Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

28 February 2011

Satie Satire

This is from Roger Shattuck's The Banquet Years:

Satie, who possessed [a] childlike temperament, was well aware of the effects of his work. He is a humorist as well as a "primitive," and nothing could be more calculated than his waggish directions which he sprinkles through his compositions. ("With profound respect." "Take off your glasses." [-- These as directions for a musician!]) Much of his music builds up a fragile fabric of inanity, and his writings become more and more extreme in their humor. "Why attack God? He is as unhappy as we are. Since his son's death he has no appetite for anything and barely nibbles at his food."

26 February 2011

Predictions for Tomorrow

I have to confess to not being very sure about a lot of these this year. Last year I felt quite confident about my predictions, but this year feels a little like 2001 when Gladiator and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon were up against two Steven Soderbergh movies. I think we're going to be looking at a split this year, as well.

Now, to say that is to kind of ignore the current buzz which suggests that The King's Speech is going to sweep everything. If we were speaking of a movie set in an older historical period I think I would agree, but I guess I can't really see TKS winning awards like Cinematography and Art Direction. I obviously could be quite wrong here, and my inability to visualize Tom Hooper's movie actually winning in these categories comes from my own feeling about the film's general mediocrity. So: take these predictions with that grain of salt. I am going to list them in the general order they are going to be handed out in the telecast.

Best Art Direction: Inception (upset of TKS)
Best Cinematography: True Grit (upset of TKS)
Best Supporting Actress: Melissa Leo
Best Animated Feature: Toy Story 3
Best Animated Short Film: Day & Night
Best Adapted Screenplay: The Social Network
Best Original Screenplay: The King's Speech
Best Foreign Language Film: Biutiful
Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale
Best Original Score: The King's Speech
Best Sound Mixing: Inception
Best Sound Editing: Inception
Best Makeup: The Way Back
Best Documentary Short Subject: Strangers No More
Best Live-action Short Film: Wish 143 
Best Documentary Feature: Inside Job 
Best Costume Design: The King's Speech
Best Visual Effects: Inception
Best Film Editing: The King's Speech (I'm switching from TSN)
Best Original Song: Toy Story 3
Best Director: David Fincher (upset of TKS)
Best Actress: Natalie Portman
Best Actor: Colin Firth
Best Picture: The King's Speech (obvs.)

So the big indicator will come early on in the evening. If The King's Speech takes home the first two Oscars, then Fincher is definitely out as director and Tom Hooper is taking home the Oscar. I really, really think that Fincher is going to win this year, but as my caveat above should make clear, I might only think this because TSN is just a better movie than TKS. Predicting based upon how good a movie actually is is almost never a good idea.

Anyway, I think it will be a fun night! I plan to make themed cocktails again, will probably be drunk enough that when The King's Speech wins the Oscar, I won't mind nearly as much.

23 February 2011

2011's Nominees: Part 12 of 12


THE WAY BACK
1 Nomination:
  · Best Makeup

Director: Peter Weir
Cast: Jim Sturgess, Dragoş Bucur, Mark Strong, Ed Harris, Colin Farrell, Gustaf Skarsgård, Saoirse Ronan
 
This is a really good movie. I've written about it here, so I won't rehash my comments on it, but suffice to say that it is easily the best of the three films in its category, and so I am logically deducing that it will win the Oscar, whether or not the makeup itself is better than the others. While I am discussing this film, though, I ought to mention that I think it's a little odd that a film from Peter Weir did not garner a little more awards buzz. He is not a flashy filmmaker, but his films are always really strong and The Way Back is no exception. 

Will Win: Makeup
Might Win: N/A
My Rating: #20 out of 50

BARNEY'S VERSION
1 Nomination:
  · Best Makeup

Director: Richard J. Lewis
Cast: Paul Giamatti, Rosamund Pike, Dustin Hoffman, Scott Speedman, Minnie Driver, Bruce Greenwood, Mark Addy, Rachelle Lefevre
 
This picture is a hot, hot mess. There are a lot of reasons for this. The biggest problem is the directing. The film is an epic story—entire lives in the span of 150 minutes. But the filmmaker appears to have decided to make both a comedy and a drama. It isn't that these two genres cannot co-exist, it is that Richard J. Lewis cannot make them co-exist nicely in his movie. So the film is serious and then silly without warning. The whole thing is very confusing. This goes for the acting. Mark Addy, for example, is in a completely different film from Minnie Driver. The best thing about this movie — aside from the adorable boy who played Barney's son (Can you date me, please?) — is, and I can't believe I am saying this, Dustin Hoffman. He is absolutely delightful in this movie from the moment he is onscreen until the moment he leaves the movie. I don't think I've liked Hoffman in a movie this much in a long time. It was really great to see him in this. The movie, on the other hand: avoid. It's awful. 

Will Win: N/A
Might Win: N/A
My Rating: #44 out of 50

THE WOLFMAN
1 Nomination:
  · Best Makeup

Director: Joe Johnston
Cast: Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, Art Malik, Geraldine Chaplin, Hugo Weaving, Antony Sher
 
Hahahaha. Yeah. This was bad. I saw the film's third-act twist about twenty minutes into the picture and every other twist a mile away. Its tone is relentlessly bleak and self-important. The ravenous wolf/tiger/lion/dog imagery pervades the picture like a leitmotif but more like a heavy-motif. And as for the central love story, the two don't really fall in love in the film. Instead we are supposed to know that they ought to fall in love in the film and therefore accept that when they show us they are in love that they must be. The film cannot be bothered with actually telling us a love story in addition to its spooky shots of the moon and an almost obsessional number of shots of silver weaponry (silver evidently kills werewolves: who knew?). Still, the Academy did right by this. The makeup in this film (and in all the nominated films) is superb. 

Will Win: N/A
Might Win: Makeup
My Rating: #50 out of 50

22 February 2011

2011's Nominees: Part 11 of 12


HEREAFTER
1 Nomination:
  · Best Visual Effects

Director: Clint Eastwood
Cast: Matt Damon, Cécile de France, Frankie McLaren, George McLaren, Thierry Neuvic, Jessica Griffiths, Jay Mohr
 
Haven't seen this one (this is the last of these, so I can stop having shame about it.) But let's talk about Clint Eastwood for a second. It is odd how the Academy is really into him sometimes and then other times they just sort of ignore him. I mean, he makes a picture that everyone is head-over-heels about like Mystic River or Million Dollar Baby or Letters from Iwo Jima but then his film Gran Torino gets virtually no buzz, while a film like Changeling can grab a couple of nominations but no real traction. It is odd to me that his films don't really pick up much steam any more, or rather that they are so critically hit or miss. No one really paid attention to Hereafter when it came out, despite the presence of Matt Damon, whereas last year's Eastwood movie Invictus (which I thought was mostly a load of sentimental nonsense) got Damon his second Oscar nomination. I don't understand any of this, I have to admit. 

Will Win: N/A
Might Win: N/A
My Rating: Not Yet Rated

TANGLED
1 Nomination:
  · Best Original Song: Alan Menken (Little Shop of Horrors, The Little Mermaid x2, Beauty and the Beast x3, Aladdin x2, Pocahontas, Hercules, Enchanted x3), Glenn Slater

Director: Nathan Greno, Byron Howard
Cast: Donna Murphy, Mandy Moore, Zachary Levi
 
This movie was cute but really odd. First of all, there are really only these three voices in the film. Everyone else is kind of silent. This is not exactly true, but for the most part no one speaks in the movie. Even the king and queen who are Rapunzel's parents have basically no lines. And I found the songs kind of strange, as well. The movie has some really cool moments – the sequence in the poster with the floating lights being its high point – but it is overall rather uneven. I don't think the song has much of a chance of winning here. Menken is a multiple winner and this is hardly his best work. You will also have noted that Tangled is conspicuously absent from the Best Animated Feature nominees. The translation of that is that the Academy didn't care for the movie very much.


Will Win: N/A
Might Win: N/A
My Rating: #29 out of 48


COUNTRY STRONG
1 Nomination:
  · Best Original Song: Troy Verges, Hillary Lindsey, Tom Douglas

Director: Shana Feste
Cast: Garrett Hedlund, Gwyneth Paltrow, Tim McGraw, Leighton Meester
 
Okay, I am going to take this moment to defend this movie a little bit. Not that the movie is good or that it works, but I think Shana Feste was really trying to tell a story here that doesn't get told very frequently. The story of the film is actually the story of a depressive woman – a woman is not going to get back on her feet, who is too depressed, for whom life is literally too much to deal with. The film is billed as a kind of triumph-over-your-problems drama, but it cannot deliver on this because director Feste is actually interested in telling this important story. So she avoids cliché when it comes to Gwyneth Paltrow's character. The trouble is, that the film isn't about Paltrow's character. The film is about the main male character, played (smolderingly) by Garrett Hedlund. And every part of the Garrett Hedlund plot is ridden with clichés. So I think Country Strong is an honest film trapped inside a dishonest one. It doesn't work; that much is true, but I think it is rather an honorable failure. As for the music, I loved it. There are more than a few (i.e. seven or more) really good songs on the soundtrack, and while I don't particularly like country music, I have found myself listening to the cd on my way into work in the mornings belting "I get a little bit stronger / I'm done hopin' we can work it out / I'm done with how it feels / Spinnin' my wheels / And lettin' you drag my heart around" with a country twang. Judge away.
 
Will Win: N/A
Might Win: Original Song
My Rating: #33 out of 48

21 February 2011

20 February 2011

At the Grocery This Evening

So I stopped by the grocery on my way home from the movies tonight. I had gone to see Biutiful by myself (loved it) and had just thrown on a pair of jeans, a baseball jersey, and a beanie. Didn't think about it. Wasn't going to see anyone. So I buy my groceries and go to the checkout. I am chatting with the guy ringing me up. He tells me he can't wait to go home and I say "yeah, I bet" and then he asks me:

Him: You like this song?

But I don't really know what he's talking about because I am not really listening to the music playing over the speakers in the supermarket. It's pop music or something. I wasn't paying attention so:

Me: Huh?
Him: You like this song?
Me: Never heard it before.
Him: This guy came over and said this song's gay.
Me: ...

Me: It's a gay song?
Him: Yeah he said this song's gay.
Me: Well... uh... I never heard it before.
Him: I mean, I like it.
Me: ...

Me: ...You have a good night.

I was really taken aback by the whole thing. I actually am still not sure what he meant. I guess gay = bad. I didn't know we still said that. Or maybe he meant actually gay. I was so confused. I guess I still am. And I guess he couldn't tell I am gay by looking at me. I always think that is weird, too. Sometimes, truth be told, I get offended that people think I am straight when they look at me.

But he likes the song. Whatever it was. I guess he wanted me to absolve him of having a homo moment by liking the song as well and then two straight guys would like the gay song and it would mean that the song wasn't gay. I guess he just picked the wrong straight guy to do the validation. His gaydar must not be working. Guess he isn't gay after all. The song probably is gay, though.

2011's Nominees: Part 10 of 12

UNSTOPPABLE
1 Nomination:
  · Best Sound Effects Editing

Director: Tony Scott
Cast: Chris Pine, Denzel Washington, Ethan Suplee, Rosario Dawson, T.J. Miller, Kevin Dunn, Kevin Corrigan, Kevin Chapman
 
I can't figure out why Netflix doesn't have this yet, but anyway, suffice it to say that this is one I haven't seen. I do love a Runaway Train movie as much as the next guy, and Tony Scott is an interesting director if a little – shall we say – repetitive. Still, I am intrigued by his use of violence in films. It is certainly a lot more interesting than, say, something like Salt, which refuses to actually show violence, and instead just shows a bunch of people kicking one another where no one gets injured.

Will Win: N/A
Might Win: N/A
My Rating: Not Yet Rated

TRON: LEGACY
1 Nomination:
  · Best Sound Effects Editing

Director: Joseph Kosinski
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Garret Hedlund, Bruce Boxleitner, Olivia Wilde, Beau Garrett, Michael Sheen, James Frain
 
I liked this picture. Now, granted, I was a little drunk when I saw it, but how else ought one to watch a sequel to a film from 1982. I saw it in 3D Imax, too. Why not? The thing is, the Academy obviously did not like this movie. Even Star Wars Episode I: Can't Remember the Subtitle did better than this in snagging effects nominations, and yet here is a movie basically designed to be a visual and sound effects behemoth with a score you can dance to, but the Academy all but ignores it. Consider this dead on arrival in terms of the Academy. This is due, granted, to the total absurdity of the filmmaking involved here. The effects people did great work, but the director and screenwriters basically delivered a television show in a really expensive outfit. No imagination. No wit in the writing. No sense in the plot. (I would see it again, though, just for the effects, I must admit, and I listen to the soundtrack regularly.)

Will Win: N/A
Might Win: N/A
My Rating: #25 out of 48

IRON MAN 2
1 Nomination:
  · Best Visual Effects

Director: Jon Favreau
Cast: Robert Downey, Jr., Mickey Rourke, Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Johanssen, Samuel L. Jackson, Jon Favreau
 
After the delight that was the first Iron Man film, I assume I was not the only one disappointed by this offering from director Jon Favreau. There are more explosions, more drunken parties, and way more giant robots, but this film is, in a word, boring. Seriously. Nothing happens in this movie worth caring about. It is actually extraordinary how boring it is. Gwyneth Paltrow is sort of charming and Robert Downey, Jr. is his usual charismatic self, but this movie just falls flat. This leads me to something I've complained about before (in reference to the Transformers franchise) but want to repeat here. This film is filled with enormous giant robots who fly with jetpacks and have lasers that cut people in half and allegedly have access to all of this amazingly intricate and advanced technology, and yet... when it comes to a final showdown, all that the writers can think of for these incredibly advanced technological machines to do to one another is punch each other in the (metal) face. You are a giant robot! Don't punch the other giant robot; launch a grenade for fuck's sake. And this, after all, may have been the problem with Iron Man 2, it just looked too much like a Michael Bay movie. A step down, indeed, for Mr. Favreau and his franchise.
 
Will Win: N/A
Might Win: N/A
My Rating: #39 out of 48

Santorum

A filthy website for a man with irresponsible, sex-negative, disgusting ideas.

I have my gripes with Dan Savage, but he is a genius for thinking this up.

And, yes, I know this is old news; everyone does. But he is running for president in 2012, so it is good that we all remind ourselves that liberty and Rick Santorum do not go together.

2011's Nominees: Part 9 of 12


I AM LOVE
1 Nomination:
  · Best Costume Design

Director: Luca Guadagnino
Cast: Tilda Swinton, Edoardo Gabbriellini, Flavio Parenti, Pippo Delbono, Alba Rohrwacher, Marisa Berenson, Mattia Zaccaro
 
Another film that is wonderful that was mostly ignored by the Academy. I Am Love is actually a masterful achievement. If you love food or John Adams or Tilda Swinton or Italy or pretty things you will love this movie. I have written about it here, and it wasn't my favorite movie of the year, but it is excellent nonetheless and Tilda Swinton's performance is absolutely genius. The woman is at the top of her game – a shocking thing to say about an actress who has been giving incredible performances for over a decade – and the fact that the Academy ignored her (and cinematographer Yorick Le Saux) ought really to give them shame. But, as someone wise once said, a good film is its own reward. I Am Love is one of the year's must-see pictures.

Will Win: N/A
Might Win: N/A
My Rating: #15 out of 48

THE ILLUSIONIST
1 Nomination:
  · Best Animated Feature

Director: Sylvain Chomet
Cast: Jacques Tati (!), Jean-Claude Donda, Eilidh Rankin
 
Lovely, beautiful, charming, whimsical, funny, nostalgic, and magical, but also critically aware, and very very smart. I cannot tell you how much I loved this film and was moved by it. I was not as over the moon about Chomet's previous film, The Triplets of Belleville, but The Illusionist (not to be confused with the boring film with Edward Norton) just hits every note perfectly. I cannot emphasize what a great movie this is. I don't think The Illusionist has much of a chance of winning the Oscar against Toy Story 3, but it is my favorite in the category all the same.


Will Win: N/A
Might Win: N/A
My Rating: #2 out of 48

SALT
1 Nomination:
  · Best Sound Mixing

Director: Phillip Noyce
Cast: Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor, August Diehl, Andre Braugher
 
Who is Salt? Who cares. This movie is actually one of the stupidest action movies I've ever seen. What happened to Phillip Noyce? Remember when he made Rabbit-Proof Fence and everyone was talking about him? Now he makes awkward Angelina Jolie vehicles that mostly consist of chase scenes. Where did it all go wrong? The colossal stupidity of this movie nearly defies description so I am not going to go into it. Suffice it to say, that you may avoid this film easily without it impacting your life and you would be wise to do so.

 
Will Win: N/A
Might Win: N/A
My Rating: #47 out of 48

17 February 2011

A Brief Dialogue on Adaptation

Julie: I don't know why I am just realizing this now, but: what the heck is Toy Story 3 adapted from? Just the original story idea? That seems lame. What are the rules for adapted screenplays?

Aaron: They are very wishy-washy. For example, a couple of years ago Before Sunset was nominated in the Adapted category but it was totally original. It was just a sequel. And yet, The Barbarian Invasions was nominated in the Original category: also a sequel. I think they are doing it stupidly.

Julie: Ew. The Academy needs to get its shit together, because this is silly.

Aaron: Right?? I mean Toy Story 3 is not based on anything; it has characters we recognize. So did fucking Nixon!!

Julie: Ahahahahahaha. Truth.

2011's Nominees: Part 8 of 12


HORS-LA-LOI (OUTSIDE THE LAW)
1 Nomination:
  · Best Foreign Language Film: Algeria (Dust of Life, Indigènes [Days of Glory])

Director: Rachid Bouchareb
Cast: Jamel Debbouze, Roschdy Zem, Sami Bouajila, Sabrina Seyvecou, Assaad Bouab
 
This is Rachid Bouchareb's second nomination in this category. Indigènes, the previous film, also happened to star Debbouze, Zem, and Bouajila (a favorite actor of mine). This is another one of the foreign language films that I have not yet seen. It has been released in the U.S., however, and ought to be on DVD soon...


Will Win: N/A
Might Win: N/A
My Rating: Not Yet Rated

DOGTOOTH
1 Nomination:
  · Best Foreign Language Film: Greece

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Cast: Aggeliki Papoulia, Christos Stergioglou, Hristos Passalis, Mary Tsoni, Anna Kalaitzidou, Michele Valley
 
I have no idea how this movie got nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. I say that not because the film is not good – it's fascinating, actually – but because it is a really bizarre film. For a group of people who is into, you know, Joyeux Noël and Departures, Dogtooth is a strange choice indeed. This movie is about a man and his wife who raise their children as dictators, allowing them no access to any culture but their own and creating strange (and inexplicable in the context of the film) rituals. This appears to be a kind of protection against violence and perhaps sexuality. And yet... the children (who are actually adults) are shockingly violent and brutal with one another. As you can imagine, all of this does not have a happy ending; I found it all quite compelling.


Will Win: N/A
Might Win: Art Direction
My Rating: #19 out of 46

THE TEMPEST
1 Nomination:
  · Best Costume Design: Sandy Powell (Orlando, The Wings of the Dove, Velvet Goldmine, Shakespeare in Love, Gangs of New York, The Aviator, Mrs Henderson Presents, The Young Victoria)

Director: Julie Taymor
Cast: Helen Mirren, Felicity Jones, Reeve Carney, Ben Whishaw, Djimon Hounsou, Russell Brand, Chris Cooper, David Strathairn, Tom Conti, Alfred Molina,
 
I am so over Julie Taymor I can hardly deal with it. I haven't seen this yet, but Prospero as a woman? The idea could work, I suppose, but the play itself is heavily invested in colonialist narratives, heteronormativity, misogyny (obviously), and a persistent, unmistakable classism. So, what do we glean from the trailer? All of these appear to be as present in the film as they are in Shakesperare's 1611 original, and the visual effects appear to be – in a word – risible. As for its release date... that happened already. It didn't come to this city; where did it play? (This is unkind. Sorry. I am just really over this whole idea.)
 
Will Win: N/A
Might Win: N/A
My Rating: Not Yet Rated

16 February 2011

Dick, Revisited

2011's Nominees: Part 7 of 12


ANIMAL KINGDOM
1 Nomination:
  · Best Supporting Actress: Jacki Weaver

Director: David Michôd
Cast: James Frecheville, Jacki Weaver, Ben Mendelsohn, Guy Pearce, Joel Edgerton, Luke Ford, Sullivan Stapleton
 
I have written about this film here. I have felt compelled to write about it mostly because I didn't particularly care for it, though it was reviewed very well by critics here and in Australia. As for Weaver's nomination, I am delighted for her. This is her big break in the States, and it is nice to see a working actress – someone who has made a career playing character parts – get bigtime recognition like this. I hope she is having a great time.


Will Win: N/A
Might Win: N/A
My Rating: #40 out of 45

INCENDIES
1 Nomination:
  · Best Foreign Language Film: Canada (The Barbarian Invasions, Water)

Director: Denis Villeneuve
Cast: Lubna Azabal, Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin, Rémy Girard, Maxim Gaudette
 
I haven't seen this picture and it won't be released until April, but you can watch the trailer here. I don't expect this to win the Oscar, either.


Will Win: N/A
Might Win: N/A
My Rating: Released in 2011

IN A BETTER WORLD
1 Nomination:
  · Best Foreign Language Film: Denmark (After the Wedding)

Director: Susanne Bier
Cast: Ulrich Thomsen, Mikael Persbrandt, Trine Dyrholm, William Jøhnk Juels Nielsen, Wil Johnson
 
I love Susanne Bier's movies, and I was surprised to see this here because I thought she was exclusively making movies in the U.S. these days (Things We Lost in the Fire was her debut here, and it is excellent.) Her After the Wedding was nominated in this category before and her Brothers was remade into a movie with Jake Gyllenhaal and Tobey Maguire (I skipped the remake). Bier's films are explorations of deep trauma and the three I've seen depend heavily on powerfully emotional acting and honest writing. You can read my review of Things here. At any rate, this will not be released until later in 2011, but until then, we can all watch the trailer here. I expect lots of heavy emotionality and some really hard questions.
 
Will Win: N/A
Might Win: Foreign Language Film
My Rating: Released in 2011

15 February 2011

A Love Poem for the Day After Valentine's Day

This is from Michael Ondaatje's The Cinnamon Peeler:

 BEARHUG

Griffin calls to come and kiss him goodnight
I yell ok. Finish something I'm doing,
then something else, walk slowly round
the corner to my son's room.
He is standing arms outstretched
waiting for a bearhug. Grinning.

Why do I give my emotion an animal's name,
give it that dark squeeze of death?
This is the hug which collects
all his small bones and his warm neck against me.
The thin tough body under the pyjamas
locks to me like a magnet of blood.

How long was he standing there
like that, before I came?

14 February 2011

A Love Poem for Today

This is from Paul Éluard, translated by Patricia Terry and Mary Ann Caws:

FOREVER, ENTIRELY
(CELLE DE TOUJOURS, TOUTE)

If I tell you: "I've given up everything"
It's that she's not part of my body,
I've never boasted of it,
It isn't true
And the fog in the depths where I travel
Never knows if I've gone by.

The fan of her mouth, the brilliance of her eyes,
I'm the only one to speak of it,
I'm the only one framed
By this mirror so empty the air flows through me
And the air has a face, a beloved face,
A loving face, your face,
To you nameless and to the others, unknown,
The sea tells you: on me, the sky tells you: on me,
The stars find you out, the clouds imagine you
And blood spilled in the best moments,
The blood of generosity
Bears you with delight.
I sing the great joy of singing you,
The great joy of having you or not having you,
The candor of awaiting you, the innocence of knowing you,

Oh! You put an end to forgetfulness, ignorance, hope,
You put an end to absence, give birth to me,
I sing in order to sing, I love you in order to sing
The mystery by which love creates me and is set free.

You are pure, you are even purer than I.

10 February 2011

2011's Nominees: Part 6 of 12


BLUE VALENTINE
1 Nomination:
  · Best Actress: Michelle Williams (Brokeback Mountain)

Director: Derek Cianfrance
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Williams, Faith Wladkya, John Doman, Mike Vogel, Carey Westbrook, Ben Shenkman
 
I liked this movie, I think, and both of the girls I saw it with liked it a lot. It is well made and emotionally affecting, sure, but... well. This is what I'll say about it: I wanted to root for their relationship, and because of the Cianfrance's management of time in the film, we all know that their marriage is not working out from the very beginning of the movie. This made it difficult for me to cheer their relationship on. I think this makes sense; I wasn't able to emotionally commit to their relationship because I was already aware that it wasn't going to end like Valentine's Day, and so – I think because of my own self-protective instincts – I didn't. The acting is great all around, and, as I said, the filmmaking is excellent.

Will Win: N/A
Might Win: N/A
My Rating: #27 out of 45

RABBIT HOLE
1 Nomination:
  · Best Actress: Nicole Kidman (Moulin Rouge!, The Hours)

Director: John Cameron Mitchell
Cast: Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Miles Teller, Dianne Wiest, Sandra Oh, Jon Tenney, Giancarlo Esposito
 
I am a little surprised that Kidman made this cut. I feel like this doesn't usually happen when the actor in question already has an Oscar and the Academy doesn't really like the film. I was not planning on seeing this movie, I have to admit, just because I find the Tony- and Pulitzer-prize- winning play on which it is based a little... well... boring. On the other hand, the film is by John Cameron Mitchell, who has only ever directed excellent films. There are two: Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Shortbus. Both are genius.

Will Win: N/A
Might Win: N/A
My Rating: Not Yet Rated

THE TOWN
1 Nomination:
  · Best Supporting Actor: Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker)

Director: Ben Affleck
Cast: Affleck, Renner, Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm, Blake Lively, Slaine, Pete Postlethwaite,Chris Cooper.
 
I really liked this film – I remember being only so-so on Affleck's last film. In this one, the acting is excellent, and the script is rather surprising, but the best thing is the tension in it. There are two very well made car chases (see Salt for how to make a boring one) and three separate heist sequences. If I want anything out of a heist movie it's more heists and more car chases. Bring them on. Also, they wear nun masks to one of the bank robberies. That shit is scary. I highly recommend this; it is one of my favorites for the year.
 
Will Win: N/A
Might Win: N/A
My Rating: #12 out of 45

09 February 2011

Talking about Movies, Talking about More Than Movies

I was telling my best friend a couple of days ago that one of the great things about movies is that movies are about everything and so that while sometimes talk about movies leads to talk about aesthetics (The King's Speech is bad because it is shot idiotically and the plot is predictable / 127 Hours is just shot so beautifully) but – and this is more fun to my mind – it also often leads to discussions about the world, for what do we bring to moviewatching but ourselves, our own positions in the world and our opinions from (and about) those positions.

In a discussion with three of my wonderful students last Saturday night, the topic of viewing violence in movies came up. B wanted to know if I liked Inglourious Basterds (I told him yes), and then M shared that while watching IB she had a reaction similar to the reaction I had while reading Sarah Kane's Blasted.

To wit: Blasted is a play about torture. It works because as I read the play, I hate the man being tortured. I hate him. And as he is tortured I think yes, he deserves this. And the torture gets worse and still, yes, he deserves this. He has done so much worse. But there comes a point in the play, and this point varies from person to person, when the torture becomes excessive, when I think, okay, now you should stop. He doesn't deserve that particular violation. And as I read the play, the moment when I think this, when I wish to confer mercy on the main character, I also think Oh my god why didn't I stop earlier? The torture was wrong a long, long time ago.

It is this moment that M had as she watched Inglourious Basterds. The torture was too much. The Nazis, it occurred to her, did not deserve that much torture. M asked me what I thought about this, and the four of us sat thoughtfully for a moment. I replied that I did not know, but perhaps there is no repayment for Nazi violence. What is enough to revenge those murdered? Frequently I think that that there is not enough. That there has not been enough repayment. We forget atrocity too easily. Atrocity too easily becomes simply a way of speaking about things that are not atrocious, a frame of reference and nothing more. B agreed with me here. There has not been enough revenge for the horrors of Fascism in Germany. We all agreed that historically inaccurate end of Inglourious Basterds was perfect.

We spoke more about Tarantino after this. Revenge for the Holocaust is one thing, I posited; a perhaps never-able-to-be-repayed revenge. But it isn't the Holocaust that allows this unbridled impulse to revenge. It is, of course, Tarantino. I say this because — I don't know about you but — I felt the same way in Kill Bill. She kills and kills and keeps killing, and I swear to you I never once thought okay, perhaps you have killed enough. That is enough revenge. Don't kill that person. That person, right there, doesn't deserve to die. Tarantino somehow makes it all feel justifiable. E disagreed. B and I were wrong, he said. He did feel like the killing in Kill Bill was excessive.

There was more talk about ethics and viewing. I posed to them the possibility that violence can often be beautiful (certainly onstage). But even when it is not beautiful... Why is watching violence pleasurable? When does pleasure in others as they watch violence horrify us? How can violence horrify some and give pleasure to others? These are questions that need more discussion, more theory (some of it written by me, hopefully). But I have to tell you all, I have some fabulous undergraduate students. They question me about ethics and violence on a Saturday night and are questioning their own viewership, their own pleasure, their own responsibilities as consumers of culture. I was, as you can imagine, delighted.

08 February 2011

Where the Real Countries Are

Since my last post involved references to the Oscar-winning art director and set decorator of The English Patient and a nod to the fabulous Kristin Scott-Thomas (about whom I continue to obsess) I thought I would revisit one of my very favorite parts of one of my favorite movies of all time. The passage below is from Anthony Minghella's screenplay, but it closely follows Michael Ondaatje's novel. 
As Katharine waits in the cave for Almásy to come back, she stares at the cave paintings and writes in her diary:

My darling. I'm waiting for you. 

How long is the day in the dark? Or a week? 

The fire is gone and I'm horribly cold. I really should drag myself outside but then there'd be the sun. I'm afraid I waste the light on the paintings and writing these words. 

We die. We die rich with lovers and tribes, tastes we have swallowed, bodies we've entered and swum up like rivers. Fears we've hidden in - like this wretched cave. I want all this marked on my body. Wer'e the real countries. Not boundaries drawn on maps with the names of powerful men. 

I know you'll come carry me out to the Palace of Winds. That's what I've wanted: to walk in such a place with you. With friends, on an earth without maps. 

The lamp has gone out... and I'm writing... in the darkness.

2011's Nominees: Part 5 of 12


HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON
2 Nominations:
  · Best Animated Feature
  · Best Score: John Powell

Director: Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders
Cast: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Kristen Wiig, T.J. Miller
 
So much fun. Also, this film swept at the Annie awards this year, and though it is expected that Toy Story 3 will win the Animated Feature Oscar (you will recall that TS3 is nominated for five Oscars), the Annie sweep had to feel good for the HtTYD team. Good for them. I liked this film more than TS3 too, so I am with them, although, truth be told, I pretty much love dragons and see all movies with dragons in them, so if you make a movie about different varieties of dragons and that involves a dragon that is basically a giant pet cat, you can bet I am in. I love that this got nominated in the Score category, by the way. John Powell has never been nominated before.

Will Win: N/A
Might Win: N/A
My Rating: #17 out of 50


HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 1
2 Nominations:
  · Best Art Direction: Stuart Craig (The Elephant Man, Gandhi, The Mission, Dangerous Liaisons, Chaplin, The English Patient, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) and Stephenie McMillan (The English Patient, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire)
  · Best Visual Effects

Director: David Yates
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Bill Nighy, Fiona Shaw, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Ralph Fiennes
 
After a couple of stinkers, David Yates hits one out of the park with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1. It is not only filled with thrilling sequences and plenty of suspense, but the sensitive moments avoid being cloying, and Yates manages to hit all the right emotional notes. The Potter films continue to be contrived in terms of plot – there is one near-escape after another, and the possibility of magical things happening is always present and a little predictable after a while, but this is rather a good film, and if the plot feels contrived the characters and their feelings do not. HP7 is satisfying, exciting, and surprising. And I never thought I'd say this, but I actually think it deserves both of the Oscars for which it is nominated and also deserved a nomination for Original Score – now that they've moved completely away from Williamsesque composition and down darker paths, the music has become both intriguing and beautiful.

Will Win: N/A
Might Win: N/A
My Rating: #19 out of 50


ANOTHER YEAR
1 Nomination:
  · Best Original Screenplay: Mike Leigh (Secrets and Lies, Topsy-Turvy, Vera Drake, Happy-Go-Lucky)

Director: Leigh
Cast: Jim Broadbent, Lesley Manville, Ruth Sheen, Peter Wight, Oliver Maltman, David Bradley, Martin Savage, Michele Austin, Imelda Staunton, Karina Fernandez
 
To say this movie is good is a vast understatement. This is a film by a master filmmaker at the top of his game—it is his fifth nomination for writing. The film is extraordinary: subtle, sensitive, filled with tiny insights about people, and I found it ultimately devastating in a  quiet, disturbing, middlebrow way. It is also filled with fabulous performances and if it had been released in, say, October, it probably would have racked up a few more nominations. Lesley Manville gives the performance of a lifetime here (she is this year's Kristin Scott-Thomas in I've Loved You So Long
) and Ruth Sheen and Jim Broadbent are great as usual. Imelda Staunton, in a smaller role, gives a rich, captivating performance. I also really loved seeing Karina Fernandez in a bigger part when she was so brilliant in Leigh's last movie

Will Win: N/A
Might Win: N/A
My Rating: #6 out of 50

06 February 2011

2011's Nominees: Part 4 of 12


THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT
4 Nominations:
  · Best Picture
  · Best Original Screenplay: Lisa Cholodenko, Stuart Blumberg
  · Best Actress: Annette Bening (The Grifters, American Beauty, Being Julia)
  · Best Supporting Actor: Mark Ruffalo

Director: Cholodenko
Cast: Bening, Julianne Moore, Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson, Yaya DaCosta, Joaquín Garrido, Kunal Sharma
 
I loved this film. I know that it is kind of homophobic and, well, I guess I forgive it for that because I just enjoyed the picture so much. In a sense, I suppose I forgive the film's homophobia because I bought into the story so much. And once I bought in, the film became for me about so many things. I am on a parenting kick this year: some of my favorite movies this year have been about raising kids and watching them grow up and getting older. I am getting older, too, I suppose, and these — I hate to call them issues — let's call them moments of feeling become more and more important to me as I do. I have more to say about The Kids Are All Right, actually. Annette Bening is just masterful. She also gives a superb performance in this year's Mother and Child (see it!). Ms. Bening also has never won an Oscar before and sincerely deserves to win this one. Mark Ruffalo, I should also mention, is fantastic in this movie. All that to say: I don't think The Kids Are All Right is going home with any Oscars on the 27th, but I am crossing my fingers.


Will Win: N/A
Might Win: Actress
My Rating: #4 out of 44

ALICE IN WONDERLAND
3 Nominations:
  · Best Art Direction: Robert Stromberg (Avatar), Karen O'Hara (The Color of Money)
  · Best Costume Design: Colleen Atwood (Little Women, Beloved, Sleepy Hollow, Chicago, Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, Memoirs of a Geisha, Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Nine)
  · Best Visual Effects

Director: Tim Burton
Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Crispin Glover, Anne Hathaway, Leo Bill, Francis de la Tour
 
I see why this was nominated for things. The look of the film is cool for parts of it. That might be all that there is to say about this film that is positive. I really did like the costumes and the make-up. Really. But everything else? Most of the time I was just trying to figure out what was going on. And not in a fun, Lewis Carroll kind of a way; in an I-don't-get-why-they-are-going-over-there kind of way. The movie's chief problem, though, is that it isn't funny. There's barely a laugh in the whole thing! And it's Lewis Carroll! There should be jokes a plenty.


Will Win: N/A
Might Win: Art Direction
My Rating: #40 out of 44

BIUTIFUL
2 Nominations:
  · Best Actor: Javier Bardem (Before Night Falls, No Country for Old Men)
  · Best Foreign Language Film: Mexico (Amores Perros, The Crime of Father Amaro, Pan's Labyrinth)

Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Cast: Bardem, Maricel Álvarez, Hanaa Bouchaib, Guillermo Estrella, Eduard Fernández
 
This is a big success story. Bardem was not really expected to get nominated for this, although the Foreign Language nomination was not a surprise. I haven't seen the movie yet, but Iñárritu's films are challenging and occasionally difficult to watch. His previous films are Amores Perros, 21 Grams, and Babel. In  other words, they have not been consistently good, but they have a style and a look and an interesting — at least to me — world-view. I am very excited for this.
 
Will Win: Foreign Language Film
Might Win: N/A
My Rating: Not Yet Rated

04 February 2011

2011's Nominees: Part 3 of 12


BLACK SWAN
5 Nominations:
  · Best Picture
  · Best Director: Darren Aronofsky
  · Best Actress: Natalie Portman (Closer)
  · Best Cinematography: Matthew Libatique
  · Best Editing: Andrew Weisblum

Director: Aronofsky
Cast: Portman, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey, Mila Kunis, Winona Ryder, Benjamin Millepied
 
This is my favorite film of the year, and I can't help but think that it should have done better here. But you know what? I have to be thankful for what I get. Black Swan is a very well made B-film and while I completely loved it, no one should be expecting the Academy to be as much in love with it as they are. Small victories. Still, most people were expecting a nomination for Mila Kunis here, as well as Visual effects and Sound nods (the Costume designers were deemed ineligible). Most people expect Portman to win Best Actress on the 27th.
Will Win: Actress
Might Also Win: N/A
My Rating: #1 out of 42

TOY STORY 3
5 Nominations:
  · Best Picture
  · Best Adapted Screenplay: Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine), John Lasseter (Toy Story), Andrew Stanton (Toy Story, Finding Nemo, WALL·E), Lee Unkrich
  · Best Animated Feature
  · Best Sound Editing
  · Best Song: Randy Newman (Ragtime, Parenthood, The Paper, Toy Story, Babe: Pig in the City, Toy Story 2, Meet the Parents, Monsters Inc., Cars, The Princess and the Frog)

Director: Unkrich
Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Ned Beatty, Wallace Shawn, Don Rickles, Michael Keaton, Estelle Harris, John Ratzenberger, Laurie Metcalf
 
This movie is great and everyone knows it. If you have seen it you know. If you haven't seen it, the last fifteen minutes are so moving that I defy you not to cry. I mean, I know I cry at everything, but I saw it with eight other people and we all cried. Even the most cold-hearted of us.

Will Win: Animated Feature, Song
Might Win: N/A
My Rating: #16 out of 42

WINTER'S BONE
4 Nominations:
  · Best Picture
  · Best Adapted Screenplay: Debra Granik, Anne Rosellini
  · Best Actress: Jennifer Lawrence
  · Best Supporting Actor: John Hawkes

Director: Granik
Cast: Lawrence, Hawkes, Dale Dickey, Garret Dillahunt, Shelley Waggener
 
I was so bored by this film I don't know how to talk about it without getting cranky. None of my friends in California liked this either. At any rate, to my complete and utter bafflement everyone seems to love it, the critics and the Academy.
Will Win: N/A
Might Win: N/A
My Rating: #32 out of 42

02 February 2011

When Wahima Is Right

My friend Wahima posted this on her facebook yesterday and I just couldn't help repeating it here because it is so well said..

Wahima: There is a public event titled "Straight Pride Day". Why does the majority feel the need to copy and make fun of the minorities? Even in jest it's offensive. You celebrate your pride every moment you are allowed to be YOU without consequences.

2011's Nominees: Part 2 of 12


INCEPTION
8 Nominations:
  · Best Picture
  · Best Original Screenplay: Christopher Nolan (Memento)
  · Best Cinematography: Wally Pfister (Batman Begins, The Prestige, The Dark Knight)
  · Best Art Direction: Doug Mowat, Larry Dias, Guy Hendrix Dyas
  · Best Original Score: Hans Zimmer (Rain Man, The Lion King, The Preacher's Wife, As Good as It Gets, The Prince of Egypt, The Thin Red Line, Gladiator, Sherlock Holmes)
  · Best Sound Mixing
  · Best Sound Editing
  · Best Visual Effects

Director: Nolan
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Ellen Page, Ken Watanabe, Dileep Rao, Tom Berenger, Pete Postlethwaite, Michael Caine, Lukas Haas
 
The crowd favorite. That Nolan did not get a Best Director nomination is widely perceived as a snub, which it is. One of these days, Nolan is going to make a movie that the Academy really loves — Fincher should be his model, actually. But he will just have to settle instead for making tons of money. I actually found Inception kind of soulless. I mean, it's an exciting, complicated picture, but I found it difficult to emotionally drop in.
Will Win: Art Direction, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects
Might Also Win: Original Score, Original Screenplay, Cinematography
My Rating: #9 out of 40

THE FIGHTER
7 Nominations:
  · Best Picture
  · Best Director: David O. Russell
  · Best Original Screenplay: Keith Dorrington, Eric Johnson, Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy
  · Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale
  · Best Supporting Actress: Melissa Leo (Frozen River)
  · Best Supporting Actress: Amy Adams (Junebug, Doubt)
  · Best Editing: Pamela Martin

Director: Russell
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Bale, Leo, Adams, Jack McGee
 
Not sure why everyone loves this movie as much as they do; it struck me as more of a standard boxing picture. Anyway, this is an actor's movie and no one should forget that. As you look above at the nominations you see none for art direction, cinematography, or sound, though all were rather excellent for the film. My point is that those things were not why people loved this movie. They loved the film for its acting, and its three nominations (as many as The King's Speech!) are a testimony to that. Oh yeah, and it's going to win them, too.
Will Win: Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress (Leo)
Might Win: N/A
My Rating: #27 out of 41

127 HOURS
6 Nominations:
  · Best Picture
  · Best Adapted Screenplay: Simon Beaufoy (The Full Monty, Slumdog Millionaire) & Danny Boyle
  · Best Actor: James Franco
  · Best Editing: Jon Harris
  · Best Original Score: A.R. Rahman (Slumdog)
  · Best Original Song: Rahman (Slumdog x2), Dido, Rollo Armstrong

Director: Danny Boyle
Cast: Franco, Kate Mara, Amber Tamblyn, Treat Williams
 
I loved this film and I can't help thinking it got a bit snubbed when the nominations came out. It obviously deserves its editing nomination, sure, but where is the cinematography nod? sound editing? I guess I shouldn't complain too much, the Academy clearly liked the film: six nominations is nothing to sneeze at. And as much as I loved the movie, I am not expecting it to win anything on February 27th. Still, everyone should see this flick. It is Danny Boyle at his best.
Will Win: N/A
Might Win: Original Score, Original Song, Editing
My Rating: #5 out of 41