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Oscar Post-Mortem

March 8, 2010 2 comments

The Hurt Locker was the big winner of the night, taking in 6 Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director. Kathryn Bigelow made history by becoming the first female director to win the Best Director trophy. The film is great, and deserving of all awards it received. Avatar had to settle for 3 awards, leaving James Cameron to cry on his billions of dollars.

There were no surprises when it came to the acting winners. Bridges won Best Actor, Mo’Nique took home Best Supporting Actress. Unfortunately Sandra Bullock won Best Actress for the horrible film The Blind Side. I will say that her speech was better than her actual performance in the film. I’m glad that Christoph Waltz won Best Supporting Actor for his amazing performance, but I’m sad that Inglourious Basterds lost out in every other category it was nominated in.

Speaking of losers, Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner lost Best Adapted Screenplay to Precious. That was the only real surprise of the night. I have to say I’m kind of glad Reitman lost. This lost should humble him. Perhaps the controversy surrounding him trying to deny Turner script credit hurt the film, which ended up winning nothing.

The producers of the 82nd Annual Academy Awards, Adam Shankman and Bill Mechanic did a horrible job at producing this year’s broadcast, which was only saved by the humor of Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin. Martin and Baldwin have great chemistry and they were effective in adding humor in-between the categories. Love the shot of the two of them in Snuggies and the Paranormal Activity spoof. The two were great at playing off each other.

The telecast felt long, tedious and lacked the fun of last year’s ceremony. Shankman and Mechanic should never be allowed back. Their horrible additions to the show included having Neil Patrick Harris open the show with a terrible song and dance number that brought the show to a halt.  I’m sick of him; we get it, he’s gay, funny, can sing and dance, we don’t need to see him on every fucking awards show. The other terrible idea was to have dancers interpret the best score nominees.

The tribute to John Hughes was another bonehead idea from the shows producers. John Hughes didn’t deserve any special memorial tribute. Billy Wilder, Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, Ingmar Bergman, and other real greats of cinema never got their own special tribute when they passed. To add insult to injury, the three honorary Oscar winners, Lauren Bacall, Gordon Willis, and Roger Corman didn’t get honored on the broadcast. Bacall and Corman weren’t even up on the stage when they were acknowledged during the ceremony. The crowd awkwardly didn’t know where to look to acknowledge them.

I also have to blame the director of the night’s broadcast, Hamish Hamilton. There were terrible cuts to people who looked bored shitless. Clooney looked like he wanted to get the hell out of there. There were too many shots of empty seats, and jerky camera movements. For an example of how horrible the direction was, when Kathryn Bigelow wins a historic Oscar for Best Director, the camera cuts away to a wide shot before we can see her interact with her ex-husband, James Cameron, who just lost to his ex-wife and was sitting right behind her. We wanted to see Cameron put on a fake smile and pretend to be happy for her!

Last year’s broadcast had the great idea of having the acting nominees introduced by a past winner of the category. This year they kept the general idea, but only dragged it out. First they showed clips from each nominees film, then they had friends of the nominees come out and praise each of them and then last year’s acting winner came out and announced the winner. This was overkill. It dragged on way too long.

The entire ceremony had an awkward feeling to it. It didn’t have the fun, or excitement of last year’s broadcast, which was produced by Bill Condon and Larry Mark. What the fuck were they thinking bringing out Tyler Perry to present Best Editing? Many of the presenters kept screwing up their simple banter. Other terrible moments came when the orchestra would play people off early, like Louie Psihoyos, the director of The Cove.

I’m a fan of the Oscars, and if I found the ceremony awful, I can only imagine how the rest of America was feeling.

Here is the list of the night’s winners:

  • Best Picture: “The Hurt Locker” Kathryn Bigelow, Mark Boal, Nicolas Chartier, Greg Shapiro
  • Best Director: “The Hurt Locker” Kathryn Bigelow
  • Best Actor: Jeff Bridges in “Crazy Heart”
  • Best Actress: Sandra Bullock in “The Blind Side”
  • Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz in “Inglourious Basterds”
  • Best Supporting Actress: Mo’Nique in “Precious”
  • Best Original Screenplay: “The Hurt Locker” Written by Mark Boal
  • Best Adapted Screenplay: “Precious” Screenplay by Geoffrey Fletcher
  • Best Foreign Language: “The Secret in Their Eyes (El Secreto de Sus Ojos)” Argentina
  • Best Animated Film: “Up” Pete Docter
  • Best Documentary: “The Cove” Louie Psihoyos and Fisher Stevens
  • Best Cinematography: “Avatar” Mauro Fiore
  • Best Art Direction: Avatar” Rick Carter, Robert Stromberg, Kim Sinclair
  • Best Costumes: “The Young Victoria” Sandy Powell
  • Best Editing: “The Hurt Locker” Bob Murawski and Chris Innis
  • Best Score: “Up” Michael Giacchino
  • Best Song: The Weary Kind”(Crazy Heart) Ryan Bingham and T Bone Burnett
  • Best Makeup: “Star Trek” Barney Burman, Mindy Hall and Joel Harlow
  • Best Visual Effects: “Avatar” Joe Letteri, Stephen Rosenbaum, Richard Baneham, Andrew R. Jones
  • Best Sound Editing: “The Hurt Locker” Paul N.J. Ottosson
  • Best Sound Mixing: “The Hurt Locker” Paul N.J. Ottosson and Ray Beckett
  • Best Animated Short: “Logorama” Nicolas Schmerkin
  • Best Live Action Short: “The New Tenants” Joachim Back and Tivi Magnusson
  • Best Documentary Short: “Music by Prudence” Roger Ross Williams and Elinor Burkett
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Oscar Predictions

Before the 82nd Annual Academy Awards air this Sunday, I decided to take a stab at predicting what films will take home the Oscar. Get your Oscar ballots ready. I’ve done detailed analysis over the past months since awards season began, so trust me. My predictions are in bold.

Best Picture
“Avatar”, James Cameron and Jon Landau, Producers
“The Blind Side”, Nominees to be determined
“District 9”, Peter Jackson and Carolynne Cunningham, Producers
“An Education”, Finola Dwyer and Amanda Posey, Producers
“The Hurt Locker”, Kathryn Bigelow, Mark Boal, Nicolas Chartier and Greg Shaprio, Producers
“Inglourious Basterds”, Lawrence Bender, Producer
“Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”, Lee Daniels, Sarah Siegel-Magness and Gary Magness, Producers
“A Serious Man”, Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, Producers
“Up”, Jonas Rivera, Producer
“Up in the Air”, Daniel Dubiecki, Ivan Reitman and Jason Reitman, Producers

Inglourious Basterds was my favorite film of last year, so of course I’m going to say it should win the Best Picture Oscar. The Hurt Locker has won almost all the major pre-Oscar film awards, except the shitty Golden Globe, so I’m pretty confident in saying that it will win. I still think Avatar could pull out a win, or maybe even Inglourious Basterds, since Harvey Weinstein is campaigning hard for it. I think this late minute round of negative press surrounding The Hurt Locker came too late to hurt its chances. The safe bet remains The Hurt Locker. Maybe with 10 nominees something crazy could happen. We will see Sunday night.

Directing
“Avatar”, James Cameron
“The Hurt Locker”, Kathryn Bigelow
“Inglourious Basterds”, Quentin Tarantino
“Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”, Lee Daniels
“Up in the Air”, Jason Reitman

The clear winner is Kathryn Bigelow. She won the Directors Guild Award which almost perfectly lines up with the best director Oscar.

Actor in a Leading Role
Jeff Bridges in “Crazy Heart”
George Clooney in “Up in the Air”
Colin Firth in “A Single Man”
Morgan Freeman in “Invictus”
Jeremy Renner in “The Hurt Locker”

Bridges has been around forever, and many consider it his time to win finally an Oscar.

Actor in a Supporting Role
Matt Damon in “Invictus”
Woody Harrelson in “The Messenger”
Christopher Plummer in “The Last Station”
Stanley Tucci in “The Lovely Bones”
Christoph Waltz in “Inglourious Basterds”

Waltz has won every major award prior to the Oscar. He is fantastic in the role and absolutely deserves to win.

Actress in a Leading Role
Sandra Bullock in “The Blind Side”
Helen Mirren in “The Last Station”
Carey Mulligan in “An Education”
Gabourey Sidibe in “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”
Meryl Streep in “Julie & Julia”

As much as it pains me to admit, it looks like Bullock is going to win. There is chance that Streep might pull out a win, but it’s just a slim chance. It will be a dark day Sunday when Bullock wins for such a mediocre performance. Bullock has to be careful that her career not follow the same trajectory of other Best Actress winners. Anyone remember Louis Fletcher? Exactly.

Actress in a Supporting Role
Penelope Cruz in “Nine”
Vera Farmiga in “Up in the Air”
Maggie Gyllenhaal in “Crazy Heart”
Anna Kendrick in “Up in the Air”
Mo’Nique in “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”

Mo’Nique has won every major award before the Oscar, so she’s unstoppable.

Animated Feature Film
“Coraline”, Henry Selick
“Fantastic Mr. Fox”, Wes Anderson
“The Princess and the Frog”, John Musker and Ron Clements
“The Secret of Kells”, Tomm Moore
“Up”, Pete Docter

Pixar always wins this category and this year should be no different. I would personally love it if Fantastic Mr. Fox won, but I’m not counting on it.

Art Direction
“Avatar”, Art Direction: Rick Carter and Robert Stromberg; Set Decoration: Kim Sinclair
“The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus”, Art Direction: Dave Warren and Anastasia Masaro; Set Decoration: Caroline Smith
“Nine”, Art Direction: John Myhre; Set Decoration: Gordon Sim
“Sherlock Holmes”, Art Direction: Sarah Greenwood; Set Decoration: Katie Spencer
“The Young Victoria”, Art Direction: Patrice Vermette; Set Decoration: Maggie Gray

Avatar has to win something on Oscar night. The film won the Art Director Guild award for best fantasy film, so I think it will win this category. This is also one of the few categories in which the film is not competing against The Hurt Locker in, so the Academy will throw it something.

Cinematography
“Avatar”, Mauro Fiore
“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”, Bruno Delbonnel
“The Hurt Locker”, Barry Ackroyd
“Inglourious Basterds”, Robert Richardson
“The White Ribbon”, Christian Berger

This is one of the categories that I find difficult to predict. The cinematography guild awarded the black and white cinematography of The White Ribbon. The Hurt Locker or Avatar could pull out a win. I love the classical cinematography by Richardson for Basterds. I think the Academy will shun Avatar’s cinematography in favor of The Hurt Locker’s realistic, handheld feel.

Costume Design
“Bright Star”, Janet Patterson
“Coco before Chanel”, Catherine Leterrier
“The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus”, Monique Prudhomme
“Nine”, Colleen Atwood
“The Young Victoria”, Sandy Powell

The last couple of years a period film won this award. To top it off, The Young Victoria also won the costume guild award.

Documentary (Feature)
“Burma VJ”, Anders Ostergaard and Lise Lense-Moller
“The Cove”, Louie Psihoyos and Fisher Stevens
“Food, Inc.”, Robert Kenner and Elise Pearlstein
“The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers”, Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith
“Which Way Home”, Rebecca Cammisa

The Cove has won every major documentary award prior to Oscar, so I’ll go with it to win

Documentary (Short Subject)
“China’s Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province”, Jon Alpert and Matthew O’Neill
“The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner”, Daniel Junge and Henry Ansbacher
“The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant”, Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert
“Music by Prudence”, Roger Ross Williams and Elinor Burkett
“Rabbit a la Berlin”, Bartek Konopka and Anna Wydra

I have no idea what’s going in this category, but Oscar experts pick this film, so I’ll go with the consensus pick.

Film Editing
“Avatar”, Stephen Rivkin, John Refoua and James Cameron
“District 9”, Julian Clarke
“The Hurt Locker”, Bob Murawski and Chris Innis
“Inglourious Basterds”, Sally Menke
“Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”, Joe Klotz

The Hurt Locker won the American Cinema Editors guild award. If there is an Avatar sweep, it could win in this category.

Foreign Language Film
“Ajami”, Israel
“El Secreto de Sus Ojos”, Argentina
“The Milk of Sorrow”, Peru
“Un Prophete”, France
“The White Ribbon”, Germany

This category is a complete toss-up. The Academy requires that all voters in this category attend screenings of all five nominees in order to vote. This category is unpredictable, so I have no idea who will win. Some Oscar experts are going for Un Prophete, or El Secreto de Sus Ojos from Argentina. I’ll stick with my first choice The White Ribbon, but I’ll probably end up wrong come Oscar night.

Makeup
“Il Divo”, Aldo Signoretti and Vittorio Sodano
“Star Trek”, Barney Burman, Mindy Hall and Joel Harlow
“The Young Victoria”, Jon Henry Gordon and Jenny Shircore

Sometimes genre films do win this award, like Pan’s Labyrinth, but for the past couple years the Academy has given it to films set in the past.

Music (Original Score)
“Avatar”, James Horner
“Fantastic Mr. Fox”, Alexandre Desplat
“The Hurt Locker”, Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders
“Sherlock Holmes”, Hans Zimmer
“Up”, Michael Giacchino

The score from Up was very good and memorable. Avatar could pull out a win, but I’m going with Up.

Music (Original Song)
“Almost There” from “The Princess and the Frog”, Music and Lyric by Randy Newman
“Down in New Orleans” from “The Princess and the Frog”, Music and Lyric by Randy Newman
“Loin de Paname” from “Paris 36”, Music by Reinhardt Wagner Lyric by Frank Thomas
“Take It All” from “Nine”, Music and Lyric by Maury Yeston
“The Weary Kind (Theme from Crazy Heart)” from “Crazy Heart”, Music and Lyric by Ryan Bingham and T Bone Burnett

This year a good song will actually win. Crazy Heart won the Golden Globe for best song, it’s gonna win, case closed.

Short Film (Animated)
“French Roast”, Fabrice O. Joubert
“Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty”, Nicky Phelan and Darragh O’Connell
“The Lady and the Reaper (La Dama y la Muerte)”, Javier Recio Gracia
“Logorama”, Nicolas Schmerkin
“A Matter of Loaf and Death”, Nick Park

I haven’t seen any of the films in this category, but I know that every year Nick Park has been nominated he has won.

Short Film (Live Action)
“The Door”, Juanita Wilson and James Flynn
“Instead of Abracadabra”, Patrik Eklund and Mathias Fjellstroem
“Kavi”, Gregg Helvey
“Miracle Fish”, Luke Doolan and Drew Bailey
“The New Tenants”, Joachim Back and Tivi Magnusson

I haven’t seen any of these films, so you could close your eyes and randomly pick one of these nominees and have a fair chance of picking the winner. Oscar sites are going with Miracle Fish or The Door. I’ll go with Miracle Fish because Richard Roeper picked it. Don’t blame me if you end losing this category in your Oscar pool.

Sound Editing
“Avatar”, Christopher Boyes and Gwendolyn Yates Whittle
“The Hurt Locker”, Paul N.J. Ottosson
“Inglourious Basterds”, Wylie Stateman
“Star Trek”, Mark Stoeckinger and Alan Rankin
“Up”, Michael Silvers and Tom Myers

I have no idea what the difference is between this and the other sound category, but I’m going with Avatar. Avatar won the Motion Picture Sound Editors award, which lines up pretty close with Oscar. Maybe the Hurt Locker or Inglourious Basterds could win here.

Sound Mixing
“Avatar”, Christopher Boyes, Gary Summers, Andy Nelson and Tony Johnson
“The Hurt Locker”, Paul N.J. Ottosson and Ray Beckett
“Inglourious Basterds”, Michael Minkler, Tony Lamberti and Mark Ulano
“Star Trek”, Anna Behlmer, Andy Nelson and Peter J. Devlin
“Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen”, Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers and Geoffrey Patterson

Once again I have no idea what the difference is between this category and Sound Editing. Avatar should do well in the technical categories. Maybe The Hurt Locker could pull out a victory here.

Visual Effects
“Avatar”, Joe Letteri, Stephen Rosenbaum, Richard Baneham and Andrew R. Jones
“District 9”, Dan Kaufman, Peter Muyzers, Robert Habros and Matt Aitken
“Star Trek”, Roger Guyett, Russell Earl, Paul Kavanagh and Burt Dalton

This is a no brainer. If Avatar doesn’t win, I’ll be shocked.

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)
“District 9”, Written by Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell
“An Education”, Screenplay by Nick Hornby
“In the Loop”, Screenplay by Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, Tony Roche
“Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”, Screenplay by Geoffrey Fletcher
“Up in the Air”, Screenplay by Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner

The Academy is going to throw Up in the Air something. This is the only category I see it winning. The Writers Guild Award the film won confirms that it will win.

Writing (Original Screenplay)
“The Hurt Locker”, Written by Mark Boal
“Inglourious Basterds”, Written by Quentin Tarantino
“The Messenger”, Written by Alessandro Camon & Oren Moverman
“A Serious Man”, Written by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
“Up”, Screenplay by Bob Peterson, Pete Docter, Story by Pete Docter, Bob Peterson, Tom McCarthy

This is one of the races that is hard to predict. Tarantino’s script deserves to win, but I think it will go to The Hurt Locker. The Hurt Locker won the Writers Guild Award and BAFTA award. Basterds wasn’t eligible for the Writers Guild Award, but it was in direct competition with The Hurt Locker for the BAFTA. Screenwriter Mark Boal was an actual journalist embedded in Iraq, which can’t hurt his chances with voters. The Oscar voters love a good personal story.

Best Supporting Performances of 2009

January 30, 2010 2 comments

My list of the supporting performances that I loved in the year 2009.

MALE

1. Christoph Waltz as Col. Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds: There is nothing else I can say about this performance that hasn’t been said before. Waltz is brilliant as the evil, cunning Nazi Colonel Hans Landa. Tarantino created a truly memorable character on the page and it’s Waltz who brings Tarantino’s vision to life on-screen. He deserves all the awards coming his way. If you haven’t seen the film, go now! The opening twenty minutes of the film showcases Waltz at his most spellbinding.

2. Christian McKay as Orson Welles in Me and Orson Welles: Christian McKay’s portrayal of Orson Welles is the main reason to go and seek out this picture. The film itself is average, but it’s McKay’s performance that will make this film last long in your memory. McKay is able to perfectly capture the ego, talent and brilliance of the real Orson Welles. For an example of McKay’s brilliance, look at the long tracking shot of him walking into a radio station and totally taking control.

3. Peter Capaldi as Malcolm Tucker in In the Loop: I just love watching Capaldi as the super foul-mouthed director of communications for the English prime minister. It is completely absorbing to watch him unleash blistering curse words against people. This man is always on the edge of having a blood vessel burst. The profanity flowing out of his mouth is delivered so smoothly it leaves you simultaneously shocked and bursting with laughter.

4. James Gandolfini as Carol in Where the Wild Things Are: This could be considered a controversial choice. Gandolfini is never physically seen on-screen, but that didn’t stop me from connecting with this performance. Gandolfini’s brilliant voice work completely made this tall creature a believable, unique character. His voice is full of anger, hate, joy, and it’s these emotions that connects him with film’s main character, Max. Who would have thought the Tony Soprano could so perfectly convey a sensitive side to this Wild Thing named Carol?

5. Fred Melamed as Sy Ableman in A Serious Man: The above photograph completely captures the brilliance of Fred Melamed as Sy Ableman. Even though Melamed is having sex with Larry’s wife, he couldn’t be nicer about it. He is both Larry’s antagonist and tries to be his best friend. It takes a great actor to capture the genuine sincerity and creepiness of Sy Ableman.

Honorable Mentions: Jake Gyllenhaal in Brothers, Anthony Mackie in The Hurt Locker, Michael Fassbender in Inglourious Basterds.

FEMALE

1. Mo’Nique as Mary in Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire: Like my number one pick for best supporting actor, Christoph Waltz, Mo’Nique is almost certain to win the Oscar for best supporting actress. She is absolutely terrifying as the worst mom ever depicted on-screen. The words she throws against her daughter are as frightening as any fists she throws. Mo’Nique is able to create a character that we have some level of pity for by the end of the film.

2. Anna Kendrick as Natalie Keener in Up in the Air: Kendrick is really the heart of this film. On the surface you think her character is going to be a corporate lackey without a soul. As it turns out she does have a soul, and she is the reason for Clooney’s change in the film. Kendrick has great chemistry with Clooney and is not afraid to go head to head with him during their first confrontational meeting. It’s a great scene to watch.

3. Diane Kruger as Bridget von Hammersmark in Inglourious Basterds: Kruger is beautiful to watch on-screen as the German film star, turned British spy. The way the camera shoots her, only helps us believe that she really is this beautiful film star of the 1940’s. Kruger has all the charm of a movie star, but also the ruthlessness of a double agent. The scene where she meets up with Hans Landa during the movie premiere is a beauty to watch.

4. Marion Cotillard as Luisa in Nine: Cotillard is one talented actress and the best thing about the movie Nine. Cotillard is able to bring real depth and emotion to this role as a woman who has been cheated on. When she shows up on-screen, she is able to bring a sense of history to this character. This is something that none of the other actresses in Nine is able to do.

5. Vera Farmiga as Alex Goran in Up in the Air: Farmiga has always been an actress I enjoyed seeing ever since her work in 2006’s The Departed. In this role she now gets a chance to shine. She is sexy, strong and intelligent. Like Kendrick, she is able to go head to head with Clooney which creates a unique chemistry between the two. The scene where the two first meet in the hotel bar is one of the great scenes of the year.

Honorable Mentions: Catherine Keener in Where the Things Are, Olivia Williams in An Education

Best Lead Performances of 2009

January 25, 2010 1 comment

Here is my list of the best lead performances for the year 2009. The best supporting performances will come next.

MALE

1. Jeremy Renner as Staff Sergeant William James in The Hurt Locker: As we watch Renner attempt to dismantle a bomb, we immediately understand that this is something he must do. He is drawn to it. This type of character, a man who doesn’t follow the rules, could have been played as a big badass type. Renner wisely doesn’t play this character that way. There is subtly and a quiet intensity in Renner’s performance. War is indeed a drug for him and his actions have serious consequences to his fellows soldiers. There is a great, honest moment at the end of the film where Renner quietly tells his baby son about the one thing he loves in life.

2. Colin Firth as George Falconer in A Single Man: This performance almost came in at number one. Firth is fantastic as a college professor suffering over the loss of his long time partner. What makes this role standout is not what Firth says, it’s what he doesn’t. He is able to convey a different range of emotions in just his slightest facial movement. The scene where he learns that his partner has been killed over a telephone call is a piece of great acting. He is a man who tries carefully to hide his feelings and in that one scene he finally lets it all out.

3. Michael Stuhlbarg as Larry Gopnik in A Serious Man: You feel a lot of sympathy for Michael Stuhlbarg’s Larry Gopnik, a Jewish college professor living in 1960’s Minnesota. His professional and personal life are in serious chaos. We feel an enormous amount of sympathy for the man because of Stuhlbarg. He doesn’t play Larry as a loser, but just as a normal man trying to lead a normal life. Stuhlbarg wisely never goes over the top here. You can always tell he is just on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Credit the Coen’s for finding humor in this man’s chaotic life.

4. George Clooney as Ryan Bingham in Up in the Air: 2009 was a great year for Clooney. In three films Clooney delivered very strong work. His strongest performance came in this film as a professional corporate down sizer. Clooney’s Bingham is a pro at firing people. He has it down to an art. What makes this performance work is that Clooney doesn’t rely solely on his charm. There is a real vulnerability that exposes a side to him we are not use to seeing. His great chemistry with co-stars Anna Kendrick and Vera Farmiga doesn’t hurt his performance either.

5. Jeff Bridges as Bad Blake in Crazy Heart: Bridges has always delivered strong work in every picture he’s been in for nearly forty years. He seems dead certain to win the Oscar for his role as Bad Blake. Some will say the Academy will give it him as a career achievement award which represents his entire body of work. Regardless of that, he would deserve it if he wins. What makes this character move beyond cliche is Bridges. Bridges is able to instill a real level of authenticity and vulnerability into this hard living country singer.

Honorable Mentions: Sam Rockwell in Moon, Sharlto Copley in District 9, Nicolas Cage in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orléans.

FEMALE

1. Carey Mulligan as Jenny Miller in An Education: Mulligan is simply mesmerizing to watch on the screen. You are witnessing a star being born with this performance. Mulligan’s performance has been compared to Audrey Hepburn and justifiably so. Some of the images of Mulligan on-screen are comparable to Hepburn in “Roman Holiday.” Jenny is a complex, intelligent young woman trying to find her way in life. She thinks she knows everything and is intelligent when compared to young ladies her own age. But she is still young and a bit naive. The troubles she goes through may end up hurting her, but we know she will end up stronger as a result. Mulligan was one of the great discoveries of 2009 for me. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for her.

2. Melanie Laurent as Shosanna Dreyfus in Inglourious Basterds: Even though she may be considered a supporting performance, the film is essentially built around her character. Tarantino has crafted a strong memorable female heroine with Shosanna. Laurent is able to bring this character to life, as a brave and smart woman. If you want see Laurent at her best, look at the scene where she comes face to face with Hans Landa, the man responsible for her family’s death. She puts up a strong face throughout the meeting and when it’s finally over, she can’t help but break down in pure emotional heartbreak.

3. Tilda Swinton as Julia in Julia: Tilda Swinton is one brave actress. In this film she plays a character who is an out of control alcoholic. There is no vanity here, she lets all the ugliness of this character hang out. I was amazed watching her performance. The story focuses on Swinton kidnapping a friend’s son and holding him for ransom. She has no idea what she is doing and its riveting watching her completely make up this kidnap plan along the course of the film. Julia is a captivating character who always has us guessing what her true motivations are.

4. Gabourey Sidibe as Precious in Precious: Based on the novel Push by Sapphire: This is a sad, moving debut performance. Sidibe is fantastic as this poor, uneducated, abused African-American teenager living in 1980’s Harlem. You watch this role and swear that she must really be like this character. Despite all the trouble that Precious goes through, Sidibe is able to inject real humanity into this role. We care about her and want her to succeed in life. It’s a heartbreaking moment when she finally breaks down over all the hardships she has lived through.

5. Zoe Saldana as Neytiri in Avatar: Saldana’s performance is the heart and soul of Avatar. She is the reason we care about what happens to the Na’vi on the planet of Pandora. The fact that we don’t actually see her live human performance on-screen doesn’t hinder her ability to convey a range of feelings up on the screen. A close up of her Na’vi face has the same emotional impact as a close up of a human face.

Honorable Mentions: Penelope Cruz in Broken Embraces, Merly Streep in Julie & Julia.

Top 10 Films of 2009

December 30, 2009 2 comments

2009 was a very good year for film. I’ve seen over 60 films released this year, so you can trust me when I say that this year has been very good. I did find it somewhat difficult to narrow my list down to just the top ten. This list could have easily turned into a top 20 list. My 1 through 4 picks I had no trouble deciding. My 5 through 10 picks could almost be interchangeable. Here is the list of the top 10 films of 2009 counting down from number 10 to number 1.

10. Sugar

This is a small independent film from directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, the paired who directed “Half Nelson.” The two have crafted a great immigrant story with this film. The story centers on a young Dominican baseball player, Miguel Santos, aka Sugar, who makes it to the Minor Leagues in America. Baseball is everything for Sugar, if he makes it big he can support his family back home. We see what the pressure to succeed does to the man. The story is simple and does not go for over the top melodramatic moments. The filmmakers do a great job of showing us the despair, loneliness that a new immigrant in this country goes through. By the end we are left with a level of sadness and hopefulness for this character’s future.

9. Avatar

One of the best cinematic experiences I had at the movies this year. After seeing the film in IMAX 3D you are left with the feeling that you have experienced a truly special cinematic moment. I like what Roger Ebert said about the film’s director James Cameron, “there is still at least one man in Hollywood who knows how to spend $250 million, or was it 300 million, wisely.” Using today’s modern technology, Cameron is able to fully engulf the audience into the beautiful, realistic alien world of Pandora. Cameron has returned amazement to the movies.

8. Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

I was surprised at how much humor, warmth and hopefulness I found in this picture about a young African-American teenage girl, who is illiterate, pregnant, and abused emotionally and sexually by her mother. The film features a great performance from the title character Precious played by Gabourey Sidibe. Mo’Nique is also terrific as the worst mother ever put on-screen. The film never ventures into the over the top melodrama. It’s able to properly balance the despair and hopefulness that Precious experiences throughout the picture. The scenes involving Precious and her fellow students in a classroom are some of the film’s standout moments. Director Lee Daniels and screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher do a remarkable job of putting us into the reality of the story.

7. Up in the Air

The impressive third feature film from director Jason Reitman stars George Clooney as a termination specialist who lives off not having any deep human connections. Things change when he meets two women, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick. Both deliver strong performances that are up to par with Clooney’s. Clooney and Farmiga have great chemistry together. Their dialogue scenes remind you of Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell going at it in “His Girl Friday.” Clooney is delivering some of his best work here. He shows you that firing people is a art. Reitman has a real handle on how to balance drama and comedy. It’s not easy to pigeon hole this film into a specific genre. I would recommend this film to anybody, film fan or not.

6. Fantastic Mr. Fox

One of my flat-out favorite films of the year. The film is tremendous fun to watch from beginning to end. This is defiantly Wes Anderon’s best picture since “The Royal Tenenbaums.” The voice cast is one of the best ever assembled for an animated film. Based on the children’s book by Roald Dahl, George Clooney voices Mr. Fox, a chicken raider whose antics gets his entire animal community in a war with up tight British farmers. The stop-motion animation is a great fit for Anderson’s style. I found it really beautiful to look at. The stop-motion animation brings these characters to life better than CG ever could. This is a funny, charming film that can appeal to both kids and adults.

5. Goodbye Solo

A beautiful, truly moving picture from director Ramin Bahrani. The film tells the story of a friendship developed between a African cab driver named Solo and one his clients, an old white guy named William. William pays Solo 1,000 dollars to drive him to the top of mountain in 10 days. The film does not follow the plot of a typical Hollywood movie. This is a character piece where we get to learn and care about these characters. It never betrays its story by going for over the top melodramatic moments. There is a moment that these two characters share that is one of the great moments in film I saw this year. The moment consists of just Solo and William staring at each other, no words are spoken. This moment of silence is able to convey their feelings better than any dialogue could . This is a small independent film that people should rush out to see.

4. A Serious Man

The Coen Brother’s return to their home of Minnesota for this film. Set in the late 1960’s, the film follows the worst couple of weeks that Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) has ever experienced. Stuhlbarg gives one of the best performances of the year as the family man who is just trying to live an ordinary life. The key to Stuhlbarg’s performance is that he doesn’t play Larry as a loser, he plays him as a decent man who is going through the worst events in his life. This is a very, very black comedy. The film confirms that the Coen’s are master storytellers. It’s amazing what reactions they are able to convey with just one single shot. Fine supporting work from Fred Melamed as Sy Albeman, the man who is seeing Larry’s wife. He’s not what the audience or Larry expects. The Goy’s teeth sequence is one the funniest sequences I saw at the movies this year.

3. Where the Wild Things Are

A beautiful look at childhood from director Spike Jonze. Based on the children’s book by Maurice Sendak, the story centers on a young child named Max (Max Records) who after running away from home arrives on an island full of creatures called the Wild Things. Max is not a pleasant child protagonist but I found myself relating to him. There is one scene in the beginning of the film where Max, in a rage, destroys something and then immediately regrets it. I’ve done exactly the same thing as a child. When the story arrives on the island there really is no plot. What Jonze is able to do is create a mood. He shows us that childhood is fun, but also scary. Great use of practical effects and CG to create the Wild Things. The voice talent of the Wild Things, led by James Gandolfini, is terrific because each actor is able to make each creature a unique personality. The first twenty minutes and the last five minutes of the film are just plain perfect.

2. The Hurt Locker

Kathryn Bigelow has directed the best action film of the year. This is also the best film about the Iraq War because it puts us on the ground with the soldiers who are fighting the war. The film is a series of expertly crafted set pieces about a bomb disposal unit in Iraq. Jeremy Renner is terrific as the lead bomb defusal expert. Watching him dismantle a bomb is like watching a great artist create a painting. There is also strong work from the two other members of Renner’s team, Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty. Excellent camerawork from the cinematographer Barry Ackroy. The film uses the handheld camera technique in a way that never makes the audience feel dizzy or nauseating. What Bigelow is able to do with handheld camera is put the viewer on the ground with the dangerous situations that these soldiers are going through. We always know where the soldiers are, where the potential threats are. The film has you on the edge of your seat.

1. Inglourious Basterds

Quentin Tarantino’s World War Two epic is the best film of 2009. It’s also the most joyous time I had at the movies. I saw this film 3 times in the theatre and I grew to love the film each time I saw it. I admire the sheer audacity of Tarantino to open the film with a twenty-minute dialogue sequence. What Tarantino does with these long dialogue scenes is build suspense. The film is divided into five chapters and each chapter in the film is like a mini movie. All five of the chapters build up and combine into one spectacular final sequence. Christoph Waltz as the Nazi Colonel Hans Landa delivers one of the best performances of the year. Waltz is smart and charming, which makes him even more terrifying. Tarantino has assembled a great ensemble cast. Standouts for me include Michael Fassbender as a British Lieutenant and Melanie Laurent as a Jewish survivor out for revenge. Leave it to Tarantino to make a World War Two movie without a single battle sequence and a climax in a movie theatre. In the end cinema saves the world, as it should be.

Rounding out my list to the top 25: 11) Public Enemies 12) An Education 13) Up  14) In The Loop 15) Moon 16) The Cove 17) Humpday 18)District 9 19)Adventureland 20) Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince 21)Capitalism: A Love Story 22) Duplicity 23) The Hangover 24) A Single Man 25) Anvil! The Story of Anvil

Tarantino’s Top Films of 2009

December 16, 2009 Leave a comment

Not a top 10 list, more of a top 8.

Half the films on his list wouldn’t make my top 10 or even top 25. Star Trek was fun, but overrated in my view. Funny People and Drag Me to Hell were okay but very flawed. Observe and Report was just plain bad.

Precious and Up in the Air are solid picks. Those films look like they would appear on my list of the top 10 films of 2009.

Clooney, Reitman & Crew Deliver an Outstanding Film with Up in the Air

December 15, 2009 Leave a comment

Up in the Air

With this film director Jason Reitman I think cements his status as possibly one of our great future directors. With each successive film Reitman has grown as a filmmaker. I didn’t care for his debut, “Thank You For Smoking,” but I really enjoyed his follow-up “Juno.” I think “Up in the Air” is without a doubt his best film. The writing, direction, and the cast, is a step above the rest.

Ryan Bingham, played by George Clooney, is a man whose job is to fire people. Companies from around the country hire him to come to their company and fire their employees. He is an expert at it. Watching him fire people is like watching a fine artist at work. All this traveling requires that Bingham essentially live in the air. On the rare occasion when he returns to his apartment we see it is lonely and empty. Traveling is his life and he loves it. He has no use for an ordinary life. Along his travels he encounters two women who challenge his life. One of them is a female version of himself, Alex, played by Vera Farmiga. The other is a young employee at his company, Natalie, played by Anna Kendrick, who Bingham takes on the road to show her the ropes.

2009 has been a standout year for Clooney. He was the best thing in “The Men Who Stare at Goats,” and his voice work was fantastic in “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” With this film Clooney ends the year with another strong performance. He is completely charming, but doesn’t rely on it to carry the role. We get to see a real vulnerability behind all his charm and good looks. There is one great scene where we see Clooney at work. He fires J.K. Simmons with such sincerity that it had me thinking that I wouldn’t mind being fired by Clooney.

The two female leads are also strong. Vera Farmiga finally gets a chance to shine. I love the scenes between her and Clooney. When the two of them go at with the dialogue it reminded me a bit of Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell going at it in “His Girl Friday.” Anna Kendrick is completely engaging as the hot-shot newcomer who threatens Clooney’s way of life. There is a great scene where the two go at it for the first time and the cutting back and forth between the two reminds you of two boxers going at it. Kendrick puts up a tough persona, but we are able to see cracks in her hard armor.

The screenplay by Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner, based on the novel by Walter Kerns, is terrific. There are a number of great one liners. The dialogue and the way the actors deliver the lines is delightful to hear.

The film mirrors the real life economic downturn that is facing the country today. Reitman uses real life out of work employees in the film. When I first heard of this, I wasn’t sure how this element would be incorporated into the picture. But Reitman blends the unemployed into the film in a nice, non intrusive way.

Just when the film reaches a level of sentimentality, the film pulls the rug out of the audience and Clooney. I kind of did see this event coming just when it was about to happen. A lesser filmmaker would have possibly went for the easy way out. I really liked the ambiguity of the ending. Where does the man in the air go now? The more I thought about the film afterwards, the more in stature the film grew.

I think Roger Ebert sums it up best about Reitman during his review of this film. He “makes smart, edgy mainstream films. That’s harder than making smart, edgy indies.” Reitman is a real talent, who has a knack for balancing humor and drama to produce a fully satisfying picture.

4 Stars