Sunday, February 28, 2010

Why "Big Love" is the best show on television right now...

Final Oscar Predictions

I'm going to be on set Oscar weekend. As a result, I will not be watching the ceremony live...the first time I haven't watched the Oscars since Titanic swept. I keep telling myself that it's better to be on set making movies than to be watching people winning awards for movies...right? Whatever. I'm still sad. But enough about me...

Here are my final predictions for the big categories.

Best Picture
will win/should win: The Hurt Locker
should have been nominated: I'm fine with like 80% of the best picture list, but I would have liked to see The Messenger get some more love. Hunger is ineligible.

I'm going back and forth on this one, but not in the way that you'd think. I'm not buying the Avatar talk. Yes, it's a money machine. But it got zero acting nods and no writing nomination. Plus, it lost the Producers Guild Award in what should have been a cakewalk. It's no secret that a lot of actors not only dislike it, but they are offended by the sheer notion of motion capture as acting. Actors make up the largest branch in the academy. The Hurt Locker has the DGA, the PGA, the WGA and the ACE Eddie Award. Statistically, any film with this haul is not going to lose, despite whatever hamhanded controversy is being drummed up by so and so sending such and such email to what's his name. The bottom line: no one would even be talking about Avatar winning best picture if it wasn't for the Golden Globe win--an award that, prior to Slumdog Millionaire last year, hadn't matched up with the Oscar winner since Lord of the Rings. So, it's the Hurt Locker with Inglourious Basterds as a long-range spoiler, followed by Avatar in third.

Best Director
will win/should win: Kathryn Bigelow - The Hurt Locker
should have been nominated: my ballot includes Jane Campion and John Hillcoat

It's a done deal. Even if The Hurt Locker somehow, in some universe very not like this one loses best picture, Bigelow is still going to win. There's so much enthusiasm behind her at this point. It's always possible to lose, but I just can't imagine who she'd lose to. Cameron? Already has one and he's not very well liked. Tarantino? Maybe... Reitman? Too soon. Daniels? Too black. Bigelow's got this and I'm firmly in her corner.

Best Actor
will win/should win: Jeff Bridges - Crazy Heart
should have been nominated: not Morgan Freeman

I've yet to decide if I like Bridges performance better than Jeremy Renner's work. Believe it or not, they're pretty evenly matched in my estimation. I'm fine with Bridges winning his long overdue Oscar here. If there's a spoiler, it's Colin Firth who just won the BAFTA. But that's not happening here, I don't think. I'm not feeling a groundswell of support for a A Single Man in general, so I'm guessing it'll be hard for first time nominee Firth to pull an upset here.

Best Actress
will win: Sandra Bullock - The Blind Side
should win: Gabourey Sidibe - Precious
should have been nominated: Tilda Swinton - Julia

The minute The Blind Side received that best picture nomination, Sandra sealed the deal. Don't get me wrong. Meryl's still in contention and I wouldn't be surprised if she won. But Sandra's in the lead. Losing the BAFTA to Carey Mulligan where Bullock wasn't nominated may have been the death knell for Streep. And of course, if it's between Sandra Bullock and Meryl Streep, I pick Meryl. But I propose a whacky thought, which is why does it have to be either? For my money, both Julie & Julia and The Blind Side are pretty bad movies--the former less so, but only slightly. I'm not in the "Street is overdue because she hasn't won since 1982" camp. She has two on her shelf. Not that I'm against rewarding her again. I love Meryl Streep. For the record, if it were up to me, she would have won four additional statuettes for Silkwood, Postcards from the Edge, Adaptation and The Devil Wears Prada bringing her tally to a nice six. But I don't feel it prudent to reward Streep for good work in a bad film that wouldn't have brought an Oscar nomination to any other actress. Bullock did fair work in a film that was both bad and offensively pandering, so naturally I can't support that. I'm hoping for an Adrien Brody scenario, where the Academy can't decide between the two frontrunners and go for a young upstart (Mulligan or Sidibe). It pains me to say that in a Streep/Bullock horserace, Streep is the lesser of two evils. Does Meryl Streep really need the On Golden Pond Oscar? I guess it'd be more accurate to call it the Guess Who's Coming to Dinner Oscar...both are second-rate Hepburn anyhow. So, it's Bullock. And I've included a nice photo I've found of a kitten petting a duckling because it's cute, it makes me smile and I'm trying to remain positive here.

Best Supporting Actor
will win/should win: Christoph Waltz - Inglourious Basterds
should have been nominated: Anthony Mackie - The Hurt Locker

A friend of mine recently made a fairly coherent case for Christopher Plummer upsetting Waltz. Something about the luncheon and the voters seeing him in person and saying "Wow, you really are old. Like die-any-second old." But, unless I'm mistaken, Plummer wasn't even at the luncheon. Plus, Waltz has swept the precursors. Outside of a possible win in Original Screenplay, Waltz is the Academy's surest thing for rewarding a film that they clearly liked a whole lot. My friend had no counter for any of this and then I remember that he not only supported the Angelina Jolie Changeling nomination last year, but he also thought she would win. So, it's Waltz.

Best Supporting Actress
will win/should win: Mo'Nique - Precious
should have been nominated: Samantha Morton - The Messenger

"Mo to the...N to the..." Okay, I'll stop. I'm for this win so hard, you guys. So hard. Mo'Nique's success this season has really been exciting. She's going to win and that's all there is to say. If there's an upset...take cover. Remember, Anna Kendrick, duck and and move because she will kill you.

Best Original Screenplay
will win: Mark Boal - The Hurt Locker
should win: Quentin Tarantino - Inglourious Basterds

This is by no means a done deal. Tarantino could still very well upset here. What I think will prevent him from winning is the fact that he's won already in this category. Maybe they'll want to spread the wealth a little.

Best Adapted Screenplay
will win: Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner - Up in the Air
should win: Geoffrey Fletcher - Precious

Sigh. Jason Reitman will take the podium. The more I think about Up in the Air and how Jason Reitman's films seem so blissfully uninterested in anything outside of white America, even when exploring, ramping up and fetishizing the fringe and the quirk, I bubble and brim with rage a little bit. But I suppose it's not fair to put that on him. Because that one lady in Up in the Air, you know the one who killed herself because she got fired (which automatically makes her stand out)...she was African-American. So, it's okay. I'm on to you Jason Reitman.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Pretentious Film Awards 2009--Best Motion Picture of the Year

And the 2009 Pretentious Film Award Nominees for Best Motion Picture of the Year are:

Hunger (dir. Steve McQueen)
This is full-tilt, visual storytelling at its finest. The Irish Hunger strikes of 1981 serve as a wonderful canvas for director/artist Steve McQueen to create his masterwork. This is what powerful filmmaking should be. The powerful riots, Bobby Sands haunting conversation with the visiting priest, Sands eventual and heartbreaking decay...these are all images that don't let go.

The Hurt Locker (dir. Kathryn Bigelow)
"Once you're in it, you know..." Amen to that. That its repetitive structure never gives way to monotony is a testament to the great work at hand here. Everything seems as intricate and deliberately placed as Sergeant First Class William James's methods. This is a film that will be studied and debated for years (I'm talking 50+) to come. (Not to get petty, but who will even be thinking about Up in the Air come Oktoberfest?)

Inglourious Basterds (dir. Quentin Tarantino)
"One can't deny [Tarantino's] ability to write craft engaging and arresting scenes. The opening, a showcase for Christoph Waltz, scoops on tension like big mounds of dairy creme (not an arbitrary simile for those of us who have seen the film), until it all but collapses in on a good way (does that make sense?). And that scene in the basement? It read as mildly obnoxious the first go round, yet perfectly paced and beautifully acted the second time...Tarantino sticks to his guns...the result is a highly enjoyable, well-executed film... the film is arguably one big exercise in cinematic excess. But it is a glorious one at that." (Read my full review here)

The Messenger (dir. Oren Moverman)
Does it seem a surprise to have this film appear here? And over other films that I seem to have talked about more on this blog? It may. However, I'm a believer in honesty when it comes to compiling "best" lists. I can't omit a film that moved me so fully and emotionally. Moreover, it never felt cheap or manipulative. It's stark, bare-bones look at two soldiers given the daunting task of delivering life-altering (and often life-ruining) news. You can't imagine, yet the film dares to put you right there in the thick of it as the gut-wrenching emotions bubble to the surface.

Precious (dir. Lee Daniels)
Oprah's insistence that Precious exists in all of us, while a sweet sentiment, is not what one should take away from this film. I think "For Precious girls everywhere," which appears at the end of the film, is a better and more accurate read of what this film is trying to say. We are NOT all Precious. Precious is someone that most of us don't see. She's someone we ignore. She's someone we dismiss and don't think about, possibly because we don't care, possibly because it's too painful to fathom. This is Precious's story, FINALLY. This IS for Precious girls everywhere." (Read my full review here)

Winners will be announced later this week. Here is a comprehensive list of my nominees for this year.

Best Motion Picture of the Year

The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
The Messenger

Best Achievement in Directing

Jane Campion - Bright Star
Steve McQueen - Hunger
Kathryn Bigelow - The Hurt Locker
Quentin Tarantino - Inglourious Basterds
John Hillcoat - The Road

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

Jeff Bridges - Crazy Heart
Michael Fassbender - Hunger
Joseph Gordon-Levitt - (500) Days of Summer
Jeremy Renner - The Hurt Locker
Sam Rockwell - Moon

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

Abbie Cornish - Bright Star
Paulina Gaitan - Sin Nombre
Carey Mulligan - An Education
Gabourey Sidibe - Precious
Tilda Swinton - Julia

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

Woody Harrelson - The Messenger
Anthony Mackie - The Hurt Locker
Fred Melamed - A Serious Man
Paul Schneider - Bright Star
Christoph Waltz - Inglourious Basterds

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

Jennifer Coolidge - Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
Vera Farmiga - Up in the Air
Anna Kendrick - Up in the Air
Mo'Nique - Precious
Samantha Morton - The Messenger

Best Original Screenplay

(500) Days of Summer - Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Webb
Hunger - Steve McQueen and Enda Walsh
The Hurt Locker - Mark Boal
Inglourious Basterds - Quentin Tarantino
The Messenger - Alessandro Camon and Oren Moverman

Best Adapted Screenplay

District 9 - Neil Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell
An Education - Lynn Barber and Nick Hornby
Precious - Geoffrey Fletcher
The Road - Joe Penhall
Where the Wild Things Are - David Eggers and Spike Jonze

Best Achivement in Costume Design

Bright Star - Janet Patterson
An Education - Odile Dicks-Mireaux
Inglourious Basterds - Anna B. Sheppard
A Serious Man - Mary Zophres
A Single Man - Arianne Phillips

Best Achievement in Cinematography

Bright Star - Greig Fraser
Hunger - Sean Bobbit
The Hurt Locker - Barry Ackroyd
Inglourious Basterds - Robert Richardson
The Road - Javier Aguirresarobe

Best Achievement in Art Direction

Avatar - Nick Bassett
Bright Star - Christian Huband

Inglourious Basterds
- Sandy Reynolds-Wasco (sets), Marco Bittner Rosser, Stephan O. Gessler, Sebastian Krawinkel, David Scheunemann, Steve Summersgill, Bettina von den Steinen

- Matteo De Cosmo
The Road - Gershon Ginsburg

Best Achievement in Editing

(500) Days of Summer - Alan Edward Bell
Avatar - James Cameron, John Refoua and Stephen E. Rivkin
The Hurt Locker - Chris Innis and Bob Murawski
Hunger - Joe Walker
Inglourious Basterds - Sally Menke

Best Visual Effects

District 9
Star Trek

Best Makeup/Hair

Drag Me to Hell - Luisa Abel
Hunger - Alison Rainey and Sian Wilson
The Road - Mandi Crane, Deborah Patino and Sherri Simmons

Best Original Score

Bright Star - Mark Bradshaw
Drag Me to Hell - Christopher Young
The Road - Nick Cave and Warren Ellis
Up - Michael Giacchino
Where the Wild Things Are - Carter Burwell and Karen O.

Best Original Song

Crazy Heart - "The Weary Kind"
Nine - "Take It All"
Where the Wild Things Are - "All is Love"

Nominations Tally

Inglourious Basterds - 8
Bright Star - 7
Hunger - 7
The Hurt Locker - 7
The Road - 6
Precious - 5
The Messenger - 4
Avatar - 3
(500) Days of Summer - 3
An Education - 3
Where the Wild Things Are - 3
Crazy Heart - 2
District 9
- 2
A Serious Man
- 2
Up in the Air - 2
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans - 1
Julia - 1
Nine - 1
Sin Nombre - 1
A Single Man - 1
Up - 1

Pretentious Film Awards 2009--Top Ten Films (10-6)

Before I launch into the bottom half of my top ten, I'd like to first acknowledge the finalists. Films very good in their own right that failed to make this list.

I found A Serious Man to be very enjoyable, if clearly inferior Coen Brothers fare. Moon elicited some very emotional reactions from me, even if it is very uneven and greatly overestimated. Ditto for District 9. I greatly enjoyed (500) Days of Summer, more than I did on the first outing and more than I thought I would in both cases. And Julia brought me Tilda Swinton's great performance--for that, it will always hold a special place in my heart.

What about James Cameron's Avatar? I enjoyed it immensely on the first outing. The further away I get from it, the more the cracks start to show and the worst the aftertaste becomes. But it is a singular cinematic achievement...not that Cameron really needs my endorsement at this point.

With no further ado...

10. dir. Spike Jonze
"Yes, it takes a while to get started and yes it's a little dark for the same youthful audience it desperately needed to attract in order to recoup its budget, but what a wholly engrossing, enriching and beautiful moviegoing experience it was. All of the little flourishes--Karen O's score, Spike Jonze's direction and Max Records pitch-perfectly petulant performance make for an imperfect but resonant piece of cinema that will be talked about for years to come."

9. dir. Pete Docter and Bob Petersen
"I remember watching Beauty and the Beast as a child and being extremely excited and entranced. It was a feeling marked both by the majesty and the splendor of the film, as well as remnants of similar feelings from The Little Mermaid...Now, as an adult, we are smack dab in the middle of another golden age. One need only watch the first ten minutes of Up (Pixar's tenth feature) to realize this--ten minutes of perfectly hewned storytelling, marked by rich, earned emotion..Up is definitely one for the ages. The year's not even half over yet, but this is top ten material if I ever saw it."(my full review here)

8. dir. Cary Joji Fukunaga
"Beautifully acted, well-paced and heartwarming, in all the ways that Slumdog Millionaire tried and failed to be (whilst offending many in the process in its failure). It wisely never fetishizes its exotic locale, nor does it try to over explain or provide context into said locale, knowing that doing either would serve to suppress the realness achieved here."

7. dir. John Hillcoat
"Gorgeously shot, necessarily slow paced and well-acted. This is a film that was made with such a full understanding of its almost unfilmable source material. I believe that this is the best film that could have been made based on Cormac McCarthy's staggering and beautiful novel."

6. dir. Jane Campion
I saw this just in time. It slipped in just under the wire and I'm glad it did. Knowing that it's written and directed by the peerless Jane Campion should prohibit a literate watcher of films from regarding this as a stuffy costume drama, even at face-value. This is a true period piece. It is immersive, resonant and attentive to detail and aesthetic in a way that few period films can boast. You never catch the actors or the filmmakers "playing" period. We are watching John Keats and Fanny Brawne fall in love in their time, with their obstacles and hurdles and their gorgeous words. I first fell in love with Ms. Campion when the rest of the world did with The Piano. And yes, it's true that (as John Keats could tell us) your first love always burns bright. But she is still burning bright, unfading, unflickering...

Best Picture Nominees Coming Tomorrow...

Friday, February 26, 2010

Pretentious Film Awards 2009--Best Adapted Screenplay

And the nominees are...

Neil Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell for District 9
The writing here has real flashes of brilliance that (mostly) serve to overshadow some structural issues with the film as a whole. I'm forgiving because the piece is so (again, mostly) inspired.

Lynn Barber and Nick Hornby for An Education
Yes, I described this film as wispy as all get out. And I stand by that. But within the wisps, there is true character development, great one-liners and a well-observed world, albeit one that we have seen before. And great acting (like Mulligan) is often begat form great writing.

Geoffrey Fletcher for Precious
"My favorite color is fluorescent beige..." Not in the novel. Sapphire didn't write that. That's pure, vintage Fletcher. And this highlights why I'm citing him here. The material practically begs to be relentless and awful, but Fletcher never forgets to find the real humor and the human connection. Great work.

Joe Penhall for The Road
Sparse, economic, often haunting. I am not judging Penhall's script against its staggering, elegaic source material. Make no mistake: The Road is an unfilmable novel. But he captures much of what makes the novel great--the aching sense of love and devotion between The Man and The Child, the desolation twinged with glimmers of hope in just the right places.

David Eggers and Spike Jonze for Where the Wild Things Are
This adaptation of Maurice Sendak's novel breaks several rigid conventions of screenwriting that are often red flags. The late-breaking inciting incident, the compounded third act, to name a few. And yet, it does what an adaptation of this work should do--it captures the wonder and the beauty and never loses the lens of the child.

Finalists/Semi-Finalist: Oddly enough...none. This was not really a bell-weather year for adaptations. I enjoyed parts of Up in the Air, but I cannot in good conscience cite it here (although I guess I just did). More in a later post on exactly why a second viewing of Up in the Air moved my reaction from tepid enjoyment, to distant coldness with traces of anger and annoyance here and there. I have a bone to pick with Jason Reitman.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Pretentious Film Awards 2009--Best Original Screenplay

and the innovative scribes are...

Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Webb for (500) Days of Summer
When you start with the acknowledgment that the romantic-comedy subgenre is tired, hackneyed and rehashed to death, you almost have no choice but to be creative. And that's what was done here. The script is one of many from 2009 to feature flourishes and experiments that, while not always landing, achieve something quite remarkable.

Steve McQueen and Enda Walsh for Hunger
Even ardent fans of this little sleeper seem to be sleeping on the screenplay. Yes, the film contains portions that are largely absent of dialogue. But writing is more than dialogue. The specifically choreographed riot scenes, the emotionality communicated through character placement and simple actions...these are things that are often written. A great exercise in sparse, effective screenwriting.

Mark Boal for The Hurt Locker
A little episodic, yes. But Boal has crafted a terse, effective thriller that relies on few words to be effective. Bonus points for the specific character details that feel very real and observed--a hallmark of great writing.

Quentin Tarantino for Inglourious Basterds
Tarantino is at his best when he's at his most undiluted. He has never abandoned the Chapter structure, and it doesn't always work in his favor. Chapter Two is clearly the weakest. And yet, the script still makes it here because it's ardently, assuredly and specifically Tarantino. This is so vague because one scarcely knows where to begin. Let's just jump right into the basement bar standoff as a sterling example of impeccably written, slow burn suspense and leave it at that.

Alessandro Camon and Oren Moverman for The Messenger
Each announcement of death from the two soldiers in this film is felt deeply and unflinchingly and that is a testament to the writing. I believed every line of dialogue, every action. There wasn't a false note here, even though some of the ideas don't fully connect. So unafraid this screenplay is to tackle a complex issue without resorting to pedantry. Kudos.

Jane Campion for Bright Star, Jim Copabianco Aley, Pete Docter, Thomas McCarthy and Bob Petersen for Up and Cary Joji Fukunaga for Sin Nombre each impressed greatly here and are just misses for this category, which is so rich with contenders. I love all of these screenplays.

Duncan Jones and Nathan Parker for Moon, Ethan and Joel Coen for A Serious Man

Monday, February 22, 2010

I'll Keep This Brief...But it Really Needs to be Said

So, Zac Efron, Taylor Lautner, Miley Cyrus and Kristen Stewart will all be presenters at the 82nd Academy Awards...

I will concede that I'm a snob. I'll own that. I'll admit it every day of the week and twice on Sundays. But that being the case, even I have found myself making apologies for every one of those people, except Taylor Lautner, about whom I literally know nothing. I even did a write-up of Kristen Stewart on this very blog, calling her one to watch. Granted, that was followed up by an errata once this Twilight nonsense broke and Stewart revealed herself to be an entitled twit who not only masquerades stupidity as cool, disaffected apathy, but is obnoxiously proud of said stupidity. I digress...

The fact of the matter is, there's room for everyone in popular culture. But the fans of Zac, Miley, Kristen and Taylor have seemingly endless opportunities to see these people. If I, as a film-lover, can't turn to the Academy Awards to see someone like Lauren Bacall being honored, then where can I turn? And no, giving Ms. Bacall her own separate but equal untelevised awards ceremony isn't a solution. It's rather disrespectful, actually, when you take into account the people who are allowed to be shown onstage at the telecast. I know it's about ratings, but come on people...have a little integrity. Let me draw an analogy.

I have little or no interest in cars. Therefore, you will not likely catch me at an auto show. That's the way it is and the organizers should not trot out Pedro Almodovar, Spike Lee or Todd Haynes as presenters to try and coax my attendance. It would work, yes, but I don't like cars! I am not the intended audience for that function! When you try to be all things to all people, you lose the wonderful specificities that inform identity. Bottom line: Miley Cyrus, Taylor Lautner, Kristen Stewart and Zac Efron don't have jackshit to do with the Academy Awards. Its organizers should think about that for just a moment.

That is all.

Pretentious Film Awards 2009--Best Achievement in Directing

And the gifted maestros are...

Jane Campion for Bright Star
For elevating what could have been typical period costume drama/biopic fare into a thing of beautiful poetry. Richly acted, gorgeously realized and a visual splendor that John Keats himself would have trouble describing.

McQueen for Hunger
It's only fitting that a visual artist turned director would have such a knack for purely visual storytelling. Even in the long stretches, absent of dialogue, McQueen knows where to direct your eye. I am unbelievably thrilled and excited by his presence as a filmmaker.

Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker
Elevates Mark Boal's very good screenplay into an excellent film. Her ex-husband's film may have required 3D-glasses, but the thrills lie here in spades as Bigelow creates white-knuckle suspense under her expert guidance.

Quentin Tarantino for Inglourious Basterds
For being one of the most assured, unafraid and strident filmmakers (and therefore one of the most relevant) in recent memory. Even when you question the choices, you know that they are never arbitrary. He may seem indulgent, but Tarantino is in total control of his excesses.

John Hillcoat for
The Road
For capturing what he can of the source material's stark lyricism and pain. Hillcoat has directed the best possible adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's book. Even in the midst of the wide, barren vistas and long stretches of nothingness, his direction remains truly intimate and well-observed.

I have to give props to Oren Moverman for his unrestrained direction of the exquisitely acted The Messenger. Lee Daniels does masterful work in Precious. He experiments. It doesn't always land, but wow...

Marc Webb makes (500) Days of Summer frenzied fun and controlled. Cary Joji Fukunaga gifts Sin Nombre with a gaze mostly free of the "gaze of the other" that diluted a film like Slumdog Millionaire. Next up for Fukunaga is an adaptation of "Jane Eyre." Can't wait.

Special mention to: James Cameron whose direction of Avatar, while not making my personal final five, is a great achievement.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Pretentious Film Awards 2009--Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

And the leading gentlemen are...

Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart
This film may be an old tune, but Bridges somehow finds new notes to play. Bad Blake's story never quite feels unique, but that is due in no part to Bridges, whose performance is rife with subtlety and specificity. The eyes are so expressive, even as Bad buries the most shameful parts of himself.

Michael Fassbender in Hunger
This was more than an unbelievable physical transformation. What a task Fassbender was handed. To communicate the greater ideas of an important film with very little dialogue. And when he does speak at length (the long conversation with the priest), it's motivated, believable and reactive. He reduces Bobby Sands to a sheer force of politically charged human rage and yet it somehow manages to not be one note. Bravo.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt in (500) Days of Summer
Selling Tom Hansen is a difficult chore and not one that every actor would have been capable of. Imagine the same role played by Josh Hartnett or Topher Grace. Levitt knows Hansen inside and out. The peculiarities in the courtship of Summer never seem contextually peculiar. And I love the raw physicality of the karaoke scene. I can't wait to see what he does next.

Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker
Sergeant James is a challenge. Why? Because Renner is asked to make interesting a character who seldom communicates the internal and whose external goal remains stagnant throughout: to disarm. There are layers, but Renner is careful not to reveal his hand all at once. Consider for a moment the infamous shower scene. Look how James enters and bee-lines for the shower, never hesitating, never mulling. Everything is gut and impulse. Renner's performance is so studied, he never lets you catch James overthinking unti his haunting ending monologue.

Sam Rockwell in Moon
He essentially only has himself and Kevin Spacey's voice to play off of, but he does so superbly. He is usually so sardonic and this side of just too clever. However, Rockwell truly impresses me for the first time here in a performance that includes those elements melded with genuine, heartbreaking emotion.

This was such a hard list to make. The year was replete with impressive lead performances. There are three finalists, first of whom is Colin Firth in A Single Man who fights valiantly against the current that is Tom Ford's direction. Viggo Mortensen in The Road and Ben Foster in The Messenger are pretty evenly matched in my estimation and would have been worthy entries in any given year. They are two actors who continue to surprise and impress me.

Sharlto Copley in District 9 was very compelling, making sure to play up the human emotion of the transformation. George Clooney is great in Up in the Air and continues to expand his repertoire of impressive Oscar-nominated turns. Michael Stuhlbarg is fabulous in A Serious Man. I loved Ben Whishaw in Bright Star but even he knows that film belongs to Abbie. And finally, there's Nicholas Cage whose performance in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is a thing of specific creation that I will never forget. What a great year for the men.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Pretentious Film Awards 2009--Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

And the leading women are:

Abbie Cornish in Bright Star
Fanny Brawne is a figure that could have seemed so vague, so hazy, so distant and so irrelevant in a modern landscape. Cornish makes her accessible, even while navigating Keats poetry. She modulates brilliantly between defiance and vulnerability. Every line she delivers drips with immersion into the text. You never catch her "playing" period. And bonus points for the tender kisses, while Keats lies in Brawne's lap. Sensual and understated.

Paulina Gaitan in
Sin Nombre
Clearly the standout performance, her watchfulness and guard mixed with teenage naivety anchors the film and Gaitan hits every single note. Observe the scene where she first offers Caspar food. There's so much to keep track of--fear, apprehension, gratitude and yes, attraction. And through her face and body language, she is miraculously able to communicate it all. She's definitely one to watch.

Carey Mulligan in An Education
Mulligan is absolutely bewitching as young Jenny. She expresses the heroine's quick, acerbic wit with not just her words. What this young woman does with a look, a smile that seems to know more than she speaks, and a gesture as simple as smoking a cigarette speaks volumes. Jenny may not feel wise, but Mulligan certainly is.

Gabourey Sidibe in Precious
Sidibe's Precious Jones evokes images of a sort of hybrid between Whoopi Goldberg's Celie and Heath Ledger's Ennis Del Mar. So terse, yet conveying so much pain and internal struggle. Every word spoken is labored, every smile a miracle, as if the desire or need to do either has been frightened and beaten out of her. Heartbreaking, staggering work and an amazing debut.

Tilda Swinton in
Only Swinton could take a completely, almost cartoonishly unlikeable character who makes obvious mistake after obvious mistake and make it layered, interesting and modulated. There are so many notes in her performance as the title character that it's practically a symphony. And she never forgets the humor (Swinton is very funny), even in the midst of a film that verges on Greek tragedy.

Not many. The five aforementioned performances are, to me, five fantastic performances, worthy of accolade in any year. Outside of those (and maybe this is due to my not having seen enough films in 2009), there aren't many female performances that excited me. This was the easiest list to make. I knew almost instantly when I saw each of these five performances that they would be in my top five. That being said, I have great fondness for Meryl Streep in Julie & Julia who does good work (as always). I also greatly enjoyed Maya Rudolph's terse vulnerability in Away we Go and I hope the film's tepid response (even I have backed off considerably after my over-praising review) doesn't prevent her from moving on to bigger things.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Pretentious Film Awards 2009--Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

And the nominees are...

Woody Harrelson in The Messenger
For gifting the movie with an equal mix of humor-masked sadness and shell-shocked gravitas that only he could provide.

Anthony Mackie in The Hurt Locker
As the even-keeled Sgt. Sanborn, Mackie carries the tough task of being our portal into a world and characters we scarcely understand. Renner's impressive lead performance can't work without a reliable screen partner to react and give greater emotional context. Amazing work.

Fred Melamed in A Serious Man
As Sy Ableman, the disturbingly earnest adulterer, he does wonders. Much of the film's humor and sadness relies on his unwavering and (above all) offensive insistence and interest in the most superficial aspects of Larry's well-being. He never breaks or falters.

Paul Schneider in Bright Star
Not just for the accent, which he masters quite well. His portrayal of Charles Armitage Brown is a specific thing of wonder. The humor, mixed with anger, resentment and flourishes of chauvinism provide the movie with a much needed counterbalance to all the lovin' going on. There's so much to keep track of here.

Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds
Hans Landa is finely hewned here, from the inside out. Waltz knows that the courtesy is never meant to overshadow the monstrous leanings as he navigates around the tongue-twister that is a Tarantino script. He was natural, fully-realized and deeply terrifying.

Brian Milligan is quite good in Hunger, but suffers from a purposefully unrealized character arch. Dominic Cooper and Peter Sarsgaard do fine work in An Education. The best performances often look effortless.

Brian Geraghty has scared and timid down to a science in The Hurt Locker. Stanley Tucci has very little to do in Julie and Julia, but does just fine in a fluffy role, in every way superior to his grating and maddeningly lauded turn in The Lovely Bones.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Coming Soon...

I will be posting the remainder of nominations for "The Pretentious Film Awards" throughout the remainder of the week. I have one final film I need to see and am still figuring things out. Stay tuned.

Note: I finally got around to seeing Steve McQueen's Hunger. Without giving anything will factor heavily into my year end awards. I am cheating just a little bit to include Hunger (if Nathaniel over at the Film Experience can do it, then so can I) even though it's technically considered a 2008 release. However, there were no opportunities for me to see it in 2008. It received a paltry one-week release at year's end. That not only doesn't qualify it as a 2008 release in my book, but it also speaks to a big problem with the film industry, which is access to great films. I'm not ranting, just stating the truth. Normally I would give it some sort of Special Jury Prize, honoring a film I missed last year. However, having now seen Hunger...I can't NOT include it. Sorry.

Peace, Love and Pretension

Monday, February 1, 2010

Oscar Nomination Predictions--Screenplay

Best Original Screenplay

1. Inglourious Basterds (lock)
2. The Hurt Locker (lock)
3. Up (probably)
4. (500) Days of Summer (shaky)
5. A Serious Man (shaky)

Avatar, The Hangover

I'm pretty confident about this lineup. People seem to be worried about (500) Days of Summer, but I think it'll get in. A screenplay nod is an easy way to honor an inventive film that clearly a lot of people loved. Pixar has had no trouble getting nominations here in the past (Cars notwithstanding), so I think Up gets in as well. A Serious Man should coast in here as well, especially since I'm predicting it for best picture. If The Hangover gets nominated, well goodnight. It was nice knowing you.

Best Adapted Screenplay

1. Up in the Air (lock)
2. Precious (lock)
3. An Education (probable)
4. Crazy Heart (shaky)
5. Where the Wild Things Are (wild card--no pun intended)

Julie & Julia, Invictus

Call me crazy. It's total wishful thinking to predict Where the Wild Things Are, but I just have a hunch. The top three are probably safe. Due to lack of competition, don't be surprised to see Crazy Heart in there as well. I know Julie & Julia got a WGA nomination, but I can't imagine that they would nominate this particular screenplay, it being so abysmal.

Oscar Nomination Predictions--Best Supporting Actress

1. Mo'Nique - Precious (lock)
2. Anna Kendrick - Up in the Air (lock)
3. Vera Farmiga - Up in the Air (lock)
4. Julianne Moore - A Single Man (shaky)
5. Melanie Laurent - Inglourious Basterds (wild card)

Samantha Morton - The Messenger, Penelope Cruz - Nine, Diane Kruger - Inglourious Basterds, Marion Cotillard - Nine

Mo'Nique and the Up in the Air girls are locked, loaded and ready to go. Outside of those three is where it gets a little hazy. There's Julianne Moore, who's gotten decent precursor response. But her role wasn't very demanding and the performance was far from remarkable. Will they go for her? I actually believe that Melanie Laurent would be in had they campaigned her in supporting from the beginning rather than switching gears midway. If she gets in, it'll be only barely. The last two spots could conceivably be taken over by any of the alternates. Samantha Morton is fabulous in The Messenger and is one of the best actresses working today. Penelope Cruz is fine in Nine, but the film's tepid reception combined with her recent win may make things difficult. Diane Kruger is also an interesting test case. Her SAG nomination could translate to love here. And then there's Marion Cotillard, who was campaigned as a lead for Nine, even though she's clearly supporting. I'm guessing this was in deference to Public Enemies, but man was that ever a miscalculation. She's not as beloved or overdue as Winslet to overcome the category fraud, so I'm guessing she misses here.

Oscar Nomination Predictions--Best Supporting Actor

1. Christoph Waltz - Inglourious Basterds (lock)
2. Woody Harrelson - The Messenger (probable)
3. Stanley Tucci - The Lovely Bones (probable)
4. Matt Damon - Invictus (shaky)
5. Anthony Mackie - The Hurt Locker (wild card)

Christopher Plummer - The Last Station, Alfred Molina - An Education, Christian McKay - Me and Orson Welles

This is the most volatile of all the acting categories. Outside of Christoph Waltz, who should be writing his acceptance speech, no one is a guarantee. Woody Harrelson is likely to make it, but no one seems to be talking about The Messenger anymore. Stanley Tucci is likely to make it, but the general consensus is that his film is terrible. Matt Damon is possible, but how much do they like Invictus? And finally, here's where I've decided to get crazy and make the wild card prediction of Anthony Mackie. He's gotten no precursor love, very true. But The Hurt Locker is a giant at this point, not to be ignored. It's either passionately loved or at least respected by most. I don't see how this film garners so many nominations and doesn't sweep Mackie along for the ride, especially when you take the alternates into account. There's Christopher Plummer, who's been perennially ignored by the Academy for his entire career. Why start now, and for a film nobody saw? Alfred Molina would have more of a shot if An Education hadn't evaporated. And Christian McKay seemed to be here one day and gone the next. Call it wishful thinking (mostly because it is), but I feel like Mackie might just make it.

Oscar Nomination Predictions - Best Actress

1. Meryl Streep - Julie & Julia (lock)
2. Sandra Bullock - The Blind Side (lock)
3. Gabourey Sidibe - Precious (lock)
4. Carey Mulligan - An Education (lock)
5. Emily Blunt - The Young Victoria (wild card)

Helen Mirren - The Last Station, Marion Cotillard - Nine

If someone had told me, even a month ago, that Meryl Streep and Sandra Bullock(!) would be 1 and 2 in this race, I probably would have referred them to the nearest shrink. But alas, there you have it. I never would have thought I'd be rooting for Streep in THIS particular performance, but given the choice between her and Bullock, I prefer Streep (but only slightly, mind you). I think it's interesting that everyone has suddenly decided that Mulligan is safer than Sidibe. I would argue that they're both still locks, as they have been for some time now. If one is weaker than the other, it's Mulligan whose film peaked way too early. Mo'Nique's sweeping of the precursors has brought Precious back into the conversation, whereas An Education is kind of being forgotten. At any rate, the top four slots are solid bets. The last slot, which most are giving to Mirren (and they may be right), I've decided to give to Emily Blunt. The Last Station didn't really get that much more of a release than The Young Victoria. If they're choosing between their British thesps in films that nobody saw, I could feasibly see them tossing more votes to Blunt, who is sure to get a nomination eventually (so why not now?) as opposed to Mirren who won very recently. I played around with the idea of predicting Tilda Swinton for Julia and I might have done it if more critics had gone for her. It's just not happening, though. In a perfect world, Swinton would be locked and loaded for a second very well deserved win. If it happens, I'll be happy to be wrong. I'm just not feeling the possibility.

Oscar Nomination Predictions--Best Actor

1. Jeff Bridges - Crazy Heart (lock)
2. George Clooney - Up in the Air (lock)
3. Colin Firth - A Single Man (lock)
4. Jeremy Renner - The Hurt Locker (probable)
5. Morgan Freeman - Invictus (probable)

Viggo Mortensen - The Road, Joseph Gordon-Levitt - (500) Days of Summer, Daniel Day-Lewis - Nine, Sam Rockwell - Moon

Of all the acting races, this is the least volatile. The five I've predicted are probably your five nominees. I contend that Morgan Freeman is on shakier ground than Jeremy Renner and here's why. Not only is Renner going to be on a lot of ballots, but he's going to be #1 or #2 on the ballots of people who really love The Hurt Locker and we're all told that helps. I wager Morgan Freeman is not going to be at the top of anyone's ballot, although I could be projecting. If either of the bottom two men miss, it could be any number of possibilities. Viggo Mortensen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Daniel Day-Lewis or Sam Rockwell if they're feeling generous, welcoming, unimaginative or frisky, respectively. But again, I believe these are your five.

Oscar Nomination Predictions--Best Director

1. Kathryn Bigelow - The Hurt Locker (lock)
2. James Cameron - Avatar (lock)
3. Quentin Tarantino - Inglourious Basterds (lock)
4. Jason Reitman - Up in the Air (lock)
5. Lee Daniels - Precious (shaky)

Clint Eastwood - Invitcus (obviously), The Coen Brothers - A Serious Man, Michael Haneke - The White Ribbon

For weeks now, I've been saying that Lee Daniels isn't going to get a best director nomination for Precious. That was more due to reverse wishful thinking than anything else. I was just trying to soften the blow when Clint Eastwood gets his slot. That NBR best director win for Invictus is most troubling. I then reminded myself that the NBR winner for best director often fails to even get an Oscar nod. Plus, the NBR gave Eastwood a best actor prize for Gran Torino, which proves that they're not playing with a full deck where he's concerned. Thankfully, buzz for the Mandela flick has cooled considerably in the last few weeks, so I think Daniels slides in by the skin of his teeth to become only the second black director to land a nod. I have Eastwood as the first alternate, but in actuality, I think that if there's a surprise, it'll be the Coens or Michael Haneke, both of whom have films that boast a rabid fanbase that Invictus simply cannot claim.

Oscar Nomination Predictions--Best Picture

Hello all. It seems that a relatively long absence between posts has crept up on me. I will be rolling out the rest of my Pretentious Film Award Nominations later this week, and early into next week. Confession time: I've still yet to see The Fantastic Mr. Fox, The White Ribbon or Crazy Heart. I'm seeing them all this week, probably in that order (in fact, I'll be watching Fantastic Mr. Fox mere moments after making this post). I posted my nominees for supporting actress because those are five performances that, the moment I saw them, left such an indelible mark in my mind that I couldn't possibly imagine any other women usurping their spots. Unless Maggie Gyllenhaal happens to be phenomenal in Crazy Heart, I'm guessing no one will.

Anyway, Oscar nominations will be announced tomorrow morning by my darling Anne Hathaway. For complicated and stupid reasons, I won't be able to watch the live announcement. It's kind of sad, actually. I've watched announcement since the morning Adrien Brody announced that Clint Eastwood, not Paul Giamatti had been nominated for best actor. That doesn't seem very long ago, but remember I'm young. With the advent of YouTube, I'll see Ms. Hathaway announcing the nominees anyway, albeit later in the day. But enough about me. Here are my predictions for best picture.

1. The Hurt Locker (locked)
2. Avatar (locked)
3. Inglourious Basterds (locked)
4. Up in the Air (locked)
5. Precious (locked)
6. Invictus (probable)
7. An Education (probable)
8. Up (shaky)
9. A Serious Man (shaky)
10. Nine (shaky)

Alternate: District 9, Star Trek, The Messenger

The top five slots are locked and loaded. In a year of five best picture nominees, I believe that those would be the five (give or take Invictus). In fact, I'm pretty confident about slots 1 through 8 (even though I marked Up as "shaky"). A Serious Man and Nine are the two I'm not sure about. The former is a critical darling birthed from two critical darlings and the latter is a disappointing film that happens to be right up the Academy's alley. In both cases, there's precedent to support a best picture nomination. Originally, I had The Messenger in the tenth slot, but that was probably due to my bias against Nine/ in favor of The Messenger (I really liked that film quite a lot). Then there's District 9 and Star Trek, both of which made decent precursor showings. But will they really nominated three sci-fi films? I'm guessing not.