Friday, February 22, 2008

Oscar predictions

Oscar’s are right around the corner, so I figured I'd offer up some predictions. So, here goes:

BEST PICTURE (Atonement, Juno, Michael Clayton, No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood) – Atonement has all the superfluous ingredients of your typical Academy choice, but it’s the weakest of the lot, so that’s a no go. Juno is totally agreeable, and while that does sometimes win Oscars, it shouldn’t this year. Meanwhile in a marked departure from Oscar’s regular dealings, the other nominees are actually three of the year’s best films (shocker). Blood is a landmark piece, but it won’t pull through here, with all the love for that film going toward Daniel Day Lewis. That leaves No Country and Clayton to duel it out. No Country’s the better film, but its unconventional ending didn’t sit well with everyone, whereas Clayton received universal love. Plus you can’t discount the Clooney-factor.

Should win: No Country for Old Men, a perfect mixture of style and substance.
Will win: Probably No Country. However, Clayton could be a spoiler, especially if Blood steals votes from No Country.

BEST ACTOR (George Clooney for Michael Clayton, Daniel Day-Lewis for There Will Be Blood, Johnny Depp for Sweeney Todd, Viggo Mortensen for Eastern Promises, Tommy Lee Jones for In the Valley of Elah).

It’s almost impossible not to concede to Day Lewis at this point. If he wins he’ll become the 8th actor to win two best actor trophies (joining the likes of Tracy, Nicholson, Hanks, etc.) and he totally deserves it. Even Clooney, his strongest opponent, has admitted this much, telling Time magazine, “For me, it’s like being Hillary Clinton. If it weren’t for Barack Obama, it would’ve been a pretty good year [for her].”

This is especially true considering the other nominees. Jones got his nomination on the strength of two solid turns this season (the other in No Country), but he’s not nearly as magnetic as Day Lewis. Meanwhile, Depp was solid in a challenging (albeit one-note) role, but he garnered his other two nominations largely as payback for oversights earlier in his career and this is no different. Same goes for Mortensen. He was great and fearless in Eastern Promises, but this will function primarily as his final chance to get a nomination after oversights for Lord of the Rings and History of Violence (however, the tides could change next year with his lead role in the adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road).

Should win: Day Lewis.
Will win: Day Lewis.

Best Actress (Cate Blanchett for Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Julie Christie for Away From Her, Marion Cotillard for La Vie en Rose, Laura Linney for The Savages, Ellen Page for Juno).

Christie won a majority of the critics’ awards, but her turn is really a supporting one, and she’s just not given enough to deserve the Oscar over her colleagues. Meanwhile, Page has a lot of heat right now, but it seems unlikely that the Academy will notice here, even though she is herfilm’s greatest asset (despite belief that screenwriter Diablo Cody is). The biggest roadblock for Page will be Marion Cotillard, who did what the Academy loves best: uglified herself for a challenging biopic role. Rounding out the nominees, Blanchett and Linney are practically nonexistent in this race (both were surprise nominees, and haven’t gained ground over the last month).

Should win: Linney. She’s one of the best actresses around, and, as the focus of The Savages, she totally nailed it. Plus, more than anyone in this category, she deserves some payback love for Kinsey and You Can Count on Me (both of which she was nominated for), as well as The Squid and the Whale, The Truman Show and Mystic River (the latter of which she should’ve won for).
Will win: Cotillard, Christie and Page are all possibilities. I’m going to throw it up to predictability and say Cotillard.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR (Casey Affleck for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Javier Bardem for No Country for Old Men, Hal Holbrook for Into The Wild, Philip Seymour Hoffman for Charlie Wilson’s War, Tom Wilkinson for Michael Clayton).

This isn’t as much of a done deal as the Best Actor race, but everybody’s totally ready to hand this thing to Bardem, who totally owned No Country for Old Men. Hoffman was good in three films this year, but having recently won for Capote, the Academy will let this opportunity pass right by. Meanwhile, for Affleck the win was getting the nomination, which was uncertain, deserved (as a lead actually), but uncertain nonetheless. That leaves Holbrook and Wilkinson. Holbrook has the best chance to upset, especially considering his longstanding excellence and respect in the business. However, Wilkinson is also deserving for similar reasons, as he is arguably one of the best supporting actors out there right now.

Should win: I’m going to say Bardem even though I have a soft spot for Wilkinson, and would embrace that choice.
Will win: Bardem (possible, but unlikely, Holbrook upset).

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS (Cate Blanchett for I’m Not There, Ruby Dee for American Gangster, Saoirse Ronan for Atonement, Amy Ryan for Gone Baby Gone, Tilda Swinton for Michael Clayton)

Right off the bat, Ronan is out of the running, and Dee should be too. I acknowledge Dee has a “sentimental” angle, but if the “old, reliable institution” thing won’t work for Holbrook, it shouldn’t work for Dee, who had almost nothing to do in American Gangster. The race has been a back-and-forth between Ryan and Blanchett all season, with Ryan slightly unproven and Blanchett disadvantaged because of a win two years ago in the category for The Aviator (many see her as a lead actress, and may wait until her next serious nomination—not Elizabeth Part Deux—to bestow another Oscar upon her). That leaves Swinton, who should garner quite a bit of votes for breathing a lot of dimensionality and life into a stock role.

Should win: I love me my Blanchett, but Swinton is pretty darn cool. I’d jive with either, but not with Ryan, whose performance was realistic, but one-dimensional.
Will win: Swinton, especially considering all the factors—(1) Blanchett has a win; (2) Ryan is a newbie and played a one-dimension role (3) Swinton’s a solid standby and will be seen as a makeup win for Clayton’s defeat in almost every other category.

BEST DIRECTOR (Paul Thomas Anderson for There Will Be Blood, Joel Coen and Ethan Coen for No Country for Old Men, Julian Schnabel for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Tony Gilroy for Michael Clayton, Jason Reitman for Juno)

Reitman and Gilroy are both ones to watch but they’re definitely out of their league amongst the other three men this year. Schnabel’s gotten a lot of award love, and Anderson is arguably the best director of his generation, but it’s hard to see them stealing it from the Coens, who reaffirmed their legacy with No Country.

Should win: Anderson really did a fantastic job with Blood, pulling a 180 to make a totally different masterpiece then the ones he had been churning out over the last decade. The guy’s a friggin’ auteur and he out-directed the Coens, who I think should lose here and win in other categories.
Will win: The Coens, although they could suffer from a Scorsese-type mishap and lose to Schnabel.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY (Diablo Cody for Juno, Nancy Oliver for Lars and the Real Girl, Tony Gilroy for Michael Clayton, Brad Bird, Story by Jan Pinkava, Jim Capobianco, Brad Bird for Ratatouille, Tamara Jenkins for The Savages).

You can count out Oliver and Jenkins right off the bat, and although everyone loves his films, Bird probably won’t net an award here. Odds are Cody will win, but Gilroy deserves it for his better script, as well as his continued excellence (three Bourne movies outweigh Cody’s absolutely nothing else output).

Should win: Gilroy.
Will win: Cody.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY (Paul Thomas Anderson for There Will Be Blood, Christopher Hampton for Atonement, Ronald Harwood for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Joel Coen and Ethan Coen for No Country for Old Men, Sarah Polley for Away From Her).

For Polley, this nomination is an act of faith form the Academy that she’s a real-deal filmmaker, but she’ll have to prove herself with something else to be a serious competitor. There Will Be Blood stands a chance, but as I said before, directing and acting are this puppy’s best chance. Hampton’s script is just solid and Harwood’s always a threat, and in fact, won in this category for The Pianist, but I don’t think it’s his year. Last, the Coens hit their adaptation out of the park, adding subtleties and making judicious cuts to McCarthy’s masterwork.

Should Win: The Coen Brothers, because the improved upon an already seminal story.
Will Win: I want to say the Coens, but if they win the director award, it’s conceivable that Anderson will prove victorious here. Oh, and to reiterate, you can’t count out Harwood.

Cinematography (Roger Deakins for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Seamus McGarvey for Atonement, Janusz Kaminski for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Roger Deakins for No Country for Old Men, Robert Elswit for There Will Be Blood)

Deakins offered up a one-two punch this year that’s hard to ignore, and deserves the win for Assassination. However, he could split his vote, leaving the race open to someone else. Kaminski (Spielberg’s regular guy) is a pro, but it’s hard to imagine he’ll get enough support to win his third Oscar (especially true considering Deakins has never won). It’s hard to imagine McGarvey will take the top spot as well, so that leaves it open for Elswit who did beautiful job with Blood, and has some good will hanging around from his great work on Good Night, and Good Luck.

Should Win: Deakins (for Assassination).
Will Win: Hopefully Deakins if supporters throw their weight in one direction (as happened with the director award for Stephen Soderbergh a few years back), but Elswit has a chance to sneak in.

Quick rundown of some other picks:

Film Editing – Roderick Jaynes (a pseudonym for The Coens) for No Country.
Song – “Falling Slowly” from Once (the Academy will surely want to acknowledge this great film in some way).
Score — It’s ludicrous that Johhny Greenwood couldn’t be nominated for his fantastic for on Blood, so I’ll say Atonement’s Dario Marianelli.
Visual Effects Transformers

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

There Will be a Country for Quality

I consider myself a pretty big movie buff, but excluding the over-marketed Jerry Brukheimer/Judd Apatow-types I don’t know many producers. I know producers are immensely important to the business and I have an idea of the all-time greats like Selznick, but they’re so behind-the-scenes that there’s just not enough time in the day to get invested.

That being said, a piece by La Times columnist Patrick Goldstein called “For Scott Rudin, There Will Be Quality” makes much ado about producer extraordinaire Scott Rudin and so I figured I’d looked into him.


You mean, Rudin isn't producing. Shit. Oh, wait, you were being funny. Don't toy with us, Owen.

A quick perusal of ImDb has convinced me that Rudin does, in fact, bring the quality. Included among his credits: three of my top ten films from 2007 – There Will Be Blood, No Country for Old Men and Darjeeling Limited.

Obviously, my appetite was piqued. My interest wetted.

Looking further down his page, it seems the guy has gotten better with age. While he’s had his share of misses over the years (the Stepford Wives remake, Failure to Launch, Freedomland), he’s really upped his output in the 21st century.

Here’s the proof:
2000: Wonder Boys and Shaft
2001: The Royal Tenenbaums and Zoolander
2002: Orange County and Changing Lanes
2003: The School of Rock
2004: The Manchurian Candidate, I Heart Huckabees, Team American: World Police, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and Closer
2006: The Queen, Venus and Notes on a Scandal
2007: The three films I already mentioned and Margot at the Wedding

While these films are nearly as good as the one-two punch that was No Country and There Will Be Blood, all are great examples of, at the very least, above average genre film-making. And from Wes Anderson and Richard Linklater to the Coen Brothers and Paul Thomas Anderson, it’s clear he’s supporting some of the best visionaries in the business, which is a pretty cool thing.

Additionally, while Rudin has increased his proclivity for great filmmaking with each ensuing year, I can’t deny he’s got a track record of goodness that dates back to the early ‘90s. Some of his best stuff includes, The Addams Family (1991), Sister Act (1992), Nobody’s Fool (1994), Clueless (1995), In & Out (1997), The Truman Show (1998), South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut (1999) and Sleepy Hollow (1999).

Yes. Absolutely yes.

So what does this all mean? Why am I writing about this? Well, basically, I’m trying to point out that Rudin knows quality, and he’s getting better, which means he’s someone to watch. Usually directors, writers and actors are the forces that get me excited for an upcoming film. It’s only an occasional producer (Apatow, J.J. Abrams) that is capable of doing that for me, but now Scott Rudin is among that selective list.

The horizon looks bright:

2008
Margaret – Mat Damon, Anna Paquin and Mark Ruffalo team with writer-director Kenneth Lonergan (You Can Count on Me) about the aftermath of a bus accident.

Doubt – Writer-director John Patrick Shanley adapts his play for the screen with an outright fantastic cast: Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Meryl Streep and Amy Adams. The play, which I’ve read and think is fantastic, focuses on a nun (Streep) who confronts a priest (Hoffman) when her and a younger nun (Adams) suspect him of sexual abusing a black student.

Revolutionary Road – Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition) directs this adaption of the acclaimed Richard Yates novel about a family in the ‘50s attempting to overcome personal problems. The icing on the cake: Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet are the leads.

The Reader – More Winslet, but this time with Ralph Fiennes and director Stephen Daldry (The Hours, which is another acclaimed Rudin film, albeit one I haven’t seen) in an adaption of a novel by Bernahrd Schlink that concerns obsession and war crimes in postwar Germany.

2009 and 2010
Nine other features that all seem interesting. Three – an adaption of Michael Chabon’s beloved novel The Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Wes Anderson’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Ridley Scott’s adaption of Cormac’s McCarthy’s Blood Meridian – look the best from where I’m sitting.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Scrabulicious

So, it's been a week, and I've yet to post any new content on here. I'm clearly taking the blogging thing on full steam. Anyway, I thought I'd remedy that by posting an article I wrote for another avenue: the Philadelphia Inquirer.

I've been interning at the Inky this semester, and my first article got published today. It's about the Scrabulous phenomenon on Facebook, and how the fun could end at any minute since Scrabble-maker Hasbro has sent the Calcutta-based makers a cease and desist. There's a factual error in the article (the developers make their money off of the facebook application, not the independent site), but otherwise, all good.

The article got nice placement in the magazine section but it can also be found here.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Oh, Uwe.

This review demands a prologue. Not because its subject, In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale, is of any great weight or depth; in reality the film is nothing more than a very poor Lord of the Rings rip-off. No, this review deserves a prologue because of the man, nay, the legend-in-the-making, behind its splendor: Uwe Boll.

Here’s an abbreviated biography for you. Boll bought up the film rights to a bunch of lower-end videogames a few years back, and he’s gone through them one by one, making some of the most god-awful films of the last decade. So far he’s “directed” five of these properties—House of the Dead, Alone in the Dark, BloodRayne, In the Name of the King and a straight-to-video BloodRayne sequel—but a quick look at his Internet Movie Database page shows that there is far more to come (including four more this year alone).

Each of these films has bombed terribly, both critically and commercially, and rightfully so. Everything, from the scripts to the acting to the scores, hell even the blocking, was laughable. And yet somehow, through the magic of some sort of tax loophole in Germany, he’s kept procuring bigger and bigger budgets.

Even more amazing than that, Boll managed to get a whole slew of name actors to appear in his dreck, including Christian Slater, Stephen Dorff, Michael Madsen, Michelle Rodriguez and Sir Ben Kingsley, an Oscar winner. Under his inept direction, these performers have given the worst performances of their careers (I can only assume the paychecks were well worth it).

All the while, Boll has garnered a serious reputation as the worst filmmaker alive. Drawing unfavorable comparisons to Ed Wood, he’s elicited the scorn of the gaming community and pretty much become a punchline. At one point he even challenged a few of his more fervent critics to boxing matches (he blindsided all of them, as they had no idea he was an amateur boxer).

I consider myself a serious cinephile, and so I know I should despise Boll because he’s amassing money and talent that could be far better used elsewhere (give the guy credit, he’s a decent producer). However, against the odds, my friends and I have become fervent fans of the man we affectionately call Uwe. He may make terrible films, but he’s the king of guilty pleasure; his films are hilarious in ways that Walker, Texas Ranger doesn’t even begin to compare to it.
Take In the Name of King, for example. The beats of the story are okay: A sorcerer joins forces with the king’s evil relative to take over the kingdom and kills the son of an honest farmer in the process. The farmer (who turns out to be more than a farmer if you catch my drift) joins the king’s cause to rescue his kidnapped wife and save the kingdom. Throw in some epic battle scenes, a few comic side kicks and some family dynamics and you got yourself a movie. Sounds clich├ęd but not all that terrible, right?

However, Boll couldn’t just make himself a lame, but serviceable, movie. No, Boll had to inexplicably add ninjas, Cirque du Soleil jungle women and a ridiculously cheery score. He had to switch the color saturation midway through for no apparent reason and encourage a multitude of nonsensical editing choices. He had to commission a terrible script with horrible lines like, “Those who you fight, we will help you fight them” and direct every one of his performers to overact to the hilt. But you know what? Boll’s decisions to do these things took a film that could’ve been inane, and made it into an extremely fun experience.

The chief enjoyment in this film derives from the actors giving life to Doug Taylor’s terrible screenplay. With Jason Statham, John Rhys-Davies, Burt Reynolds, Matthew Lillard, Ron Pearlman, Brian J. White, Leelee Sobieski, Claire Forlani and Ray Liotta, the cast sounds solid. Some of them defy the odds, and manage to be just that: Statham (as the farmer called Farmer), Rhys-Davies (as the king’s right-hand mage) and White (as the king’s right-hand commander) all turn in competent work, and manage to not embarrass themselves.

However, everyone else is pretty damn terrible and, thus, enjoyable. Reynolds, who looks totally out of place in the setting and kingly garb, is an utter treat as King Konreid. At one point, upon hearing some mumbo-jumbo from Rhys-Davies, Reynolds hilariously responds with, “What the hell does that mean?” Might as well be a sly statement on half the stuff that happens in the film. Furthermore, Reynolds has what is potentially the funniest deathbed scene in memory, during which he talks about seaweed being good for crops and all sorts of crazy nonsense. It’s truly a sight to behold.

As the evil mage Gallian, Liotta is just as bad. To his credit, he brings intensity to the role, but his scenery chewing and reaction shots are pricelessly bad. The conviction he gives to lines like, “When I am king we won’t have a word for madness. We’ll just call it power,” makes them even loonier.

Lillard plays the conniving Duke Fallow and is also a “standout.” Playing most of his scenes like a drunk, he delivers a ridiculous portrayal that, in fairness, is intentionally meant to cull laughter. His character’s pointlessness (Gallian doesn’t actually need him), which I’m pretty sure is unintentional, does add to the proceedings.

To be fair yet again, this is Boll’s best movie to date, and he could be well on his way to making a mediocre movie, and then, fingers-crossed, a competent one. But for now, I’m happy that he’s churning out the total camp-goodness.