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My Oscar Ballot 2013

It’s that time of year again.  Time to prognosticate about the Academy Award winners as best I can.  Unlike past years, this time around I feel like I’ve seen a lot more nominees than in past years.  Granted the expanded size of the Best Picture pool helps with that, but still – I did pretty well.  And I’m not done yet – we have plans to squeeze in another 2 or 3 films this week, but my ballot for the office pool is due, so I’m going to just lock in my picks now and go with my best guesses.  As always, the fine folks at EW helped me a bit on the shorts and the docs.

Best Picture – 7 of 9 films seen

What I’m loving this year is that very few categories, including this one, are a foregone conclusion.  There is a real horse race here, and if you’d asked me a couple of months ago, I would have told you Lincoln was just too strong not to win.  It’s got a mix that the voters love – historical fiction, strong acting, and Spielberg.  But the awards season has put a lot of momentum behind Argo, and once I saw it I understood why; and it’s getting my vote.  A BP winner that isn’t nominated for Director is rare, but if there was ever a year it could happen, this is it.  The dark horse here could be Silver Linings Playbook, which has a thinner plot, but acting that will knock your socks off (hence 4 noms for the leads).

Actor – 3 of 5 seen

Let’s be honest, there is one category this year that is a lock, and this is it.  Put your money on Daniel Day-Lewis for his deeply engrossing portrait of our 16th president.  Which is a shame, because Bradley Cooper is really amazing, and Hugh Jackman is…Hugh Jackman.  Need I say more about him?

Actress – 2 of 5 seen

I’m feeling guilty for being under-informed here, as I’ve heard how all the nominees were stellar this year.  I think we will very soon see Jessica Chastain pick up an award, and little Quvenzhané Wallis is fierce in Beasts of the Southern Wild, but this year I’m going with Jennifer Lawrence for her on-the-edge woman who can stand up to DeNiro.

Director – 4 of 5 seen

I’m going out on a limb here.  Steven Spielberg certainly made a great movie, and he’s got a lot of love out there.  But Ang Lee took what was deemed an unfilmable book and made movie magic.  He’s a creative visionary full of new tricks every time, and I’d love to see him win for Life of Pi.

Supporting Actor – 4 of 5 seen

This is a really tough category this year, as all the men I saw did a remarkable job with very different characters.  Alan Arkin was gruff but funny, Tommy Lee Jones was at his blustery best in Congress, and Christoph Waltz creates charisma and chemistry in vast amounts.  I originally was going to put my vote in Waltz’ corner, but I worry his role is too similar to what he last did for Tarantino.  So I’m going with Robert DeNiro, who showed vulnerability, emotion and compulsion in a way I’ve never seen before.

Supporting Actress – 3 of 5 seen

This one is Anne Hathaway‘s to lose, and a few of her speeches this season made me worry she would grate on voters’ nerves, and they’d go with the safer choice of Sally Field.  But I still think her scenes in Les Mis are so shattering she’s got what it takes to win this.

Documentary Feature – 0 seen

It sounds like a 3-way race this year – the critics adore the unraveling secrets of The Gatekeepers, or they like the tale of an artist’s second life in Searching for Sugar Man.  I’m going to bank on the momentum of LGBT activism this year, and vote for How to Survive a Plague.

Documentary Short – 0 seen

No idea, so I’m relying on EW and picking Inocente, about a homeless artist.

Foreign Language Film – 0 seen

I think it will get passed over in other categories, so this award will go to the Austrian favorite, Amour.  But Denmark and Chile have the dark horse chances here.

Animated Feature – 3 of 5 seen

All three films that we saw were pleasant and enjoyable, but I question if any of them is strong enough to win.  Brave certainly was a triumph of animation (her hair!), but from what I hear, Wreck-It Ralph hits the right nostalgic buttons and should win.

Cinematography – 4 of 5 seen

Some great vistas in several of these movies, but Life of Pi was a profoundly visual movie that comes alive on the big screen.

Makeup & Hairstyling – 1 of 3 seen

Sure it’s tough to make dwarves and hobbits, but I felt like all the bad oral hygiene and wild hairstyles in Les Misérables were disturbing enough to win this award.

Production Design – 3 of 5 seen

You might remember this category as “Art Direction” but basically think of it as sets, props, etc.  I felt like they really tried to go for it in Les Mis, but there were a lot of varied locations in Lincoln that involved some challenging set decoration, and I think it will win.

Original Screenplay – 1 of 5 seen

Shocking!  Only 1 seen!  And quite frankly I don’t see the script as the strength of Django Unchained.  The buzz is this will come down to a race between Zero Dark Thirty (which has been skirting controversy) versus Amour.  I’m going with the former, because I think the Oscar voters are above the petty criticisms against Mark Boal’s journalism.

Adapted Screenplay – 5 of 5 seen

I think this is really coming down to two book adaptations – David Magee adapting an “unfilmable” novel (Life of Pi), and Tony Kushner distilling a huge tome of a book on Lincoln.  While my heart is with the former (because I read the book), I think Kushner created strong, believable dialogue from an academic work.

Animated Short Film – 0 seen

With both Pixar and The Simpsons entering shorts this year, it could be a tough race.  My friend Emily swears by Head Over Heels, and EW says it will be Adam and Dog.  I think I’m going with the latter just because I like animals.

Live Action Short Film – 0 seen

I’m going with Asad, which is about Somali refugees, which is very topical.

Visual Effects – 2 of 5 seen

Usually this would go to a superhero blockbuster like The Avengers (after all, The Hulk is fully animated).  But the seamless integration of an animated tiger (and a zoo of other animals) in Life of Pi should take the award in its sizable teeth.

Costume Design – 2 of 5 seen

The ones I saw in Les Mis and Lincoln were good, but with this category you should always go with the showiest period drama – so this year it will be Anna Karenina.

Film Editing – 4 of 5 seen

No question for me – the relentless tension of Argo, particularly in the final 30 minutes, is a testament to the power of strong editing.

Sound Mixing – 5 of 5 seen

I’ve seen all 5!  So you’d think I would  be able to tell you the winner without hesitation, but this is one of the toughest categories for me.  That being said, I think a musical is already a tougher challenge for a sound mixer (sound effects + music + singing), and we all know by now that Les Misérables used live singing.  So it gets my vote.

Sound Editing – 4 of 5 seen

This is the one where sound effects themselves are recognized, and I once read you should always vote for the loudest movie.  Of the four films I saw, that means I need to go with Skyfall.

Original Score – 4 of 5 seen

Lots of good choices here, but I have to give my vote to Life of Pi.  When you consider that for long stretches the movie has no dialogue, it’s the visuals and the score that carry it forth to greatness.

Original Song – 4 of 5 seen (heard?)

The song from Ted was cute (and I loved the movie), but Seth McFarlane is going to have to settle for the honor of being host for the night.  I looked at ScottE when “Suddenly” came on during Les Mis and mouthed, “What is this?” and then realized it was the Oscar bait that was added.  And it was not that great.  The clear, unadulterated winner this year will be the fabulous Adele, with the title theme for Skyfall – one of the best Bond songs in decades.

So that’s it!  As I said, I’m not done watching these movies – I’ll most likely catch Zero Dark Thirty this weekend, one of the other animated features, and perhaps a third movie if I can squeeze it in.  I’ll post in the comments before the Oscar ceremony if I think these viewings would have changed my ballot at all, but my pool picks are now locked.

How about you – any favorites you think I missed?  Do you think Spielberg and Lincoln can pull out top honors?  And what are you most looking forward to during the broadcast?  Post in the comments, or respond via Facebook or Twitter!

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My Oscar Ballot 2011

The Oscars are tonight!  After checking out a few last-minute movies, I can now give you my Oscar picks.  Sadly I missed the shorts again this year, but I’ll do my best with my predictions. Feel free to post your own here, and we’ll see who does well!

I’ve been doing my best to catch up on the nominees, but there are only 5 categories where I’ve seen everything (same as last year!) – Director, Supporting Actress (we’re watching Animal Kingdom on DVD this afternoon), Art Direction, Cinematography and Sound Mixing.  But you know I do my homework and I never do worse than half.  So listen up!

Best Picture

Ten nominees still seems ridiculous – but at least this year they are all strong and well-reviewed.  We managed to get to nine of them, which I’m rather proud of.  After careful consideration, I really think the Academy is going to play it old school and honor the very worthy The King’s Speech, but of course The Social Network is the potential spoiler if young Hollywood exerts its influence.  Honestly I think a decade from now we’ll look back and wonder why Inception wasn’t considered a strong contender.

Best Actor

Last year I was hoping Colin Firth would win, and this year he will get it.  The Academy loves a male character that is overcoming a disability of any kind, and Firth is going to be honored for two strong roles two years running.  I will also tip my hat to Jeff Bridges who was really strong in True Grit.

Best Actress

Just like last year, the hottest contest amongst the acting categories is here.  It’s a shame that Jennifer Lawrence isn’t a front-runner, as she made Winter’s Bone what it is.  It’s also a shame Julianne Moore wasn’t nominated, as she was stronger than Annette Benning, in my opinion.  The winner will be Natalie Portman, for her fierce portrayal of one (or is it two?) fierce woman, while dancing like a true ballerina.

Best Supporting Actor

Two years running, this category is a an easy pick – Christian Bale all the way.  I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it, but his crack-addicted boxer/trainer is his best work to-date.  I’ll still give props to Geoffrey Rush, who in another year could have walked away with the prize for his excellent, excellent performance.

Best Supporting Actress

This category could be the most interesting of any this year.  The conventional wisdom for some time was that Melissa Leo had it locked up.  But after an ill-advised self-promoting ad campaign, I think voters reconsidered.  And if they really watched The Fighter, perhaps they recognized what I saw – that Amy Adams was in fact stronger in the movie.  So I’m going out on a limb here and say that the two actresses will split the vote, and running up the aisle will be newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, who was charming, strong and quite funny in True Grit.

Best Director

It’s rare that the Academy splits the Director/Picture winners between two films, but it’s become increasingly common in recent years.  I see that trend continuing here, as David Fincher brought together many elements to make The Social Network so compelling.

Best Documentary Feature

I’ve only seen one of the nominees – it’s got buzz, and a director that will likely only show up to the ceremony in disguise – so it’s all about Exit Through the Gift Shop.  I have heard great things about Inside Job, but I suspect that Academy members are trying to forget the pain of the recession and move on.

Best Documentary Short Subject

This is a shot in the dark – I’ll go with Entertainment Weekly‘s prediction of Killing in the Name, which deals with the fallout from a suicide bomber in the Middle East, a very timely topic.

Best Animated Feature

Pixar is still the king – Toy Story 3 was another triumph.  Who didn’t cry watching it?

Best Foreign Language Film

The only one I’ve heard much about is Mexico’s Biutiful, but I’ll throw my hat in with the Golden Globe-winning Danish film In a Better World.

Best Cinematography

I would say three of the five nominees have a good shot at this one.  Generally I find the Academy likes to award a film that shows a lot of landscapes and imposing settings, so my gut says the winner is True Grit‘s visuals by Roger Deakins, a frequent nominee that has never won.

Best Original Screenplay

Really tough call.  Inception was so inventive, and The King’s Speech is certainly at the front of the pack.  I am most likely to be wrong in this category than any other, but I think there is going to be a consolation prize given to The Kids Are All Right, which was given a lot of praise when it first came out for presenting an original family.  That’s thanks to scribes Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Easy choice again this year – The Social Network was all about rapid-fire dialogue, written by the expert, Aaron Sorkin.

Best Visual Effects

If Inception doesn’t win, I’ll eat my new fedora.

Best Animated Short

This could go any direction – so why not an environmental piece – Let’s Pollute?

Best Live Action Short

Two of EW‘s writers said they think a strong contender is Na Wewe, which is set in Burundi.  Sounds great to me.

Best Art Direction

Several good options this year; I’m going to say it’s the striking colors and visuals of Alice in Wonderland.

Best Costume Design

Again, there were a lot of wild and fanciful costumes in Alice in Wonderland, so I think that will win (not much else to say about that movie, except it was pretty to look at).  Normally a period piece would win, but The King’s Speech is full of very subdued outfits, and the Academy will find True Grit‘s costumes to be too grungy (which is a shame, as I was impressed).

Best Film Editing

The true crime is that Inception wasn’t nominated here, even though it’s major sequence of overlapping dreamscapes was amazing.  That being said, the rapid shifts of time and place in The Social Network should win the prize.

Best Sound Mixing

Big explosions and lots of gunfire – Inception.

Best Sound Editing

See above – Inception.

Best Original Score

I’m actually hoping the Academy doesn’t award schmaltz, and instead gives a deserved award to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, whose score was a major reason The Social Network was so impressive.

Best Original Song

I can’t handle Randy Newman winning for another of his trite tunes!  So let’s give this one to Dido’s song from 127 Hours – “If I Rise.”

Best Makeup

The nominees here are not ones anyone has seen, so let’s assume it goes to the creature feature – The Wolfman.

So how about you folks?  How do your picks stack up?  Will young co-hosts James Franco and Anne Hathaway knock it out of the park?

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Logorama

Here is this year’s Oscar winner for Best Animated Short film, Logorama.  WARNING!  This contains strong language and violence.  Not appropriate for the kiddies.

Click here to check it out.

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Photo courtesy ABC/Rick Rowell

 

Another year has come and gone for the Oscars, which culminated in last night’s underwhelming broadcast.  Like any year it was not without some moments worth watching.  So in case you missed it or took a potty break at a crucial moment, I’m here to tell you the best and the worst from last night’s ceremony and the red carpet.

Best Dress in a Leading Role

Amongst the flurry of ruffles that clung to actresses this year, I was more interested in those that chose sleek chic.  Tough to pick just one winner, but I’m going to go with Amanda Seyfried in this Giorgio Armani Privé gown that struck a lovely angle across the skirt.  Covered in Swarovski crystals, this was an elegant stunner.  Her hair and makeup were also very appropriate.  Honorable mentions go out to Queen Latifah, Penelope Cruz and Sandra Bullock who each wore very different dresses which flattered their figures.

Worst Dress in a Supporting Role

Love me some Sarah Jessica Parker.  But this dress is truly horrid for her.  She deserves better support (and shape) from her couture.

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Photo courtesy AP/Matt Sayles

 

Worst Dress in a Leading Role

What the hell was Charlize Theron thinking with this thing?  It’s as if someone sprayed lavender Easy Cheese on her breasts.

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Most Comfortable on the Red Carpet

Gabourey Sidibe, who gave the most amazing quote to Ryan Seacrest when asked about her lovely Marchesa gown.  “If fashion was porn, this dress is the money shot.”  You go, girl!  We really should be friends, because I think we’d have fun hanging out.  I’m just saying.  Call me!

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Most Uncomfortable on the Red Carpet

I could care less about Miley Cyrus (seriously, why is she invited?) but whatever stylist put her in this too-tight corset should be flogged.  Or perhaps rewarded.  It depends on your perspective.

Best Acceptance Speech

Perhaps she was just given the award for her body of work as a whole, but you have to love Sandra Bullock’s speech.  Anyone that throws in not one, but two references to making out with Meryl Streep (as she infamously did at the SAG awards) is a winner.  She also gets kudos for what she did at the Razzies.

Dullest Acceptance Speeches

Sorry to the sound guys, but you kind of sucked.  I’m all for relegating those two categories to the technical awards.  Think of it this way – you get a hot presenter!

Best Impression of Kanye West

Elinor Burkett who was a producer for Live Action Short Film winner Music by Prudence got into some weirdness with the movie’s director – read more about why it all went down here.

Worst Hosts

…in a long time.  Someone please bring Ellen Degeneres back ASAP.

Dead People Faux Pas

I know that the producers have to cut down on who gets included.  But to not even acknowledge Farrah Fawcett or Bea Arthur is questionable at best.  Maybe they were more known for TV, but still…  And what was with the mega-montage for John Hughes?  How does he rate?  And what sadistic stylist dressed Molly Ringwald?

Score is 0 – 1

Adam Shankman was a producer, so no surprise he tried to bring back the big choreography numbers to go along with the Best Score nominees.  Naturally he threw in a bunch of his favorite dancers from So You Think You Can Dance.  And although that’s fun for a fan of that show (It’s Kayla! Wasn’t that Ade?), the choreography itself was baffling.

Most Inspiring Presenter

No one can turn a moment into something completely monumental the way Oprah can.  She almost made me cry!

Most Unnecessary Change

Please tell me what having 10 Best Picture nominees really did for the show.  Were more people watching because An Education or A Serious Man was nominated?  I think not.  And even if they did tune in because they loved District 9, how fulfilled were they to watch it lose in every category for which it was nominated?

Classiest Winner

Nobody does it quite like Mo’Nique.  A woman who is redefining what it means to be a star in Hollywood.

One Small Step for Womankind

You knew she was going to win the minute Barbra Streisand walked out as a presenter, but it’s no less historic for Kathryn Bigelow to take home the Best Director award.  Say what you will about her movie, but I do think she deserved it.

So that’s my quick recap – what did you think?  And how did you do on your Oscar picks?  I did rather well on mine, getting 16 out of 24 correct this year.  Had I listened a bit more to Entertainment Weekly‘s predictions, I could have scored closer to 20!  But it was enough for me to tie in my office pool, so I’m happy.

Now we return to the rest of the year in movies.  First on my list – Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland.

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My Oscar Ballot 2010

My Oscar Ballot for 2008

The Oscars are coming Sunday, but my official ballot is already in for the office pool, so I can now give you my Oscar picks.  Sadly I missed the shorts again this year, but I’ll do my best with my predictions. Feel free to post your own here, and we’ll see who does well this weekend!

I’ve been doing my best to catch up on the nominees, but there are only 5 categories where I’ve seen everything – Director, Film Editing and Sound Editing.  But you know I do my homework and I never do worse than half.  So listen to me now and hear me later:

Best Picture

Ten nominees and yes, that’s a lot ridiculous – a few of these are debatable to even be in here.  But I have seen seven of them, so I’ve got a pretty good handle on the better ones.  Although in my opinion the award really should go to Precious it’s clear this is a two-horse race.   Avatar had some things that made it remarkable, but its lack of a decent script won’t fly.  I think the driving intensity and unique perspective of The Hurt Locker will take it to the top.

Best Actor

I loved Colin Firth’s performance in A Single Man and think he should be recognized for it.  But the Academy is all in love with Jeff Bridges this year, so he’s a lock for this category.  I do plan to see Crazy Heart at some point so I’ll know what the fuss is all about.

Best Actress

This could be the toughest call this year.  On the one hand you’ve got a great performance by the nomination queen, Meryl Streep.  But on the other hand there is the woman with all the momentum – Sandra Bullock.  I haven’t see The Blind Side, but I think that Sandy wins by a nose.  Deep down I’m hoping for a vote split where Gabourey Sidibe jumps up for a win!

Best Supporting Actor

This is a very easy pick – Christoph Waltz all the way.  Creating a Nazi character that’s charming is tough, but he pulled it off.  Also he did it in 4 languages.

Best Supporting Actress

Picking anyone other than Mo’Nique to win is a fool’s game – because that woman deserves it.  Although it’s too bad that it was this year, because I think Anna Kendrick did great work as well.

Best Director

Her movie was great and I think Hollywood is ready to hand this award to a female director for the first time – congratulations, Kathryn Bigelow.

Best Documentary Feature

There are lot of people who saw Food, Inc. and liked it.  But just as many saw it and lost their lunch.  I’m going to gamble on a documentary that’s gotten good reviews and early rewards – The Cove.

Best Documentary Short Subject

Oscar ballots were out amidst the tragedy of Haiti, so my gut tells me they might feel compelled to vote for China’s Unnatural Disaster, which is about an earthquake in the Sichuan province.

Best Animated Feature

Pixar is king and delivered a stunner with Up, which also got a nomination for Best Picture.  This is a (well-deserved) lock.

Best Foreign Language Film

There is only one of these films that I’ve heard talk about for months, so I’m throwing my weight behind Germany’s The White Ribbon.  Too bad Broken Embraces wasn’t nominated.

Best Cinematography

Tough call here – I’m not sure how Hollywood will view the way Avatar was filmed.  I’m going to say that the thoughtful camera angles of The Hurt Locker will win.

Best Original Screenplay

You’ll notice there is no nomination here for Avatar.  I’m just saying.  Anywho – I think this goes between The Hurt Locker and Up.  The former is on my ballot, but my personal choice would be the latter.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Easy choice – I think Up in the Air had an excellent script full of sharp dialogue.  This is the only award the movie will win, but I’m glad it’s getting something.

Best Visual Effects

Duh – Avatar!

Best Animated Short

I heard three words that told me what to vote for – “Wallace and Gromit.”  Their latest adventure should win – A Matter of Loaf and Death.

Best Live Action Short

Not a clue.  I found a trailer for Kavi, which is about an Indian boy who becomes a slave – sounds like a good emotional punch.

Best Art Direction

This is the other category I’m worried about, because it depends on how people see Avatar.  I’ll go with it because of all the lovely plant life.  But I’ll throw out The Young Victoria as a potential spoiler.

Best Costume Design

Period films always have the edge, so go with The Young Victoria.  I’m happy to see a win for this delightful movie.

Best Film Editing

I feel like The Hurt Locker is the best choice here – it was put together in a way that the intensity doesn’t stop and that’s a sign of great editing.

Best Sound Mixing

Big explosions – Avatar.

Best Sound Editing

See above – Avatar.

Best Original Score

The score for Up was just uplifting.  I say it edges out James Horner’s score for Avatar.

Best Original Song

The movie Crazy Heart is about a singer, so let’s go with the song from that movie – “The Weary Kind.”

Best Makeup

Let’s give it to all those fun aliens in Star Trek!  In another year I think this fun movie would have won a few more awards as well.

So how about you folks?  How do your picks stack up?  And will the co-hosts this year (Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin) swim or suck?

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Last viewings before Oscar time

The Olympics have come to a close (hence my lack of blog posts lately) and the Oscars are just around the corner.  We’ve been doing our best to get caught up on the nominees, so here are a few quick reviews of what we’ve seen lately.

The Hurt Locker

The word for this film about an American military bomb squad in Iraq is “intense.”  I was actually grateful that we hadn’t seen this in the theater, because at one point I just had to take a break and go do the dishes.  The editing really gives you the sense of what it’s like to be in that place and the kind of mentality it takes to survive.  I’m undecided if I feel it’s the best movie of the year, but it’s certainly deserving of accolades, especially for star Jeremy Renner and director Kathryn Bigelow.  A-

Up in the Air

I didn’t really have much in the way of expectations for this movie about living life (such as it is) on the road and was pleasantly surprised.  It’s charming, witty, and has a message to send about what the most important thing in life is – or should be?  The subject matter really makes you think – about what a job means and what it means to lose it.  The writing is sharp (that screenplay nomination is àpropos), but the strength is from the trio of actors.  George Clooney is, as always, a charmer.  Vera Farmiga is smart, sexy, and draws you right in.  The ace in the hole is Anna Kendrick who is a pistol that stands up to her co-stars like she’s been doing it for decades.  The ending may be too open-ended, but on the whole this movie is one of my favorites from the past year.  A

The Last Station

Near the end of Leo Tolstoy’s life he was one of the most celebrated cultural icons in the world.  But a battle was raging over what to do with the rights to his work – should they pass to his devoted but off-kilter wife?  Or should they live in the public domain in the name of “Tolstoyan ideals?”  That’s the paper-thin plot binding the movie together which is really just an excuse to pit two titans of acting against each other – Helen Mirren as the deranged Countess and Christopher Plummer as the gentle author.  They are both superb (are you surprised?) and share an affection that carries the film.  Unfortunately this movie has problems – the editing is a mess and the directing is often questionable.  Why do all the actors have fiercely British accents instead of something more Slavic?  At least James McAvoy is pretty to look at.  B-

Inglorious Basterds

After waiting a lifetime for Netflix to deliver this one, we just went ahead and rented it on demand.  I have very mixed feelings about the movie.  On the one hand I appreciated the clever plotting – several times I was breathless with anticipation of the danger lurking around the corner or what was coming next.  Would the Nazi SS officer know where the Jews were hiding?  Can the actress cover for her conspirator?  Will the plot to kill the Nazis happen as planned?  There is also some tremendous acting particularly from Christopher Waltz (might as well call him Oscar winner now) and Diane Kruger.  But on the other hand this felt a bit soft and disjointed which is surprising for a Quentin Tarantino movie.  And I can’t believe I’m saying it, but the violence was…not really that violent (for Tarantino).  Also Brad Pitt was all caricature and no substance.  On the whole this was worth seeing, but it wouldn’t make my top 5 for the year.  B

We also have In the Loop and Food, Inc. sitting here at home which may get watched before Sunday.  But that’s it for now.  What have you been trying to see before the big night?

Stay tuned for my official Oscar predictions – later this week!

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Oscar bait movie reviews

Time to catch up on four films I saw recently, all of which are jockeying for some Oscar nominations next month.

Avatar

Jim Cameron’s latest has been (as always) controversial, because it cost a fortune.  Was it worth the money, and the extra money I paid to see it in 3-D?  The simple answer is yes – it’s a visual stunner that demands to be seen on the big screen and in its full glasses-required glory.  What’s most impressive is that Cameron has created an entire world, complete with its own topography, species and tribal traditions.

The downside?  The script is weak, and isn’t anything you haven’t seen before.  It’s pretty much Dances With Star Wars.  Much of the dialogue is bad, so the film relies on narrative voice-overs from Sam Worthington, the sexy male lead.  Fortunately no matter what she’s saying, Sigourney Weaver rocks, as usual.

Overall I think this movie is worth seeing, because what you see is so arresting that you start to forget about that pesky plot.  It’s a thrill ride that gives you a lot of highs, even if it leaves you feeling rather empty once it’s over.  My grade – a solid B.  For a simpler (and funnier) review – check out this link.

A Single Man

Based on a novel by Christopher Isherwood, this film is about dealing with grief – how does one cope when your entire world comes crashing down around you at once?  The main character (George) faces the death of his long-time lover and their pet dogs by choosing the only way out he can imagine.

The lead is played by Colin Firth in a performance that is shattering, startling and sublime.  He has a scene where he first finds out about his partner’s death, and the range of emotions that spread across his face – it’s just astonishing.  An Oscar nomination for him is a sure bet.  His co-stars include Matthew Goode (full of rakish charm) and Julianne Moore (a boozy British princess).

Tom Ford (yes, the fashion designer) directed the film, and it shows – his attention to detail is impeccable – every costume, set piece and prop is chosen with care.  Unfortunately the script is a little thin – not very much happens here.  It’s a minimalist story with rich ornamentation.  I give it a B+.

Nine

I’ve been looking forward to this musical (an adaptation of the stage show, which is itself an adaptation of Fellini’s 8 1/2) for quite some time.  With that cast of amazing actresses, combined with song and dance numbers, directed by Rob Marshall (Chicago), how could I not?

The good news is that the women are very strong.  Penelope Cruz is a riot as Guido’s mistress, and easily has the best lines in the film.  Close behind her is a strong performance by Marion Cotillard as the wife – she is all dewy delicacy.  I want to go sit on her eyelashes and just hang out for awhile!  Judi Dench gives a bravura performance reminding us of old Paris – such charm!  Kate Hudson gives a great musical number, but she looks so much like her mother (Goldie Hawn) I could barely concentrate.  The most surprising performance was from Fergie, who was smoldering and attention-grabbing in the show-stopper “Be Italian.”

The film really hangs on how you feel about Daniel Day-Lewis as Guido.  If you find him charming and believe that he’s a lusty lothario, then it’s a winner.  But if you don’t really buy that (I didn’t), then it can be a disappointment.  So overall I give the movie a B-, but for some folks this could be a solid A.

Broken Embraces

The best of the films I’ve seen recently was the latest offering from Pedro Almodovar.  Once again he delivers an intricate plot where the web between characters slowly becomes revealed.  His ability to make his characters rich and complex is in full effect here once again.

This is a tale of a blind filmmaker who starts to tell his manager’s son the story of a lost love, and unreels secrets that never stop.  Lluís Homar is the passionate lead, and his memories are of a lusty and ambitious Penelope Cruz.  Their performances are passionate and engrossing, but that’s what we’ve come to expect in Almodovar films.  He also brought his usual stable of actors – everyone from Blanca Portillo to Lola Dueñas.  Seeing this movie made me want to run home and watch other favorites, like Volver!

Overall I give this movie an A-.  It has enjoyable performances, it’s well-paced and is visually appealing.  A few plot points bothered me just a touch, but on the whole this is solid.  Unfortunately I think it will be overlooked this Oscar season, so check it out while you can!

So…that’s what I’ve been up to lately.  Still on my list to see are The Princess and the Frog, Up in the Air, Young Victoria and Invictus.  How about you?

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