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

28 February 2013

Mother and Son

Last weekend, Dartmouth brought a whole bunch of films here from the Busan International Film Festival, which means I stopped everything and went to see Kim Ki-duk's latest movie Pieta.

The film was much more horrifying than the Kim Ki-duk movies to which I have grown accustomed. Pieta is a kind of riff on the narrative of a film like Bong Joon-ho's Mother. A gangster who gets money by maiming poor machinery workers (he forces them to put their hands or other limbs in their machinery in order to collect insurance money) begins to be followed by a strange woman. The woman tells him she is his mother, and begs forgiveness for having abandoned him thirty years earlier.

Of course, the young man is a gangster and so he has plenty of enemies and has continued to cultivate many more. Having family just complicates the kinds of revenge that can be wrought. And Pieta is a revenge film, a kind of high tragedy, Jacobean revenge story where everyone is brought low by the tale's end. It is horrifying and psychological and plenty disturbing, with – and this is Kim Ki-duk's skill at work – some beautifully surreal imagery.

I had seen three Kim Ki-duk films before (Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring, Time, and 3-iron), and so I wasn't really expecting a film that was much more violent and disturbing than thoughtful and intellectually provocative. I asked the curator of the festival about this after the film, and she told me I was out of my mind. "Pieta is like a Park Chan-wook movie", I said. "Where's the Buddhism? Where's the sensitivity?" I asked.

"It is not like a Park Chan-wook movie", she said. "It is like a Kim Ki-duk movie. You need to see Bad Guy, or my favorite, Crocodile."

Busan's festival programmer (her name is Cho Young-Jung) told me that the films of Kim Ki-duk's that I like are the period of time when people though he was "losing his touch" or "gone soft". She totally schooled me. It was great. I found the whole thing pretty hilarious. (Then some professor emerita woman from the Theater Department came and interrupted so that she could tell the curator all about how it was "just like Greek tragedy".)

At any rate, I rather loved Pieta, too, so maybe I just like Kim Ki-duk no matter what: maiming people in machinery, meditating on the Buddha, doing disturbing things with plastic surgery, whatever.

23 February 2013

But Who Is Going to Win?

Below are my predictions, although I have to admit that for a good half of these I honestly have no idea who'll be winning – something I find very exciting!

Best Picture
I predict to win: Argo
I'm rooting for: Beasts of the Southern Wild 
(I originally predicted Argo. That's still happening)

Best Director
I predict to win: Steven Spielberg for Lincoln
I'm rooting for: Michael Haneke for Amour
(I originally predicted Haneke here, but let's be real, that's not gonna happen. Everyone is saying that it is either Ang Lee or Steven Spielberg is going to win this, and honestly, I couldn't tell you which one will win. It's a toss up. But what if Ben Affleck could muster a write-in campaign? Haha. Anything is possible this year.)

Best Actor
I predict to win: Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln
I'm rooting for: Joaquin Phoenix for The Master
(I originally predicted Day-Lewis for this. That's still happening.)

Best Actress
I predict to win: Emannuelle Riva for Amour (in an upset)
I'm rooting for: Jessica Chastain for Zero Dark Thirty
(I originally predicted Chastain for this, but evidently everyone is crazy and doesn't think she is as genius in the film as I do. Smart money says that Jennifer Lawrence wins for Silver Linings Playbook, so if you're feeling squeamish, go with J-Law instead of Riva. But I think the Academy is feeling a little more octogenarian these days...)

Best Adapted Screenplay
I predict to win: Chris Terrio for Argo
I'm rooting for: Tony Kushner for Lincoln
(I originally predicted Kushner because by all rights he really ought to win this award. But Argo has the wind at its back at the moment, and it's looking like Terrio walks home with the Oscar.)

Best Original Screenplay
I predict to win: Mark Boal for Zero Dark Thirty
I'm rooting for: Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola for Moonrise Kingdom
(I originally predicted Boal for this award, with the other possibilities being Michael Haneke for Amour and Quentin Tarantino for Django Unchained. The question is: has the Academy buried its grudge against Mark Boal's amazing screenplay.)

Best Supporting Actor
I predict to win: Tommy Lee Jones for Lincoln
I'm rooting for: None of these people. They don't need any more Oscars.
(I originally predicted Christoph Waltz but most people are predicting either Jones or Robert De Niro for Silver Linings Playbook. Waltz, to my mind, is the only one who really needs this Oscar, but I am so checked out of this category I can't really give it any more time. This is the only category that makes me actually angry.)

Best Supporting Actress
I predict to win: Anne Hathaway for Les Misérables
I'm rooting for: Sally Field for Lincoln
(I originally predicted Hathaway. And she appears to be the juggernaut of the 2013 awards season, so you can bank on her.)

Best Film Editing
I predict to win: William Goldenberg for Argo
I'm rooting for: Dylan Tichenor & William Goldenberg for Zero Dark Thirty
(I originally predicted ZDT to win this, but Argo is going to bag a whole bunch of Oscars that we didn't think it originally would. Such is the surge for this Best Picture winner. Maybe William Goldenberg will call Dylan Tichenor to the stage or something dramatic.)

Best Cinematography
I predict to win: Claudio Miranda for Life of Pi
I'm rooting for: Roger Deakins for Skyfall
(I originally predicted Life of CGI for this, and I honestly can't imagine anyone else taking it. People are saying that Deakins is surging, that he deserves an Oscar – and he does – but I don't think Academy voters are planning on putting a check mark next to the James Bond movie. Even this one.)

Best Original Score
I predict to win: Mychael Danna for Life of Pi
I'm rooting for: Thomas Newman for Skyfall
(I originally predicted Life of Pi to win here, and I think it's going to clean up in the below-the-line categories.)

Best Costume Design
I predict to win: Jacqueline Durran for Anna Karenina
I'm rooting for: Durran
(I originally predicted Durran for this award, I am delighted that her win is likely, and I'll be happy if she takes it home.)

Best Production Design
I predict to win: Eve Stewart & Anna Lynch-Robinson for Les Misérables
I'm rooting for: Rick Carter & Jim Erickson for Lincoln but really anyone else.
(I originally predicted Anna Karenina for this award with Lincoln as a possible spoiler. But it looks like Les Mis takes this award.)

Best Sound Mixing
I predict to win: Les Misérables
I'm rooting for: Lincoln
(I originally predicted Les Mis here, and I think it still has to win.)

Best Sound Editing
I predict to win: Argo
I'm rooting for: Zero Dark Thirty
(I originally predicted Argo, and people are predicting lots of other movies – Life of Pi most frequently – but I am just imagining Argo will win lots of things.)

Best Animated Feature
I predict to win: Wreck-it Ralph
I'm rooting for: Frankenweenie
(I originally predicted Frankenweenie because it won all the critics awards early on, but as it turns out, the Academy is probably going to go for the much less imaginative and much more ho-hum of the nominees (as usual) and go with Wreck-it Ralph.)

Best Foreign Language Feature
I predict to win: Amour
I'm rooting for: Amour
(I originally predicted Amour to win. It's win is solid.)

Best Documentary Feature
I predict to win: Searching for Sugar Man
I'm rooting for: I didn't actually see any of these. I'm not really into documentaries, truth be told.

Best Visual Effects
I predict to win: Life of Pi
I'm rooting for: Snow White and the Huntsman (!)
(I originally predicted Life of Pi and I see no reason to change now.)

Best Makeup & Hairstyling
I predict to win: Les Misérables
I'm rooting for: The Hobbit: an Unexpected Journey
(I originally predicted The Hobbit and even though I don't like either of those movies very much, I would just rather The Hobbit win than The Miserable Ones.)

Best Original Song
I predict to win: Adele Adkins & Paul Epworth for Skyfall
I'm rooting for: Skyfall
(I originally predicted "Skyfall" for this award, and Adele's won every award so far, so it's looking likely. Plus, everyone love's Adele, and, you know, the song is actually good.)

Best Animated Short Film
I predict to win: Paperman
I'm rooting for: Adam and Dog
(I originally predicted Paperman and I'm stickin' to it.)

Best Live-action Short Film
I predict to win: Curfew
I'm rooting for: Death of a Shadow
(I am not into this Curfew movie, but almost everyone I know is charmed by it. So, I guess it'll win.)

Best Documentary Short Film
I predict to win: Open Heart
I'm rooting for: Again, I didn't see these pictures. Docs are not my thing.

Final Count:
Argo: 4
Les Misérables: 4
Life of Pi: 3
Lincoln: 3
Amour: 2
Anna Karenina: 1
Curfew: 1
Open Heart: 1 
Paperman: 1
Searching for Sugar Man: 1
Skyfall: 1
Wreck-it Ralph: 1 
Zero Dark Thirty: 1

21 February 2013

Oscar Nominees 2013: Part 13 of 13

Buzkashi Boys
1 Nomination
  • Live-action Short Film
Directors: Sam French
Cast: Fawad Mohammadi, Jawanmard Paiz, Wali Talash

This is a very USAmerican-inflected pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps sort of narrative. One, in fact, I'd be surprised to see from an Afghani filmmaker, but one that felt to me like a USAmerican film made about Afghanistan. Buzkashi Boys is about two best friends who love Buzkashi. One of the boys is a street urchin and the other the son of a blacksmith. The film is about a day off that they take, dreaming of riding Buzkashi and fantasizing about the future. It's a good film with what I thought was an off-kilter morality. The idea that "you can be anything you want to be" is hardly something in which any of the characters can actually put stock, yet the film appears to believe this. Or some version of it, any rate.
Will Win: Live-action Short Film
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #3 out of 5

1 Nomination
  • Live-action Short Film
Director: Shawn Christensen
Cast: Christensen, Fatima Ptacek, Kim Allen

I am not actually sure how this got nominated. It is an odd movie with a totally bizarre tone. The film opens with a bloody hand (still holding a razorblade!) reaching down from the bathtub to pick up a phone. In what I imagine was supposed to be a humorously macabre sequence, this man's apparently hysterical sister needs him to babysit his niece for a couple of hours and would he please stop killing himself and get cleaned up and come over in twenty minutes? The film is filled with little "jokes" like this one but at the same time would like to be a serious film about depression, the importance of familial ties, and (let us not forget – as if we could) the healing and transformative effect that having a child in your life can have on all of our lives. I was bored, but I've heard that Curfew is actually the frontrunner. That sort of makes me want to leave the room and open another bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: Live-action short film
My Rating: #4 out of 5

Death of a Shadow
1 Nomination
  • Live-action Short Film
Director: Tom Van Avermaet
Cast: Matthias Schoenaerts, Peter Van Den Eede, Laura Verlinden, Benjamin Ramon, Amandine Zurbuchen

Well this was great. This is a time-travel/fantasy film set near World War I. The film doesn't explain itself – hardly any exposition at all – but I felt the world of Death of a Shadow deeply from its first minutes. This film, for me, was about the way human beings are subject to cruel fates – often at the hands of others – but that we still have the capacity for generosity even within the boundaries set for us. Death of a Shadow stars Matthais Schoenaerts from Rust and Bone and from one of my favorite films of the year, Bullhead. He is unrecognizable in this short film, but his performance is excellent nonetheless, and Van Avermaet's filmmaking is sad and beautiful.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: Live-action short film
My Rating: #1 out of 5

1 Nomination
  • Live-action Short Film
Director: Yan England
Cast: Gérard Poirier, Marie Tifo, Hubert Lemire, Louise Laprade, Ariane-Li Simard-Côté

England is a Canadian television-actor, so I am sure this nomination means a lot. His film also really packs an emotional wallop. It is the only one of these shorts that had me in tears. I feel, too, that Henry earned those tears. The plot is not particularly convoluted or contrived, and though the story is very familiar – a man losing his memory as he gets older – England tells the story spatially, so that his protagonist moves in and out of a series of rooms, living inside his memories and watching them unfold, not always knowing who is whom inside of them. I really liked it and found the whole thing quite moving.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: Live-action short film
My Rating: #2 out of 5

1 Nomination
  • Live-action Short Film
Director: Bryan Buckley
Cast: Harun Mohammed, Najah Abdi Abdullahi, Ibrahim Moallim Hussein, Abdiwale Mohamed, Mohamed Abdullahi Abdikher

I didn't really understand this one. I mean, I get it. It's about fishing and doing honest work instead of working as a soldier or a pirate. But the way the film approaches this was strange to me. Buckley presents the (important and often purely economic) decision whether or not to be a pirate or whether or not or to be a soldier as a choice between whether or not to be a bully: a decision made in a Manichaean world, in other words, that is as obvious at the beginning of Asad as it is at the end.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #5 out of 5

17 February 2013

Oscar Nominees 2013: Part 11 of 13

1 Nomination
  • Hair & Makeup
Director: Sacha Gervasi
Cast: Helen Mirren, Anthony Hopkins, Danny Huston, Scarlett Johannson, Toni Collette, Jessica Biel, James D'Arcy

Apparently no one in the Academy liked this picture, because although Mirren looked like a shoo-in for a Best Actress nomination, she was beat out by five actresses, none of whom is as famous as she. Mirren already has an Oscar, of course (the year The Queen came out no one talked about anyone else), so the other five needed their nominations much more than she, and I can't feel too sorry for her, especially since her role really isn't that interesting here. Truth be told, the acting really isn't the showcase in Hitchcock, and Anthony Hopkins (despite being an Oscar-winner himself) was apparently on no one's radar as a Best Actor candidate. Now, I liked this movie. I thought it was charming and quite funny in a totally unrealistic, whimsical sort of way that the film cultivated. But I thought the prosthetics used to make Hopkins look like Hitchcock were decidedly unsuccessful and did nothing but look like prosethetics. I didn't believe them for one second, and indeed found Hopkins' look so distracting that I couldn't take even his serious scenes seriously. And though the Academy has often nominated the people-in-fat-suits look for Best Makeup (Norbit, Click, The Nutty Professor), those films rarely have gone on to win the Oscar. Don't expect Sacha Gervasi's film to take home a little gold man either.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #38 out of 65

Chasing Ice
1 Nomination
  • Original Song: J. Ralph
Director: Jeff Orlowski
Cast: James Balog, Svavar Jonatansson, Adam LeWinter, Louie Psihoyos, Kitty Boone, Orlowski

This is one of the only nominees this year that I haven't seen. I guess I'll see it eventually, but Chasing Ice has not been released anywhere near where I live. If you haven't heard the nominated song, you should click here to hear it. It's a song about well, actually, I am not quite sure what it's about (maybe growing old before one ought to?) – anyway its melody is quite beautiful. It is also sung by Scarlett Johansson, who goes quite flat on the low notes, but whose voice is lovely when it is in range.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: Not Ranked - Documentary

1 Nomination
  • Song: Seth MacFarlane & Walter Murphy
Director: MacFarlane
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Seth MacFarlane, Giovanni Ribisi, Joel McHale, Patrick Warburton, Patrick Stewart, Jessica Barth

I really disliked this movie, but I should perhaps start by saying that I love Mark Wahlberg. I love Mark Wahlberg so much that I think his movies are worth seeing just because he is in them even when they are terrible movies. Still, Ted made me pretty irritated. The Oscar-nominated song in the movie, which plays over the opening credits, is charming enough, I suppose, if unmemorable, but I really want to just take this moment to voice my complete bafflement over the exclusion of John Legend's awesome "Who Did That to You?" from the Best Original Song category. Seriously, that song is so good and it comes at a crucial turning point in Django Unchained that is instantly memorable. My companions and I all left the theatre talking about that song. With Ted I left the theatre talking about Giovanni Ribisi.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #56 out of 65

16 February 2013

Oscar Nominees 2013: Part 10 of 13

1 Nomination
  • Foreign Language Film: Norway (Elling, The Other Side of Sunday, Pathfinder, Nine Lives)
Directors: Joachim Rønning & Espen Sandberg
Cast: Pål Sverre Hagen, Anders Baasmo Christiansen, Gustaf Skarsgård, Odd Magnus Williamson, Tobias Santelmann, Jakob Oftebro, Agnes Kittelsen

I am angry at this film, site unseen, and the reason is because (I've heard that) Rønning & Sandberg filmed scenes in both Norwegian and English at that what will eventually be distributed in the U.S. will be in English and not in Norwegian. Now, I am not sure why anyone would do that, but I object. It's going to  play at art-houses anyway: it's not like it's going to move into multiplexes just because it's in English. Anyway, this nomination is good for Norway, whose films (Happy Happy, Angel, Max Manus, O' Horten, Gone with the Woman) have not been doing well with the Academy in recent years. Kon-Tiki, however, will not be winning the Oscar, and everyone knows that.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: Not Ranked – 2013 Release

1 Nomination
  • Visual Effects
Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Logan Marshall-Green, Idris Elba, Guy Pearce, Sean Harris, Rafe Spall

This was a disappointment to almost everyone, apparently. I thought this movie was sort of fine, but all of my friends who are real Alien fans were pretty pissed. Oscar is correct, though: the failings that this film had were failings of plotting, pacing, and theme, not visual failings. The film, in fact, looks pretty amazing. The effects really are cool in Prometheus – alien births, alien caesarians, aliens inside Logan Marshall-Green's eyes, weird alien life forms that become snakes out of a weird black goo. In other words, the nomination is deserved, but people disliked this movie so much that it hasn't a chance in the world of winning the Oscar here.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #43 out of 65

The Avengers
1 Nomination
  • Visual Effects
Director: Joss Whedon
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Samuel L. Jackson, Tom Hiddleston, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Clark Gregg

Well I thought this was sort of boring. The boredom, it seemed to me, had chiefly to do with the way Joss Whedon plotted the movie – and maybe that means I should blame the screenwriter – but I guess I mean that the tone of this giant, big-budget, summer action movie, instead of being a series of set-pieces like Transformers (which I freely admit is asinine, but is at least never boring) is a series of conversations about really important things like fighting bad guys and standing up for your country and personal freedom. The whole thing jumps back and forth between plots as though it is a television show, but things never really quite knit together, and I was left confused for much of the movie. Not necessarily confused about what was happening in the movie, just confused about why I ought to have cared in the first place.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #58 out of 65

14 February 2013


"I'm foremost in her mind. I'm first. She says I'm first. Can you imagine?"

This is just. Gorgeous. I love these queer ladies.

13 February 2013

Oscar Nominees 2013: Part 9 of 13

A Royal Affair
1 Nomination
  • Foreign Language Film: Denmark (In a Better World, After the Wedding, Waltzing Regitze, Pelle the Conqueror, Babette's Feast, Harry and the Butler, Paw, Qivitoq)
Director: Nikolaj Arcel
Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Alicia Vikander, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, David Dencik, Trine Dyrholm, Harriet Walter, Cyron Melville, Charlotte Rampling

An intriguing and opulent political thriller involving madness, a ridiculous amount of prostitution, and the writings of Voltaire. This is the kind of movie that Patrice Chéreau or Régis Wargnier used to make – the type of movie that used to do really well in this category and usually starred Isabelle Adjani or Gérard Depardieu and occasionally both of them. A Royal Affair's attractiveness is also due to its excellent acting talent. Its lead actor is international film star Mads Mikkelsen, and the other lead roles are played by Alicia Vikander (who was in Joe Wright's Anna Karenina this year) and Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, whose performance I've praised here and here. The acting is excellent, the plot is fascinating, and the location is sumptuous. All of this is quite a winning combination – not for Oscar, mind you, but you will enjoy the film if you rent it. Competition in this category is way too steep for Denmark to win again so soon.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #24 out of 64

1 Nomination
  • Foreign Language Film: Chile
Director: Pablo Larraín
Cast: Gabriel García Bernal, Antonia Zegers, Alfredo Castro, Néstor Cantillana, Jaime Vadell, Marcial Tagle, Luis Gnecco

A very funny political thriller about the plebiscite in Chile in 1988, this film also stars an internationally known acting talent, Mexican star Gabriel García Bernal. Pablo Larraín's movie is the first film submitted by Chile ever to be nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. The whole thing is quite a coup. But No is a bit of a difficult film, an artistic experiment in returning to 1980s-style filmmaking that many viewers might find irritating. In any case, Chile, I am sure, is simply happy to be invited to the party. I found this film to be a fascinating perspective on an important historical period in South American history. That it is also quite a funny film is a testament to Larraín's considerable filmmaking skill.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: Not ranked – 2013 Release

War Witch
1 Nomination
  • Foreign Language Film: Canada (Monsieur Lazhar, Incendies, Water, The Barbarian Invasions, Jesus of Montreal, The Decline of the American Empire)
Director: Kim Nguyen
Cast: Rachel Mwanza,Serge Kanyinda, Ralph Prosper, Alain Lino Mic Eli Bastien, Mizinga Mwinga, Diana Uwamahoro

This movie is excellent and is also about an important international phenomenon – the use of child soldiers in warfare. War Witch is Canada's third nomination in this category in as many years: they have clearly hit upon a winning formula for choosing films that will be selected by the Academy. And this one is the best of their selections since Deepa Mehta's Water. War Witch is deeply moving, beautifully filmed, and also incredibly theatrical, using storytelling techniques that reminded me of Alejandro González Iñárritu's superb Biutiful. Kim Nguyen's film is not uplifting or about "the indomitable nature of the human spirit" or anything like that. Instead, it's simply good storytelling about inhuman violence. Side note: Rebelle, War Witch's original title in French, is also the title Disney used when it released the cartoon-adventure Brave in France. Du plaisir pour toute la famille!
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: Not ranked – 2013 Release

12 February 2013


Haywire is an extended experiment in using Dogme-95 lighting for an action movie. This makes the movie strange to watch at times: the look of the film keeps changing as the film constantly changes location – bright sunlight for snowy, upstate New York; lamplight for a Dublin hotel room; ugly flourescence for Washington DC offices; crepuscular sunset on a beach in Veracruz. The effect is "realistic" but it makes the film feel disjointed and rather haphazard.

The plotting, too, is disjointed. For me this was due to the slow-motion, Guy-Ritchie-inspired way that the film's second sequence (the expositional "Barcelona" sequence) is edited. Again, this section of the film doesn't match up with the rest of Haywire, and it downshifted the film's speed before it even started going. Strange.

Haywire's not bad at all, really, and could actually have been kind of fun 1) if it hadn't been rated PG-13 – who on Earth wants to watch a movie about gun-violence and mixed martial arts if it's gonna be a bloodless, cartoon version of gun-violence and mixed martial arts? – and 2) if the folks at Relativity Media hadn't given away the entirety of the plot in the trailer.

As it is, I was sort of bored.

11 February 2013

Oscar Nominees 2013: Part 12 of 13

1 Nomination
  • Animated Short Film
Director: John Kahrs

This is a really sweet little picture with a very old heterosexual love plot. Content-wise Paperman reminded me of the opening sequence of Pete Docter's Up: it's a whimsical, fantastic little love story with a happy ending and a healthy dose of magic. And the movie has a just-say-no-to-the-9-to-5 attitude reminiscent of Pretty Woman, but really the sentimental idea that our day jobs are keeping us away from true love and having fun is not really restricted to Garry Marshall. In fact, it's a rather widespread sentiment. The animation of Paperman is what I loved. It kept me in mind of last year's Oscar-winner, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. Paperman is gorgeously realized and beautifully animated... and it will probably win the evening's Oscar.
Will Win: Animated Short Film
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #3 out of 5

Adam and Dog
1 Nomination
  • Animated Short Film
Director: Minkyu Lee

This is the most beautiful of the five films. It's the Biblical Adam and Eve story – the pleasures of Eden, the joys of naming the animals, the fall from the favor of G-d, and the expulsion from the Garden – but Minkyu Lee has added a dog to the narrative and the results are gorgeous. We follow the dog as he meets the animals and explores the forest; we watch the dog learn to fetch and play and love Adam. And when Adam and Eve are expelled from the garden at the end of this short film, Lee finds the dog to be the wisest of all creatures on Earth... and the most generous. The film ends with a moment of grace that I found deeply moving. Adam and Dog really ought to win the Oscar. Its animation is beautiful, its narrative is simple and touching, and I found its mercy and forgiveness profound.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: Animated Short Film
My Rating: #1 out of 5

Fresh Guacamole
1 Nomination
  • Animated Short Film
Director: PES

Imaginative and cool, this film is about food and gambling and hipster magic. It is delightful and will make you want to run to the nearest grocery store to pick up some avocados, onions, and jalapeños. At least that's what it did to me.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #4 out of 5

Head over Heels
1 Nomination
  • Animated Short Film
Director: Timothy Reckart

This is a sweet story about the ways that we slowly drift apart from the people we love and the difficulties of bridging the chasms between us once they've formed. Head over Heels's answers to these difficulties were a little too easy for my taste, but the storytelling is clever and I loved the metaphor upon which the film is built.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #2 out of 5

The Longest Daycare
1 Nomination
  • Animated Short Film
Director: David Silverman

I didn't get it. I mean, I get the narrative. Little girl learns about caterpillars turning into butterflies and then saves a caterpillar/butterfly from being turned into art. But the beginning of this film is about the ways that our individualistic über-Capitalist culture promotes the well being of some children while leaving others, whom it deems less talented or less special or whatever, behind. The Longest Daycare begins with this sentiment but then gets distracted by butterflies, and I just don't see how the film's two halves go together.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #5 out of 5

07 February 2013

Oscar Nominees 2013: Part 8 of 13

Wreck-it Ralph
1 Nomination
  • Animated Feature
Director: Rich Moore
Cast: John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jane Lynch, Jack McBrayer, Alan Tudyk, Ed O'Neill, Dennis Haysbert

Everyone seems to love Wreck-it Ralph except for me. What's happening? It's odd to me that this film is even nominated in this category when the far superior and much funnier Rise of the Guardians was left off the Animated Feature list this year. Ralph is the story of a video-game bad-guy who wants to be friends with all of the heroes of the video game after work-hours. Trouble ensues. He befriends a young glitch in a different video game and from there the plot becomes your standard dumb-older-man-meets-young-spunky-girl narrative where the guy learns all sorts of things (mostly "how to open his heart") from the young girl. The young girl herself, incidentally – and this is always how it goes – doesn't need to learn anything, but her pure, innocent, childlike affection manages to work its way past his crusty exterior. Zzzzz. This was all done so much better in 2001 in 2D (and this year in 3D) by a film called Monsters, Inc. In any case, Wreck-it Ralph feels like a re-tread to me. Retro video-game references spice it up a little bit, and Beard Papa has a cameo, but mostly I was bored.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: Animated Feature
My Rating: #53 out of 63

1 Nomination
  • Best Original Screenplay
Director: Chris Butler & Sam Fell
Cast: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tucker Albrizzi, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Leslie Mann, Elaine Stritch, Jeff Garlin, Tempestt Bledsoe, John Goodman

ParaNorman is really similar to Tim Burton's Frankenweenie. Both titles feature puns. Both films are about kids fighting Halloween monsters. Both are about kids who are "different" from the rest of the kids around them. ParaNorman was released in August and Frankenweenie had an October release, but Burton's film appears to be the favorite among voters. Frank(enweenie)ly I preferred this zombie comedy by Chris Butler and Sam Fell, though both films are pretty great. ParaNorman is about a young man who sees ghosts. He is a weird kid – and is subject to all sorts of bullying at school and at home – because he talks to the dead people in his life, communicates with dead dogs, and gets accosted by his strange, shifty, snaggle-toothed uncle. Then zombies attack the town and Norman has to come to the rescue to communicate with the undead and figure out how to solve his town's zombie problem. It isn't just that the weird, bullied kid turns out to be the town's savior (that plot has developed into a familiar trope) but that he has visions, which we get to see, and that friendship and his relationship with his sister and his bully are more important in ParaNorman than any rigorously gendered love plot. The heterosexual love plot is avoided completely in the movie, and the entire thing is inventive and charming, perhaps even... paradorable. (Forgive me.)
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #16 out of 63

The Pirates! Band of Misfits
1 Nomination
  • Animated Feature
Director: Peter Lord
Cast: Hugh Grant, Martin Freeman, David Tennant, Imelda Staunton, Salma Hayek, Jeremy Piven, Anton Yelchin, Brendan Gleeson

In Britain this movie was called The Pirates! in an Adventure with Scientists!, a title I much prefer to The Pirates! Band of Misfits, but I don't suppose that matters much. Pirates! is very funny – in the vein of Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-rabbit. Plus the side characters are Charles Darwin and Queen Victoria. There are lots of laughs to be had using those two as antagonists to a pirate captain. Still, there are odd things about this movie. For example: Why is there so much computer animation in a stop-motion picture? The two styles jar when placed next to one another. And why is the Pirate Captain never given a name other than the Pirate Captain? Surely a funny name could have been fabricated. Honestly, though, I think this film is probably worth your time. It's rather delightful even if it looks odd.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #33 out of 63

04 February 2013

Oscar Nominees 2013: Part 7 of 13

Mirror Mirror
1 Nomination
  • Costume Design: Eiko Ishioka (Dracula)
Director: Tarsem Singh
Cast: Julia Roberts, Armie Hammer, Lily Collins, Nathan Lane, Martin Klebba, Jordan Prentice, Danny Woodburn, Joe Gnoffo, Mark Povinelli, Sebastian Saraceno, Ronald Lee Clark

This movie claims to be the Snow White story from the perspective of the wicked queen (except that there is nothing dark or spooky about Mirror Mirror at any point in its running time. Instead it's a tongue-in-cheek, totally absurd, candy-coated version of Snow White. But unlike Snow White and the Huntsman, which is all about the wicked queen, Mirror Mirror isn't even really about the wicked queen. Instead it's about the handsome prince that's coming to save Snow White from the wicked queen. The handsome prince is Armie Hammer, so that's nice to look at, of course, and then there are the costumes – the reason I saw this movie on a giant screen instead of waiting for DVD. The costumes are by Eiko Ishioka, the legendary designer. And these costumes are out of this world. There is a dance/ball sequence where everyone wears a different animal headpiece, for heaven's sake. It is opulent. Tarsem, on the other hand, needs to get his act together and direct a good movie toute suite.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #60 out of 63

1 Nomination
  • Animated Feature
Director: Tim Burton
Cast: Charlie Tahan, Catherine O'Hara, Martin Sheen, Martin Landau, Winona Ryder, James Hiroyuki Liao

I really liked this little movie. (These days I tend to like Tim Burton's animated movies much more than I like his live-action movies.) Frankenweenie is disturbed, but also charming and cute. In a lot of ways it is a delightful tribute to Ishirō Honda and James Whale, but also references (in an interesting, charming way) Burton's own oeuvrewith Winona Ryder and Martin Landau serving as two of the voices. It's a retelling of Mary Shelley's Gothic novel, but with children and dead pets and a strong atheist sensibility. I was a fan. I am expecting this picture to win the Oscar at the moment, although Wreck-it Ralph just recently picked up the Annie for Best Animated Feature. Burton's movie is so much better than Wreck-it Ralph that it's not even worth comparing, but let me just say again how imaginative this movie is – an adaptation of a Gothic novel on a schoolyard... with a puppy. It's grotesque and lovely.
Will Win: Animated Feature
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #23 out of 63

1 Nomination
  • Animated Feature
Cast: Kelly Macdonald, Emma Thompson, Billy Connolly, Julie Walters, Robbie Coltrane, Craig Ferguson, Kevin McKidd,

I liked this movie better when it was called Brother Bear. She turns into a bear?? Really? I was into this movie for a while. Little girl is into shooting a bow and hates sewing. Yes! Eschewing gender norms! But then the movie winds up being about how the girl needs to learn to be more like her mom – patient and generous and quiet. So I was rather impatient with Brave. The animation of her hair is extraordinary: I defy you not to love it. And her little brothers (tiny menaces in triplicate) are a laugh riot. The acting is great across the board (probably the best of any animated picture this year)... but the film left something to be desired. And it really is just a girl version of Brother Bear.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: Animated Feature
My Rating: #30 out of 63

02 February 2013

Oscar Nominees 2013: Part 6 of 13

The Impossible
1 Nomination
  • Actress: Naomi Watts (21 Grams)
Cast: Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin, Oaklee Pendergast, Sönke Möhring, Ploy Jindachote, Geraldine Chaplin

This could have been a movie-of-the-week-style sentimental melodrama. And it wouldn't surprise me if some viewers received it that way. I found the whole thing riveting. Now, it's not called The Impossible for nothing: the story is (to be oxymoronic about it) truly incredible. This family's story is really lovely, though, and the acting is great across the board – from the big stars Watts and McGregor, to the young children, to a beautiful single scene starring legendary actress Geraldine Chaplin. For me this is one of the hidden gems of the year, buried, for some reason, at the very end of the year. I want, also, to say that I am really happy that Naomi Watts snagged a nomination here. She is one of Hollywood's hardest-working performers, but she hasn't been nominated since 21 Grams which was over 10 years ago. She is a good performer who doesn't always get the best roles (my friend Justin once quipped that she's the poor man's Nicole Kidman) but she always does good work and chooses interesting films. Remember I ♥ Huckabees or The Painted Veil or We Don't Live Here Anymore? Good stuff.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #13 out of 63

Moonrise Kingdom
1 Nomination
  • Original Screenplay: Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums) & Roman Coppola
Director: Anderson
Cast: Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Bob Balaban, Jason Schwartzman, Harvey Keitel

Yeah, this is an excellent picture. In my top ten for the year. And actually I think it is sort of absurd that Adam Stockhausen's incredible production design was overlooked by the Academy. (I am not surprised, I just think it is absurd.) I also think that Moonrise really ought to win this award. This film is honest and profound while being simple and very, very funny. In short, it accomplishes a great deal in a short amount of time, while never losing steam. I don't harbor any dreams that it can actually win the Original Screenplay Oscar, but it deserves it. And the truth is, Wes Anderson's films are so consistently interesting that even if Oscar never quite pays attention, they will always be must-sees for me.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #7 out of 63

The Sessions
1 Nomination
  • Supporting Actress: Helen Hunt (As Good as It Gets)
Director: Ben Lewin
Cast: John Hawkes, Hunt, William H. Macy, Moon Bloodgood, Rhea Perlman, Adam Arkin, Ming Lo, Annika Marks, W. Earl Brown

This is a movie with a very big heart but not much else. John Hawkes plays famous disability-activist and poet Mark O'Brien, and the movie charts his relationships with a couple of different women, most importantly his sex therapist (Helen Hunt). Unlike most films, The Sessions is very sex-positive, and because I love sex-positivity, I was disposed to enjoy this movie, but... well the film shifts its tone with rapid frequency, moving from broad comedy to ineffectual stand-up (the scenes with William H. Macy) to scenes played very seriously. Hunt is absolutely wonderful in her role, and she has a scene near the end with Rhea Perlman that is wise and beautiful. But by that time I was rather tired of The Sessions, which I must say  has the absolute worst title of any movie this year. If you thought Silver Linings Playbook's title was bad (and it is), surely The Sessions takes the cake. The Sessions??? I know The Forty-Year-Old Virgin was already taken, but have a bit more imagination.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #47 out of 63