savages, the other runners-up will put some heat into this race, but I'm still reasonably confident about this final five.

WHAT THIS ALL MEANS
LEADERS Atonement (8), No Country for Old Men (7), Into the Wild (6), There Will Be Blood (6), Michael Clayton (5), Sweeney Todd (5)
GOOD SHOWINGS American Gangster (4), The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (4), The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (4), The Bourne Ultimatum (3), Ratatouille (3), Transformers (3)
SMALL FRIES 300 (2), Away from Her (2), Eastern Promises (2), Enchanted (2), Juno (2), Love in the Time of Cholera (2), La Vie en rose (2)
SINGLE SERVINGS 3:10 to Yuma, Across the Universe, Jessica Alba, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, The Golden Compass, Gone Baby Gone, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, I'm Not There, The Kite Runner, Lars and the Real Girl, Lust, Caution, A Mighty Heart, Once, Persepolis, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, The Simpsons Movie, Spider-Man 3, Zodiac (all 1)
SHUTOUTS Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, Charlie Wilson's War, Hairspray, I Am Legend, Sally Kirkland, Margot at the Wedding, Bridget Moynahan, The Savages, Sicko (all 0)

Labels: ,

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Send a Happy Thought to Mainly Movies

Everybody knows that January is the hardest month to be an academic, right? If I weren't jump-starting my new classes and filing requests for courses to teach next year and attending job talks and reading admissions files and helping to organize a conference and writing a paper, I would be voicing my Oscar predictions and getting my Best-Of lists going. Please show up, even when the party inevitably starts late! (Those Oscar predix will up soon — necessarily, since the cat's out of the bag as of Tuesday morning.)

But for now: be thankful for Mainly Movies, an erratic blogger just like yours truly, but incomparably quick and incisive, and still my favorite mass-market print reviewer. (If you aren't keeping up with his real-job reviews every Friday at the Daily Telegraph, I can't understand why not.) In addition to posting his Best & Worst picks in the acting and Original Score categories for this year (and they're wonderful picks, especially the runts), today is Mainly Movies' birthday. So what better time to reiterate how we love him? Or to get caught up on his back catalogue of blog entries and lists, if you haven't been following along already?

Many happy returns, MM!

Labels:

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Live-Blogging the "Golden Globes"

Quotes used very advisedly. I don't think anyone really knows what to expect from this year's "press conference" from the HFPA, though I have heard disturbing rumors about the involvement of Ryan Seacrest. Is that true?? When I say that I am geared for the worst, what you should hear is: I can reach the bottle of Scotch from where I am sitting.

Let me say right out front, even as an awards junkie, that I am totally fine with the cancellation of this year's show. Though I realize lots of other wage-earning caterers and valets and designers and Who Knows What Else have been severely impacted by the axing of the telecast, I am fully sympathetic to the fact that the Writers Guild won't be taken seriously if the collateral damage of the strike isn't serious, and the demise of the Globes ceremony sure seems to have upped the ante on public perceptions of the WGA's conviction.

I know lots of people feel that this cancels a major, annual showcase for what the WGA does—enabling good feature films and TV series, by writing good scripts that deserve recognition. Still, as sad as I am to miss the chance to see what Tilda Swinton wears to a shindig like this (she arrived in '01, as a nominee for The Deep End, looking like a cross between Susan Sarandon in The Hunger and David Bowie, also in The Hunger), I say PAY ALL THE WRITERS, and THEN worry about recognizing the best of them with trophies.

This sentiment, by the way, has been brought to you by a website that has never negotiated a labor dispute or analyzed a Hollywood balance sheet; I hope you are duly reverent of my credentials for passing judgment.

But some things, I do know (a little bit) about. Like who deserves to win these Globes. And what the victories and losses might mean for Oscar chances. And when I am watching a dunderheaded, glued-together NBC telecast staffed entirely by people who know just as little about what makes a movie truly good as I know about guild negotiations... which is exactly what I expect to be doing as of 8pm CST. And since I haven't live-blogged anything for a while, and since I haven't commented at all about the Globes nominations since the day they were announced, I thought I'd work a real-time situation. Is anybody listening? Comment away...

7:30pm Well, check this sh*t out! NBC is already pimping pumping up the Globes telecast by talking to some of the nominees. And here's Nikki Blonsky, of Hairspray. It's hard not to feel bad for actors like Blonsky, whom it's hard to imagine ever being nominated for a Golden Globe ever again (or, for that matter, an Oscar, even this year). But then: I just saw Martha Stewart put a diamond collar on Blonsky's dog. Which maybe wouldn't sit well with me if I had written Hairspray (shout-out to Leslie Dixon!) and I wasn't getting paid any DVD residuals, while Nikki's dog Rocky is rocking the ice. Or maybe those were rhinestones? Either way. As Lady Macbeth said, Un-jewel that dog.

Though it is quite fetching to watch home-video footage of The Blonskys reacting to their daughter/sister's underdog nomination. Rocky's reaction is unrecorded, but Nikki upended her own coffee table. I'm happy for her. She's great in the movie.

7:38pm Here's Ellen Page, a dynamo in Juno. Deserving of all the acclaim, which I personally wasn't ready to say after Hard Candy. (Hey, NBC just said "dynamo," too! Do I have a blurb-whore career that I'm not even exploiting?) Not loving the Ellen Page makeup, but I love the talent. And I love that she's already smarter than the woman interviewing her ("Pregnancy... for many adults, their worst nightmare!") ("Juno isn't just entertaining, it's also [pause] thought-provoking.") I'm watching this interviewer fall asleep. But it's worse when she wakes up, because she starts comparing Ellen Page to Audrey Hepburn. Which Ellen Page is smart enough to call an insane comment.

7:51pm "Sally Field... turned those nautical winds [of Gidget] into headwinds, as her career took off!" Matt Lauer is a wordsmith. Oh, I forgot: the actual writers are on strike.

7:54pm Whereas Sally Field just deconstructed the word "g*ddamn." She's pretty articulate, without trying to prove how dirty and cool and un-Gidget she is, like she did way back when on Inside the Actor's Studio. Oh, and here we go. I guess we had to go over the whole "You like me" thing. Leave Sally alone! How tired must she be of this question? Maybe I just get cranky because it reminds me that Sally Field won an Oscar for Places in the G*ddamn Heart.

8:01pm Here we go!

8:01:05pm Tom Hanks already has four Golden Globes?? I'm already depressed.

8:02pm Replaying last year's opening montage. Shock cut to: empty pavement where a Red Carpet should be! And worse: Billy Bush! And Nancy O'Dell!!! GGGGAH!!! Wouldn't you rather look at bare pavement?

8:04pm BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A MOVIE
Will Win: Cate Blanchett, for I'm Not There, and for being a big star giving an impish, alive performance that still fits the heady style of the piece
Should Win: Tilda Swinton, for Michael Clayton, for redeeming a shit role into a barely equalled portrait of female masquerade, corporate terror, and moral crisis that's starting to recognize itself as such. Watching Swinton is like reading a good thriller, going to an acting class, and reading Joan Rivière all at the same time.
Actual Winner: Cate Blanchett. I'm officially on a roll!

8:04pm BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A TV ANYTHING The winner is Jeremy Piven for Entourage.

8:06pm BEST ACTRESS IN A TV DRAMA Anyone who just heard Patricia Arquette scream "Ten minutes!" should know why she shouldn't win. Ooh, Glenn Close is fierce! Holly Hunter is acting in an actual wind-tunnel. Winner: Glenn Close.

8:10pm BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A TV ANYTHING I love Rachel Griffiths. She's so funny and smart. I don't get Katherine Heigl. Samantha Morton is looking great and spooky in Longford. Winner: Samantha! OK, I'm officially sad to miss a speech. And an outfit. This girl has come to the Oscars in a T-shirt AND in some kind of armor-plated situation. We all lost just then. Except Samantha.

8:12pm BUT WAIT! That all happened so fast that I didn't even have a chance to EVOKE the HORROR of listening to BILLY BUSH and NANCY O'DELL discuss their feelings about each winner. Billy thinks Amy Ryan shouldn't have lost: "A 20-year career, a storied actress, two Tony nominations... whereas Cate Blanchett? At the end of the day, it's a woman playing a man." He also called Damages a "great movie." I can't even deal with tactlessness of the presenters of awards discussing whether the winners represent good or bad news. But I can say: BILLY BUSH DOESN'T KNOW A SINGLE THING ABOUT ANYTHING.

8:14pm BEST ACTOR IN A TV DRAMA This thing moves frigging fast! Jon Hamm in Mad Men. What is Mad Men? Nancy O'Dell is surprised. Billy Bush: "Imagine a man named Hamm being an actor!" Again: STRIKING WRITERS.

8:17pm BEST ANIMATED FEATURE Ratatouille. But they couldn't help showing the Access: Hollywood punchline from The Simpsons Movie. Billy Bush, by the way, has seen Ratatouille several times with his kids. Don't you wish all presenters said these things?

8:19pm BEST ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL/COMEDY
Will Win: Marion Cotillard, though she'll get a tough race out of Ellen Page
Should Win: I admit I'm biased toward Cotillard, because on two visits, her performance still impresses the hell out of me, not just technically but emotionally; those gestures aren't just imitative, they're enormously expressive, and complicatedly so
[Clips advertise how bad Patrick Dempsey is in Enchanted, and how bad Helena Bonham Carter is at singing. Double ouch.]
Actual Winner: MARION!! Yay. Billy: "You know, this was a tough one! And I need a haircut!" Nancy is pulling for Ellen Page.

8:21pm I have just realized how crucial writers are to live-blogging. Without all that inane patter padding out the shows, there's no time for my own craptastic would-be wit.

8:22pm An ad for that Ryan Reynolds movie. "For Will Hayes, love has been a catastrophe..." For me personally, Ryan Reynolds has been a catastrophe.

8:26pm BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A MOVIE
Will Win: Javier Bardem, for turning himself into such an implacable force in No Country for Old Men
Should Win: Kinda nobody, because my favorite performance is Casey Affleck's in ...Jesse James, but it's so obviously the lead
[No clips, even though the ladies got 'em]
Actual Winner: Javier Bardem... who Nancy O'Dell claims used to be a stripper?? Among MANY OTHER QUESTIONS I just generated from this news... do you think he knows Diablo Cody?

8:27pm Billy Bush is proud of the Coen Brothers for grossing $45 million for a movie "even though they're so boutique." Dave Karger reassures us that even if we don't know who Marion Cotillard is, she is beautiful. Imagine, for a moment, beautiful Marion.

8:28pm BEST ACTRESS IN A TV MOVIE/MINISERIES Queen Latifah. But Nancy's mad that Debra Messing lost. Again, tact is ruling the day. Queen Latifah might be the nicest person alive, but wouldn't you love to see her pop Nancy?

8:29pm I AM ALREADY EXHAUSTED! I AM ALREADY STRESSED OUT! Telecasts shouldn't be like this. It's even worse because of the musical background: NBC keeps underlining everything with the sound of industrial mills grinding each other to bits.

8:33pm BEST ACTOR IN A TV COMEDY I haven't seen any of these shows except The Office, but I find myself rooting for Alec Baldwin. And against David Duchovny, because why would any show call itself Californication? Then again, I do have a soft spot for Lee Pace, because of Soldier's Girl. It'll prolly be Lee. Winner: David Duchovny? It doesn't count when I get one wrong if it's TV, cuz I don't even try to know.

8:35pm Billy Bush on Californication: "I wouldn't say it's a comedy? It's just... cool."

8:35pm BEST TV COMEDY Extras. Nothing to say, y'all. I'm flagging. Keep me alive! Pass me an orange slice!

8:37pm BEST ACTRESS IN A TV COMEDY Samantha Who? is exactly how I feel about Samantha Who?, even though I think Christina Applegate is a pretty genius comedienne. And I do have a crush on Tina Fey, even if that clip didn't totally work out for me. Anna Friel! I remember when she was going to be "it" in 1999, and then nothing happened. Yes, I just learned that she is on Pushing Daisies. Mary-Louise Parker sounds way less nasal than usual. Winner: Tina Fey, yay yay yay, especially because she's a big ol' picketing Guild supporter.

8:39pm Dave Karger: "Duchovny is the only guy who showed his butt in the show. I think that gave him the edge." Do I love this comment, because DK gets how stupid this all is? Or do I hate this comment, because it's part of how stupid this all is? And surely this won't mean that Tom Hanks has any chance to win. (If you haven't seen Charlie Wilson's War, do the math, and steel yourself.)

8:42pm Celebrity Apprentice: it's what's on in hell.

8:43pm BEST DIRECTOR
Will Win: The Coen Brothers for No Country for Old Men, and good on 'em, at least since they've never been to this podium before
Should Win: I'm about equally split on the Coens and Julian Schnabel, since they all leant considerable craft and stylistic panache to stories that were much less resonant than they might have been, with even wiser, deeper direction
Actual Winner: Julian Schnabel! No sh*t! That Oscar slot is looking guar-ohn-teed. Billy Bush doesn't even have a dumb comment to share here.

I did just remember that no telecast means no 3-hour tribute to Steven Spielberg. That warmed my heart a little.

8:45pm BEST ACTOR IN A MUSICAL/COMEDY
Will Win: Johnny Depp, for being everybody's favorite actor
Should Win: Philip Seymour Hoffman, for gorgeously underplaying and generously, tenderly sharing The Savages
Actual Winner: Johnny Depp. "Johnny's the man. He invented his character on Pirates of the Caribbean." I'm'a let you figure out who said that.

8:47pm BEST PICTURE (MUSICAL/COMEDY)
Will Win: Juno, I'm going to guess, though I know the HFPA does love their musicals
Should Win: I'm firmly in the Juno camp: smart and genuinely revelatory, since it doesn't wind up where it starts, and it goes where few movies go, and it's funny, and gorgeously acted
[Don't you just feel better every time you see a clip of Hairspray? And worse every time you see a clip of Across the Universe?]
Actual Winner: Sweeney Todd. Yeah, I felt nervous about that one.

8:49pm Nancy O'Dell: "The big one, Best Picture (Drama), coming up next!" They also said that 8:11. Also, by the way, it would seem that the telecast will not be including the Foreign Film or Score or Song or Screenplay awards. Or do you think they're going to pack seven categories into the last nine minutes? And to leave out the Screenplay category?? I WONDER WHY THEY DID THAT.

8:51pm Beyoncé: "I'm not infallible, but my lip color is." Nope, it's really the other way around.

8:52pm For the record, I'm guessing that the Juno script, the score from Atonement, the song from "Into the Wild," and Diving Bell were going to win those untelevised awards.

8:54pm BEST TV DRAMA Can someone tell me whether I really need to rent Big Love or Damages? And whether the last really is more than reviving "Look What a Bitch She Is!" misogyny? Cuz the clips always scare me a little. GGAH!! Jonathan Rhys-Meyers. Definitely one of my enemies. Winner: Mad Men. The Globes are flicking off the networks.

8:55pm BEST ACTRESS IN A DRAMA
Will Win: Julie Christie, who may as well clear up three spots on her mantel now: Globe, SAG, Oscar
Should Win: Angelina Jolie. Call me crazy, but she has an even tougher, subtler, more deceptively intricate job in A Mighty Heart. And look, here's a clip of her in a pool, in a see-through dress. How impressive, NBC.
[Keira Knightley is just so... blah in Atonement. Even in 10-second bits.]
Actual Winner: Julie Christie. Stifle your astonishment.

8:57pm BEST ACTOR IN A DRAMA
Will Win: Daniel Day-Lewis is probably untouchable
Should Win: And he probably should be, at least in this field. (Hint: I thought at least one actor was better in '07!) Viggo and George will have to console each other. I would love to be there for that.
[Way to go, clip-choosers, for seizing on George's best scene and Daniel's best scene. Even if you then opted for one of James McAvoy's worst. I guess you can't win 'em all. Viggo's performance hasn't aged as well as I thought it would with me, unfortunately. And Denzel's never even got started with me.]
Actual Winner: Daniel Day-Lewis. And here's Billy Bush's trenchant response: "He is an actor's actor!" I wonder what Billy thinks he is? Surely not a journalist's journalist? Or a stooge's stooge? Who is Billy's constituent base?

8:59pm BEST PICTURE (DRAMA)
Will Win: No Country for Old Men, if the HFPA doesn't go all pro-gewgaw and pick Atonement
Should Win: There Will Be Blood. Not a perfect movie, but by far the most ambitious of these seven, and by far the most willing to put every facet of filmmaking craft in the service of its story and its vision.
Actual Winner: The Great Debaters! Just kidding. Atonement.

9:01pm GGGGAH!!! American Gladiators! Shutting the TV off, and clicking over to IMDb to learn that No Country got Screenplay, "Guaranteed" from Into the Wild got Song, Atonement got Score, and Diving Bell got Foreign-Language Film. So: I screwed up on Best Picture (Drama), Best Picture (Musical/Comedy), Best Director, and Best Screenplay, but I got everything else right on the movie side. Another way to say that: I goofed on the four awards that you would most want to win if you were a movie, but I represented elsewhere.

Best Dressed: George Clooney. Seriously, PROVE ME WRONG.

Thanks for reading, and for leaving so many comments. I'm eager to go read them!

Labels: , ,

Monday, January 07, 2008

Bests of the Bests Keep Getting Better

After telling you yesterday about all the great year-end features happening around the Web, two Near'n'Dears of Nick's Flick Picks came through yesterday with really delicious treats. StinkyLulu hosted the second edition of his grand annual party on behalf of supporting actresses. How I longed (and intended!) to attend. Had I found the time, I was going to ask, why is everyone so mad at Knocked Up for selling out the smart, classy dame to the barely redeemable schlump when Marge Simpson has been consigned to the same fate for more than a decade? In case we didn't notice, Marge is still the best thing going in The Simpsons Movie, and Julie Kavner makes something heroically poignant out of Marge's video-recorded goodbye to Homer, which made me only a little less tempted to scream, "YESSS!! She's finally getting away from him!"

I know we're supposed to love Homer, and yeah, I sorta do, but does he have to be that idiotic and congenitally self-absorbed? Does he have to steamroll his whole town and pull every rug out from under his entire family three or four times in the space of 90 minutes, and still get to star in the heroic finale? Oh, well: at least he keeps setting up Marge/Kavner for her sad, beautiful, bizarrely affecting variations on patience and marital resilience. And yes, the movie is hilarious, if a little standard-issue for the big screen. Lots of the jokes are zesty, but Kavner's voicing of that farewell made for one of the few moments truly worthy of the big screen. Then again, speaking of Supporting Actresses: why is Lisa in so little of this movie? She catalyzes the whole environmental-crisis angle and then gets all but buried? The whole movie's about fathers and sons. It's the There Will Be Blood of Simpsons narratives. No country for female Simpsons. The Emancipation of Bart Simpson from the Imbecile Homer Simpson. Harrumph. Women couldn't get a break in '07. Then again... not a new story.

But try telling that to Marisa Tomei, who this year continues a bright and eclectic career on film in Before the Devil Knows You're Dead and on stage in Oh, the Humanity and other exclamations. If two estimable artists like Sidney Lumet and Will Eno don't already constitute an amazing year for an actress, Marisa keeps her game high high high in '08 with Darren Aronofsky and Nick's Flick Picks idol Caryl Churchill. Wanna hear about it? And way, way, way more about from the enchanting and talented Ms. Tomei? Well, fire up the positraction, and speed over to Nathaniel's site for his first-ever podcast, which starts with a generous, revealing, and vivacious interview with Marisa Tomei and ends with Nathaniel, Joe Reid, and I coffee-klatsching over the Screen Actors Guild nominations (well, the film categories). Now, why Nathaniel had to cast a wee pall over this delightful 45 minutes with even a short clip of Helena Bonham Carter "singing" is a little beyond me... but he won those points back a dozen times over by asking Marisa my pre-submitted question about pet indie films from her back catalogue that she wishes had gotten more attention. If you want to know which ones, you gotta listen! And why aren't you already listening, anyway? (Seriously: way to go, Nathaniel!)

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Bests of the Bests

With about a week to go before I can start posting my own awards—y'all know I'm out here working without critics' previews or screener DVDs to help me out—I thought I'd direct your attention to some of my favorite year-end stuff happening around the web. If you've got an hour or two, Radio Allegro out of British Columbia hosted a year-end wrap-up radio show with me, Modern Fabulousity, Queering the Apparatus, and the Allegrist himself, Ashley Foot. Tune in to hear about flops that should have been hits; left-field For Your Consideration ads; our thoughts on movie trends related to aging, pregnancy, gender, the Western, and the musical; and for QTA's imperious, uproarious riff on the sexual politics of Knocked Up (which we all laughed at before admitting that we liked the movie). Yours truly is a bit horrified to realize how loooooong I go on when someone asks me a question, especially compared to my gorgeously succinct conversation partners, but I think it's a great conversation.

I also urge you to read QTA's own Year in Review; ModFab has a great one, too, but he also whipped up a parallel list of the year's best films and performances by soliciting opinions from six of his pals (including filmmaker Q. Allan Brocka and GreenCine impresario David Hudson) and tallying them up. Look who won the acting derby! The heart melts.

Our discerning and beautifully incisive pal Mainly Movies also puts an unexpected twist on the year-end format: he is counting down the 10 best and 10 worst movies at the same time, so that (for starters) the observational sensitivity of Funny Ha Ha arrives in a package deal with the lurid grotesquerie of Hannibal Rising. Continuing the theme of the articulate and the unexpected, Nic Rapold's Top Ten List in the New York Sun is a great read, topped by the sensational and ridiculously underseen Day Night Day Night.

Doug Cummings and Rob Christopher both fill us in on their favorite new releases of 2007 as well as their favorite back-catalogue titles that they saw for the first time in the last twelve months. I still don't see what Rob does in Stuck, but I appreciate the eclecticism of his list.

Lastly, as you are all no doubt aware, the 8th annual Film Bitch Awards will be in full swing any moment now, but the preview attractions—a list of the year's most overrated darlings and an indictment of the year's worst movies and performances—already constitute a full-course meal. No sacred cows here; you know it hurt Nathaniel to say some of these things, but it probably hurt him more to watch them. Stay tuned for more, there as well as here.

And now, I take my leave to keep pondering that milkshake with the long, long straw.

Labels: ,

Thursday, January 03, 2008

A Short Dossier on Fay Grim

I should have added to yesterday's post about the best lead actresses of 2007 that I wrote this full review of Fay Grim, my most recent screening of all the films covered in that entry. I suppose that Parker Posey's performance is the most surprising inclusion in my semifinalist derby, but she's measured, creative, and wonderful in an essentially baffling part. The film, if not quite as good as she is, is also an unexpected peach, and I didn't even like Henry Fool.

Labels:

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The Leading Ladies of 2007

Happy '08! I hope everyone had a great New Year's Day, my favorite day in the entire year to play it cool, keep things close to home, hang out on the futon and on the phone—and hence, no blogging yesterday. But, there will be copious entries soon enough, with end-of-year best lists to compile, and a major birthday to celebrate. (And no, I'm not talking about Todd's 47th today, though I should be — bon anniversaire, mon cher!)

Moviewise, I've got two heavy hitters blowing into the Windy City this weekend—critical darling There Will Be Blood and well-reviewed documentary The Price of Sugar, an Oscar semifinalist. Basically, I'm waiting on these titles and Persepolis (opening on Jan. 11), plus some last-minute rentals like Offside and The Namesake, before my theatrical survey of 2007 will be complete enough to draft my annual Honorees. Errant 11th-hour releases like The Great Debaters, The Kite Runner, and the is-it-out-or-not? Grace Is Gone also have outside shots in at least one category, but they're a tad less pressing.

So what does every movie on my Still To Be Seen itinerary have in common? Not a single one of them has a female lead... well, give or take Hilary Swank in P.S. I Love You and little Dakota Blue Richards in The Golden Compass, neither of whom looks remotely prepossessing in the trailers, and I'll probably pass on both movies anyway. All of which makes Best Actress (and isn't this fortuitous?) the one category for which I can already posit a semifinalist list. And what a list it is! Anybody here would have qualified for my final five in '01, '03, or '05, and given how many of them are solid Oscar hopefuls, I'm expecting an Academy shortlist that trounces last year's admirable derby of Cruz, Dench, Mirren, Streep, and Winslet. Here are the fourteen glorious contenders:

JULIETTE BINOCHE in Flight of the Red Balloon
NIKKI BLONSKY in Hairspray
JULIE CHRISTIE in Away from Her
MARION COTILLARD in La Vie en rose
KATE DICKIE in Red Road
CATHERINE FROT in The Page Turner
ANGELINA JOLIE in A Mighty Heart
LAURA LINNEY in Jindabyne
LAURA LINNEY in The Savages
ANAMARIA MARINCA in 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days
ELLEN PAGE in Juno
PARKER POSEY in Broken English
PARKER POSEY in Fay Grim
TANG WEI in Lust, Caution

If that list isn't stupendous enough, consider that I've already elected against work as strong as Nina Hoss' in Yella, Amy Adams' in Enchanted, Marina Hands' in Lady Chatterley, Ashley Judd's in Bug, Luisa Williams' in Day Night Day Night, Julie Delpy's in 2 Days in Paris, Christina Ricci's in Black Snake Moan, Mirjana Karanović's in Grbavica: The Land of My Dreams, and Amber Tamblyn and Tilda Swinton's muted but interesting pas-de-deux in Stephanie Daley.

Other people would have advocated for Nicole Kidman in Margot at the Wedding, but I just didn't find much modulation or depth in her admirably sour exterior; or Keira Knightley in Atonement, but her vocal work drove me batty and she didn't find a way into the character that I felt or believed, though the script is certainly not her friend in pursuing that venture; or Isabelle Huppert in Private Property, refreshingly casual and direct as a discontented mother but abandoned by the script before she's broached any deeper territory; or Jodie Foster in The Brave One, nailing Erica's tough carapace but pretending to be in a smarter movie than she's in (plus she takes that unsalvageable ending even further over the top than it's already going); or Halle Berry in Things We Lost in the Fire, who mostly shows how much better she'd be in Monster's Ball now than she was six years ago, with an artfully restrained and shaded but still rather limited performance; or the much-beloved Carice van Houten in Black Book, but I found her to be more of a pose-striker and an agreeable, flexible participant in Verhoeven's flamboyant mise-en-scène than a particularly whipsmart or engaging performer. (She also, for all of her virtues, made Ellis/Rachel a bit of a wash as a spy: how many sidelong fretful glances and nervous fingers and anxious over-the-shoulder looks is a disguised Jewish spy at war with the Nazis really supposed to allow herself? Tang Wei knew better than this little minx.)

The above were at least runners-up. Katherine Heigl in Knocked Up, Vittoria Mezzogiorna in Love in the Time of Cholera, Markéta Irglová in Once, and Belén Rueda in The Orphanage never excited me all that much. Cate Blanchett was almost as bored as I was during Elizabeth: Full Throttle. Don't even get me started on Helena Bonham Carter, as blank and superficial in her acting of Sweeney Todd as she is patently deficient in her singing; or Molly Shannon in Year of the Dog, disappointingly inadequate to her movie's difficult tone and to all of her close-ups; or Keri Russell, exuding the same lockstep mediocrity and lack of real ideas or feelings as is the rest of Waitress; or Asia Argento, who won lots of fans at Cannes but broods her way through The Last Mistress in a series of increasingly dull grimaces and off-putting bits of naughty-bobcat improvs; or Marianne Faithfull in Irina Palm, well-buzzed on the festival circuit but pitifully stiff and inert in an underconceived part.

So, with all of that said: my list of 14 semi-champions will be whittled down to five later this week, as we kick off the 2007 Nick's Flick Picks Honorees. In truth, four of them are already locked for inclusion, four are confirmed also-rans, and the other six are competing for that fifth spot on the final list... so go ahead and state your cases for your favorites! Plus, we've got 19 other categories to sort through, and even more to say about actresses of the past as well as the present. But you'll have to stay tuned for those tidbits. Enjoy '08, vote Democratic, and keep coming back!

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,