Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

directed by David Fincher
written by Eric Roth adapted from F Scott. Fitzgerald's short story.
starring Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Taraji P. Henson, Tilda Swinton and Julie Ormond

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a curious film-going experience indeed. Never before have I seen a film that simply reveals its hand, lays its cards on the table very plainly, not caring if its viewers shrug and say "so what?" I have NEVER used the word "pointless" to describe a film. However, I'm very tempted to this time around. Knowing what this film is about is unavoidable. To sum up, Brad Pitt plays Benjamin, a man who was born as an infant that resembled a tiny old man and ages backward. Fine. But David Fincher and screenwriter Eric Roth have no idea what they're trying to say about these circumstances. The film is like one gigantic geek show, which is admittedly very spectacular and a sight to see. But at two hours and forty-five minutes, it gets old very fast and the film's weaknesses (its pacing, its problems with narrative structure, its lack of any real character depth of any kind) are put on full display. Not that it matters. The film is already in IMDB's top 250 of all time list (typical) and it is Slumdog Millionaire's (a film I'm also less than enthusiastic about) chief competition for the Best Picture Trophy this year.

It amazes me (baffles, really) that Brad Pitt has been able to make it this far, with the precursors for what is an incredibly vacant performance that asks very little of him (and I sincerely like Brad Pitt as an actor). Pitt is essentially a blank canvas for the makeup artists to reflect his age onto. Sure, everything is revolving around him, but you never get any sort of insight into Benjamin's feelings or character, etc, which is admittedly, just as much Fincher's fault as it is Pitt's. This performance very well may garner Pitt an Oscar nomination for a role that Zac Efron could have played with just as much power. Taraji P. Henson is positively luminous as Queenie, in what is also ultimately a thankless role. But she does what she can with it very well. And Blanchett handles another accent with aplomb, but the praise heaped upon this performance has been greatly exaggerated.

This movie left me feeling cold and uncaring. I didn't quite understand Roger Ebert's review in which he said "This movie is wrong. It's just wrong," until I saw it. I'm not sure I would go that far, but this is definitely not one for the ages. And I will agree that years from now, Charlie Kaufman's Synechdoche, New York will look like the more ambitious cinematic undertaking. Have you seen it yet? And, so it is. Two fine directers: David Fincher and Danny Boyle, being recognized this year by the Academy for two of their more digestible, but ultimately least interesting undertakings. And the Oscar goes to....

Grade: B-

Saturday, December 27, 2008

This is going to be a very boring Oscar race...

Having just seen The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, I find myself asking a lot of questions--not about the film--but about the mindset of the voting bodies for different film awards. Well, one question in particular, which I will ask directly..."Have you seen any other David Fincher films? Had you even heard of David Fincher before this movie?" I have to ask, because I can only understand the awards buzz for this film if the answer is no. It's not a bad movie. But...damn, if it isn't underwhelming and oddly unsatisfying. Curious, really. Zodiac, Fight Club and Se7en were all in their own right more impressive films than The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and by a wide margin.

But back to my original point. It looks like the winner for best picture is down to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Slumdog Millionaire. I love Oscar season. But it's going to have a hard time maintaining interest. Because both of these films, I feel so very...meh about. The further away I get from Slumdog Millionaire, the worse the aftertaste is. I stand by my review. I gave it a B, saying it was a very good film, which it is. But best picture material, it is not. Maybe Milk will pull an upset. Or perhaps those rumors floating around about Wall-E getting a best picture nod will manifest themselves on those Oscar ballots. Either case is preferable to seeing what might be the least two interesting frontrunners in Oscar history duke it out for the top prize.

Peace, Love and Pretension

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Doubt

written for the screen and directed by John Patrick Shanley
starring Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman

I felt a little like Sister Aloysius Beauvier walking out of this movie. I had such doubts...I had such doubts. Doubt is a film that is best viewed for its part rather than as a whole. Why? Because there are parts of this movie that work quite well. Namely, the one part of the film that people are singling out--Viola Davis's confrontation with Meryl Streep. As a whole, does the entire piece come together? It's hard to say. But the piece is a valiant effort from John Patrick Shanley, who adapted it from his own Pulitzer Prize winning play.

By now, everyone surely knows the premise. It's a Catholic school in the Bronx, 1964. St. Nicholas school is run with an iron fist by Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Meryl Streep) who loves structure, hates laziness (and ballpoint pens) and progressiveness of any nature. She is feared by everyone, the children and the other nuns alike. "They're all uniformly terrified of you," says the sweet but naive Sister James (Amy Adams). Relishing in this fact, Sister Beauvier replies "That's how it works." Which is why, I suppose, she's so put-off by Father Flynn (a surprisingly good Philip Seymour Hoffman. And as you know, I find him to be generally overrated, so that means a lot). Father Flynn is very progressive. He represents the change in the Catholic church, marked by Vatican II (the second Vatican council. Sorry, Catholic school brat here. It's really not that interesting), which left some traditionalists (like Sister Beauvier) feeling betrayed, and paved the way for a more progressive mindset (read: more progressive. The Catholic chuch is not now, nor will it ever be "progressive"). The school has also recently admitted its first black student, Donald Miller. Aloysius and Father Flynn are both sympathetic, but in different ways. "This parish serves Italians and Irish-Americans. Donald Miller will be hit and when it happens, send them to me," Aloysisus warns Sister James. Father Flynn chooses a more hands-on approach, encouraging Donald in sports, helping him as an altar server, etc. And one day, he calls Miller to the rectory alone. Sister James later smells altar wine on his breath and lets it slip to Sister Aloysius. "So," she breathes menacingly. "It's happened." Yes indeed, it has.

Doubt's weaknesses are probably what made the play such a success on Broadway. It's not subtle. At all. There is a pretty blunt cat and mouse metaphor early on in the movie that actually made me roll my eyes in the theater. Shanley relies on thunderclaps and wind during the big confrontation between Sister Aloysius and Father Flynn (cool it on the pathetic fallacy, Shanley. You're not on stage). Canted camera angles for no other reason I can see than that this is Shanley's first film and he's experimenting. Some reviews have suggested that the canting represents a voyeuristic feel, possibly that of an omnipresent observer (hint hint)--a notion that I think is seriously reaching and characteristic of many reviews, which want to make apologies and rationalize away several of this film's obvious weaknesses.

Meryl Streep may very well win an Oscar for this performance. Whether she deserves it or not is another matter entirely. I was surprised by how much of Streep's performance felt, dare I say, phoned-in. Her Bronx accent dips in and out quite noticeably. She reduces Aloysius to inconsistent ticks and mannerisms that seem at war with one another. It's not a bad performance (can Streep give a bad performance), but years from now, no one will rank this among her best, and certainly not the best female performances of this year.

Viola Davis impresses just as most reviewers have said she does. The role of Mrs. Miller, however brief, is pivotal. She faces off against Meryl Streep in the film's most important scene that knocks the entire narrative off its axis. But what she does, she does superbly well. With Davis and Penelope Cruz the only true "locks" in the supporting actress category, they're both likely duking it out for the win. Don't be surprised if it's Davis's name that gets called on Oscar night.

Hoffman as an actor is shaggy and unkempt in ordinary life, almost to the point of being off-putting. Many, including myself say he's overrated. Read: not a bad actor, just overrated. But here, he is serviceable. He cleans up nicely in this film and is polished, warm and inviting in all the ways that Father Flynn needs to be. Still, I can't help but think that a better version of this adaptation could have existed with Angelica Huston as Sister Aloysius (come on. You never thought of it, but isn't it just perfect?), Campbell Scott as Father Flynn and Michelle Williams as Sister James (who I think would be better at selling the supposed emotional layers than Amy Adams). They can keep Viola Davis.

Grade: B

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The State of the Race -- Best Supporting Actress

Best Supporting Actress is Shaping up to be a very interesting race indeed. Many people are predicting that Penelope Cruz is going to sweep this category, but I'm not so sure. The Globes, the BFCAs and the SAGs could all go her way, which would obviously dip this category slightly in her favor. But remember last year, before the Globes, when it seemed that Amy Ryan was going to sweep? She won the National Board of Review, the BFCA and a slew of critics awards. Then Globes gave supporting to Cate Blanchett, SAG gave it to Ruby Dee and BAFTA gave it to Tilda Swinton, causing all hell to break loose. There was no frontrunner going in and Swinton (who gave the best performance) ultimately walked away with the statue. We could very well have a situation like that happen again. It's anyone's game here, in a category that only has two real locks: Penelope Cruz and Viola Davis.




What of the remaining three spots? Well, I know I predicted that Kate Winslet would be the eventual SAG winner for The Reader, but I may have to rescind that. I don't know WHAT I was thinking. I think the SAG will go to either Cruz (the default frontrunner) or David (the critical underdog). After Cruz and Davis, we pretty much have five actresses duking it out for three spots. They are:

Amy Adams in Doubt

Why she might get in:
It's a logical choice. She's a previous nominee in this category, and was probably closer than people think last year for her role in Enchanted. The performance is serviceable, even if it falls short of greatness or even memorability. In other words, tailor made for this category.

Why she may be left out:
Having finally seen Doubt (I will post a review later), I must say that this role feels like much of the same for Adams. Innocence, naivete. Stretch, girl! We all know you can! Sure, she has a Globe and a SAG nod, but the Globes were always going to nominate her (Hello. Starpower). And the SAGs had an unusual bout of bad taste this year (Hello. Dev Patel). I've said it before and I'll say it again. No film has gotten four acting nominations since Chicago. Not a shocking statistic, I know. But that was six years ago and the Academy likes to spread the wealth more these days. And besides, no film has EVER gotten four acting nominations without an accompanying best picture nod. Period. The end. I'm certainly not the first person to bring up this point, but it bears repeating: The Oscar ballot is a preferential voting system. Who's placing Amy Adams as #1 on this ballot? Someone who loves Doubt? Maybe. But I don't see anyone who loves this film preferring Amy Adams over Viola Davis. Consider Babel, which got a double nod in this category two years ago. I thought that Adriana Barraza was far and away better than Rinko Kikuchi, but both performances had their respective camps. Even Terms of Endearment. I will forever be on Debra Winger's side, even though Maclaine walked away with the trophy. There wasn't a general consensus, like there is about Davis clearly having a better performance than Amy Adams.

Rosemarie DeWitt in Rachel Getting Married

Why she might get in:
She's garnered a fair number of critics' prizes (DC and Utah) which does mean something (especially in DC, which went ultra-safe with their prizes this year, with the exception of DeWitt). She has a Gotham Independent Film Award, a Satellite Nomination and an Indie Spirit nod. It's a fine performance and the fact that her co-star Anne Hathaway is locked for a best actress nod may keep the film and her name on the lips. She may not be pulling a WHOLE lot of votes, but those who vote for her will likely put her at number one on their ballots, which means she could surprise.

Why she may be left out:
Other than Anne Hathaway, there is a serious lack of precursor support for this film and DeWitt's performance. She missed each of the big three (BFCA, Golden Globe and SAG), which is not good. The lack of an ensemble nomination for Rachel Getting Married at the SAGs indicates a lack of support for the film among the actors' branch (the largest part of the voting body in the AMPAS). Will the AMPAS bite?

Taraji P. Henson in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Why she might get in:
She's been giving fine supporting performances in Hollywood for years. She was a big part of the emotional impact of Hustle and Flow, an atypical Oscar entry that AMPAS went for in a big way. She's supposedly just darling in the film. She has a SAG nod, a BFCA nod and even a win from the Austin Film Critics Association. Plus, since Berry and Washington won in 2001, there hasn't been a year where at least one black performer wasn't nominated. But...

Why she may be left out:
Viola Davis is pretty much a lock for a nomination at this point, so the Academy has filled their quota of colored actors deemed fit for the big show. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is very effects-heavy, and not necessarily a showcase for its actors. Might she be overlooked?

Marisa Tomei in The Wrestler

Why she might get in:
She's a previous winner and has been nominated once more since then in this very category. She's a very reliable actress who consistently turns out quality supporting roles in films like Before the Devil Knows Your Dead and In the Bedroom. Plus, she's a fox and they need attractive people on the red carpet. She's got a plumb role in what (according to Rottentomatoes.com) is now officially the best reviewed film of the year.''

Why she may be left out:
No SAG nod? That's the only reason I can think of. Believe it or not, she feels the safest to me outside of the two true "locks." But I think that The Wrestler could have done itself a great service by being released earlier this year. Maybe late summer, or even October. A little film like this needs more time. Maybe it would have been in Slumdog Millionaire's place if that had happened.

Kate Winslet in The Reader

Why she might get in:
She's a five-time previous nominee, riding the momentum of two lauded performances in this and in Revolutionary Road. The role is bait-tastic (accent, aging makeup, tears, Holocaust film). She has the necessary precursors (Golden Globe, SAG, BFCA) and a few critics prizes. But...

Why she may be left out:
A lot of her critics prizes were tied in with Revolutionary Road. A lot of people are starting to cry category fraud. A supporting performance? Give me a break. Last time she made a bid for a double-nomination, the AMPAS didn't bite. Is it necessary to honor her here when she's likely to get a nomination for Revolutionary Road?

Finally,
I think the lineup will ultimately be...

Penelope Cruz - Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Viola Davis -Doubt
Rosemarie DeWitt - Rachel Getting Married
Taraji P. Henson - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Marisa Tomei - The Wrestler

Bold to leave Amy Adams off, considering how well she's doing. And even bolder/crazier to leave off Winslet. But here's my reasoning: Amy Adams missed the Broadcast Film Critics Association nomination and they nominated six women (including Vera Farmiga for Nothing But the Truth, who is not a threat since her name has popped up NOWHERE else). DeWitt has a few critical precursors and a nomination in her case wouldn't be unprecedented. Marcia Gay Harden got in for both her nominations with very little precursor love. SAG must have been on cough medication or something. That's the only explanation I have for the Rachel Getting Married shutout. But those who like her, really really like her. So, I am going out on a limb and saying she makes it just under the wire. Plus, sometimes AMPAS just has good taste. Remember Laura Linney's nod for The Savages last year (the best female performance of the year)? Henson is a good bet too. Talented, beautiful and ultra-charismatic. They like inviting new faces to the party, especially in this category. Tomei is in for all the aforementioned reasons (bonafide supporting actress, reliable work, film that people love). What about Winslet? Well, SAG is bound to nominate actors in the categories they campaign in. So that explains her nod there. I think/hope that the AMPAS are more discerning. That they will take a step back and say "Is this a supporting turn? Do we really need to honor her here when we can very easily honor her in leading actress?" If enough voters really question the category fraud, it will confuse things enough that she'll probably just miss here. That's what I think will happen.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Barack Obama should be ashamed

Electronic Cerebrectomy is one of my favorite, if not my favorite blogs. The administrator, who calls himself SamuraiFrog gave a great assessment of something that's been bothering me recently in a post earlier today.

"I’m very unhappy when it comes to Barack Obama’s decision to ask homophobic hatemonger Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration. This is a hurtful choice. Many of us don’t find Warren’s hate speech acceptable in a civilized world. And for the gay population, this is an affront. Warren successfully spearheaded legislation to strip a segment of one state of their civil rights because they don’t line up with his religious agenda, and he’d like to do the same for the country. Imagine that this man has been telling you that your lifestyle is sick and wrong, that you’re marriage is invalid, that your feelings of love for someone of the same sex are morally the same as pedophilia, bestiality, and incest... and now the next President of the United States is legitimizing those words by putting him in a place of high honor at his own inauguration. Now, I will admit that Obama is more inclusive of gays and lesbians than any president has been before. But Obama is wrong when he calls himself “a fierce advocate” of civil equality and his view on gay marriage amounts to, let’s just say it, separate but equal. That’s not civil equality. That’s backward thinking. And, frankly, Obama’s attempt to defend this by saying he was invited to speak at Warren’s church (as were many others) is weak and lame. Bringing people together doesn’t mean you invite the Grand Dragon to a national audience. And once again gay people have been put in this disgusting position, as they were with the protest of Mormons, of being made to look as if they’re solely liberal and solely against faith. It’s a distortion that Warren keeps returning to, and it denies the diversity of gay and lesbian Americans; this is not a protest against faith and the political right, this is a protest against the language of hate. As a non-believer and a supporter of equal rights for all and as a human being, I’m offended that Rick Warren has been invited to participate. Gay bashing is not acceptable, and nothing is going to change that. And to see Barack Obama, the first black president, the man who liberals kept telling me was symbolic of a new era of acceptance and tolerance and equality and diversity, asking a man who represents oppression and hate to speak the words of a deity that so many believe in, it makes me sad and angry."
-Samurai Frog.

And really, what else is there to say? Well, I have something to add. This whole thing about Barack Obama and Rick Warren really angers me for all of the obvious reasons. But one aspect of this whole fiasco, which I think people have really failed to hit on, is how stupid and avoidable it was. Why did Obama have to pick Rick Warren to give the invocation? He could have picked anyone and he chooses this guy? And at a time when gays are (rightly so) furious about the state of affairs in this country that came to a head with the passing of Proposition 8. AND when black people are (wrongly) being assigned blame for said passing. Obama could have easily chosen a more progressive, inclusive Christian minister. Wouldn't that be representative of the change he purports to personify? At the very least, he could have chosen a preacher who isn't so vocally bigoted and hateful. Obama winning me over has been a slow process, like I've stated on this blog. I'm for him. I want him to do well. But I have a healthy critical attitude about him. But he was showing a shrewdness and an intelligence when it came to choosing his cabinet, and other decisions about his presidency. He was slowly pulling me in. But this Rick Warren thing really and truly gets to the heart of what I DON'T like about Barack Obama. His desire to please everyone. It's such an obvious ploy to pull the religious right onto his side, maybe sink in a few of those people who still doubt whether or not he's truly a Christian or a "MOOZ-LAM." There's playing the game, and then there's playing into people's hatred and fear. Obama did the latter.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

SAG Nominations

Outstanding Performance by a Cast

  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • Doubt
  • Frost/Nixon
  • Milk
  • Slumdog Millionaire
Thoughts:
I've already said my piece about the Slumdog Millionaire nomination for best ensemble, but it bears repeating. RIDICULOUS. Did it really need this nomination? Especially since this is not an actorly movie at all, whatsoever? Especially since it would have gotten a best picture nomination regardless? It's best ensemble, people. Not best picture. Where the hell is Rachel Getting Married. Like it or not, it's true ensemble work, n'est pas? (broken record). This indicates major support for this movie from the acting branch, who make up a large part of the Academy. It only solidifies what we've already known. Slumdog is simply too big to lose right now. A best picture nod is assured. A win is likely.

Predicted Winner: Milk. I'm hoping SAG realizes that of the five nominees, this is the truest ensemble piece. Benjamin Button could also win. If Slumdog Millionaire wins...oh Lordy.

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role

  • Richard Jenkins - The Visitor
  • Frank Langella - Frost/Nixon
  • Sean Penn - Milk
  • Brad Pitt - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • Mickey Rourke - The Wrestler
Thoughts: Brad Pitt lands a SAG nod, even though I was predicting he would miss. Whatever. He still doesn't feel like a lock. Richard Jenkins needed this boost, and he gets in over DiCaprio AND Eastwood, which is a good sign. What does this mean? Well, Rourke, Langella and Penn are locked for nominations at this point. But that has been known for some time. Pitt is nearing lock status, but could easily miss. I just don't see him pulling a lot of #1 placements on the weighted Academy ballot, which could end up screwing him in the end. So we essentially have four actors (Jenkins, Dicaprio, Pitt and Eastwood) vying for two remaining slots. I see Eastwood as the most vulnerable. For a mega star like him to miss both the Globes and the SAG means something, doesn't it? It would make me so happy to NOT hear his name called on nomination morning. True, he did manage best actor nods for Million Dollar Baby and The Unforgiven, but those came on the coattails of best picture juggernauts...and if Gran Torino gets nominated for best picture...let's not even go there.

Predicted Winner: Sean Penn, easily. If Eastwood had been nominated, he would have been a threat. I'd be very surprised to see anyone else win this.

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role

  • Anne Hathaway - Rachel Getting Married
  • Angelina Jolie - Changeling
  • Melissa Leo - Frozen River
  • Meryl Streep - Doubt
  • Kate Winslet - Revolutionary Road
Thoughts: Wow. Compare this to two years ago, when it was clear for months that it was going to be Cruz, Dench, Mirren, Streep and Winslet. This race is so volatile. I LOVE it. I knew Leo's name was going to pop up here, but I thought it'd be in place of Jolie. Scott Thomas misses this. Can she still get in? If she had a BFCA nod, I'd say yes. But missing BFCA and now the SAG? She's treading on dangerous ground. Some critics need to rally around her and fast. After a rough start, love from the Globes and now the SAGs makes Winslet's lead actress nod seem likely. But she's not a lock. Cate Blanchett is out. Kaput. Done. Ditto Kate Beckinsale, who received a throwaway BFCA nod for Nothing But the Truth. What of Sally Hawkins, who missed here? I still think she could make it. She's been a critical darling thus far, moreso than Leo. Streep and Hathaway are the only true locks in this category, so that leaves three spots being vyed for by five actresses (Hawkins, Jolie, Leo, Scott Thomas,Winslet). This is going to be a bumpy race.

Predicted Winner: Anne Hathaway (just a hunch). Obviously Streep is the safer choice.

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role

  • Josh Brolin - Milk
  • Robert Downey Jr. - Tropic Thunder
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman - Doubt
  • Heath Ledger - The Dark Knight
  • Dev Patel - Slumdog Millionaire
Thoughts: This race is becoming clearer. I can see this lineup repeating, minus Dev Patel (more on that later). But who takes his place? Well, James Franco for Milk is still likely. He's only got a lone BFCA nod, but I could see them double dipping here for Milk. Michael Shannon for Revolutionary Road? Maybe. Word is he's good enough, or rather, good in the way that Oscar typically rewards. But I just don't see enough Revolutionary Road support for that nomination to happen. Leo couldn't even manage a nomination in lead! As for Patel....Okay. I'm trying to gather my wits about this. But there are a lot of fine supporting male performances this year that bear honoring. Emile Hirsch in Milk, Bill Irwin in Rachel Getting Married, Eddie Marsan in Happy-Go-Lucky to name a few. I have a sinking feeling in my gut that Dev Patel's nom in supporting here will give birth to a Keisha Castle Hughes situation (another performance I wasn't fond of), where he gets a surprising LEAD nomination at the Oscars, thereby stealing a slot in an already crowded category. It's unlikely, I know. I just found Patel's performance to be incredibly vacant, even for someone his age. If they're going to nominate a supporting performance from Slumdog, it should be Ayush Mahesh Khedekar, mentioned in my review of the film. But they shouldn't do that either.

Predicted Winner: Heath Ledger. If he loses the Golden Globe, it's anyone's game...

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role

  • Amy Adams - Doubt
  • Penelope Cruz - Vicky Cristina Barcelona
  • Viola Davis - Doubt
  • Taraji P. Henson - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • Kate Winslet - The Reader
Thoughts: Logic would say that it's time to put the toetag on Rosemarie Dewitt's Oscar chances for Rachel Getting Married. After this egregious snub (again, I thought SAG of all voting bodies would go for this film), her chances seem very grim. But I just won't give up. I still say she gets in (how do you watch Rachel Getting Married and NOT vote for DeWitt?) Henson is looking much more likely, after a BFCA nod and now a SAG nod. She's sitting pretty. Does Doubt really need 4 acting nominations? I'll have to do some research, but I'm fairly certain Network was the last film to achieve such a feat (edited to add: It was actually Chicago. Damn, I was WAY off). It's not likely, is what I'm saying, and of the four possibly acting nods for Doubt (Streep, Adams, Hoffman and Davis), Amy Adams is the weakest link. I still think Tomei is in. And what of Kate Winslet? I understand that this is egregious category fraud of the highest order. Let's put it this way. If there were no Revolutionary Road, Kate would certainly be getting nominations for The Reader in lead where she likely belongs. I still think the AMPAS will cave and give her the double nomination. She's also my predicted winner here.

Predicted Winner: Kate Winslet.

I Will Blog More Soon...

I am taking the GRE tomorrow, applying to Graduate School, working and trying to make a movie all at once. Until after Friday, something has to take a hit. That's blogging for now. Isn't it awesome I don't have children to worry about?

I will comment on the the SAG nominations, as well as other precursor and Critics awards that have been filtering through. I know I'm a bit late, but I've been gathering my thoughts. Regarding the Golden Globe nominations, I will call shenanigans. I think I may have to do so for the SAG nominations as well. Some poor POOR taste flying around this awards season. We definitely do not have another 2007 on our hands. Regarding the SAG nominations, my initial reaction was this.

Best Ensemble

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Doubt
Frost/Nixon

Milk
Slumdog Millionaire


Even the SAGs, in all of their "desire to predict the Oscars rather than vote for what's best" silliness, often go out of left field and actually honor worthy ensemble nominees in this category. Sample nominations for Hustle and Flow in 2005 or last year's pack of nominees. But this year, they really screwed the pooch, I must say.

How does Slumdog Millionaire get a best ensemble nomination? That movie, for all of its virtues is hardly about its acting, and even if it were, is not about the way these actors play off of and enhance each others' work. It's called "Best Ensemble" SAG. Who is even going to be included in Slumdog's castlist? And a supporting nod for Dev Patel? This is ridiculous. I gave the film a solid B, but The further I get away from Slumdog Millionaire, the more it just makes me feel...blah. Especially when considering its Oscar prospects, which are looking solidified right now, dontcha think? But let's go ahead (for funsies) and list the myriad of films that were released this year that deserve a best ensemble nod over Slumdog, shall we? This list is a mix of films I liked, disliked and had mixed feelings about altogether, but they are examples of TRUE ensemble work (if SAG is truly committed to what they call their awards.)

Be Kind Rewind
Blindness
Burn After Reading
In Bruges
The Dark Knight
Elegy
Happy-Go-Lucky
Pineapple Express
Snow Angels
Stop-Loss
Synechdoche, New York
Tropic Thunder
Vicky Cristina Barcelona...

You get the picture. And finally...

Rachel Getting Married

I am so very disappointed in the Screen Actors Guild for not nominating the ensemble of Rachel Getting Married. I know it's not going to get a best picture nomination. I have long accepted that. But I was really relying on SAG to go to bat for this film, which was the truest example of ensemble acting in film this year. Forshame.

Peace, Love and Pretension

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Golden Globe Nominations

Golden Globe Nominations

Best Film - Drama

  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • Frost/Nixon
  • The Reader
  • Revolutionary Road
  • Slumdog Millionaire
Who takes a hit? The absence of Milk is puzzling. Homophobia? But the HFPA awarded Brokeback Mountain their best picture prize. Who knows? It's puzzling, yes, but probably doesn't mean anything. I still believe Milk is in, just as I believe that the best picture nods here for The Reader and Revolutionary Road won't translate as Oscar love. The Dark Knight takes a huge dive. It can still make it, but a nod here would have firmed things up in a good way.

Predicted Winner: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Though Slumdog Millionaire could easily upset. Anything else would be a surprise.

Best Film - Musical or Comedy

  • Burn After Reading
  • Happy-Go-Lucky
  • In Bruges
  • Mamma Mia!
  • Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Who takes a hit? No one. There are actually no comedic or musical heavy hitters this year that were ever bound for Oscar glory. Which makes this category all the more fun.
This is an exciting category since the HFPA is not bound to award the film with the best Oscar chances. All of these films have very little chance at a best picture nod. Thank God they didn't nominate High School Musical.

Predicted Winner: Burn After Reading (it's definitely the most popular of the five, right?)

Best Actor - Drama

  • Leonardo DiCaprio - Revolutionary Road
  • Frank Langella - Frost/Nixon
  • Sean Penn - Milk
  • Brad Pitt - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • Mickey Rourke - The Wrestler
What a volatile category this is! Great nominations across the board, I must say. I wouldn't be surprised if there was a 5/5 matchup of this lineup in the Oscar best actor race. The most vulnerable are DiCaprio and Pitt, in that order. Either one of them could easily be shoved aside for Richard Jenkins or even Clint Eastwood. But...
Who takes a hit? Clint Eastwood. If the Globes, in all of their starfucking, couldn't see fit to honor Clint Eastwood for Gran Torino (in what admittedly looks like a pretty wretched, laughable performance) then where does that leave him? The SAGs will tell and don't forget he got an acting nod for Million Dollar Baby when the precursors weren't rallying, but this is a pretty big hit. I for one hope he gets passed over. Having Clint out of the race automatically makes things simpler. Because if he's nominated, he'll probably win. Ugh.

Predicted Winner: For now, I'm saying Penn, but if they loved Milk enough to give it to him, why no best picture or director nod? They've awarded DiCaprio before, and Langella is playing a real person who's NOT gay. That always helps. This could also be where Rourke makes his move. Very volatile indeed.

Best Actor - Musical or Comedy

  • Javier Bardem - Vicky Cristina Barcelona
  • Colin Farrell - In Bruges
  • James Franco - Pineapple Express
  • Brendan Gleeson - In Bruges
  • Dustin Hoffman - Last Chance Harvey
Who takes a hit? No one. Again, no real male leading comedic performances have a shot at Oscar.

Predicted Winner: Dustin Hoffman

Best Actress - Drama

  • Anne Hathaway - Rachel Getting Married
  • Angelina Jolie - Changeling
  • Meryl Streep - Doubt
  • Kristin Scott Thomas - I've Loved You So Long (Il y a longtemps que je t'aime)
  • Kate Winslet - Revolutionary Road
Kristin Scott Thomas really REALLY needed this. Like, severely. This is a big boost, since she's not doing well in the precursors and the critics are rallying around Sally Hawkins. Hathaway, Streep and Winslet are good to go. I'm still not convinced that Jolie is locked and loaded. I hope not, especially since she was passed over for a far better performance at the AMPAS last year.
Who takes a hit? One could say Melissa Leo for Frozen River, but she was NEVER going to get a Golden Globe nomination. They love their stars and the film is simply too small for them. Period. I'd say this hurts Cate Blanchett. I personally was never really buying the lead actress buzz for her Benjamin Button performance. Not for one minute. Hopefully I won't have to think about it anymore.

Predicted Winner: I think Meryl Streep will win this handily. If (big IF) there's a spoiler, I believe it's Ms. Hathaway. If Winslet wins here, it's down to her and Streep for the Oscar.

Best Actress - Musical or Comedy

  • Rebecca Hall - Vicky Cristina Barcelona
  • Sally Hawkins - Happy-Go-Lucky
  • Frances McDormand - Burn After Reading
  • Meryl Streep - Mamma Mia!
  • Emma Thompson - Last Chance Harvey
Sally Hawkins needed this nomination. She got it. She's going to win, unless the HFPA decides that they REALLY love Streep.

Predicted Winner: Sally Hawkins

Best Supporting Actor

  • Tom Cruise - Tropic Thunder
  • Robert Downey, Jr. - Tropic Thunder
  • Ralph Fiennes - The Duchess
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman - Doubt
  • Heath Ledger - The Dark Knight
Who takes a hit? Josh Brolin and James Franco for Milk, as well as Michael Shannon for Revolutionary Road. But honestly, it's not really a HUGE deal. We all know that neither Tom Cruise nor Ralph Fiennes are getting in for these respective performances. That leaves two spots open.

Predicted Winner: I think this is where the Heath Ledger steamroll begins.

Best Supporting Actress

  • Amy Adams - Doubt
  • Penelope Cruz - Vicky Cristina Barcelona
  • Viola Davis - Doubt
  • Marisa Tomei - The Wrestler
  • Kate Winslet - The Reader
Who takes a hit? Rosemarie Dewitt for Rachel Getting Married and Taraji P. Henson for Benjamin Button. Dewitt has now missed BFCA and the Globes. If she misses SAG, she may be done for.

Predicted Winner: Penelope Cruz. Though we could see the start of a Kate Winslet sweep in this category, which would suck beyond the telling of it.

Best Director
  • Danny Boyle - Slumdog Millionaire
  • Stephen Daldry - The Reader
  • David Fincher - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • Ron Howard - Frost/Nixon
  • Sam Mendes - Revolutionary Road
Who takes a hit? Obviously, Gus Van Sant and Christopher Nolan for their respective films (Milk and The Dark Knight). But again, Sam Mendes and Stephen Daldry are not looking very likely at this point, so either of them could move aside for Nolan or Van Sant.

Predicted Winner: David Fincher

Best Screenplay
  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - Eric Roth
  • Doubt - John Patrick Shanley
  • Frost/Nixon - Peter Morgan
  • The Reader - David Hare
  • Slumdog Millionaire - Simon Beaufoy
Since the AMPAS (rightly) divides up it's screenplay categories into adapted and original, look to see all of these screenplays announced on nomination morning.

Predicted Winner: This is a good place to reward Slumdog Millionaire.

Best Foreign Language Film

  • The Baader Meinhof Complex (Der Baader Meinhof Komplex) • Germany
  • Everlasting Moments (Maria Larssons eviga √∂gonblick) • Denmark/Sweden
  • Gomorrah (Gomorra) • Italy
  • I've Loved You So Long (Il y a longtemps que je t'aime) • France
  • Waltz with Bashir (Vals im Bashir) • Israel
Predicted Winner: Waltz with Bashir

Best Animated Film
  • Bolt
  • Kung Fu Panda
  • WALL-E
Predicted Winner: Oh my God, do you even have to ask?

Best Original Score

  • "Changeling" - Clint Eastwood
  • "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" - Alexandre Desplat
  • "Defiance" - James Newton Howard
  • "Frost/Nixon" - Hans Zimmer
  • "Slumdog Millionaire" - A. R. Rahman

Best Original Song

  • "I Thought I Lost You" - Bolt
  • "Once in a Lifetime" - Cadillac Records
  • "Gran Torino" - Gran Torino
  • "Down to Earth" - WALL-E
  • "The Wrestler" - The Wrestler


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Los Angeles Film Critics Award

These results actually trickled in long before New York. Is Penelope Cruz our supporting actress frontrunner? Good choices, overall I must say.

Picture: “Wall-E”
Runner-up: “The Dark Knight”

Director: Danny Boyle, “Slumdog Millionaire”
Runner-up: Christopher Nolan, “The Dark Knight”

Actor: Sean Penn, “Milk”
Runner-up: Mickey Rourke, “The Wrestler”

Actress: Sally Hawkins, “Happy-Go-Lucky”
Runner-up: Melissa Leo, “Frozen River”

Supporting actor: Heath Ledger, “The Dark Knight”
Runner-up: Eddie Marsan, “Happy-Go-Lucky”

Supporting actress: Penelope Cruz, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” and “Elegy”
Runner-up: Viola Davis, “Doubt”

Screenplay: Mike Leigh, “Happy-Go-Lucky”
Runner-up: Charlie Kaufman, “Synecdoche, New York”

Foreign-language film: “Still Life”
Runner-up: “The Class”

Documentary: “Man on Wire”
Runner-up: “Waltz With Bashir”

Animation: “Waltz With Bashir”

Cinematography: Yu Lik Wai, “Still Life”
Runner-up: Anthony Dod Mantle, “Slumdog Millionaire”

Production design: Mark Friedberg, “Synecdoche, New York”
Runner-up: Nathan Crowley, “The Dark Knight”

Music/score: A.R. Rahman, “Slumdog Millionaire”
Runner-up: Alexandre Desplat, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”

New Generation: Steve McQueen, “Hunger”

Douglas E. Edwards independent/experimental film/video: James Benning, “RR” and “Casting a Glance”

New York City Film Critics Circle...Smart People

These are the winners of the NYFCC awards. I'm thrilled that they saw fit to honor Sally Hawkins and Mike Leigh for Happy-Go-Lucky. And Best Screenplay for Rachel Getting Married, Ms. Jenny Lumet? A-freaking-men.

Best Picture
- Milk
Best Director - Mike Leigh (Happy-Go-Lucky)
Best Actor - Sean Penn (Milk)
Best Actress - Sally Hawkins (Happy-Go-Lucky)
Best Supporting Actor - Josh Brolin (Milk)
Best Supporting Actress - Penelope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona)
Best Screenplay - Jenny Lumet (Rachel Getting Married)
Best Cinematographer - Anthony Dod Mantle (Slumdog Millionaire)
Best Foreign Film - 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days
Best Animated Film - WALL-E
Best First Film - Courtney Hunt (Frozen River)
Best Documentary - Man on Wire

Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards Nominees (A little late, I know)

BEST PICTURE

Nominees:
• Changeling
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Doubt
Frost/Nixon
Milk
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire
Wall-E
The Wrestler



BEST ACTOR

Nominees:
Clint Eastwood - Gran Torino
Richard Jenkins - The Visitor
Frank Langella - Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn - Milk
Brad Pitt - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Mickey Rourke - The Wrestler

BEST ACTRESS

Nominees:
Kate Beckinsale - Nothing But the Truth
Cate Blanchett - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Anne Hathaway - Rachel Getting Married
Angelina Jolie - Changeling
Melissa Leo - Frozen River
Meryl Streep - Doubt


BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Nominees:
Josh Brolin - Milk
Robert Downey, Jr. - Tropic Thunder
Philip Seymour Hoffman - Doubt
Heath Ledger - The Dark Knight
James Franco - Milk

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Nominees:
Penelope Cruz - Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Viola Davis - Doubt
Vera Farmiga - Nothing But the Truth
Taraji P. Henson - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Marisa Tomei - The Wrestler
Kate Winslet - The Reader


BEST ACTING ENSEMBLE

Nominees:
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Doubt
Milk
Rachel Getting Married


BEST DIRECTOR

Nominees:
• Danny Boyle - Slumdog Millionaire
• David Fincher - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
• Ron Howard - Frost/Nixon
• Christopher Nolan - The Dark Knight
• Gus Van Sant - Milk


BEST WRITER (Original or Adapted Screenplay)

Nominees:
Simon Beaufoy - Slumdog Millionaire
Dustin Lance Black - Milk
Peter Morgan - Frost/Nixon
Eric Roth - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
John Patrick Shanley - Doubt


BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

Nominees:
Bolt
Kung Fu Panda
Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa
Wall-E
Waltz With Bashir


BEST YOUNG ACTOR/ACTRESS (Under 21)

Nominees:
Dakota Fanning - The Secret Life of Bees
David Kross - The Reader
Dev Patel - Slumdog Millionaire
Brandon Walters - Australia


BEST ACTION MOVIE

Nominees:
• The Dark Knight
• Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
• Iron Man
• Quantum of Solace
• Wanted


BEST COMEDY MOVIE

Nominees:
• Burn After Reading
• Forgetting Sarah Marshall
• Role Models
• Tropic Thunder
• Vicky Cristina Barcelona


BEST PICTURE MADE FOR TELEVISION

Nominees:
John Adams
Recount
Coco Chanel


BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

Nominees:
A Christmas Tale
Gomorrah
I’ve Loved You So Long
Let the Right One In
Mongol
Waltz With Bashir


BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

Nominees:
I.O.U.S.A.
Man On Wire
Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired
Standard Operating Procedure
Young At Heart


BEST SONG

Nominees:
• "Another Way to Die" (performed by Jack White and Alicia Keys, written by Jack White) - Quantum of Solace
• "Down to Earth" (performed by Peter Gabriel, written by Peter Gabriel and Thomas Newman) - Wall-E
• "I Thought I Lost You" (performed Miley Cyrus and John Travolta, written by Miley Cyrus and Jeffrey Steele) - Bolt
• "Jaiho" (performed by Sukhwinder Singh, written by A.R. Rahman and Gulzar) - Slumdog Millionaire
• "The Wrestler" (performed by Bruce Springsteen, written by Bruce Springsteen) - The Wrestler


BEST COMPOSER

Nominees:
Alexandre Desplat - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Clint Eastwood - Changeling
Danny Elfman - Milk
Hans Zimmer/James Newton Howard - The Dark Knight
A.R. Rahman - Slumdog Millionaire

Thoughts: No huge surprises, except the big omission of Revolutionary Road. With a director and a picture nod, The Dark Knight, Slumdog Millionaire and The Dark Knight are nearing lock status. Kate Winslet makes it into supporting for The Reader. Hmm...She'll be nominated for either.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Happy-Go-Lucky

written and directed by Mike Leigh
starring Sally Hawkins and Eddie Marsan

Mike Leigh has created another piece of cinema that puts complex women on display in full force. Secret & Lies (one of my favorite films of the 90s and probably of all time) did this very well, as did 2004's Vera Drake, which boasted a great lead performance from Imelda Staunton. But were you paying attention? Sally Hawkins was in Vera Drake too. And her two characters couldn't be more different.

Everyone has someone in their life like Poppy, and if you don't, you're probably her. Perpetually cheerful, always trying to put the best face on everything. I will preface everything by saying that Sally Hawkins truly gives one of the year's best performances. That she was able to stop me from hating this character is a testament to her power. Imagine this character, as played by say Cameron Diaz, directed by Nancy Myers. Actually don't. I just went to a really horrible place.

Hawkins plays Poppy, a school teacher who loves her job, loves her friends and loves her life. The movie opens with her trying to cheer up a local book store proprietor, smile plastered happily on her face...even when she ventures outside and finds that her bicycle has been stolen. This is Poppy. Put your best face forward, move on and keep going. But what Mike Leigh has done here is very clever. Because Poppy's sunny disposition, while seemingly neverending, has not made her blind to the fact that the world is often a horrible place. She's not stupid, nor is she naive and simple. Consider the scenes with Poppy and her driving instructor, (played by Eddie Marsan) who is very much the anti-Poppy (angry, bitter and always frowning). He yells, he barks, he says nasty things. While it's clear that they don't go by unnoticed by Poppy, she doesn't allow the smile to falter in a big way. She doesn't allow this perpetually bitter man to ruin her happy mood.

Mike Leigh has always made good use of somewhat improvositational dialogue that feels like you've been inserted into a segment of life, rather than a movie. He's a master at this, and Happy-Go-Lucky is no different. He's also excellent at characterization, something many writers are severely lacking. Wouldn't it have been easy to have Poppy be secretly miserable all the time and be using her happiness as a facade to numb the pain? But Leigh's not interested in simple. Poppy is happy--genuinely happy--in spite of what's going on around her (people being cruel to one another, hurting one another and the world generally going to shit). And boy, do we ever not know what to do with happiness.

Grade: B+

Slumdog Millionaire

directed by: Danny Boyle
written by: Simon Beaufoy
starring: Dev Patel, Irrfan Kahn, Freida Pinto, Anil Kapoor

Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire is a film that I am trying my best to review objectively (I know...imagine that). Why? Because it's a film that was never going to live up to the monumental hype/hyperbolic reviews it's been getting. I'm also trying to be objective because a dispartiy between crazy, bandwagon reviews and actual film quality should never take away from what is a good film. Make no mistake--Slumdog Millionaire is still a good (if flawed) film.

The film stars Dev Patel as Jamal Malak, a young man from the slums of Mumbai, India who has managed to get a spot as a contestant on the country's version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire." He answers every question correctly, getting to the final round and further than most doctors, lawyers and all others employed in the cardinal professions. He is arrested and tortured after being accused of fraud. "What could a slumdog know?" asks an interrogating officer, played by A Mighty Heart's Irrfan Kahn. The film uses flashbacks to show that his various experiences in the slums of India (witnessing the death of his mother, hustling with his older brother Salim) have led him to truly know the answer to most of the questions (Spoiler alert.) The film plays as both a fairy tale of sorts and a romantic saga, as Jamal's only reason for being on the show is the tiniest hope that Latika (Freida Pinto), the girl who he loves with whom he has been reunited with and separated from numerous times in his life, might be watching.

Slumdog Millionaire is gorgeously shot and richly acted throughout. Much praise has been heaped upon Dev Patel, who is serviceable here. Not to say that he's bad, but it's not the type of breakthrough performance that needs to be good for the world to go crazy and want to see more (if that makes sense). His performance is rather stiff at times, too mannered with all the hallmarks of "acting" (luckily for him, the film's frenetic editing and whiplash pace distract from this). I also want to note that the other actors playing Jamal at various stages in his life, do just as well, if not better. Particularly Ayush Mahesh Khedekar (pictured right), who plays Jamal from about ages 5 through eight. An incredibly studied, present and lively performance from a very talented young actor, I must say. But this film is by no means a showcase for its actors.

The film's emotional left hook occurs in the final act. How you react to the film's climax and conclusion will greatly inform your reaction to the piece as a whole. Overall, I appreciated it, though it lacked the heartwrenching emotion of City of God (an obvious influence on this film). I enjoyed Slumdog Millionaire, but it left me much colder than it probably intended to (though I did really enjoy the VERY ending. Those who have seen the film know what I'm talking about). Much talk (obviously) has been thrown around of Oscar. Slumdog Millionaire will be nominated for best picture. It's simpl
y too big to ignore at this point. Will it win? I don't know. AMPAS voters may take a step back and realize that "It's a fine film sure, but it isn't Danny Boyle's best. And he's not a director we've exactly embraced in the past." Plus, and I know this sounds horrible, but will the AMPAS really award their best picture title to a film about people of color, and totally devoid of any of the few actors of color they've deemed fit to allow into their enclave? Is that too cynical? Maybe it is (Hello, The Last Emperor? Yes, I am aware).



Grade:
B

Thursday, December 4, 2008

National Board of Review....And the Winners are

Best Picture: Slumdog Millionaire
Best Director: David Fincher for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Best Actress: Anne Hathatway in Rachel Getting Married (Holy Shit!!)
Best Actor: Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino
Best Supporting Actress: Penelope Cruz in Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Best Supporting Actor: Josh Brolin in Milk
Best Foreign Film:
Mongol
Best Documentary:
Man on Wire
Best Animated Feature:
WALL-E
Best Ensemble Cast:
Doubt
Breakthrough Performance by an Actor:
Dev Patel, Slumdog Millionaire
Breakthrough Performance by an Actress:
Viola Davis, “Doubt”
Best Directorial Debut:
Courtney Hunt, Frozer River
Best Original Screenplay:
Nick Schenk, Gran Torino
Best Adapted Screenplay (tie):
Simon Beaufoy, “Slumdog Millionaire” and Eric Roth, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”

The top ten (in alphabetical order):

Burn After Reading
Changeling
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Defiance
Frost/Nixon
Gran Torino
Milk
WALL-E
The Wrestler

Thoughts: No really huge surprises here, honestly. National Board of Review has always been a mix of obvious contenders and a few out left field citations that have no shot in hell at Oscar nominations. 2007's acting prizes were completely a rare occurrence, in that all of the acting winners went on to get Oscar nods. I think the weak link here is Josh Brolin in Milk. Of all of the supporting performances in the film, his impressed me the least. As far as the top ten, the absence of Rachel Getting Married really diasppoints me. I know it was silly to expect a big, ass-kissing voting body like the NBR to get behind a film like Rachel Getting Married, but I had such high hopes. And it's not for lack of seeing, because Hathaway took away their lead actress prize. As far as the rest of the top ten goes, it's respectable enough, I suppose. I can see Defiance and even Gran Torino or Benjamin Button getting shut out of the eventual final five though. And The Changeling will probably see it's one and only top ten mention of the season, unless I'm seriously missing something here.

This is Good News for:

Anne Hathaway in
Rachel Getting Married. Why? Not since 1990 has a National Board of Review Best Actress winner NOT gone on to receive a best actress nomination at the Oscars. And let's face it: Mia Farrow not getting an Oscar nod for Alice was pretty crazy. They rarely go out of left field in a big way with their lead acting awards. The problem is that not a huge number of them go on to wins, especially not of late. At any rate, this is exactly the type of citation Hathaway needed to make her an almost lock for a nomination, which is great. She was never going to win an Oscar for this type of performance anyway. It's too good, too layered. Not enough gimmick.

Milk. An acting award and a top ten citation. A best picture nomination isn't locked up, but these are all positive steps in the right direction.

Slumdog Millionaire and possibly Dev Patel (?). Could Patel land a supporting actor nod for this film? If it captures the zeitgeist, all things are possible. As far as the film goes, yes NBR picked the eventual Oscar Best Picture winner last year as their best film, but that rarely happens. Before No Country for Old Men, the last time it happened was with American Beauty. But a nomination is all but assured, right? Maybe...I have no opinion until I see Slumdog Millionaire this weekend.

Viola Davis in Doubt. Her first big mention of the season. Her name is now on the lips. We'll see if the buzz can sustain her till Oscar nominations are due.

Clint Eastwood and Gran Torino. Because they can't really have the Oscars and not invite Clint to the party if he's done work that year. Well, they could but then the world would collapse in on itself. Ugh, if Clint starts sweeping from here on out, I'm going to sleep.

This is Ambiguous News for:

The Dark Knight.
Only one measley top ten mention. A step in the right direction? It looks like Ledger isn't going to sweep in the technical sense of the word, though an NBR oversight didn't stop Javier Bardem from sweeping last year. We shall see.

Frost/Nixon.
A top ten mention is great, but there is only whispery buzz about this film at this point. Either it's setting itself up for fail, or it's a sleeping giant. Either way, only time will tell.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
. Sure, it has a directorial win and a top ten citation and a screenplay prize. But the NBR doesn't really have a good track record when it comes to picking best director winners that match up with Oscar (not that predicting the Oscar should be their goal, though we all know it is and shouldn't pretend otherwise...). It could go either way for this film at this point. I'm still not sold that it's a lock. Not one bit.

The Wrestler. It needed the top ten citation. A best actor win for Mickey Rourke would have sweetened the deal though.

This is BAD News for:

Doubt.
Aside from a best ensemble mention and Viola Davis's breakthrough award, the film pretty much got shut out. No top ten. No other acting awards. I was never counting on Doubt being a best picture nominee anyway, but this is not good. Not good for its chances at all.

Revolutionary Road, The Reader and Kate Winslet. Nary a mention for either. And with Kate double-dipping, no less! What does this mean? Honestly, probably nothing for Winslet. They can only choose one best actress or best supporting actress winner and they didn't choose her. She's still good for a nomination and maybe even a win for either of these films. But the fact that Revolutionary Road, The Reader and Doubt all got shut out of the top ten is kind of telling...sort of. For the past few years, at least four out of the five eventual best picture nominees were contained in the NBR top ten. In 04 and 05, all five were there. But in 00, 01, and 03, only two were there. What does this mean? It could mean nothing. But, statistically speaking, one or more (or all) will be shut out of the best picture race. Who will survive? What will be left of them?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Top Ten--Meryl Streep Performances

With another Oscar nod likely in the cards for Ms. Streep, that will likely bring her nomination total to a nice fifteen (Doubt is opening in steady rollout in major American cities, which means it'll get to Atlanta in...2012) I thought it prudent to pay tribute to one of my favorites with a top ten dedicated strictly to her.

10. A Prairie Home Companion (2006)
Meryl Streep singing? Sign me up...except Mamma Mia! This was a, whimsical and lived-in performance. She proves here that she's just as good when she's having fun as she is when she's in a dramatic role. And Tomlin+Streep, be it at the Oscars or in this film=Comic Gold.




9. She-Devil (1989)
Like I said before, I love Streep when she's having fun. Put Meryl Streep and Roseanne together and you get fun, campy genius. Awesomeness overload. The whispery voice. The hoity-toity attitude. I believe this to be the basis for Jessica Lovejoy (Reverend Lovejoy's daughter) on "The Simpsons," who Meryl Streep voiced.



8. Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
I have a lot of issues with this movie. Its reactionary politics of the late seventies/early eighties, the condemnation of working mothers...Okay. Fuck it. This isn't a sociology paper. This is still a great performance from Meryl Streep. The movie itself isn't even terrible, but even it had been, it would have been salvaged by Joanna's heartbreaking speech at the end when she gives up custody of her son. It's the scene that probably won her the Oscar and it brings tears to my eyes every time I see it.


7. Marvin's Room (1996)
It may have been Diane Keaton who scored an Oscar nod, but it was Streep who gave the better performance. Her no-nonsense mothering of Leo DiCaprio's fucked up character was awesome. She always goes real where so many others would go maudlin.




6. The Hours (2002)

Of the three principle leads in The Hours, Streep's scenes are the ones that stuck with me the most. So much more lived-in that Kidman's haunted glower (an impressive turn nonetheless) and Moore's uncharacteristic vacantness. The breakdown when the faucet sprays, the conversation with her daughter about happiness...Streep gets Clarissa Vaughn and The Hours, neither of which are all that simple.


5. Adaptation (2002)
Again, this is Meryl having fun. But it's complex, deep fun in service of a heavier piece of cinema. I love that an actress of her caliber can still handle supporting roles with such amazing aplomb. I can watch Meryl Streep and Chris Cooper making dial tone noises a million times and it will never stop being delightful


4. Sophie's Choice (1982)
Enough has been said about this performance that there's very little for little old me to say twenty-six years later. The woman learned Polish, for God's sake. That's commitment! A tough role, deftly handled by one of our greatest actresses.


3. Angels in
America (2003)
This isn't technically a film. I'm aware of that. But it's a damn fine mini-series boasting a damn-fine performance from Ms. Streep. In multiple roles, no less.


2. The Devil Wears Prada (2006)

Who else but Meryl Streep would have been able to do what she did with this role? She's such a smart woman. She plays it down where any other actress would have played it up. Quiet where another actress would have been loud. Imagine Glenn Close as Miranda Priestly...a lot of yelling. "Answer your phone An-dray-ah! I won't be igNORED!" Or God forbid, Sally Kirkland. Yikes. Streep is awesome. That's all.

1. Silkwood (1983)
Let me give you a rundown of the best actress race from 1983 in the form of a math inequation. Streep > Debra Winger (Terms of Endearment) > Shirley Maclaine in (Terms of Endearment)
Karen Silkwood remai
ns Streep's best performance. Her most lived-in, authentic and arresting performance. This is not just her best. This is one of the best screen performances ever by any actor. Period.